Sunday, August 18, 2019

YAFFED is Not the Issue

Eytan Kobre (Mishpacha)
I guess that ‘kill the messenger’ is still part of their strategy. As it pertains to the world of Orthodox Jewry,  there is currently a fight to defend religious rights. That includes the right to deny a decent secular education to students that are part of the more extreme right wing of it. Which are mostly (but not exclusively) certain Chasidic sects (e.g. Satmar). The fight has included numerous attempts to discredit YAFFED, an organization formed by expatriate members of said sects. They are the people that dared to challenge a system that tolerated promoting ignorance among their flock.

In the latest incarnation of this tactic, Eytan Kobre has attacked them (again). As though by doing that their message is discredited. 

YAFFED asked NYSED (the New York State Education Department) to investigate 39 schools that were ignoring the educational requirement to provide their students with a secular education equivalent to that required by the public schools. They were not providing any (or hardly any) secular studies curriculum at all.

Fast forward to today. There has been an unprecedented upheaval in religious education as a result of that. The short version of which is that NYSED came out with guidelines that were completely unacceptable to religious schools (including non Jewish ones like the Catholic Church). Those new regulations were struck down by the courts. NYSED has now adjusted them to comply with the court’s directives. As I understand it they have not been implemented yet. They are currently up for community wide review and input. 

‘Oh what tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive.’ 

It seems fairly obvious (at least to me) that those 39 schools deceived NYSED. Or at least if NYSED knew - they didn't care and looked the other way. Had these schools done what the vast majority of Orthodox schools did and offer a program that consisted of religious studies in the morning and a secular studies in the afternoon, none of this would have happened. But this is not how their defenders characterize it. They don’t blame the schools. They blame YAFFED, the messenger who brought all this up and thereby ‘rocked the boat’.

Although those fighting NYSED have framed this as a religious rights issues, they have not spared heaping scorn on YAFFED as though they were the whole problem. They have used every opportunity to discredit them – as though that would solve the problem. In my view they have only succeeded blaming and discrediting them with their own choir: those that seem to care more about the right of these schools to keep their students ignorant then about their welfare. 

Their arguments about how these people do quite well as adults even without a decent secular education is laughable. While it is true that a lot of them do quite well – and in some cases have even become multi millionaires in business - that does not describe their majority. Many (if not most) of whom rely on government handouts. To which they are legally entitled in part because of that very lack of a decent education that would enable them to get better paying jobs. While that would not completely eliminate the need for government aid, it would surely reduce it. 

The fact is that getting a decent education for a community that has been denied it - is what this is really all about.

But that did not stop Eytan Kobre from attacking YAFFED  in his weekly column. Since the messenger has not yet been killed, he did his level best to try again.

Here’s the thing. Even though I agree with most of the points he made, that does not change my view in the slightest about what is needed. 

The trouble religious educators are having now with NYSED is not YAFFED’s fault. It is the fault of the more extreme segments of Orthodoxy that were successful in ignoring the educational requirements of NYSED.  Which I’m pretty sure was an open secret.  NYSED was probably happy to allow this community to live in blissful ignorance.  Why should they care what a community does educationally as long as they are law abiding citizens - many of whose members are successful despite their lack of a secular education?

The bottom line for me is that I could not care less how evil the messenger is painted. True or not, they are not the real issue. The issue is what their stated goal is. Which is getting those schools to implement a decent secular curriculum.. That they might have an ulterior motive of destroying Yeshivos (which they are constantly being accused of) is irrelevant to that goal.

True, now because YAFFED made an issue of it, we have additional problems. But the fault really lies with those schools. They are the ones to blame. Not YAFFED.

If Eitan Kobre were to be honest he would acknowledge that. He would also have to admit that had he attended a school like that, it is unlikely that he would have attended law school and gotten a law degree, and even more unlikely that he would be anywhere near literate enough to be employed as weekly columnist and write the very column whereby in attacking YAFFED, he defends the religious right to be ignorant. 

While that may be their right, I don't think it is ‘right’ to defend perpetuating ignorance among some of the largest and fastest growing segments in all of Orthodoxy.