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

July 19 2019

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.

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Read more at Education Next

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

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy