Updated: Oct 8, 2021
This posts asks Hasidic children the question--do you know a Goy or any member of the Goyim (non-religious Jews & Gentiles)? In the strictest Hasidic sects, it appears that many do not. And this because the Hasidic leadership demands insularity. It appears that “mainstream” Hasidic rabbis urge that Hasids avoid interacting with “Gentiles.” They are directing their Hasidic flock to maintain insularity and segregation from the non-Hasidic world.
Yet is this what American children should be taught? I think not.
In a video tweeted by the public interest organization Young Advocates for Fair Education (“YAFFED”), a prominent Hasidic rabbi is seen telling his followers that Hasidic children in New York should not learn English. And they should not learn English for the purpose of avoiding interaction with American society. YAFFED translates the rabbi’s Yiddish as stating that:
“he wished he could unlearn [English], so he ‘wouldn’t be able to speak with a gentile, understand a gentile, or even know a gentile….”
How should citizens of our state and our nation react to this? Should we view it simply an expression of individual opinion? Of individual religious belief? Of Hasidic religious belief? Of ultraorthodox religious or cultural belief? As a core value of an extremist religious community whose population is rapidly growing in the New York metropolitan area?
Should ultraorthodox Jewish children be taught to avoid—indeed fear—interacting with the rest of American society? Certainly their religious leaders want such insularity, as it keeps their flock intact.
Yet if insularity is a core religious belief or cultural value of one or more Hasidic or ultraorthodox sects, does this present a problem for the larger society? Will it pose a threat to democracy in New York State and eventually the nation?
On my Serve Rockland Civic Association website, I hope to explore in a rational manner these and other issues surrounding religious orthodoxy—particularly Hasidic ultra-orthodoxy—and how some values of ultraorthodoxy conflict with the core values that are the foundation of American democracy.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the “establishment” of religion in our nation. This has been interpreted as requiring a wall separating church and state in civil governance. Yet in municipalities such as New Square, Kaser, Kiryas Joel and Palm Tree, we find communities whose people appear to be governed much more by religious authority than by civil authority.
Our nation prides itself on its protection of individual liberty. But what liberty does an 18 year old Hasidic man or woman have when departing the “community” may have intolerable personal consequences, and when many of these 18 year olds cannot find gainful employment or even speak good English.
That is not liberty. Rather, it is confinement in an almost inescapable cultural cage. It is the religious leadership dictating people's lives.
The American Founding Fathers envisioned a democracy built on rational civil governance, using an informed, educated citizenry. It kept religion out of the Constitution for a sound reason, namely, to avoid sectarian conflict—the religious conflicts that have plagued humanity throughout the ages. If children are not taught about our nation’s history, and how democracy under the rule of law is supposed to work, we will lose our democracy.
And this is why think instructing American children of one religious faith (e.g., Hasidic children) to isolate themselves from the rest of American society is both wrong and anti-American. Our Constitution begins “We the People,” not “We a Bunch of Religious Sects.”
I look forward to hearing from different points of view, including the Hasidic perspective. It appears that there is a tremendous amount of love, harmony, peace, music and joy in the Hasidic community. We “Gentiles” certainly can learn things from them.
However, in my view a republic such as ours cannot allow the creation of a “nation within a nation.” We aspire to be “One Nation, Under God,” and this means that all citizens—including Hasidic children and adults—owe allegiance and responsibilities to the larger society and the nation. Respecting the Establishment Clause, and respecting ALL children’s right to a sound secular education (including fluency in English), is a civic duty owed by all, regardless of religious belief.
Mike Diederich, Jr. 21 August 2021