Hassidic yeshiva investigation: NYT, your bias is showing - opinion

The New York Times so-called exposé is a crass, ill-informed swipe at a community whose value system, educational beliefs and religious duties are directly opposed to the publications' policymakers.

 RABBIS DANCE at a banquet of the Chabad-Lubavitch International Conference of Shluchim (emissaries), in Suffern, NY, in 2018. ‘These hassidim do teach their children proper English because they are missionaries.’ (photo credit: MARK KAUZLARICH/REUTERS)
RABBIS DANCE at a banquet of the Chabad-Lubavitch International Conference of Shluchim (emissaries), in Suffern, NY, in 2018. ‘These hassidim do teach their children proper English because they are missionaries.’
(photo credit: MARK KAUZLARICH/REUTERS)

The New York Times published a sensational investigation on September 11, trashing the New York regional hassidic yeshiva schools. The place to start in understanding the expose is to review the background of the reporters. One reporter brags about her background working for Politico and the Daily Beast. Her mother is a high-ranking official at The NY Times itself. The other reporter has a similar background, claiming in his Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech that his job as a reporter is to help those, at least in his opinion, who need his assistance. Neither reporter makes any pretense at an impartial examination of yeshiva school education.

The major gripe of the reporters is nothing new. Jews, especially religious Jews who keep themselves separate, are not part of the integrated society sought by the reporters, are insular and do not have respect for the liberal values that the investigators espouse.

Most of the article deals with the type of education that the hassidic yeshiva students do not get. They do not learn what the investigative reporters believe that they should learn. Never mind that the rates of drug use, family dissolution and mental illness are far less in the so-called black hat community than in virtually any other structural unit in this country.

The investigation is based upon thin evidence, to say the least. Aside from the small number of people interviewed, the reporters give the stories of those whom they identify as having suffered from mental illness. It is clear that the reporters would like to blame the yeshiva school environment for the mental illness but that certainly is not provable from the information given in the newspaper article.

What makes these reporters even angrier is that, like many private schools, the yeshivas are receiving money for providing an education of which The NY Times does not approve. No doubt, it is better to give eight-year-olds a choice as to gender, than to teach them religious values. Yes, that is actually happening in many public schools around the country. In some jurisdictions, gender choice is all the rage.

 People from the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community are seen in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, US, August 15, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/STEPHANIE KEITH) People from the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community are seen in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, US, August 15, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/STEPHANIE KEITH)

There is no question that the hassidic yeshiva community is very concerned with modern American values and seeks to direct their students in a different direction. That seems very annoying to the reporters, who also claim excessive corporal punishment in the yeshiva school environment. Everyone that the reporters talked to decried any violence, even if it was only one student. Nevertheless, based on a small number of interviews, the reporters are convinced that this a problem of a major component in the yeshiva school environment.

New York Times: Chabad-Lubavitch hassidim are Jewish missionaries?

The NY Times shows its bias when speaking of other groups, as well. Lubavitch is the fastest growing denomination of Judaism, with well over 4,500 Chabad Houses around the world. The NY Times’ reporters gleefully claim that these hassidim do teach their children proper English because they are missionaries. Nothing can be further from the truth and in fact, it is blatant defamation. The Chabad environment exists to educate and to provide a Jewish opportunity for people who are receptive to it. Every Lubavitch rabbi that I have ever met assiduously avoids anything that appears to be a missionary. It is that kind of comment in The NY Times article that shows the mindset of the reporters and the total lack of credibility in an article such as this. An apology should be forthcoming and sooner or later it will be.

 What of modern Orthodox and other Jewish schools that are akin to the highest-level prep schools? The article deals with those institutions by a snide swipe. The authors preferred to focus on the lifestyle of the Satmar Hassidim for whom they have particular disdain. In all candor, I am not crazy about the Satmar myself, because of their stand on Israel as being a nation that only deserves to come into being when the Messiah comes. I do not see politics the way the Satmar do but I respect their right to educate their children privately, as the family sees fit.

US education needs more schools controlled by parents with strong societal values

PERHAPS WHAT is wrong with American education is that we do not have more schools controlled by parents with strong societal values. The NY Times, in its exposé, attempts to compare the hassidic communities with the poorest Black community schools in the New York metropolitan area, writing that the Jewish schools are even worse off than the poverty-stricken Black schools. However, The NY Times does not compare what happens to those students both in the school and outside the school; the comparative rates of crime, divorce, alienation and mental illness.

The NY Times would never make such a comparison and it should not. However, to use the comparison of hassidic schools with poor Black schools demonstrates the repulsive bias of the newspaper and its reporters, and the level to which they will stoop to insult multiple groups, sometimes simultaneously, in the interest of left-wing elitism.

The reporters rail against the inability of hassidic yeshiva students to get the kind of jobs that the reporters apparently believe they should have. Yet, there is little to no data in the article about the financial difficulty these yeshiva school graduates face, because the community largely takes care of their own. It is too bad we do not have more of that in America.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the bias of the NY Times is not in the article itself but what follows. The authors and the newspaper pointedly acknowledge that because of a paucity of information and the fact that the yeshiva high schools would not practice self-immolation by cooperating with The NY Times, those who read the article should contact the newspaper and the authors with more ugly stories. In other words, the newspaper realizes that it is on very thin ice and hopefully, it can drum up some additional angry, irrational and probably false support.

 The paper bragged that they have translated the article into Yiddish. Therefore, in addition, the newspaper and its authors are doing their best to undermine the community structure, cause a rift within the Jewish community and cast aspersion upon those with whom the writers profoundly disagree.

Regardless of whether the authors of The NY Times exposé like it, the leaders of hassidic Judaism are going to pursue their own value system. That value system will not be a left-wing, politically acceptable path endorsed by The NY Times. The article makes clear mention of the political differences that the hassidic groups have with the New York liberal Left, and the fact that they use their political power to benefit the community. And what is wrong with that? It sounds like America to me.

A threadbare mention is made about antisemitism but there is a clear implication that it is the fault of the hassidic Jews for the way they dress, appear and fail to mingle in a way that The NY Times finds acceptable.

The so-called exposé is a crass, ill-informed swipe at a community whose value system, educational beliefs and religious duties are directly opposed to the policymakers at The NY Times. Thank goodness more and more people are beginning to realize that The NY Times engages in what used to be called yellow journalism, to attack and undermine those with whose view the editorial board disagrees.

The writer is a board-certified trial advocate in Williamsport, past president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a past member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. None of the opinions expressed necessarily represent the views of these organizations.