New York’s election results, where Republican election-denier Lee Zeldin was defeated by the Democratic incumbent, Governor Kathy Hochul, were a resounding refutation of two big lies:
1) that the 2020 election was plagued with irregularities and stolen from Donald Trump; that he, in fact, was the real winner.
2) that Hochul’s Education Department’s desire to compel Haredi schools to enhance their general studies curriculum by adding and enhancing certain disciplines had malicious intent; that it was designed in order to undermine Orthodox Judaism and to dictate to religious parents how to raise their children.
Both claims are untrue
The 2020 election, of course, was not rigged, as evinced by the fact that two years later we are still waiting for any evidence to substantiate this claim. In fact, more than 60 attempts to get US courts to nullify the results failed, because each of the claims was found to be without merit and, therefore, dismissed.
As for Hochul’s educational goals for the Haredi community: The New York State government never had any designs on the Haredi way of life. Aside from the suggested curricular modifications, they had no interest in changing anything.
From the outset, Hochul’s education department merely wanted to supplement classical yeshiva education with some important non-religious disciplines such as reading, science, math, social studies and the like, all the while allowing Haredi parents to retain their sacred parental right of absolute educational autonomy, letting them raise their children as they deem correct.
Some people, however, in order to further their own agenda, chose to lie and misrepresent the facts.
The big lie about Hochul’s agenda was propagated by some within the community, and Zeldin, a person with a propensity for embracing big lies by adamantly and very vocally insisting that the elections were stolen from Trump, was more than happy to jump on the bandwagon of another big lie, amplifying it and giving it credence. But, as it turns out, a significant segment of the ultra-Orthodox laity was not swayed.
In spite of being inundated with ads, robocalls, and campaign talking heads, all of them perpetuating the big lie about Governor Hochul’s intentions, they nevertheless voted for her.
Just like those who feared that acquiescing to Hochul’s program would diminish the piousness of their offspring and therefore passionately agitated against her, those who voted for Hochul also want their kids to remain religious but – in contrast to the scare-peddlers – also want their kids to have the skills necessary to thrive and be materially successful.
And as much as they were browbeaten into believing that such a curriculum would be detrimental to their children’s religious well-being, they knew that it was not true. They rejected the big lie.
Because it indeed is not true.
EMBRACING THE suggested curricular changes is perfectly compatible with an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. One can master those general disciplines without negating any religious values or behaviors. The evidence for that is all around us.
A cursory observation of our contemporary reality will show that there are many religious doctors, scientists, lawyers, finance professionals and mathematicians who have attained a sophisticated secular education without compromising their values, downgrading their religious practices, or negating their core beliefs. Secular sophistication and religious piety are friends, not enemies.
With big-lie enthusiast Zeldin gone, hopefully, those invested in creating the illusion of a religious threat where none exists will also turn down the volume and let people see the educational endeavor for what is: merely an attempt to enable Haredi youth to thrive and prosper professionally, something that, in the long run, will not undermine their punctiliousness but, in fact, will enhance it.
As the rabbis teach us (Eiruvin 41b), poverty causes people to act against their own will and the will of God.
The writer is chair of the Dept. of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York.