Rabbis: Why We Shouldn’t Force Hasidic Jews To Offer Secular Education

There’s not a word in this essay about what is plainly in America’s interests. Clearly, America benefits from a population that is literate in its national language, English, and knows basic math and history and other secular subjects well enough to make a living.

America does not benefit from people who can’t read and write in English and thereby are less likely to live honestly and honorable. The rabbis are signing off on Hasidic Jews living like parasites. They’re fine with the heimish sucking off the welfare teat.

The welfare of America does not matter to these rabbis. It’s not even a consideration.

Marc B. Shapiro writes: “Two people have asked me to comment on Rabbis Yitzchok Adlerstein’s and Michael Broyde’s article here arguing that hasidic schools shouldn’t be forced to offer secular education. While the Seforim Blog is not the place for commenting on these sorts of matters, after reading the article I felt I had to make one point. Adlerstein and Broyde cite the famous Supreme Court case which allowed the Amish to opt out of secular education and they apply this logic to the hasidic communities. While it is true that if it went to court the hasidic communities would probably prevail, there is a big difference between the Amish and the hasidic communities. The Amish do not take welfare, food stamps, and other forms of government assistance. Thus, they make choices and live with the consequences. However, the hasidic communities refuse to provide their children with the basic skills needed to function in the modern economy, and as a result rely heavily on the welfare state. No one who believes in limited government and is opposed to the welfare state can support a situation where kids are allowed to grow up almost guaranteed to be in need of public assistance.”

Yitzchak Adlerstein and Michael J. Broyde write: More generally, many civil-liberties-minded Americans are skittish about any and all government regulation of religious practice. Since Employment Division v. Smith allowed the government to curtail religious rights incidentally, all religious liberty has been tenuous; the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its progeny have generally demanded of states and the federal government accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs unless there is no other way to accomplish a very important governmental goal, and even then, no targeting of religion specifically is allowed. But supporters of religious freedom know they’re skating on thin ice all the time.
Satmar shares enough characteristics with the Old Order Amish that we think they would have little problem arguing in court that compelling secular education will destroy its basic religious values. This is reason enough for Jewish organizations not to rally to the side of New York State. In a legal showdown, Satmar will prevail: Yoder controls as a matter of law and denies the state the ability to force Satmar children to go to any school. If forced, Satmar can direct that its children go to an unlicensed Satmar yeshiva with no secular education at all and the Constitution protects that: A Satmar yeshiva is as protected as an Amish farm.
There is yet another good reason why Jewish organizations have not spoken up on the side of the State. While Satmar can challenge the curricular intrusion under Yoder, the State can push back by connecting any financial assistance to the teaching of the New York curriculum. This would, of course, be completely constitutional — even as the State cannot force children into schools if they do not want to go, the State is under no obligation to pay for a yeshiva education, just like it does not have to pay for Amish to work the farm.
The difference is government funding. The Amish were not funded by the state. Not so Satmar: Its yeshivas are beneficiaries of the many different programs the State and City of New York provide to private schools, from money for lunches for poor children to transportation assistance to many more programs of great value.
If there is a battle, the yeshivas will stay open under Yoder, but no state aid will be provided to such yeshivas, because they will not be recognized as schools. “Until now there were also strict laws, but because we live in a kingdom of benevolence, to put it bluntly they simply turned a blind eye to what’s going on by the Jewish children,” said Satmar Rebbe Aaron Teitlebaum in a May 4 address. That’s where Satmar is vulnerable — and might have to make a painful decision.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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