When we recited Al HaNisim on Chanukah, we recalled the Hellenists who sought to use their power to make us forget the Torah and abandon our adherence to its laws. While no one is passing laws banning the practice of Judaism, those who seek to undermine our Torah institutions and our community are hard at work.
The New York Times has published a series of articles painting our yeshivos as institutions that are ripping off the public while failing to provide a basic education. Our families, who pay taxes to support the public school system while paying tuition to send their children to yeshivos are vilified for seeking to obtain financial support to which they are legally entitled. Our schools are portrayed as raiding the public treasury, when the funds they receive per student from the government are only a fraction of what is spent on each student in the New York City public schools.
Education is a core value in our community. Our homes are full of books, admittedly not the ones the publishers and editors of The New York Times think we should be reading. The New York Times ignores the thousands of our graduates who are successful in business and the professions, while zeroing in on those - some of whom have left the community and clearly have an ax to grind - who feel the yeshivah system has left them ill-prepared to face the challenges of the wider world.
Every educational system has a wide range of schools. Some of our schools have been recognized as being among the best in the country. Others are focused on providing a high-quality Torah education along with the minimum secular education that is needed not only to succeed in today’s society but to properly learn Torah. It is impossible to understand large parts of Torah without a working knowledge of math and science. Some schools fall short in both Torah and secular education.
The New York Times chose to focus on the problems of a few schools and the complaints of a few malcontents, using them to paint the entire yeshivah system with a broad brush. Their goal is to strengthen those who seek to empower the New York State Department of Education to dictate what should be taught and who can teach in our yeshivos.
Our critics claim that they have no hostility towards Torah. They seek only to force our yeshivos to provide the basic secular education required by law.
Yeshiva University is everything many of our critics say a yeshivah should be. It provides a high-quality Torah education whose faculty includes some of the leading talmidei chachamim of our time. It also provides a topflight secular college education. Its secular undergraduate programs are consistently rated as being among the best in the nation. Students go to Yeshiva University looking for the best of both worlds: a high-quality academic program in a Torah environment.
The New York State courts have repeatedly ruled that Yeshiva University must grant recognition to the YU Pride Alliance. Granting recognition to such a group would seriously undermine the Torah atmosphere in Yeshiva University. It is understandable that in a pluralistic society the rights of LGBTQ people should be respected. But the Torah position on sodomy is clear. A club proudly proclaiming its violation of the Torah is incompatible with Yeshiva University’s mission. An LGBTQ pride alliance is no more acceptable than a pork-eaters pride alliance.
What is most disturbing about the court decisions is the rationale behind them. According to the New York State Courts, Yeshiva University is an “educational” and not a “religious” institution, and therefore required to adhere to the standards of an “educational” institution, without the benefit of the exemptions granted to “religious” institutions.
The idea that an institution cannot be both “educational” and “religious” is a serious threat to all our yeshivos. If they are “religious” institutions, then the parents who send their children there are not providing their children with a proper education. If they are “educational” institutions, they can be forced to comply with dictates of the New York State Department of Education that undermine Torah values.
The left-wing opposition in Israel and its supporters in the diaspora are loudly proclaiming that the new Israeli government is a “threat to democracy,” which seeks to turn Israel into an Iran-style theocracy.
Orit Malka Strock, the new Minister of National Missions, was quoted by newspapers as saying that doctors should be allowed to refuse to treat ill patients, and that businesses should be allowed to refuse to serve customers on religious grounds. What she actually said was that doctors should be allowed to decline to perform procedures that they object to on moral or religious grounds, e.g., abortions or sex-change operations, when there is another doctor available to perform the procedure. Businesses must serve all customers. Businesses should not be required to violate their religious views to provide the service. This is consistent with the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision of the US Supreme Court, which ruled that a Colorado bake shop owner who was willing to sell an LGBTQ couple any item in the store but not to bake a cake specifically for a same-sex wedding.
The coalition agreements with the religious parties call for doubling the monthly stipend for kollel students, funding the chareidi school system on par with the general school system, and providing a small number of men’s- and women’s-only beaches. One can reasonably debate the merits of these proposals, but they are not remotely comparable to an Iran-style theocracy.
We are often accused of trying to impose our values and lifestyle on others. In reality, it is often others who seek to impose their lifestyle and values on us.
In a pluralistic society, the rights of those we disagree with should be respected and protected. True diversity means that the rights of LGBTQ people should be respected, but that our right to live and run our institutions according to the laws of the Torah must be respected, as well.
By Manny Behar