For years now, the Hasidic community has feigned compliance with New York State Education laws.
While Hasidic yeshivot don’t typically provide much secular education at all, they have at least claimed that they were complying with the law.
However, a recent speech by the Satmar Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum disabuses once and for all the notion of compliance.
The Satmar Rebbe’s speech, in front of thousands of his followers, was a response to the recently updated New York State Guidelines for Non-public schools.
The Guidelines set out precisely which secular subjects must be taught in New York State non-public schools such as Hasidic yeshivas.
Because of their previous reliance on a workaround that exempted Hasidic yeshivot from these standards, the new guidelines sent shock waves throughout the Hasidic community, especially in Brooklyn, home to the largest Hasidic community in the United States.
The Satmar Rebbe was clear in his speech: “We will not comply and we will not follow the state education commissioner under any circumstances. These are our words for the state education commissioner.”
This speech by the Satmar Rebbe was a declaration of war against the New York State and New York City Education Departments. Unlike the past rhetoric of compliance, the Rebbe charged his followers to outright reject the State education laws.
In addition, the Rebbe clarified the genesis of the Felder Amendment, which he encouraged State Senator Simcha Felder to propose and ultimately pass.
He explained that in truth, the Amendment that ultimately passed at the 11th hour was not the version he had preferred, as it contained the words “Substantially Equivalent” to public school education.
The rebbe claimed that the only reason his preferred version didn’t pass was that Simcha Felder had to go home for Passover, so he wasn’t able to hold down the fort when the final language of the Amendment came to the floor.
The rebbe explained that it was these problematic two words, “Substantially Equivalent,” that were behind the recent “evil” State guidelines.
Had his preferred version passed, the new guidelines would not have been issued, or at the very least, the guidelines would not have had the same force.
After years of obfuscating, the rebbe, in a moment of honesty, made it clear:
In reality, we all know the truth, that in our primary Torah schools for boys [before Bar Mitzvah] they studied at most an hour and a half, and in the advanced yeshivas [high schools] there were no secular studies at all, [spending their days] fully sacred unto God [in Judaic studies].
The rebbe concluded his speech by vowing he would take his case to the US Supreme Court if need be.
Currently, the court ruling most applicable to the ongoing yeshiva investigation is Wisconsin v. Yoder, in which the court ruled that the Amish did not have to educate their children past 8th grade out of sensitivity to their religious worldview.
There is no doubt that the Satmar Rebbe and his allies will try to use the Yoder decision to defend their right to reject the New York State education laws which mandate compulsory secular education for all non-public schools.
However, the reason the court ruled on behalf of the Amish is because their children get a proper secular education until 8th grade and vocational training afterward. The Amish are committed not to be a burden on the state and thus refuse to take welfare.
The use of social services in the Hasidic community is legendary.
As long as the 39 Hasidic yeshivot affiliated with the Satmar Rebbe cannot offer a defense similar to the one offered by the Amish, it would seem unlikely that he would win in the US Supreme Court.
The 39 Hasidic yeshivot currently under investigation neither teach the mandated secular subjects until 8th grade nor do they teach their students a trade following 8th grade.
Winning an exemption in the US Supreme Court from all New York State Education laws would seem to be a long shot, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean the Satmar Rebbe won’t try.