“The orthodox community is happy to have a conversation as long as you have the conversation without undermining the existing communal hierarchy, Instead of talking about it with the educators and the big rabbis they have gone outside the system and gone to the courts and tried to force the courts to shove it down the throat of the haredi community and if there's anything that the haredi community protects, it is its educational autonomy.”
Naftuli Moster and his YAFFED organization that is fighting to force hasidic yeshivas in New York State to teach secular subjects like math, got some publicity in the Jerusalem Post today over AMI Magazine's apology issued Thursday and first reported on FailedMessiah.com (although the Post doesn't credit us) for mistakenly running one of YAFFED's ads.
The Post chooses to mischaraterize YAFFED's fight and essentially paint Moster and his friends as mosrim (mosers; informers):
…And while there are many who are sympathetic to Yaffed’s goals, the issue is less about secular studies than how you go about talking about it, explained Dr. Yoel Finkelman, an instructor at Bar Ilan University and the author of Strictly Kosher Reading, a book exploring the ultra-orthodox media landscape.
The fact that the staff of Yaffed is drawn from former members of the ultra-orthodox community and because they chose to operate outside of the established orthodox channels is likely responsible for Ami’s rejection of their ad, he said.
“The orthodox community is happy to have a conversation as long as you have the conversation without undermining the existing communal hierarchy,” Finkelman elaborated. “Instead of talking about it with the educators and the big rabbis they have gone outside the system and gone to the courts and tried to force the courts to shove it down the throat of the haredi community and if there's anything that the haredi community protects, it is its educational autonomy.”
Orthodox antipathies towards those seen as mosers, or informers to secular authorities, run deep.
According to Stuart Schnee, a public relations agent who works with the ultra-orthodox community, cultural baggage from the enlightenment also affects how the religious community sees efforts to reform their schooling.
Yaffed is “going to outside sources to change and impact orthodox Jewish education and that pushes a lot of buttons. That’s what happened in Russia with the maskilim [Jewish proponents of the enlightenment] forcing yeshivas to teach certain things. There is probably a deep down immediate reaction” to such efforts, he said.
“I cant imagine placing billboards, threatening lawsuits and placing articles in the New York Times will make people feel so warm and fuzzy about it even if they think the goals are legitimate.”…
I don't know whether this is bad reporting by the Post or a failure of Finkelman and Schnee to understand the situation.
YAFFED and Moster have tried to deal with the issue of the abysmal state of hasidic secular education within the community, but community leaders just won't listen.
And YAFFED and Moster aren't the first to try to do sotalk to hasidic leaders about their education problem or they aren't the only ones trying to do so now.
But hasidic rabbinic leadership by doctrine refuses to allow secular subjects to be properly and fully taught (or often taught at all) in hasidic schools, and no amount of quiet talking has made any difference.
So its hard to blame YAFFED for going outside the hasidic community to look for help.
But past that, there is law, and for kids to be able to attend these hasidic schools, under law those schools must provide education that is equivalent to public schools. Just like you can't legally put your kid in a school that only teaches Buddhist medatation and prayer chants and gives a few minutes of time at the end of each day for math and science 'taught' by unqualified teachers kids aren't required to respect or listen to, you can't put them in hasidic schools that teach Humash and then later Talmud all day and give a short class at the end of most (but not all) school days for secular studies 'taught' by unqualified teachers kids aren't required to respect or listen to. And you certainly can't legally send them to hasidic schools that teach no secular subjects at all.
Yoel Finkelman should know all of this and I find it hard to believe his quote is accurate as it now stands.
And while Stuart Schnee's pooint about the Englightenment is somewhat true, Schnee – an American who made aliyah to Israel in the late 1980s – should know that it doesn't change the fact that these hasidic kids under law must be given a secular education of quality but are being denied it by hasidic rebbes and activists, and by those who cover for those hasidic rebbes and activists.
As for the Post, it should know better. Indeed, Israel's Ministry of Education is in long and proteacted fight with haredi schools to try to compel them teach secular subjects, and report after report has found that haredi education is so deficient that it cripples kids and makes it almost impossible for them to function in the 21st century wrokforce.
This comes close to being an existential problem for Israel and is serious problem in Belgium and other European countries with a concentrated number of hasidim, and in New York City and in Orange, Rockland and Sullivan counties in New York State.
But the Post does not frame the problem as serious. It makes almost no mention of the law and no mention at all of the cost to society an uneducated mass of young haredim brings, young haredim who will have close to eight children each and will give those eight children the same deficient education unless we put a stop to this now.
Update 9:07 am CST 12-15-2014 – The author of the Jerusalem Post article previously wrote for Ami Magazine on a "regular basis," the Post now notes.