One of the things that bothers me is when Emes is discounted because of its messenger. That is how many in the Charedi world that Yaffed addresses feel about it. Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education) is an organization founded by Naftuli Moster, a former Belzer Chosid. He is no longer observant. So his message is completely discounted. But it shouldn’t be. This is an organization that advocates for better education in communities like the one he is from.
That community sees him as a Rasha — an evil man that has left the fold. Someone that has no business telling them how to lead their lives and what they should teach their children. Those communities of course have the right to educate their children in any way they see fit. But that should not give them carte blanche avoidance of secular studies. Which is what they more or less do.
Chasidim in communities like these spend little time in elementary school of secular studies and after the age of 13, they spend no time at all on it. While not all Chasidm are like this (some are actually quite educated and are in professions like medicine, law, and academia — the Twersky family comes to mind) they are the exception. Satmar and like minded Chasidim eschew secular education.
To say this is counterproductive to their own welfare is an understatement. The lack of a decent secular education forces most of them to live on the meager incomes that meager educations allow. Meager incomes that cannot support one individual, let alone a family of 10 or more children, Which is not all that uncommon.
The irony of communities like these is that they do not advocate full time Kollel study for life as the ideal. Their ideal is much the same as mine in this regard. Stay in Kollel for a year or two and then go out and get a job to support your family. Full time Kollel for life should be reserved for the elite of the generation that will become our future leaders and teachers.
The problem however is (as I have stated many times) that they do nothing to enhance their earning potential. They do the opposite — denying them an education that would help them earn a better living.
I am not quite sure why they ignore secular studies so much. Perhaps they believe that one does not need to learn the typical subjects taught in a high school in order to make a decent living. How much geometry does one need in most typical jobs — even good ones? How does knowledge of American history or Shakespeare help one in his livelihood?
While it is true that these subjects don’t help you earn more money in life, the overall educational experience does. It is not the individual subjects that help you. It is the discipline of secular study itself that does. Secular studies require a different set of skills than does Talmud study or the study of Chasidus or Halacha. Subjects that take up the entire day of a Chasidic Yeshiva or Kollel student.
And then there is the English language. Which is perhaps their biggest impediment. Only someone completely oblivious to the culture of the American workplace would think that competence in speaking the English language is not a factor in getting a decent job.
One of the things I have personally noticed about these kinds of Chasidim is that they have a very poor command of the English language. There are several reasons for that. One is that they learn English as a second language, Yiddish being the first and primary language spoken in the home and in school. Second, they have no education in English. No grammar. No spelling. No composition. Nothing. With this kind of culture, they end up sounding like immigrants even if they are second or third generation Americans.
Why do they treat English that way? I was once explained the reason for this. They purposely do not want their English to be spoken well because that would make them identify too much with the culture. A Chasidic Rebbe said that he considered it a Chilul HaShem to speak English too well!
That was a mind boggling revelation to me, But it helped to explain why these types of Chasidim don’t speak English that well and are practically ignorant of its basic spellings, grammar, and syntax. The idea of teaching it in their schools is therefore anathema to them! And yet I can’t think of a more basic reason for their not being hired for decent jobs — even if they have then requisite skills.
What this leads to is heavy reliance free loan societies set up by the few very wealthy philanthropists that somehow had the wherewithal to become successful businessmen. Like the Satmar Chasdidm that own B&H, one of the most successful electronics stores in the world. They and others like them are very charitable and provide a lot of good jobs for their Chasidim and many other types of Jews religious and otherwise — and even non-Jews. But it is a drop in the bucket for their needs. Their population exceeds what the owners of B&H and other wealthy philanthropists can provide in jobs; and in money for those free loan societies. I do not believe that relying on charity for sustenance is the paradigm the Torah suggests for its people.
Then there is the problem of relying as well on government programs. Assuming that most Chasidim do not cheat the government for more money than they are entitled to, there are enough who do cheat them for it to have become a Chilul HaShem more than once. How many stories about defrauding the government or misuse of government funds have been in the news already?
But even if every single Chasid of this type was 100% legal and aboveboard, I still have trouble with people using a welfare system as a basic means of support simply because of a Hashkafa that refuses to educate their Chasdim well enough to earn that money themselves. Welfare funds are not intended to be used as supplemental income for those refusing to get an education that would enable them to earn that money
It appears that many of these Chasidim are beginning to realize that they are being seriously short changed in their education.
So I’m very happy that this system is being challenged. From VIN:
Enough is enough!” That’s the basic message of a letter sent by concerned parents, former teachers, and former yeshiva students to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and seven district superintendents in Brooklyn and Queens expressing upset over the lack of a substantial secular education in at least 39 yeshivas.
Fifty-two unidentified signatories added their names to the letter, noting that ultra-Orthodox schools, especially boys’ yeshivas, spend far less time on secular instruction compared to the time spent on religious education.
Organized by the nascent education advocacy group Yaffed, the letter asks officials to “investigate the quality of secular education and, in particular English instruction, at the listed yeshivas and to take steps to ensure that pupils at these yeshivas receive the essential and substantially equivalent education to which they are entitled.”
They may see Yaffed’s call to investigate their schools as a form of Mesirah — informing on them to the authorities. But the desire to be left alone to teach what they want should not be at the expense of using the welfare system as a means of support. I see this as a favor that will hopefully force them to start teaching their people the basic skills necessary to support their families.