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Chassidic Chickens Come Home To Roost
It's finally happened.
For decades, the Chassidic community in the New York area has avoided teaching its children secular studies, or even the English language. Moreover, they've managed to secure a vast amount of public funding for this, through a combination of political power and cunning finagling. Along the way, countless young chassidim have been doomed to poverty, with many of them bitterly disillusioned by the chassidic lifestyle and some of them leaving it with a well-earned grudge.
The inevitable has now happened. The New York Times has published a seminal report on the situation, bitingly titled "In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush with Public Money." They even published it in Yiddish translation!
Now, in the past I've had harsh words for the New York Times, with its grossly incompetent and false articles about Israel. But this article is meticulously researched. The journalists reviewed thousands of pages of public records, translated dozens of Yiddish documents, and interviewed more than 275 people, including current and former students, teachers, administrators and regulators. (Many of the school principals from whom they sought comment refused to be interviewed, and the Times went to the extent of sending them a pre-publication preview of the article, to get their response.)
Furthermore, anyone who is familiar with the chassidic community, either in New York or England or Israel, knows that it's all true.
Unfortunately, it feeds into the worst antisemitic stereotypes. From time immemorial, the antisemitic caricature of the Jew has been as a cunning thief. But who should be blamed for the antisemitism that could result as a result of this stereotype being reinforced?
I was disappointed to see some non-Chassidic rabbis and public figures castigate the New York Times for this. It is the job of the Times to report such things. We should not be blaming the non-Jewish media for exposing Jewish dirty laundry, whether it be sex abuse that isn't being dealt with or inadequate education and misappropriation of public funds. The ones responsible are the Chassidic community, who not only acted wrongly and irresponsibly, but also foolishly in expecting to get away with it forever. The backlash that this could cause against the entire Jewish community was entirely predictable and is their fault.
But it's not only the Chassidim that are to blame. It's also the rest of the Jewish community, who turned a blind eye to this, or who in some cases, defended the chassidic approach. If we don't take care of our own problems, then we have no right to be angry when other people address them in ways that we don't like.
Hopefully the New York Times article will do what Jewish leaders never even tried to do - force a vital change. This is what just happened in Israel, when as a result of pressure from a non-charedi government, Belz chassidim finally agreed to incorporate basic secular studies into their schools in exchange for funding.
We can fix problems ourselves, or we can have others fix them for us. It's our choice.
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