The Current Fight over Orthodox Schooling in New York State, and Its Sordid Backstory

In 2015, complaints from a group of former students of ḥasidic schools claiming that they had been denied proper educations prompted official investigations into over a dozen of these institutions in New York City. Thereafter, both the state and city governments launched their own probes into the curricula and quality of instruction at Orthodox private schools. The issue also led to debate in the state legislature and a lawsuit in defense of these schools. At the heart of the matter is an 1894 statue requiring private schools to provide educations “substantially equivalent” to those offered in public schools. Menachem Wecker explains that the law originated with a New England brahmin named Joseph Hodges Choate, who once told a group of Irish Americans to go back to their country:

Choate, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was from Salem, Massachusetts, a member of the same family whose name has survived on the Choate Rosemary Hall School in Connecticut and the Choate Hall & Stewart law firm in Boston. . . . Choate was known for his “lasting distrust of the New York Irish as a political force,” as D.M. Marshman, Jr. wrote in a 1975 American Heritage profile of the man.

[In 1894], Choate, speaking at a Republican meeting at Cooper Union on the topic of “Tammany Rule,” declared, “We are tired of being submitted to the despotic control of a handful of foreigners who have no stake in the soil.” . . . In May of that year, Choate, then sixty-two, was elected president of the New York State Constitutional Convention, [which addressed, inter alia, issues of church and state]. At the time, . . . . a Protestant minister was quoted as saying: “They [the Catholics] only teach the children in their parochial schools to sing ‘Hail Marys.’ That doesn’t benefit them any. . . . We don’t want such systems in our public schools.”

The convention’s work continued for months. It concluded with a compromise between the aims of Catholics, who hoped to secure funding for their schools and charities, and those who opposed all such support from tax dollars. The Catholics got funding for their charities but not their schools. . . . At the same time, the state also added to its education law the requirement, [supported by Choate], that the non-public schools offer an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of the public schools.

Given [the society-wide] decline in religious observance, some see the [current] New York probe of yeshivas in the context of broader infringements by secular or liberal society on traditional religious institutions. In that analysis, the current regulatory effort to evaluate the educational offerings of ḥasidic schools seems like just the latest development in a long government push against minority religious education. In 1894, authorities took away funding. In 2019, they’re sending inspectors into schools to check up on them.

Read more at Education Next

More about: Day schools, Freedom of Religion, Jewish education, New York, Ultra-Orthodox

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem