Friday, November 25, 2022

The Secular Value of Gemara Study, Antisemitism, and Crying Wolf

Chasidic students learning Gemara (TOI)
Professor Moshe Krakowski’s recently filed an affidavit in the New York State Supreme Court on behalf of PEARLS. PEARLS is an organization created to defend the right of Chasidim to continue to refuse to offer a Limudei Chol (secular studies) curriculum to their students as a matter of protecting their religious rights under the constitution.

The goal is to petition the court for a judgment against New York’s Board of Regents –  preventing implementation and enforcement of their requirement for non public schools to offer a secular studies curriculum ‘substantially equivalent’ to what public schools offer. Chasidic sects like Satmar are most affected by this because they have refused and continue to refuse to offer any secular studies curriculum at all in their schools

There is nothing surprising in that affidavit. The arguments Moshe makes have been repeated a great many times in a variety of media publications. And they have been thoroughly discussed here. The only difference being Moshe’s elaborate and detailed description of what is typically taught in those schools by way of learning Gemara. What those students gain is an extraordinary education in the use of rational thinking and logic. Much better, says Moshe, than what students typically get even in the best public schools. Which he then correctly identifies as a valuable asset in their ability to make a living in certain fields.

The funny thing is, I don’t disagree with him. But I remain with the same problems I have had all along with schools that a offer only that education. Regardless of how valuable learning Gemara as a means of understanding logic and rational thinking. Or even how superior it is to that of public schools. The problem is that despite that education –  students that do not receive any formal secular education will still be shortchanged. 

Regardless of how financially successful many of them may be in certain fields, the fact is that many opportunities for financial success will still be cut off to them.  And their poor English language skills won’t help them either. Even though  in many cases they can overcome that handicap, not everyone can.

They will also be missing the basic knowledge that most Americans get in public schools even if they are mediocre students. By not learning what a little bit about American history they lack understanding of what this country is all about; what principles it was founded upon; and what it stands for. Moreover they will lack important knowledge about their civic duties are and other societal norms. And to fully understand what good citizenship in the United States actually means. The argument that neither do a lot of Americans - does not excuse them from learning about it.  All it does is perpetuate their isolationism. 

None of this is addressed by Moshe’s affidavit.

And then there is this related item There has been an ugly charge that a lot of this is based on anti Charedism which the right wing has labeled a version of antisemitism.  I saw an ad today about an session at the upcoming Agudah convention that asks the question : Are antisemitism and anti Charedism the same thing? I believe that the education controversy is what generated this session. 

A controversy that the New York Times has recently exacerbated in one of its investigative reports. Which focused on the battle between Chasidic Schools and NYSED (New York State Education Department). The Times extremely negative report and their conclusions has generated accusations of anti Charedism (Which they apparently want to equate to antisemitism.)

I have no clue what Agudah’s answer to that question will be. But I suspect it will lean heavily towards answering ‘Yes’ to that question. 

I do not agree. I do not equate anti Charedism to antisemitism. I even question whether the Times is actually anti Charedi.

Is the fact that they have come down so hard on Chasidic schools evidence that they are?  I honestly don’t know. I suppose it’s possible that antisemtism might be a possible motive. But I tend to doubt there is an inherent bias against people because of the way they look, their unusual customs, or even their isolated lifestyles. 

I believe instead that they see an extremism that is a major departure from the societal values which most of the civilized world considers normal.  

That said, sadly, it's true that the new 'normal' is not the normal of just a few years ago. And that it is becoming less normal as time goes on. But I still believe that many of the values held dear by the majority of the American people are values that observant Jewry has always shared with them. But the Charedi world has adopted values in recent years that are contrary to that portion of American values that we used to share. For example placing enough value on Limudei Chol to require all of observant Jewry to teach it to our children

If Agudah ends up equating anti Charedism to antisemitism, it will not be doing anyone any favors.  I believe that is just crying ‘wolf’.