Thursday, May 27, 2021

Uniting in Support of Ignorance

Andrew Yang meeting with Chasidic leaders in Boro Park (VIN)
It is long past the time for Satmar Chasidim to realize they no longer live in pre-Holocaust Europe. That they live in 21st America. (For purposes of simplicity, I will be using the term ‘Satmar’ in this post to include all like minded Chasidim. There are of course many different types of Chasidim - many whose Hashkafos are not like Satmar. They are not included in my critique.) 

I have no issue with Satmar’s Chasidic beliefs and traditions. I say this even though I could not disagree more with a lifestyle based on them. They have a right to live the way they choose. That is what America is all about. What they do not have a right to do is short change their children. 

Of course Satmar would agree with that statement. But they would however strongly disagree that they in any way short change them. That disagreement is profound. It revolves around how they educate their children. Satmar values only a lifestyle based on the study of Torah, Chasidus, and Satmar Minhagim (customs). 

Secular education means little if anything to them. Certainly not enough to have any type of formal secular curriculum in their schools. This has been the way they have run their schools for decades – ever since the vast majority of them immigrated here post Holocaust. It is now over 70 years since then. And they have increased their numbers exponentially. Their education is however pretty much the same as it was back in pre-Holocaust Europe. 

To the best of my knowledge there are three reasons for that. One is as noted - they place little or no value in it. Two - they believe a secular curriculum exposes their children to values they perceive as a threat to their beliefs and lifestyles. And three - it would increase the cost of education making it unaffordable to most Chasidim. So they have fought any attempts to install one. 

That  their children are not educated enough to enable them to better support their families is not important enough to Satmar. They will argue that their people do just fine getting jobs that do not require a secular curriculum. And that many Chasidim have become very wealthy via a variety of business ventures despite not having had any secular education at all. 

In their struggle to keep their educational status quo Satmar has enlisted Agudah to help them in that fight. Which is pretty ironic if you think about it. They are relying on religious Jews that have had the education they deny their own people. 

One problem is that by minimizing opportunity - they are maximizing reliance on welfare as a primary source of income. Another problem is that wealthy Satmar Chasidim are a very small percentage of the whole. Leaving the rest to the kind of low paying jobs that do not require a high school education. And yet another problem is that without being educated in basic civics, the proper use of the English language, and at least a minimal acculturation to the country in which they live - then by virtue of their virtual isolation – it can lead to behavior that is unbecoming at best and illegal at worst. 

None of this is new. I have made these observations many times. What is new is the extent they will go to in order to prevent that from happening. 

That there is a war in Satmar is also not new. There are 2 Satmar Rebbes - brothers each with their own turf. The war is over who the ‘real’ Satmar Rebbe is. Each claims to be the heir to the ‘throne’. Their father – the previous Samar Rebbe never made it clear which one of his sons would succeed him. Leaving them to fight it out. A fight that had become quite physical early on in that debate having come to blows between Chasidim from each camp. Each side considers the other illegitimate. The 2 brothers do not even go to the gravesite of their father together on his Yahrzeit. Each picking a time when the other will not be there. 

But on this one issue they have united:

In a rare display of unity, Satmar’s two rival factions are said to be coming together for a common cause – choosing the Democratic candidate in the upcoming New York City mayoral election. 

With the upcoming June 22nd Democratic primary less than a month away, Politico reported that an ad signed more than a dozen rabbis representing both the followers of Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum and Grand Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum will appear in the Wednesday editions of multiple Yiddish newspapers. 

Sources said that the ad will have the rabbis calling on their respective communities to mark Andrew Yang as their first choice in the primary race and listing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as their second choice and Comptroller Scott Stringer as their third pick…

United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg’s Rabbi David Niederman said that concerns over the fallout of the yeshiva education probe, which found that some yeshivas were not meeting Board of Education requirements for secular studies, brought the two competing Satmar groups together in support of Yang…

Yang won the hearts of many Jewish voters… (by saying) there was no need to interfere with the yeshiva system as long as students receive a proper education. 

The nature of Satmar type Chasidim is that they listen to their Rebbe. What he says is written in stone. If their Rebbe tells them to vote for someone, the vast majority of them will. That is a huge number or people. In a close election that could swing the vote their way. Which is why politicians will promise them anything and tell them what they want to hear. 

Bad  blood is apparently secondary to keeping their Chasidim ignorant. I wonder though if they noticed the subtle message of Yang’s promise. Which is this: ‘…as long as students receive a proper education.’ If Yang really believes in his own promises, will he allow Satmar to continue denying their children any secular curriculum at all? I doubt that anyone would consider the absence of any secular curriculum a ‘proper education’. If Yang is elected, Satmar may find that they will not be getting what they thought they were voting for. We shall see.