Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Look at the Insular Chasidic World

Chasidic community advocate, Issac Abraham (screenshot)
Naftuli Moster is a Moser. He is an ‘up to no good’ expatriate Chasid that is no longer religious who has a vendetta against his former community. One that has motivated him to destroy it by cleverly disguising his motive as trying to help them.

This is pretty much the narrative of defenders of education provided to children of Satmar, Skvere and like minded Chasidic enclaves.  Even by those outside of those enclaves. They might agree that these communities need to upgrade their educational system. But they still accuse Moster of nefarious motives. Moster’s claim that he is only trying to help is disputed as a tactic used to ultimately destroy them entirely. Why else, they say, did he go to the secular authorities and ‘snitch’ on them?! They say his rejection of his Chasidic heritage and abandonment of Mitzvah observance (which he is accused of by people who say they know him) proves his nefarious intent. 

I do not buy any of that. I don’t know Moster personally. But every comment I have ever heard him make about this subject has had only one focus: trying to get his former community to offer a secular curriculum along with their religious curriculum. Much the same way most mainstream yeshivas do. 

He has explicitly stated that he does not want to see the religious curriculum eliminated.  He said this recently in the first installment (video below) of a 3 part series by Fox News about the Chasidic world. Those who might accuse him of lying have yet to show any proof of that. 

Why did he go to the authorities? Why didn’t he work internally instead? The answer should be obvious even to the casual observer. After 70 or so years of their existence, they have done nothing to change their paradigm. They instead keep doubling down on it.

That being the case, there is hardly a chance that things would be fixed internally because of anything internal Moster could have done. Realistically the only option left for him is to insist that the State’s educational  requirements are enforced instead of ignored. 

Chasidic leaders have been fighting him mightily - finding a sympathetic State legislator in Simcha Feldman to help them out. Which  he did. He so watered down educational requirements that they are practically irrelevant. By allowing their schools to say they incorporate secular studies into their religious curriculum - they avoid any realistic assessment what of what is and isn’t taught that way. The state therefore has no choice but to trust Satmar officials that say they are keeping their word.

Which is why I have no issues with what Naftuli Moster is doing.  I have not seen a shred of evidence that his real goal is to destroy Satmar or Skvere type Chasidus. Based on everything I have seen or heard about him I truly believe that all he wants to do is provide children from his former community the education he missed out on when he was there. Which had put him and almost every other Satmar Chasid educated that way at a great disadvantage.

Why do others who see that pressing need still accuse Moster of a nefarious motive? I think they just buy into the narrative of his former community about his motives and lack of religiosity – since they ‘know’ him and  the rest of us don’t. But as noted none of that has been proven. I think they just take their word for it.

Which brings me to the aforementioned Fox News report.  Needless to say, it did not make Satmar type enclaves look good. On the other hand there was also a lot of misinformation and half truths which need to be publicly challenged.

Whar Moster said is true. Until 9th grade there is only basic arithmetic and English. (I’m not sure how well the latter is taught since most Satmar Chasidim sound like they were born in Poland and immigrated recently.)  But no one disputes that there is no secular education at all past 8th grade, despite a very long school day –six days a week. The amount of time spent in a Satmar type school easily dwarfs the amount of time spent by students in any public school.

It is therefore true – as Fox News asserts - that their lack of a proper English speaking ability and few marketable skills - they are forced as married adults with typically large families to rely on public assistance: 
Indeed, the U.S. town with the highest rate of people on food stamps is the all-Hasidic New York village of New Square, north of New York City, where 77 percent of residents rely on the program to eat, according to a new report.  
That there are a so many Chasidm that end up with great wealth is the exception that proves the rule. How they do that while the vast majority of others do not is beyond the scope of this post.

What is not true is the way Fox News phrased it. Implying that all Yeshiva students end up this way. They kept talking about ‘Yeshivos’ as though all of them are guilty of this. That is clearly not the case with the vast majority of mainstream Yeshivos, including Charedi ones. They also flashed a images of a Beis Yaakov school while discussing the problem. The Beis Yaakov system is not part of Satmar. It is the mainstream educational system for most Charedi girls. They offer a full secular studies curriculum.

However Satmar has its own girls education system which DOES include a secular studies curriculum. Which – if it were offered to boys, would solve the problem. Moster would have no need to urge state educational authorities to enforce their rules.

Most telling is the way Chasidic community advocate, Isaac Abraham, defended their education. His almost racist implication about interaction with Hispanic students speaks volumes about the innate prejudices extant there. And his sweeping condemnation of all secular education being responsible for the Harvey Weinsteins of the world - whereas the Chasidic education never even uttering the word sex on anything remotely connected to it – is ‘proof’ to him that a secular curriculum produces evil people whole the Chasidic educational system does not.

He is either lying or completely ignorant about the Nechemya Webermans of the world. Or the Avreimal Modnrowitzes. Or the numerous other religiously educated Jews – many of them in leadership positions that makes Harvey Weinstein look tame by comparison.

He then talks about the percentage of criminals that come out of the public school system. But forgets to mention that there are enough religious Jews in prison to fill a large Yeshiva - if not more!

I do however grant (obviously) that the Torah values taught in Yeshivas promote a much higher standard of ethics and morality. And that as a whole the observant Jewish community does by and large live by a different and higher moral code than much of general society. But that has absolutely nothing to do with teaching a child how to function in the 21st century as a productive adult who can support his family without resorting to public assistance.

They simply do not do that. They in fact do the opposite by pursing a strategy of insularity from the outside world which their educational system facilitates. They urge their adherents to have nothing to do with the outside world except when it comes to being fed by it.

There are some outside that Moster – or anyone else trying to get the government to interfere in how a school educates its children violates the free exercise clause of the First amendment. I part company with them on this because it is absolutely not the case that insisting on a basic secular curriculum is in any way violates those rights. The state not only has the right, but the obligation to see that its citizens are not deprived of the tools to needed to support themselves via a standard secular education. They have every right - and even a duty to try and eliminate or reduce the taxpayer burden of funding able bodied citizens that - given the tools would aid them in supporting themselves. Using government financial assistance as a standard part of a community’s income is not what the welfare system is about.

So even though I have reservation in how Fox News reported this segment on Chasidim, its overall message is true. Naftuli Moster is right in trying to change things there. It’s just too bad that the politics of clout probably won’t allow him to succeed.