This past week brought an extraordinary assault against the Chassidishe community by the New York Times. Timed to appear the day before a New York Board of Regents vote on regulations opposed by yeshivas, the true target of the Times story wasn’t educational enhancement nor was it the rights of school children. It was to stigmatize and delegitimize the entire Chassidic community, and to undermine their standing as New Yorkers and Americans.
There is room for healthy debate about the scope and extent of the responsibility to provide children with a basic education. Had the Times wanted to add its voice to that debate, it could have named the dozen schools whose performance it featured and called for improvements in those schools.
Instead, without naming the schools the Times painted a picture of horrible neglect at dozens and dozens of yeshivas. The Times claimed that corporal punishment was “common” in chassidishe schools today, that parents have to bribe Rabbeim not to beat their kids and that abuse was rampant in yeshivas because there were a dozen 911 calls to yeshivas over a five year period (without specifying the reason for those calls or whether they were substantiated).
To compound all this, the Times trumpeted the fact that over a five-year period chassidishe schools received $1 billion dollars in government funding. The Times glossed over the fact that $200 million of the funds were related to the pandemic relief efforts, and that a large part of the remaining money was for breakfast and lunch for students, transportation and the like.
All in all, the sensationalized $1 billion figure amounts to about $2,000 per student per year – versus nearly $30,000 per student per year in the public schools. Yet the Times Page One headline screamed “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money.”
It is unclear why $2000 a year per child makes the schools flush with public money. And one can search in vain for the Times articles bemoaning the many billions of dollars annually flushed down the toilet of the public school system.
But the Times wasn’t content to stop there. The Times then pressed public officials to condemn yeshivas. The Times reported on those who had negative things to say about yeshivas, and called out those who wouldn’t take the bait. But they ignored those elected officials who questioned the thrust of their article and had good things to say about yeshiva education.
That isn’t journalism. It is advocacy. It seeks not to enlighten readers or improve education, but to inflame public sentiment against chassidim and to penalize them for their way of life.
The Times claims to want to protect chassidish children – from their parents, but the only protection those kids need is from the Times and its fellow liberals who believe that government should have more say over a child’s education and upbringing than parents do.
That is the true danger, not only for chassidim but the entire Orthodox community.
Notably absent from the Times numerous articles and nearly 10,000 words is what they might do to assist and enhance education at schools that far from being financially flush are run on shoestring budgets. That is what failing public schools get: more money, more resources, more time and more support. Contrast that with what the Times demands for yeshivas: threats, penalties and punishments. That should tell you what their target truly is.
In case you had any doubt, Times editorial board member Mara Gay tweeted this yesterday:
“Happy Sunday! Today is a great day to read about how politicians in New York have allowed your taxpayer money to keep flowing to schools that purposefully deny Hasidic children basic education.”
Your taxpayer money? As if the parents of the 170,000 yeshiva children in New York don’t pay lots of taxes. Or as if poor chassidish children should be denied the nutrition provided to all low-income kids in New York. Ask yourself: is that tweet more likely to lead to better education, or to another attack on a chassid minding his own business on the street of New York.
Threats, penalties and punishments was also the theme of the New York State Education Department last week. A day after the Times article appeared, the Board of Regents adopted regulations meant to impact yeshivas.
In the days leading up to the vote, the Deputy Commissioner of SED gave an interview in which he highlighted the financial penalties they will impose on yeshivas that SED finds lacking and the even harsher penalties – including jail time – that await parents who send their children to these schools.
There was nothing about working together to enhance education, or about providing resources and support to those schools working to improve. That is for the public schools. For yeshivas, it is all about, threats, penalties and punishment.
The regulations adopted last week may not affect all yeshivas right now, but the precedent of government control of yeshiva curriculum and faculty is dangerous and unprecedented in our American experience.
K-8 yeshivas will need the blessing of their local school districts. The list of required classes is long today, and will only get longer. The criteria a local school district will use to define whether a teacher is “competent” is likely vastly different that those employed by yeshivas.
And all the while we will be at the mercy of those who want to penalize yeshivas and punish yeshiva parents.
The final chapters of this story are not yet written.
These events are occurring in Elul. Let us all take the opportunity offered by these Yemei Tefillah and Yemei Rachamim and let us all daven for a reversal of these g’zeiros.
— YWN Editorial Board
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)