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January 23, 2013


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I was raised speaking Yiddish, and very happy that I was. Unfortunately, Chassidim, or ultra-Orthodox, are, in many ways, no different than other members of 'extreme' religions, or beliefs. I was just reading about children who were raised as Scientologists and left. Their education and lives were miserable - and they had no idea about the world outside of theirs. Also, The Amish won a big court battle, many years ago, that they didn't have to follow the mandates of state education law, as their children are educated in 'their' religion. The girls were allowed to stop their schooling in the 8th grade, for example. I have spoken to ex-Amish who have told me the same things mentioned here: here, in America, we have an 'idealized' view of them, as nice, simple folk. One man told me of a much darker side. He says because they have so little schooling, the Amish are not exposed to much, and are very strict in ways they 'morally' shouldn't be. Both sets of his grandparents had left the Amish faith; one set was kicked out because the community found out that they - oh my gosh - read the Bible in English, rather than in the 'mandated' German. One time, they attended an Amish funeral for a relative, and were forbidden from entering the house afterwards, where there was a gathering of mourners. Someone finally talked to their minister, who whispered to the hostess that they should be allowed to sit and eat, albeit outside the house on the porch, so as not to 'disturb' the true Amish. I'm pretty sure their knowledge of English is VERY iffy. He said they are VERY naive people, who have no clue how to treat non-Amish decently.
However, none of this helps us Jews. It would be so much better if the Chassidim, and all Jews, could be educated much better. Their leaders are so frightened of their members being 'tempted' away. Truly a shame.

Yochanan Lavie

Rochel: The truth is stranger than fiction. I'm sure that was true, but still I cracked up. I couldn't make this stuff up.


In yeshiva I got in trouble for having a 'Casper the Friendly Ghost' comic book because he was naked. Really.


This headline is misleading. They're obviously not illiterate, they just can't read English. You should either add "in English" to the end of the headline or drop the illiteracy reference.

Posted by: Simon | January 23, 2013 at 09:28 AM

They are functionally illiterate. This means they cannot meaningfully engage in the broader society (USA in this case) in which they live. This also means they cannot work and are condemned to a life of poverty and welfare paid for by those that were educated.

Hamish McHorny

There's a right to bear arms. Nothing about bear legs though!

Yochanan Lavie

Thanks, Sarek and MM. MM, I stand corrected. I should know better than to label different dialects "debased," because I took a couple of linguistics courses in grad school. My bias was showing through.

My parents could barely speak Yiddish because their parents purposefully raised them in English. My mother's parents were Ukrainian Hassidim back in the old country, but my father's parents were urbane Galitzianers, originally from Krakow and then Vienna. They spoke German, with Yiddish words thrown in only in Jewish matters. They were city dwellers who were into culture and not very religious, unlike my mother's parents who wanted to escape the shtetl as much as the Czar.

IMO, there are some positive aspects of Hassidism: storytelling, music, dancing, attention to prayer, and at least at first it was non-elitist. But in all other matters, it has Gaon wrong.


YL - I was unfamiliar with that song (though not with her). It and your adaptation were quite apt.

(rhetorical) And why the hell is my state education dept. letting these kids graduate uneducated? Don't even religious schools have to be accredited?


"...the chassidim speak a debased Yiddish, not the literary Yiddish of YIVO, the Workmen's Circle or Folksbeine Theater."

Yochanan, I am going to have to take (professional) issue with your use of the word "debased" here. The Chassidim speak a dialect of Yiddish different from Standard YIVO Yiddish, but different does not mean debased. All languages and dialects meet the needs of those who use them, and if they don't (e.g., Early Modern English when intellectual and scientific discourse switched from Latin to English), that is soon rectified by means of loan words, coinages, etc.

Yiddish had two main forms--Western and Eastern--but Western pretty much died out early. There are three main dialects of Eastern Yiddish (with sub-diakects): Litvak, Poylish, and Ukrainian. Standard YIVO Yiddish is Litvak based on Yiddish as spoken in Vilna. That is because YIVO Yiddish was standardized by a Litvak speaker (from Vilna). Had a Poylish speaker been the one who worked on standardizing, then no doubt the standard would be based on Poylish. If you go to www.dovidkatz.net you can read a nice little pamphlet (it's called something like the 7 Kingdoms of the Litvaks) which explains these matters.

I am the product of a "mixed" marriage: my father's people were from the heart of Litvakia (a tiny little shtetl a few km from Pruzhany) and spoke Litvak, while my mother's people were chassids from Ukraine and spoke Ukrainian. Even as a small child I was aware of the differences, and so I said everything twice. Because we lived close to my father's people and because my mother's people were raving lunatics, I eventually switched to Litvak alone.

Recently I tried to listen to a Satmar speech in Yiddish and could barely understand a word. So I thought to myself, well, it's been a long time since I was in a Yiddish-speaking environment, so I'm just rusty. Then I listened to someone speaking Litvak, and I could understand it just fine. That does not mean that Satmar Yiddish is debased. It just means this out-of-practice Litvak couldn't understand it.

Dialects have prestige or stigma based on the relative prestige or stigma accorded to its speaker. Saying that chassidic Yiddish is debased essentially means that in your eyes chassids have little esteem (and I can't blame you for that, since I myself think Chassidism was a huge wrong turn for Jews, as the Vilna Gaon argued at the time), just as those who claim that African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is debased are indicating that that they don't think much of African-Americans. I, as someone who has impeccable control of spoken and written Standard American English, found that I couldn't understand the speakers of Geordie English. That does not mean that Geordie is debased (although that is a popular opinion in the UK). It just means that Geordie is not Standard American English.

Office of the Chief Rabbi

The last time I bought a condom, they were still kept behind the counter in a drawer marked "Party favors."

I have a button from those same days that says "Support your right to arm bears."

A. Nuran

OCR, you bareback bears? At least use a condom!

A. Nuran

If Arab-American students only learned Quran 14 hours a day or Mexican immigrants' kids never learned English it would be a scandal according to these same people.

And before the usual conservatives start braying about how Latino kids don't learn English let me say one word. "Bullshit!" My wife does demographic and linguistic studies on language adoption. Immigrant kids learn English very quickly. The only question is whether two or five years of ESL can take a complete non-English speaker to full fluency. Compare that to yidden who are obviously too stupid to attain basic proficiency in three generations.

Yochanan Lavie

OCR: I believe in the right to arm bears.

Jacob: Interesting, thanks.

Jacob Mendlovic

To Yochanan Lavie: A classical example is "room for rent": Haredim often say "room tzu farenten" instead of "tzimer tzu fardingen."


My kids are homeschooled in NY state. I have to teach, every year, arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, English, geography, US history, science, health, art, music, physical education, fire safety, alcohol and tobacco misuse, traffic safety, patriotism and citizenship. My kids have to be evaluated every year and tested periodically, and I have to submit a curriculum plan to the state.
These schools should be shut down.

Office of the Chief Rabbi

We can barely bear bare bears.


Listen to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2X1Z7daNyrY


But they are all experts at foile shticklach

Yochanan Lavie

Thanks, Ruthie. I didn't know if this one would go over, since not many people remember the song. Marianne Faithfull is an interesting person.

I also agree with you about the preservation of Yiddish. I would not object to a bilingual culture. However, as I've stated many times before, the chassidim speak a debased Yiddish, not the literary Yiddish of YIVO, the Workmen's Circle or Folksbeine Theater. They do not read the great Yiddish classics such as the Singer brothers, Sholom Aleichem, YL Peretz, and Mendele. I have heard from people who really know Yiddish that they pepper their speech with anglicisms, and Hebrew-Aramaic yeshiva words not usually borrowed into standard Yiddish.

For example, they refer to the hipsters of W'burg as "artisten." I believe the proper Yiddish word is "kunstlerin," as in German.

Also, a friend of mine who is MO but raised in a bilingual household was once buying something in a chassidic store. The merchant was counting out his change:
"Finif. Finif und a quarter..." My friend interjected "Finif und a quarter? Finif und feirtel!" The merchant was astonished that a MO Jew in jeans, with a kipa sruga and a short beard knew the Mamma Loshon better than he did!

As far as Hebrew goes, they are forbidden from learning not only Modern Hebrew but even dikduk (grammar) except if it's mentioned in passing by Rashi or someone. Ivrit is a tumah language, according them. So they are illiterate in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish. A trifecta a [black] hat trick! What an educational accomplishment!


This headline is misleading. They're obviously not illiterate, they just can't read English. You should either add "in English" to the end of the headline or drop the illiteracy reference.

Posted by: Simon | January 23, 2013 at 09:28 AM

The legal requirement is to be literate in English and knowledgeable in certain secular subjects, and the vast majority of these haredi students are not.

Process that.


I've always been a fan of hers. Thanks.

These boys should be admired for their torah
studies. i lIke that yiddish is being spoken.
I cannot get over the fact that a basic education
is not being provided to them. i always hoped
the rabbis were much smarter then me.


"The Department of Education is responsible for making sure the yeshivas offer quality schooling."

Not so. The writer at DNA must have talked to different people at the New York State Department of Education than I did last summer when I called to find out how someone like Chaim Levin could have gone through the Yeshiva system and learned so little in the secular area. The woman I talked to said that the Department does not regulate curriculum content at religious schools affiliated with a religious house of worship. It was up to Chaim Levin's father to choose a good school for his son and he chose badly. It's buyer beware in the world of Yeshiva education.

In any event, there is no reason to believe that the Yeshivas have mended their ways or that the Jews in the New York State Assembly or Senate are willing to take on the fight. Like politicians everywhere, they are only interested in winning the next election.


This headline is misleading. They're obviously not illiterate, they just can't read English. You should either add "in English" to the end of the headline or drop the illiteracy reference.


And so in East Ramapo Schools, non English speaking students become special needs students at extra cost to the tax payers.

Yochanan Lavie

Apologies to: Broken English by Marianne Faithfull:

Secular ed is not a crime,
Black hatted puritan
What are you hiding from?
It's not job security.

It's just a frum war,
Not even a smart war,
Don't say it in Hebrew,
Don't say it in Yiddish.
Say it in broken Yinglish,
Say it in broken Yinglish.

Lose your accent, your strange clothes,
Your rebbe, your welfare.
What are you praying for?
It's not true reality.


What are you davening for? 6x

Secular ed is not a crime,
Black hatted puritan.
What are you hiding from?
It's not job security.


Say it in broken Yinglish,
Say it in broken Yinglish.

What are you davening for?
(4x to fade out...)

Garnel Ironheart

I didn't realize you could get turned on by pictures of naked bears.

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