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September 5, 2016 10:45 am

New York Times Column Smears Satmars as Ignorant Welfare Sponges

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn. Photo: wiki commons.

Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn. Photo: wiki commons.

The latest salvo in the New York Times’ one-sided campaign against traditional Jewish education comes in the form of a column by Ginia Bellafante that is one of the nastiest and most unfounded attacks on a Jewish group published by the Times in recent memory.

The Times columnist accuses Satmar Hasidim of being welfare sponges:

Politicians who might otherwise feel free to lecture black and Hispanic communities on the importance of grit, self-reliance and the sacred path of higher learning express remarkably little outrage over the habits of a group that essentially enshrines its own dependency on the system. According to a 2011 study by the UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish philanthropic organization, just 11 percent of Hasidic men and 6 percent of Hasidic women in and around New York City hold bachelor’s degrees, while the poverty rate among Hasidic households stands at 43 percent, nearly twice the figure citywide.

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A reliance on public assistance is remarkably common among the Hasidim, explained Lani Santo, the executive director of Footsteps, an organization begun in 2003 to help those who decide to leave the ultra-Orthodox world.

This is problematic on at least two levels.

First, the hypocrisy and double standard of which the Times accuses the politicians applies just as equally to the Times. Times columnists feel free to accuse politicians of racism or callousness when the politicians deplore welfare dependency in the black or Hispanic community. But the Times columnists lead the charge against welfare when the targets are Hasidic Jews. (The column doesn’t mention that many such Jews pay taxes to support public schools that they do not use.)

Second, the statistical basis on which the Times makes its argument is erroneous. The Times cites the 2011 UJA-Federation of New York study to claim that that “the poverty rate among Hasidic households stands at 43 percent, nearly twice the figure citywide.” But the UJA-Federation study, as the first footnote in the poverty chapter makes clear, uses 150% of the federal poverty guideline to define “poor.” It’s an apples to oranges comparison; the UJA-Federation uses a different and far more expansive definition of poor than the one the Times uses as a comparison.

The same UJA study that found the 43% “poverty” — actually, up to 150% of the federal definition — rate among hasidic Jews also found an even higher 71% poverty rate among elderly Russian-speakers and a 48% poverty rate among those with disabled people in the household. Yet there’s not a peep of complaint from the Times columnist about welfare dependency in those communities. It’s almost enough to make a reader suspect that what the Times columnist really dislikes isn’t welfare dependency but religiosity, particularly when it is of the fervently Orthodox Jewish variety.

Likewise, a Times news article from 2011 reported that “Among Hispanic single mothers in the Bronx, the poverty rate was nearly 58 percent.” That’s using the federal definition, not the more expansive 150% of the federal poverty rate UJA-Federation definition. The Times columnist doesn’t mention that, perhaps because it would undercut her effort to portray Hasidic Jews, or Satmars in particular, as especially shiftless.

The rest of this column is marred by similar tendentiousness and errors of judgment. The Times quotes one “exile from the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn” complaining about her education: “They didn’t teach us anything in high school so I didn’t know anything, no Shakespeare or anything like that.” Nothing against Shakespeare, but how many Hasidic Jews are going to become Shakespearean actors or English literature professors? The odds of professional success in such careers are extremely long even if one isn’t a Hasidic Jew. The apparent success of the “exile” in finding her way to such material on her own itself undercuts the claim that the failure of her school or parents to force-feed it to her amounts to some kind of abuse or insuperable obstacle.

The Times column begins, “In the mid-1940s, Joel Teitelbaum, an eminent and charismatic rabbi, immigrated to the United States, colonizing a section of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for his Hasidic sect, the Satmar, its name taken from the Hungarian town of Szatmar, where Rabbi Teitelbaum had fought to resist the encroachments of a modernizing society. Subsequent decades have seen virtually no retrenchment in the sect’s mistrust of the larger world.”

Well, what possibly was happening in 1940s Hungary that might have engendered “mistrust” of “modernizing society”? The Times doesn’t say, in a remarkable exception to the newspaper’s usual post-Holocaust Holocaust obsession.

“Encroachments of a modernizing society” is Times-speak, an Orwellian euphemism for the Nazis who sought to exterminate Jewry — and who nearly succeeded in doing so in Europe. With their rockets and Zyklon B, the Nazis were plenty “modern” and knew all the science that the Times is complaining that the hasidic schools in New York don’t teach. But the Nazis, like this Times column, lacked any concept of the limits of modernity, or of the importance of traditional Judaism and its enduring values in understanding the proper and improper uses of science.

I’m not a Satmar. But on the basis of this particular piece of work — and, for that matter, the recent coverage of Jewish education — for closed-mindedness and ignorance, the Times metro section and its columnist are well down there below the worst that any Jewish religious school has to offer.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.  

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  • SatmarWithBachalors

    Well reasoned article. I would point out that in the secular world, those graduates of preforming arts struggle badly to find work in that discipline. Those that do find work are underpaid, perhaps would align with those 43% impovrished Satmars. I have taken several classes in college that focused on Shakespeare. One Daf of Talmud is far richer and insightful than the fiction created by William Shakespeare

  • Mordko

    We don’t read Shakespeare to become actors. There is no excuse for keeping kids ignorant. That was a really, really dumb point.

  • sam cohen

    Ginia Bellafante- Follows in her father’s footsteps. Harry has always been hateful of Israel,the Jews and any blacks who have love of the United States.

    • Billy M

      I believe you are confusing Gina Belafonte with the author.

  • Seth Watkins

    The NY Times article is racist in another way: It refers to Jews who “immigrated to the United States, colonizing a section of” NYC.

    In my town in Northern California, the past two years has seen a dramatic influx of immigrants, green-card holders, and investment-visa holders who have purchased most new homes on the market. My neighborhood has gone from largely Anglo and Hispanic to about 40% foreign-born Asians in that period. I doubt the NY Times would call that influx “colonization.” Nope – that term is racist, unless the term is applied to Jewish immigration.

    • Yitzchokm

      Great point.

  • Manfred Shalom

    I fully support Mr. Stoll’s thesis and the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel NY Times biases are well known. I hope the author will further delve into the important new agenda of not only the Times but sadly of UJA in NY which is to try to attract Hasidic and Orthodox young adults to alternative lifestyles particularly of the unobservant kind. There is one group supported by UJA that offers Yom Kippur banquets and another that claims to offer support for those “leaving their community but wanting to remain religious” yet they too offer alternative lifestyles. Have a look at UJA Pride (link) http://www.ujafedny.org/what-we-do/strengthen-our-global-community/ujapride/? We can be accepting and loving but let’s not encourage our children.

  • Chaim

    I’m no supporter of the NYT, but they make some valid points here. The Satmars and other chassidim have made an art out of scamming government institutions. The men are healthy and able-bodied, and should be out working like the rest of us, not studying all day (or working secretly in the community, and receiving non-taxable money). Why should so many people live off of my money here in the US, and others’ money in Israel? It all comes down to one thing: THE BLOCK VOTE.

    • Yitzchokm

      Why do you assume it’s a scam? If you don’t like it, get the politicians to change the rules. And then apply it fairly to everyone. Saying that chassidim are scamming while other minorities aren’t is hypocritical.

      • Block the Block

        That response is amazing to me. You admit the hasids are scamming the system ( but not the only ones ) and that they exploit the system under current laws and that the laws need to change. Question is How long can a leach live once the host is dead ??

  • Ronald Polland

    The NY Times has always been THE most consistently anti-Semitic newspaper in the world.

    Welcome to America’s Der Sturmer.

  • When it comes to going out to work Satmar is at the top. The vast majority of young men in Satmar go out to work hard right after their wedding as opposed to other hassidic sects where newlywed men are expected to sit in kollel 2-3 years before going out to work. So something doesnt add up here.

  • Salomon Lipiner

    I’m surprised that Mr. Stoll equates poverty brought about by circumstances beyond the control of the poor with willful poverty brought about by the refusal to acquire knowledge which could lead to productive employment and a way out of poverty.
    It is unfair to blame the NYT or its reporter for reporting the fact and bringing it to light.

    • Salomon,

      Satmar are very educated. They start their kids in “Cheder” at the age of 4. These kids read and write Hebrew at the age of 6 when most kids are learning their ABCs. This may not be your view of education, but I can tell you that knowledge these kids accumulate about Torah and Jewish Law would amaze you. Still, you are correct in saying that a better secular education will get them further in life, in so far as finances goes. But the article doesn’t speak about the Satmar education, but rather the fact that they mooch off society.Other than the 2011 UJA statistics quoted in the article, there is really no basis for saying that the Satmar are more/less taking government assistance. In fact, as stated in this rebuttal, it seems that the UJA statistics use a more stringent yard stick than the government’s. Furthermore, if the NY Times wanted to be fair, they would have juxtaposed the Satmar to other groups who take government assistance, but they didn’t. That’s the point.

      • The village of Kiryas Joel, NY is a 100% Satmar community. 93% of the community receives public assistance.

  • Dani

    The NY Times won´t be so harsh against ultraortodox Jews if they knew most are agaist the State of Israel.

    • M. Edward Triefler

      Sad but true, the most persecuted religion in the history of the World, has in it’s own midst stupid backward thinking people that while not appreciating the part of Israel that is Zionist and Secular, is in fact the only ultimate refuge that will be available to them. To many Ultra-Orthodox Jews, believe in the “my way or the highway’ version of life.

  • I read the article referred to here and I was also shocked.I don’t agree with many aspects of the Satmar movement. However, I found the “New York Times” article to be very biased. I wonder why the black and Hispanic communities were even brought into the discussion.The “Times” seems to be intent on creating a reason for hostility toward Jews in other communities.

  • This is very true. The Satmars have been sponging from our tax base for over 30 years and they know how to cheat the system to the fullest. Go into their homes and you will see beautiful sterling silver candlesticks and expensive furniture. Their wives are wearing real Hermes scarves on their heads and they study all day. How can they afford their lifestyle???? On OUR backs.

    • M. Edward Triefler

      The same way as the Blacks and Hispanics can afford $250 sneakers, gold teeth and tattoos on every conceivable part of their bodies. They don’t believe in birth control, or actually that’s a misnomer, they believe in the more children they have the more money they will receive. I have a particular beef, when it comes to cell phones, it sometimes comes down to what did they do before cell phones were surgically attached to their ears. The phenomenon has totally reduced the good old ‘phone booths’ of cause this answers the question, what happened to Superman? He no longer has a place to change!

    • Lisa,

      You are clearly ignorant and miss the whole point of the NYT article and the accurate response in this article. Whether the Satmar women wear Hermes or not is not the issue. In fact, you too can shop in China town and buy a Hermes or any luxury branded scarf or handbag for about 10% of the cost of the real thing. How do you know the Hermes scarf is real? What’s more disturbing is that you take a trivial point to make your case and miss the big picture. The article focuses on the Stamar based on a measuring stick from 2011 created by the UJA. Why wasn’t this mentioned? Why weren’t other groups mentioned in the article to give an unbiased broad view? I don’t agree with the Satmar on most issues, but when I see clear The New York Times bias, it has to be aired.

  • Thanks for pointing out the misleading use of data and omissions. The NYT was wrong to single out Satmar. Sqverer should have been mentioned as being even more insular, cocooned, and dependent on taxpayers who they don’t respect very much. There is so much intelligence and dedication to study in that Black hat/Vitamin D and sunlight-deprived world. It would be a kiddush HaShem if some of that talent channeled into learning and advancing themselves and disciplines involving science, technology, engineering, math, and health care professions.

    Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski is a great Chassidic Rabbi and Psychiatrist. There should be more like him who are able to drink from and share the wells of Chasidus and science with all of humanity as well as various Jewish communities.

  • Myron Slater

    It is to be expected, when the New York Times is involved. It’s a newspaper that has sold its soul to antisemitism.

  • Stan Nadel

    To write “Yet there’s not a peep of complaint from the Times columnist about welfare dependency in those communities.” is to miss the point. Foregoing secular education is a voluntary action that leads to poverty, being disabled or an elderly Russian speaker is not voluntary.

  • Rabbi Dr Jay Bauman

    Well written response to Jew and Hassidic bashing brought forth by NY Times. The NY Times didn’t mention that areas similar to Williamsburg and Boropark are virtually free of violent crime and are additionally supported by the greater Jewish community.
    JB

    • David in NY

      Taj Patterson would like a word with you

  • Ani

    It’s part of an ongoing campaign by the NYT to discredit observant Jews. They had a recent column or two which railed against the notion of having a few separate swim times for women(all women; not just Jews) that were in practice at a few pools in observant neighborhoods.

    The NYT only likes non-religious leftist anti-Israel Jews with money to spend. The rest they have no use for and consider an embarrassment.

    The saddest thing though is the comments section on their article. While there are some brave souls who called the NYT on their mission to demonize any Jews not to their liking (and hey, the Satmars are even anti-Zionist; you’d think the NYT would like them!)most, as I’m sure they figured would be, were Pavlovian in their response to the article. Calling for the Satmar yeshivas to be shut down, politicians to be investigated, and trashing the Satmars for being “on the dole”. Can you just imagine if the NYT printed an article like this about a black community? Hispanic? Nah; never happen. Just Jews are fair game these days.

  • Charlotte

    I cannot stand the NY Slimes. So what-there are other religions who leech off welfare and the NY Slimes says nothing. Anyway I look at it-if they are on welfare- as reparations for the Holocaust, remembering that the NYT wouldnt publsih anything about the dispossession and murder of Jews under the Nazis. And the NY Slimes’s owner was Jewish and still is. The news was often buried in the back pages in part due to the view about Judaism of the paper’s Jewish publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. It also gives a critical look at the work of Times correspondents in Europe.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buried_by_the_Times

  • Sharon Rappaport

    Kol HaKavod. Thank you for your efforts to expose this antiSemitic rag.

  • The New York Times is the trash of the Western World. If you want to find hatred and misreporting then read the NYT.

  • P Kipnis

    another smear job perpetrated on a community that has solid, if not different, family values. Statistics are used to validate a particular position. But unless you have the time to delve into the text, you can be totally, totally mislead. In this case the Times has used its name and position to allow a “hack” to write an article of half-truths about a society that is totally foreign to themselves. She could have used the metric of how few Christmas cards they mail, or how often they do yoga as a metric. Not that they participate in these activities, the metric could be designed to show them in a bad light. Oh and that final slur about leaving the good old country to colonize Brooklyn in the 1040’s… Hello, ever hear of the National Socialist Party’s position on Hungarian Jews????

  • richard sherwin

    the nyt is a sensation rag vis a vis orthodox jews and a scandal rag vis a vis israel –esp netanyahu. it peddles liberally its pretentions to its clients:

    Been there done that and
    new york times addiction
    gibbering the soul
    the long withdrawing boredom
    realitys atonement

    i guess it’s good for developing spirituality?

  • pinchas baram

    I don’t like the NYTimes, but I also don’t like the Satmar cult either. yes Virginia, they ARE welfare sponges– like a lot of whites,blacks and browns. yes, they milk the system (here and in Israel) and avoid things “modern.” They were like that before Hitler and after Hitler, so the author’s comment that the Satmar oppose modernity because the of latter’s association with modernity is way off base. All in all, the author has too much of a vendetta against the Times, he indulges in over-kill and undermines his argument.

  • judith grayson

    the new york times is a contemptible ignorant anti semitic trope. it has the same appeal as a stuffed up toilet bowl. we need demand a mercy flush. indeed, it has no more efficacy than those backwoods rural kkk anti semitic pamphlets that circulated before there was an internet.

  • And what about use of “colonizing”? Did R’ Yoelisch also set up a “settlement”?

  • FORTUNE

    the article is basically true.

  • Lia

    Mr Stoll, I’m not Jewish, I don’t live in Israel and I have never even visited Israel, but you are fast becoming on of my heroes.

  • Philip Cohen

    It’s not clear that Teitelbaum’s behavior in Europe was entirely based on the Nazi presence in Hungary. I would have been happier had Stoll provided some evidence for his claim. What little I know of the Satmar behavior in America and Israel they do appear to eschew modernity. Why not in Hungary as well, with or without Nazi presence? That being possibly the case, I suspect Stoll’s accusation of the author of the Times article applying tainted language may be an overstatement.

    I am surprised, on the other hand, that Stoll neglected to critique the author’s use of the term “colonized” with reference to Satmar settlement in Williamsburg. The use of that term seems genuinely specious and prejudicial. Why is moving en masse into a neighborhood in any sense considered its colonization.

  • GinIA Bellefonte obviously wishes she was born early in the last cemtury in Germany so she could have worked for Der Sturmer. Then again she is no different than every Times’ employee. She also managed with euphemistic writing to bury the Holocaust, the Times’ most famous claim to fame.

  • Respectfully, you are completely missing the point. Regardless of what economic standard of measurement is applied, the Hasidim are poorly educated, superstitious, and backwards. They are dogmatically self-righteous and perpetuate their own downward spiral, deleteriously impacting not only the continued existence of Judaism and the strength of our people, but American society as a whole. They are the same as Haitian witch doctors. There is no difference, except, maybe, for the books that they refer to.

    The literary complexities of Shakespeare, my friend, as well as Kierkegaard, Russell, Nietzsche, and countless others are critically important in developing essential thinking skills. Without that, a person is not adequately educated or well-rounded. The Hasidim are not and should not be pillars of Judaism, they are our people’s Achilles Heal. It is time to view them in context.

    • Tikva

      Sir,

      You are terribly misinformed, undereducated in the lifeblood and meaningful texts of Jewish tradition, closed-minded, and also racist.

      America was founded upon tolerance and respect for differences and freedom of worship…but you have been educated that secularism is the new god.
      If you could put aside your prejudices and take a JLI course, join JNET, or find a chavruta who believes that the Torah isn’t just another way to magnify the self, you would be doing a service to yourself and the nation.

    • SatmarWithBachalors

      The Talmud is better at teaching critical thinking than William Shakespeare. Your comment is obvious that you never studied Talmud, and if you did your brain is fried.

  • Sorry. These communities have enormous internal poverty, strife, and problems that merit exposure. The education situation is a tragic mess. These are grim, unhappy communities of forced conformity, cheating women out of a full life, and miserable forced weddings. The pressure to have 10 or more children is destroying the future for a better life for the next generation. The dependency on welfare is not a question for anyone who knows….. its a sad new reality. We should be secure enough to take a good look and speak out, as caring Jews.

    • SatmarWithBachalors

      Your concerns are legit if the manufacturing industry was alive and those Satmars abstained from work. Your credible Secular Society forced all jobs overseas and forcing people to accostume to welfare in order to survive. Bring back the manufacturing industry, and you will see the best of Hasidc Jews.

  • Sorry, I can’t agree. If these people need to live like this, we don’t need to support them.My children and grandchildren live and work and study in Israel and give back to their society. They dont’ have their hands out to feed and educate and protect them as these ultra hasidim do. They fought in wars in Israel, endangering their lives .I’m no friend of the NYT and their biased reporting about Isreal and Jews but in this case, I am in full agreement.

    • Ani

      It’s not that there aren’t issues with the Satmar community. It’s just that this is one more in a series of NYT articles designed to elicit demands from their readership to close their schools, cut off their assistance and otherwise curtail their activities. Basically, the NYT finds them to be an embarrassment, unlike the “quaint” Amish I suppose. Many of us object to how they have stereotyped and stigmatized the Satmar in a way they would never do to blacks, Hispanics, etc.

  • Steven F. Solomon

    Not a big surprise. The NYT is nothing but another liberal and antisemitic shmatte written and run by self-loathing Jews. No credibility left as far as most people I know think. Cancelled our subscription years ago. Couldn’t care less about what they say.

  • Ephraim

    The Times hates religiosity MOST of the time. The savages of radical Islam are paragons to the ‘all the news we like we print.’

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