Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Felder Provision

What kind of future will these children have?
I have never met New York State Senator Simcha Felder. All I know about him is that he is an Orthodox Jew serving a constituency - a large part of which includes Chasidic Jews. I have always believed that when an Orthodox Jew is elected to high office, that he will vote with our best interests at heart  while being careful to represent all of his constituents.

Meaning non Orthodox Jews as well as non Jews. What this means to me is that when a bill is presented that will help us without hurting the rest of his constituency he will vote for it. And certainly would vote against a bill that would hurt us.

Mr. Felder might seem to have done that by holding the entire state budget hostage until it capitulated and included his provision for not-for-profit private schools with long school days (basically - Yeshivos). The budget passed with his provision added.

Mr.  Felder wants Yeshivos to be exempted from the state requirement that all private and parochial schools offer a curriculum that is substantially equivalent that of public schools in core subjects. But it isn’t clear from the language just how his provision will impact the Chasidic Yeshivos in question. From the Forward:
The language in the new provision about elementary and middle schools offers a likely win for the yeshivas. The language of the provision is specific, and spells out what yeshivas do — and, by implication, do not — need to teach. The provision specifically lays out curricular goals for English, math, history, geography, civics, and science. But it makes no mention of arts or music. And the language about the curricular goals is notably narrow. It requires that students have an “understanding of civics and the responsibilities of citizens in world communities,” for example, but not an understanding of the workings of the U.S. government.
I’m not sure whether this is a win or a loss for the young students of Satmar and like minded schools. Despite the fact that Satmar leadership is celebrating it as a win, it seems like the requirement to teach core subjects are still in place. Why the celebration? I suppose  the question is in how these requirements are interpreted, implemented and enforced.

Will Satmar be free to keep those courses out of their curriculum - satisfying it by, for example - saying they teach the basics within the confines of their religious studies? Or will they actually be required to offer real courses on those subjects? If the Mr. Felder’s provision is the latter, then it will be a victory for the students - if – and only if – the requirements are enforced. If it is the former, then Mr. Felder may think he has helped Satmar schools by forcing this issue down the legislature’s throat, but in my view he will instead be hurting them badly.

Satmar leadership may be happy to remain in their cultural bubble where only their rules and values mean anything to them. They may be happy to ‘comply’ with this new provision without any meaningful curriculum to back it up. The students may be happy too. But they will lose – even if they don’t realize it yet. 

They will lose when they find out just how difficult it will be for them to provide for their large families in a world that demands a decent education in order to get a decent job. They will have to keep resorting to menial pay for menial work – and rely heavily as a community on government financial assistance.

The kind of assistance that begets fraud after fraud by community leaders that justify it because they believe that they are helping their members meet their financial needs - with no other way of doing that. In too many cases they end up scamming the system.

The massive amount of religious looking Jews that have been convicted of fraud in recent years has made no impact on them. They believe that they won’t get caught, I suppose. They are unwilling or unable to learn from recent history. Eventually they will have to pay a price.. as will the entire Orthodox Jewish world because of the Chilul HaShem it causes. In fact it just happened again. From Arutz Sheva
Two senior administrators at a hasidic school in Brooklyn have admitted to scamming the federal government out of more than $3 million.
According to the New York Daily News, Elazar Porges and Joel Lowy admitted that they had inflated the costs of a school-lunch program for needy children at the Central United Talmudic Academy, a major school affiliated with the Satmar hasidic sect. 
This might mean prison time for those two gentlemen. They inflated their costs because they needed the money to survive. But I have no sympathy for thieves. Not when an obvious part of the solution is to better educate their people so that they can better provide for their families and their schools. 

True, a better education and resultant better income does not mean that Satmar and like Chasidic enclaves will eliminate their continued need to resort to government aid in order to help them support their very large families. But it might just reduce the incidence of fraud. Which besides being against Halacha is also a major Chilul HeShem!

Nothing new in my analysis here. What is new is what Mr. Felder has done. In my view, he will judged by how his the new provisions are interpreted, implemented, and enforced. If it leads to bettering the lives materially for the Chasdim of Satmar, then I salute him. If on the other hand it doesn't because it will legitimize Satmar’s current educational paradigm, then he will be contributing to a poverty situation ripe for continued fraud and Chilul HaShem.

I don’t know whether his motive was to satisfy Satmar’s leadership or to satisfy the needs of their Chasidim. I hope it was the latter. But that Satmar’s leaders were involved behind the scenes and are celebrating it as a victory leads me to fear it was the former. Which means we might be seeing a lot more convictions of the most religious looking Jews among us for fraud 

One more thing. It seems certain that PEARLS, a group founded in 2016 to supposedly improve the secular education in these schools has thus failed in their mission. I’d love to be proven wrong. But I doubt that I am.  Because if they have succeeded all of this would  be moot.