Back in the late 1990s, when I began my writing career, I remember meeting a professor of journalism who had been a journalist for decades for the Gannett network of newspapers. If I recall correctly, he was a professor at Rutgers University. We got to talking about journalistic ethics and he told me candidly, “If you know what you are doing, you can completely eviscerate a person or a group and still stick to the rules of journalism. It is done all the time, although I think it is unethical.”
When I read the New York Times “investigative report” on Sunday, prominently featured “above the fold” on the front page of the paper, the first thing I thought of were the words of that professor.
(As an aside, my colleague, Rabbi Yochonon Donn, wryly remarked, “80 years ago [when Jews were being slaughtered en masse], we were stuck on the bottom of page 26. Now we’re on the front page, on top of the fold.”)
You see, they obviously handpicked journalists with Jewish names to avoid allegations of anti-Semitism and chose the low hanging fruit, the Satmar community and those similar, but they are really referring to all visibly frum Jews who are not as “enlightened” as they are.
That means me and you reading this article. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are Satmar-style chassidish, yeshivish, American frum, or whether you live in New York or anywhere else. The New York Times disapproves of your lifestyle. Not only that, but they want to make you and me into criminals for educating our children the way that we see fit. There are numerous passages in the article that prove as much.
Firstly, however, I want to say that I am not here to condone the Satmar style secular education standards, nor do I feel that it is my place to disparage them. I will say that it is not the way I was raised, nor are their standards those with which I educate my own children. That said, the article was there not just to criticize the level of secular education provided in that network of schools, but to underhandedly cast aspersions on the entire chareidi community’s right to educate their children in the way they see fit.
Here are a couple of quotes from the article, where the so-called investigative journalists show their real agenda, as they criticize schools for imposing standards that actually impose religious standards on those attending the schools.
They write, “As the internet has become more widely available, many schools have grown more restrictive, even barring students whose parents are caught with smartphones.” Oy, how terrible! Imposing standards on your students and parent body in order to comply with the ethos of the school. How un-American can you get? The priests of “freedom” at the New York Times have decided that schools are abusive because they seek to be protected from the ravages of the World Wide Sewer…
Here is another aspect of the chinuch that vexed the investigative journalists at the Times: “Secular textbooks are either censored with black marker to blot out images of girls or pigs…” Yes, in Western culture today, blotting out images that may not conform with our ideals of modesty can be seen as something from the Dark Ages, despite the fact that, in our opinion, many of the pictures of women exploit them. Aside from that, we follow the “archaic” words of the Torah that state, “Lo sosuru acharei levavchem v’acharei eineichem.”
Charedi schools with fantastic secular studies programs from which graduates go to Harvard or Columbia would also take great care with regard to the images that their boys see, and if they were deemed to be immodest by our standards, not the New York Times’ standard, they would also blot them out. Again, it isn’t our lack of secular standards that vexes them; it is our religiosity that irks them. Clearly, nice Jewish girls and boys like New York Times journalists Eliza Shapiro and Brian Rosenthal feel uncomfortable being associated with unenlightened and grubby Jews, such as us, chareidim.
There is nothing illegal or unethical about letting parents decide what images they want their kids to see. If they don’t like pigs, they don’t have to show them images of pigs either. It’s a free country. I know this makes journalists like Shapiro and Rosenthal and the editorial board of the New York Times feel uncomfortable. To their “enlightened” minds, freedom of expression only goes one way in America today.
An Extension of the Totalitarian Woke Ideology
The truth is that he investigative article against the “Hasidic” yeshivos is just an extension of the rabidly totalitarian woke agenda regarding which the New York Times leads the way. The only types of restrictions that the Times agrees with is restricting your liberty. If you dare to insinuate that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, the New York Times wants the government to come after you. If you G-d forbid want to limit the internet use to which your students have access, the Times wants the government after you. But if you want to trash a CVS or a 7-11 with impunity, that is fine. If you want men to have free use of the women’s bathroom or locker room, that is even commendable.
The underlying message of the article, under the guise of helping students obtain skills to get ahead in the modern world, is not unlike the woke curriculum standards being imposed on public schools against the will of a large percentage of the parents whose children attend those schools. It is all part of the culture wars in this country that are tearing it apart. Satmar is the easiest target. The rest of the chareidim are probably next, because they are the second easiest target. Then they will go after the Catholics and the Evangelicals as well. If I was a religious person who sends their child to a private school, especially a Catholic or Evangelical school, I would be afraid. They are starting with Satmar because it is an easy target. That is just the beginning. Forewarned is forearmed.
It’s Those Sly, Money Grubbing Jews, I Mean Hasids
Another theme between the lines of the article is the age-old anti-Semitic trope of the “money grubbing Jews.” It appears that the word Jew has been replaced by the word chareidi or Hasid, but the obviously Jewish Rosenthal and Shapiro are painting the same picture in the readers’ minds: disdain for the Hasids who have the chutzpah to use government money for private schools. The headline on that part of the article reads, “Private Schools, Public Money.” As if American citizens who send their children to private schools and pay taxes do not have the right to government programs that are not used for the teaching of religion. (According to the Times, only illegal immigrants should get welfare, but not Chassidic Jews…)
The Times ominously informs us that “the money is flowing [to Hasidic schools] as New York City is cutting public school budgets.” As if there is some kind of terrible abuse of power for an American citizen in a private school accessing money that is constitutionally coming to them.
The Times then tells us that of another terrible crime that those “shifty Hasids” are committing. They are actually using those brains of theirs (despite not being prepared for American life) to know how to access money that is available for them as law-abiding American citizens: “Some government programs provide a disproportionate amount of aid to Hasidic schools,” the Times found. “The city voucher program that helps low-income families pay for child care now sends nearly a third of its total assistance to Hasidic neighborhoods, even while tens of thousands of people have languished on waiting lists… The program provides more than $50 million a year to Hasidic boys’ schools that claim the end of their regular school day as child care. Records show Yeshiva Imrei Chaim Viznitz in Borough Park had 735 boys enrolled in 2019 and collected funding from 650 vouchers that year, city records show. Parents there said administrators coached them on applying for vouchers and other programs.”
Oh, what terrible things those money grubbing Hasidim are doing! They are actually taking care of their own people and helping them get funds that are rightfully coming to them. Such greed!
Then there is an even more ominous accusation. Drum roll, please. The Hasids are using “$100 million to provide school breakfast and lunch to their students.” How terrible that young children with side locks are using government money for lunches. As if only the families living in poverty who are not Hasids are entitled to lunches. As if only the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant children in the New York school systems are entitled to lunch and not those devious Hasids…
The authors don’t even bother to be a bit more elegant about couching their bigotry, because they know that they will not be taken to task for attacking this ethnic group. Just imagine what the outcry would be if a different minority was treated this way.
Let me conclude with a general point about the article.
The primary focus of the writers is on a miniscule sub-group of former Chassidim who are not observant Jews and obviously have an ax to grind with their former community. They make it look as if the overwhelming majority of Hasidim are unhappy, abused members of some cult, who do not have a normal life. The truth, however, at least for anyone who wants to open their eyes, is that the vast majority of Hasidim and chareidim have a wonderful quality of life. They grow up in two-parent families, enveloped in love. They spend their days actually learning in school, even though that learning may not mean much to Ms. Shapiro and Mr. Rosenthal. They have a disciplined life, a good life, and the overwhelming majority go on to lead productive lives of their own. While of course our hearts go out to anyone suffering, including the malcontents and former Hasidim, to extrapolate to a community of “over 200,000” based primarily on the experiences of that miniscule minority is a journalistic crime of lack of context.
As I said at the outset, the New York Times is not just after the Chassidim. They, with their totalitarian intolerant woke ideology, are after anyone who refuses to think as they do and conform to the new zeitgeist. All of us non-Satmar style chareidim are next.