Embarrassed to be an observant Jew

promoted by Rosi

Awoke this morning (Monday) to read about the latest in Chris Christie’s pandering to the Lakewood ultra-Orthodox community:

When the final list was released last week, one of the biggest – and perhaps most surprising – winners was Beth Medrash Govoha, a 70-year-old, all-male, orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood. It was awarded $10.6 million in taxpayer funds for a new library and academic center, among the highest designated for a private institution.

This comes on the heels of the same Lakewood community showing up in droves to support the Governor’s ‘school choice’ agenda of siphoning public money to private schools. He received their endorsement back in March:

At Yeshiva Toras Aron, a religious school for boys, Christie said his proposal for private school vouchers would ensure it is “the education of the parents’ choice, regardless of their economic situation, that governs how their children are educated.”

The fact is, I am embarrassed to be an observant Jew living in New Jersey today.

My children attend a private Jewish school, and I pay full tuition. Of course, I’m also still paying local property taxes that support our great public schools. As we all should. We have many families who cannot afford tuition, so we spend a good deal of time trying to raise money for scholarships — from alumni, from members of the greater community, from private foundations — and each year is a unique challenge. But that was the choice that I made, because I wanted my children to learn something that has no place in a public school!

But there’s this tendency in the ultra-Orthodox world to try and manipulate the system to subsidize their choices; in Lakewood it has gotten ridiculous. They now hold the majority of the seats on the school board — and none of their kids go to the public schools! But they are able to exert control on things like courtesy busing because their population continues to multiply — exponentially — as young men move to the area to study at this world-renowned Yeshiva, start families, and then never leave town.  

One could argue that population growth and economic development is just what Lakewood needed. And if this school is part of that, all the better. But the data on childhood poverty, and the tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of the community, suggest that there has been a significant cost to this growth.

The college claims that there are no religious admissions requirements. And that may, in fact, be true on paper. But in order to meet the academic requirements, one would have to have been studying his entire life in private yeshivas. And I know for a fact that those elementary and high schools do have strict rules in place. More so, one would need the recommendation from the right kind of rabbi to gain admissions to BMG, and the ultra-Orthodox community vigorously self-polices. Whether or not one gets officially ordained as a rabbi, no one goes to this college to do anything other than to study the sacred texts.

So it’s a farce to make a comparison to a school like Seton Hall, where anyone can enroll and take classes, and graduate with a degree outside the religious curriculum.

What this is all about is politics.

Those who choose to live in this community listen closely to what their religious leaders say when it comes time to vote. And they do vote, in very large numbers, and for whom they are told to do so.  And they are being told to vote for Christie. Period.

Comments (6)

  1. 12mileseastofTrenton


    Nice job.

  2. Rosi Efthim

    This is just a great diary. And I’m not sure anybody could have made this case better than you just did.

  3. The Wizard

    that when Church and State become all one, their religion will be the State sponsored one. They almost always vote Republican and only vote how the Rabbi tells them to vote. The Rabbi is the source of all knowledge.  

  4. Tamar Wyschogrod

    We Jews – all of us, of every stripe – need to speak out against the gaming of the system by Haredi communities like Lakewood. The constitutional separation of church and state is what makes America such a great place to be a Jew. How ironic, then, that Jews are contributing to the erosion of that principle. It’s not just morally wrong — it’s incredibly short-sighted and stupid.

  5. Joebluejersey11

    The bigger issue is where are all the Conservative, Tea Party, cut, cut, cut screaming Conservative Republicans now?

    While there are many issues on this action, its pretty funny that the Tea Party is  not even consistent anymore on their cuts.

  6. Momotombo

    This is actually a triple play – the voucher money, the higher Ed money and a proposed virtual charter to provide secular education on line to yeshiva students.  

    I join Jeff as another Jew  who stands in strong opposition to these schemes and incredulous that a community that gives what can only be seen as lip  service to the importance of education would work so hard at taking public funds and by doing so undermining public education.


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