Haredi rally celebrating independent education draws thousands

Despite abjuration of state funds, Satmar schools receive gov't money indirectly.

Haredim 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Haredim 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of pale-skinned yeshiva boys smeared with sunscreen lotion gathered Monday in the hot Jerusalem sun to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of an educational system belonging to the most anti-Zionist stream of Orthodox Judaism in the world. The school system, funded primarily by the Satmar Hassidic communities in New York, Antwerp and a few other cities, teaches in Yiddish and says it refuses to receive money from the State of Israel for theological and ideological reasons. However, sources told The Jerusalem Post that the "independent" school system does receive state funds indirectly. Schools that belong to the system, which is run by the Edah Haredit, an umbrella organization of Hassidic sects and fanatic Lithuanian streams of Judaism, register their students in schools that do receive money from the state. These students, who are registered but do not attend, are known as nefashot ("souls") or malachim ("angels"). The state funds received for these souls, or angels, is then transferred to the Edah Haredit schools. The rally staged Monday was ostensibly a 30th anniversary celebration. But organizers and participants said it was really an opportunity to encourage school principals to boost their fundraising efforts as the devalued dollar and the slump in the US economy buffeted haredi education budgets. "We need to shake up the apparatus," said one of the organizers. "The heads of the fundraising efforts have run out of steam. We need new faces." The Keren Hatzala or Emergency Fund, set up by former Satmar Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum to fund a totally autonomous educational system, is strapped for cash. However, the demand for "pure Jewish education" untainted by foreign influences has been growing among haredim, according to organizers of the rally. One of the signs of the rise in the demand for education that is "not funded by sinners" was evident in the crowd of participants. Although most of the children who came to the rally were from traditionally haredi cities such as Safed, Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, there were also children from non-haredi cities such as Beersheba and Beit She'an. Children who go to the schools in these cities are predominantly Sephardi. Unlike their Ashkenazi counterparts, all the teaching is done in Hebrew. "We share in common with Satmar our refusal to receive money from Jews who desecrate Shabbat," said a teacher at Be'er Yitzhak, a school in Beersheba. "It is not an easy thing to resist the temptation to receive money from sinners."