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September 19, 2022 12:16 pm
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New York Times Ups Attack on Hasidic Jews, Publishing Editorial Riddled With Contradictions and Contempt

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Another Sunday, another New York Times assault on Hasidic Jews.

This week’s installment comes in the form of an editorial that suffers from a stunning logical contradiction. The editorial accuses the Hasidim of failing to teach their children the skills needed to participate in democracy. And the editorial simultaneously accuses the Hasidim of being so politically effective that they’ve managed successfully to influence New York politicians and thereby to ward off additional regulation.

Got that? The Times editorial claims that the students in the Hasidic schools “are being denied education in a common language and the other essential skills that enable Americans to meet their responsibilities as citizens.” The Times contends that “there is hardly any instruction in English and math, and even less in science and civics.”

Yet the Times also reports that “elected officials have been deeply reluctant to take decisive action to protect these children. The reality is that if they did they could face political reprisals from leaders of the Hasidic communities, who traditionally vote as a bloc, maximizing their sway in New York elections.” If the Hasidim, supposedly lacking in “essential skills” and with less than “hardly any” instruction in civics, have already figured out how to maximize their sway in New York elections, what would be achieved by changing their schooling? And if their schooling is as inadequate as the Times claims, how have they managed to be so politically effective?

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It’s almost as if the Times editorialists themselves are suffering the effects of less-than-exactly-stellar educations. How else to explain the preposterous Times claim that “Massachusetts offers a model” for better private school regulation than New York? Consider the slew of recent scandals that have afflicted Massachusetts private schools. Teacher-student sexual contact at Deerfield Academy. Sex abuse claims by former students at Fessenden Academy. A doctor at Phillips Academy Andover sentenced on child pornography charges. A student at the Groton School sexually assaulted by other students. Boston College High School settled claims by 15 men who said that they were sexually molested by former school priests. One of the priests also served as a teacher and soccer and hockey coach.

Of the members of the Times editorial board, at least three, Farah Stockman, Alex Kingsbury, and Kathleen Kingsbury, are veterans of the Boston Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. A fourth, Binyamin Appelbaum, is a product of Maimonides School, which is in Brookline, Massachusetts. You might think they’d know something about the limits of private school regulation in Massachusetts. Unless the Times thinks abuse by Hasidic Jewish teachers in Brooklyn is unacceptable but abuse by teachers at fancy New England prep schools or Boston Catholic schools is fine, it’s hard to imagine why the Times editorial writers would cite Massachusetts, with its tragic track record, as a model of private school regulation. Massachusetts requires no standardized academic testing at private schools.

If the Times did have a double standard for Jews when it comes to acceptable behavior, alleged abusive behavior by teachers wouldn’t be the only example of such a double standard. The Times criticizes Yeshivas for failing to teach English, complaining that students “are being denied education in a common language.” The term “common language” is pretty comical, offering an explanation of why the Times might single out for proposed persecution by New York government authorities schools where the language of instruction is Yiddish, but not, say, Chinese, or Arabic, or Spanish.

The problem with Yiddish isn’t that the language isn’t English; it’s that not enough people speak it to meet the Times definition of “common.” Actually, less than three years ago, the Times published an opinion article by a writer complaining that “On videos circulating on social media you’ll hear Americans harassing Spanish-speakers at supermarkets and restaurants.” The opinion article went on, “those of us who speak only Spanish are too often dismissed and worse, targeted — by women pushing shopping carts, by ICE raids, by gunmen with anti-immigrant manifestos.” It accused President Trump of being fluent in “This language of xenophobia and white supremacy.”

So when Trump supposedly complains about people speaking Spanish, he’s being a xenophobic white supremacist. But when the New York Times complains about schools teaching in Yiddish, we’re supposed to believe the Times is motivated by sincere concern? When the Times claims a desire to “Help New York’s Hasidic Children,” as the editorial’s headline does, it sure sounds condescending. The tone of contempt is unmistakable. As Dovid Margolin, an editor at Chabad, put it on Twitter, “Yelling ‘This is America, speak English!’ is racist unless it is directed at Hasidic Jews. This editorial, for example, would be considered white nationalist had it been about another minority, but in the context of Hasidic Jews it’s progressive.”

Whose fault is it that Yiddish is not a “common language”? In part, the Nazis. Yiddish was perfectly common until the Nazis killed millions of its speakers. It was even common in America until public schools where non-Protestant religion was essentially outlawed helped to eradicate Yiddish culture through assimilation. A traditional-religion-free public school system heavily subsidized with tax dollars has created an America in which belief in God, attendance at religious services, and membership in religious congregations have plummeted to new lows.

Leave aside the motivation, as we have more than enough calling people racist or bigoted already in contemporary America without my adding to it. What about just the substantive merits of it? Back in the late 1990s, I worked at the Forward. Across the hall from the offices of the English-language Jewish weekly where I worked were the offices of the Yiddish language weekly Forward. One of the employees of the Yiddish Forward was a Hasidic Jew from the Satmar sect who had the language and technology skills needed to keep the enterprise going—skills that were exceedingly scarce among non-Hasidic Jews.

What does it say about the New York Times that it can’t tolerate the existence of schools in which the language of instruction is not “common”? Compare it to other New York Times discourse on the topic. In June 2022, the Times gave an award to a student essay headlined “Endangered Languages Are Worth Saving,” observing, “Even now, languages are vanishing at the hands of economic and social power struggles in which smaller communities are pressured to adopt the dominant language that governs work, entertainment and daily life.” In 2019, a Times news article headlined “With Indigenous Languages in Steep Decline, Summer Camps Offer Hope,” reported, “white teachers burned traditional clothing, gave children Anglo names and forbade them to speak the language of their parents … For more than six decades, the government tried to “civilize” and “Christianize” Hupa children…In the Hoopa Valley and across the country, younger Native Americans became increasingly exposed to the English language. Many older people suppressed their native tongues and dissuaded their children from speaking them, if they were taught at all.”

It’s a short leap from intolerance of an uncommon language to intolerance of an uncommon religion. That is what Judaism is in a global context—uncommon. When Jill Abramson was elevated to executive editor of the New York Times, the Times news article originally reported her as saying, “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion.” In a follow-up news article about the yeshiva investigation, the Times mentioned the religion of a competing newspaper’s publisher but didn’t disclose the religion of its own management.

Reading the Times investigations and the editorial, one comes away thinking that it wouldn’t bother the Times a bit if Hasidic Jewry disappeared entirely along with Yiddish and the yeshiva education system that sustains it. Perhaps the Times editors are happy with the Times as a substitute religion. To this reader, though, the god of the Times seems to be an idol.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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