Yeshivas and Secular Education -Preventing an Economic Divide that’s Ever Growing

Note: We have reposted this without the permission of the author, Emily Newman. Should she ask that we remove it, we will do so. The link to the original article is here:
https://thehumanist.com/features/articles/yes-yeshivas-must-include-secular-education?fbclid=IwAR0ckuuKAa8B0v8u-xSDjFclfKaMRMJggE4tVSCnk1JxuJd1VayzMhBHOkA

Yes, Yeshivas Must Include Secular Education

I’ve spoken often about a Tale of Two Cities [sic]. That inequality—that feeling of a few doing very well, while so many slip further behind—that is the defining challenge of our time. Because inequality in New York is not something that only threatens those who are struggling. The stakes are so high for every New Yorker. And making sure no son or daughter of New York falls behind defines the very promise of our city.

This excerpt from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s victory speech on November 6, 2013, describes the city’s economic divide but could easily apply to its educational divide. While New York City boasts some of the best public schools in the nation, it also contains some of the worst schools. More specifically, the city must take responsibility for failing to acknowledge how poorly its yeshivas have been educating students for decades.

Yeshivas are Orthodox Jewish schools ranging from elementary to college that separate classes by gender and teach several subjects in Hebrew. They primarily focus on the study of traditional religious texts—such as the Talmud and the Torah—but this religious focus doesn’t mean they’re allowed to skip secular education, especially given that these educational institutions are heavily funded by the government. The New York State Department of Education requires the instruction provided at nonpublic schools to be substantially equivalent to that of the local public school. This includes classes in “arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, United States history, civics, hygiene, physical training, the history of New York state, and science.”

Upon realizing the gaps in his and his peer’s yeshiva education, a former student named Naftuli Moster founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) in 2012. Since then, YAFFED has collected stories from other former students, teachers, and parents describing the quality and content of the education. In an interview with me in August 2018, Moster explained that initial attempts to inform city officials of the issue in 2013 and 2014 were ignored because they were too general and didn’t name institutions. In a July 2015 letter to the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education YAFFED identified thirty-nine schools with poor records. After reviewing the letter, the chancellor notified the New York State commissioner of education that at these yeshivas:

English and mathematics are taught from around age seven to age thirteen, for an average combined time of only ninety minutes and on only four days a week. Other secular subjects are not taught at all, let alone in English. At these yeshivas, English instruction for boys stops at age thirteen. Girls generally receive a better secular education than boys but, we are still concerned that it is not sufficient to prepare them for their futures.

From 2015-2017 the New York City DOE met with superintendents of the listed schools, interviewed the complainants, and interviewed yeshiva leaders. The department consistently missed self-imposed deadlines to release reports on the investigations. YAFFED gathered testimonials and released its own report in 2017. The report found that the average yeshiva graduate

speaks little or no English, has few or no marketable skills, earns a household income well below the average Brooklynite’s, marries young and has many children, and is forced to rely upon public assistance to support his large family.

The two main reasons yeshivas receive millions of dollars in government funding is to address household poverty levels and low class performance, creating a dangerous cycle for Hasidic Jewish families.

The yeshiva issue grew to a statewide concern on April 12, 2018, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted a budget that included a last-minute amendment to the nonpublic school curriculum law. The Felder Amendment—proposed by New York State Senator Simcha Felder and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community leaders—provides special treatment to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and cuts down on instructional requirements. This violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution by allowing government to favor one religion over another. YAFFED filed a lawsuit in July 2018 against state officials alleging a lack of oversight of yeshivas and arguing the amendment needs to be removed from law.

In an August 2018 letter, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza informed New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia that all of the interviewed complainants reported that English was delayed until first grade (sometimes even later), that there was no instruction through a science curriculum (only a few experiments at some schools), that math was restricted to basic arithmetic (sometimes fractions), and that little to no history was taught. Of the thirty-nine listed schools in YAFFED’s letter, nine were removed from the investigation because they weren’t in the NYC DOE jurisdiction—outside of the city or not K-12—or supposedly no longer existed. Carranza has reported optimistically on the fifteen yeshivas that let officials in and agreed to improve, but he admits that it’s too early to tell if the changes are significant enough as the school has only provided outlines and samples of secular curriculum. He has asked for guidance on how to handle the remaining fifteen schools that haven’t allowed DOE officials inside.

One school removed from the list was United Talmudical Academy, which is located on a top floor of a building with a butcher shop on its ground level. City investigators must not have noticed the school’s mailbox or asked around to determine if classes are in fact held at the address associated with the school. Moster noted in our interview that the DOE didn’t consult with YAFFED before deciding to remove schools from the investigation list. Nor have investigators followed up on vetting how United Talmudical Academy received nearly $10 million in federal funding if it doesn’t exist.

“The idea that they will conduct one [scheduled] visit and somehow glean a lot from that is somewhat laughable,” said Moster, who is concerned the investigations have been more yeshiva-led than city-led. He noted that Carranza’s letter doesn’t include names of investigators, visiting officials, education experts, psychology professors, or anyone else in curriculum meetings. The report also doesn’t mention YAFFED as the organization that brought forward the complainants, it but does name Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS)—formed in 2016—as one organization working on new English and math curriculum for yeshivas that “align with the Common Core Learning Standards and use materials that are culturally sensitive to the values of the yeshivas.”

Tension has been rising in New York City as the New York Times published two opposing op-eds: one from its own editorial board blasting politicians for failing to challenge Orthodox leadership and one from PEARLS lawyer Avi Schick criticizing anyone who questions the yeshivas’ progress. Hopefully the curriculum developed by PEARLS will be substantially equivalent to that taught in well-performing public schools. Ideally, New York’s newfound awareness will ensure a fair education for yeshiva students.

Unlike most of the Establishment Clause issues the American Humanist Association takes on, this isn’t about keeping public schools religiously neutral. It’s about ensuring that all schools provide the essentials to help young people succeed in life. No matter where children live or what religion they follow, they deserve a well-rounded education. Make sure your legislators know that they’re responsible here, because an uneducated populace is everyone’s problem.

 

 

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Opinion- Do Better by Yeshiva Students

Do better by yeshiva students

City and state officials must do more to protect the civil rights of these children and ensure that they are properly educated.

By Shlomo Noskow

https://www.amny.com/opinion/do-better-by-yeshiva-students-1.21868910

I am perpetually astonished by how Hasidic community leaders in New York have managed to convince thousands on the logic of keeping young Jewish boys uneducated. And state and city education officials who have the duty and authority to ensure that students are educated have not done so.

Private and religious schools are obligated to provide students with an education that is at least “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. This is to ensure that in addition to religious curricula, students are offered at least a basic education in topics such as reading and writing of English, math and history.

I recall as a teenager spending 12 or so hours a day in my Hasidic high school in Brooklyn. Some of the time included daily prayers, but the day consisted mostly of studying and rehearsing portions of Talmud and its commentaries. There were no secular studies. No English, no math. Outside of school, there was no time for extracurricular activities. More than 20 years later, the school still operates and, unfortunately, like many other Hasidic boys schools, it still does not provide students with a secular education.

My parents had my best interest in mind, but they acted like cogs in a system, following community norms. Hasidic Rabbis and community leaders set the norms, including school curricula. But the developing mind of a child shouldn’t be restricted to religious studies, regardless of religion.

It is perplexing that wonderful parents who deeply care about their children, allow the educational neglect of their education. Why are Rabbis, who incidentally are well provided for, allowed to deny these children a basic education? Shouldn’t we instead do everything possible to expand their options and better prepare them for the future? Why not have the schools incorporate a few hours a day for secular subjects? Would teaching students how to properly communicate in English and about basic history, science and finance be so detrimental?

Proponents of the status quo say Hasidic boys seem to thrive. That ignores the fact that a large percentage of Hasidic families are dependent on government aid. We are essentially dooming generations to lives of poverty. Why? And shouldn’t government programs, including Section-8, food stamps and Medicaid, be reserved for people experiencing unforeseen events? The programs are not meant to be used as a way of life, the way they are being used by many in the Hasidic community.

City and state officials must do more to protect the civil rights of these children and ensure that they are properly educated, as guaranteed by our Constitution. For years, we’ve watched politicians place politics ahead of the education and welfare of children. It’s time educational guidelines are enforced.

Speaking out in the Hasidic community is not well-tolerated. Anyone who does risks being ostracized or having their children expelled from school. But if enough Hasidic parents make their voices heard, perhaps politicians and school officials would take note. Then we’d be able to compel yeshivas to properly educate children.

Shlomo Noskow, who grew up Hasidic in Brooklyn, is an emergency medical physician in New York City.

Fighting YAFFED – PEARS – A Concerted Effort to Keep Yeshiva Children Hostages Within their Own Community

yaffed-696x464

The New York Education Disgrace – The Ultra-Orthodox Children, State Sponsored Indoctrination and What If?

LostMessiah, 16 October 2018

If a Spanish speaking community wanted to set up its own schools where everything was taught in Spanish, no English (or minimal English) and where the children were not taught Evolution, Mathematics or subjects demonstrably able to give them a chance going forward, we would be horrified. If they demanded government funding (for computers and busing), it would be unequivocally denied. In fact, the more racist among us would be claiming that they are raising future drug-runners.

If a Muslim community want to live by Shaaria law (as opposed to a Va’ad or Beit Din (Rabbinical Court)), wanted to have their children taught in mosques and wanted to teach in Arabic only, we would have no part of it. The State would not even entertain the proposition. Not only would we probably be shutting the entire endeavor down, no matter how innocuous it all would likely be, we would be undoubtedly claiming that they are raising future terrorists, members of ISIS, suicide bombers; and they would likely be on every government watch list available.

If the Korean communities that teach their children mostly in Korean, teach versions of Christianity mixed with a heavy weight of teaching their children English, Science, Math, Music and other well-rounded subjects, wanted to stop teaching English and wanted to raise their children only speaking Korean and living by a different set of rules, we would not allow their schools to remain open and certainly not assisted with government funding.

And yet, here we are accepting (if not advocating for it PEARLS) a substandard education where children may be taught to reason using the Socratic Method of understanding Mishnah and Gemorrah (Jewish Texts) (maybe), but are not taught to work out a mathematics problem beyond grade 7. Here we are accepting the premise that because children are taught basic math through the numerological understanding of the Torah and its meanings, that it is enough. Here we are accepting, even entertaining a misleading claim that somehow 15 hours per day of religious education is enough to survive in a world (where others like secular Jews, non-Jews and others are supporting them). Somehow, we are accepting this Yeshiva double-standard? WHY?

If you don’t teach science, how will your 15 children be born? Who will treat an ear infection? What if the rest of us stopped accepting your business?

The children attending these ultra-Orthodox, insular and radicalized schools are taught to understand Jewish texts, a bastardized version of Yiddish spoken within their communities, and basic skills. They are given lessons in sexual education when they are old enough to procreate and not before. In nearly all cases they are not taught to assimilate. To the contrary, even a Jew not raised in that community is not “really a Jew.” In many cases they are taught the ways of the elders (namely how to survive by bilking the system (think Medicare and Medicaid). In some cases, they are exposed to sexual abuse and taught that to report is a “Moser” and therefore a sin. The children are wholly and completely indoctrinated.

And, may the truth be told if tomorrow the rabbis started to teach these children the lessons of radical Islam which Martyrs people willing to die for a cause, or any other radical belief system that many of us find so abhorrent, these children would listen. Why? Because they know nothing else. If the ultra-Orthodox community woke one day and wanted to weaponize their children, there would be nothing to stop them from doing so. In fact, in Israel there are communities where this is already happening. Children are being taught by Rabbinic leaders to throw stones, attack people who don’t keep the Sabbath, create chaos. Is this so far-fetched that it could happen stateside? And when do the lines get crossed from throwing stones to throwing bombs? What if? 

 

FIGHTING MOSTER: PEARLS Brief Defends Parents’ Rights To Choose Yeshiva Education

arents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), an organization defending parents’ right to choose a yeshiva education for their children, has filed an amicus curiae brief defending yeshiva education from the misguided and inflammatory claims contained in a lawsuit filed by an organization named YAFFED. The brief, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, was co-signed by Agudath Israel of America, Torah Umesorah and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

In its lawsuit, YAFFED challenges the constitutionality of a change in the New York education law – enacted in April, and widely known as the Felder Amendment – and uses that challenge as a launching pad for its all-out attack on the yeshiva system. YAFFED seeks to have the court supplant the Legislature, the State Education Department and the NYC Department of Education in setting education policy, and asks the court to direct SED and DOE to ignore the rich educational values students derive from their yeshiva education.

[RELATED – MOSTER CONTINUES HIS ATTACKS: YAFFED Sues NY State Over Hasidic Yeshiva Education; PEARLS Responds]

According to the PEARLS brief, “YAFFED cloaks its disappointment with the Legislature that enacted the Felder Amendment in constitutional garb”. However, the PEARLS brief points out that there is nothing in the constitution that prohibits consideration of the academic rigor and educational value of limudei kodesh, referred to in the Felder amendment as “the entirety of the curriculum.” Affidavits accompanying the brief, cite examples, predating the new law, where agencies looked at the multi-faceted yeshiva educational program when evaluating if it meets the bar of “substantial equivalency” to public school education.

The amicus brief also notes that the United States Supreme Court has time and again found that parents have a fundamental right to direct the educational paths of their children. That is not only a religious right, but also a fundamental parental right.

“While parents choose yeshiva education to fulfill a religious mission,” the brief says, “their ability to do so vindicates an important secular right – the fundamental right that has been repeatedly invoked by the United States Supreme Court to strike down state attempts to limit parental freedom to direct how their children are educated.”

The amicus brief counters YAFFED’s repeated claim that children who attend yeshiva do not receive critical tools and skill sets needed for long-term personal growth, and notes that “it has apparently not occurred to those who have established YAFFED that Chasidic parents utilize a different barometer than theirs for measuring a meaningful and successful life.”

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A Substantially Uneducated New York – Alternatives to Cuomo’s Hands-Off Policy

STEPHANIE MINER

Note to Reader: We are going to avoid endorsing any candidates except to say that it is our sincerest hope that Governor Cuomo will be ousted. He has already drawn a line in the sand, promising that the education and the lack of substantially similar standards will not be addressed in New York. In other words, he has promised the children of the Hasidic communities that they will grow up functionally illiterate, with little or no ability to live outside of their communities, absent their own desires to study independently. He has promised the leaders of the communities that they can continue to keep yeshiva students children hostage to illiteracy.

Getting Cuomo out should be a priority to those of us who want to see all children in New York to be educated.

 

PRESS RELEASE
ALL SCHOOLS SHOULD MEET BASIC EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS
October 15, 2018 1:00 PM

 

https://www.minerforny.com/all_schools_should_meet_basic_education_requirements

Syracuse, N.Y., October 15, 2018 – State education law requires that private schools provide a “substantially equivalent” education to that of public schools. However, in Andrew Cuomo’s New York, certain politically-connected schools have been given a pass. 

“School children shouldn’t be political pawns,” said Miner. “All schools should be required to meet basic standards. Period.”    

At the governor’s direction, this year’s state budget effectively exempted certain private schools from the requirement that they provide a “substantially equivalent” education. It also took oversight away from local school districts, instead giving to the state education commissioner.

“Cuomo’s cynical, transactional politics is dooming kids. When they grow up and realize they don’t know basic reading and math, they’ll ask how adults failed them,” Miner said.

Miner pledges to:

1.     Work to reinstate the “substantially equivalent” standard for schools, ensuring students learn subjects including English, math, science, history, geography.

2.     Direct the State Education Department to certify private schools on an annual basis to ensure they are meeting state standards.

3.     Make sure schools receiving state or local funding are subjected to state inspection at any time.

4.     Work to identify ways to assist school districts that have significant numbers of private school students who are competing with public school students for resources.

5.     Explore permitting school districts to establish district seats for school board.

 

YAFFED, Haredim, Education, The Rights of the Children to an Education?

Haredi Communities and the Right to Education

To our readers: We are publishing this on behalf of one of our contributors. We have not edited, except to change the spacing to work within this format. We have not published the entire Abstract but ask that you support the author, read and review.

Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/lawfam/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/lawfam/eby015/5104444 by University of Canberra user on 26 September 2018

Test of Faith: Haredi Communities and the Right to Education

Shmuel Levin*

*Honours Thesis to Monash University, Wellington Rd, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia

ABSTRACT

Ultra-orthodox Jewish (‘Haredi’) communities shun any outside influence or external
media and maintain traditional customs, dress codes, and strict gender roles. These
communities also believe that mainstream education threatens their traditional values
and therefore provide little to no education for their children. This article explores
whether Haredi communities in the USA should be permitted to deny their children
an education. It argues that international law recognizes the rights of both parents and
children, and accordingly does not permit parents to deny completely their children’s
rights. However, the US Supreme Court has not recognized that children have a right
to education and the USA has failed to ratify major international instruments which
protect the rights of children. Accordingly, in the USA, parents are permitted to deny
their children an education unless the state can demonstrate that it has a compelling
interest of its own for intervening. As such, the right of Haredi children to an education
remains insufficiently protected.

I. INTRODUCTION: HAREDI COMMUNITIES AND EDUCATION

1. Haredi Communities

Haredi Jewish communities emerged in response to the Enlightenment in Europe to-
wards the end of the 18th century. As European Jews were no longer forced to live in ghettos and permitted to join mainstream society, many began to adapt to the society around them. In response, ‘an extremely conservative, anti-secular, isolationist expression of Judaism’ emerged (Weiss). This Haredi community consisted primarily
of two groups: the Hasidic community – ‘a pietist movement that spread through
the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe during the eighteenth century’ – and the
Misnagdic opposition who believed that Hasidism was a corruption of traditional
Judaism (Weiss; Jochnowitz, 1968).

Following the rise of communism in the Soviet Union and the Holocaust, large
numbers of Haredi Jews fled Eastern Europe to other parts of the world
(Wertheimer, 2014). The largest Haredi communities can be found in New York
and in Israel, and there are smaller communities in other countries including Australia, Canada, the UK, France, and Russia. In New York alone, there was an esti-
mated 336,000 Haredi Jews in 2011. Haredi populations also have high birth rates, VC

The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com International Journal of Law, Policy and The Family, 2018, 0, 1–29 doi: 10.1093/lawfam/eby015
Article

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Yeshivah Education and New York State – Waiting on Commissioner Elia, State Funded Indoctrination?

http://www.fios1news.com/lowerhudsonvalley/ny-education-department-yeshiva-investigation#.W7uRY9NKiUm

NY Education Department under pressure to conclude yeshiva investigation

Fight over yeshiva education is in the hands of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

 

Albany, N.Y. — The New York State Education Department is under significant pressure to settle a 3-year investigation into yeshivas, Jewish schools that focus on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and the Torah.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will be making a decision on secular education in the schools and whether the institutions are abiding by state law. The investigation, which has been ongoing since July 2015, has been looking into the schools and whether they are providing adequate education to students in secular subjects like English, math, and science.

In August, a preliminary injunction was filed in federal court against the Board of Regents, the state education department, and the governor by an advocacy group known as “Young Advocates for a Fair Education” (YAFFED) to stop the enforcement of a amended education law named after state Sen. Simca Felder.

YAFFED claims that the amendment relaxes academic standards for ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, exempting them from meeting state guidelines requiring “substantially equivalent” education as mandated in public schools.

“Every child in New York needs to receive an equal education,” said Naftuli Moster, the executive director of YAFFED. “As opposed to what Simca Felder recently rammed through the budget, which, as you know, is a special ‘carve-out’ for ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. Most people don’t agree with that.”

On the other side of the issue is Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), which supports education in yeshivas and is dedicated to protecting what they call the “fundamental bedrock” of religious learning.

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Ultra-Orthodoxy and anti-Zionism, a Very Real Threat for Israel

 

Jewish Identity and the Ultra-Orthodox Anti-Zionists Who Endanger the Very Existence of Israel

OPINION

The clash between the secular and religious Jewish belief systems, between Zionists and non-Zionists, the diaspora versus the Israeli Jewish upbringing, the different religious sects are topics that, in one form or another, have been incorporated within the larger question of Jewish identity.

At one time, what tied every Jew together was not the Mezuzah on the door or the cost spent on a child’s Bar Mitzvah but an inflexible and unwavering belief that Jews should be educated, professional and self-sufficient. At one time and no matter the level of religious observance, being Jewish meant being educated and more importantly, meant contributing to society far more than the carbon footprint left behind or than what was taken from that community. There appeared to be underlying all else a determination to subsist as a self-sufficient people without the necessity to ever rely on outside assistance.

Without looking beyond the last 2 and 1/2 years since this website was established, there has been an evolution of Jewish values. In increasing numbers members of many ultra-Orthodox communities are teaching their children that secular education is unimportant and secular understanding of the world is irrelevant. They care not that children will grow up with insufficient understanding of the world to survive without the help of others.

We are finding at alarming rates within many ultra-Orthodox communities, secular Jews are not viewed as “Jews.” And increasingly the communities are closing their doors to outsiders and closing their shades so their children cannot see out.

With regard to education, we have a myriad of articles on the management by different countries of their systems when there is a clash between religious observance and state mandates. England has chosen to impose restrictions on curriculum to mandate education for its citizens, whereas in the US there are state mandates and in many cases there is a complete failure of certain states to demand that all children are educated with a minimum of secular understanding.

With regard to self-sufficiency within ultra-Orthodox communities, we have pages and pages of articles on the methods that many ultra-Orthodox communities have used to commit fraud, wherein the communities are relying on outside sources of welfare and other social services because they either cannot or will not fund their own communities.

The issue of education is not alone in the litany of topics that define the greater subject of Jewish identity. But what is now starting to weigh heavily on Jewish identity is the way in which Jews effect or affect the existence of the State of Israel. 

In Israel, as unique from the rest of the world, the clashes as described in the first paragraph are compounded by the  notion of Zionism, a belief in the existence of the Jewish state. And Israel’s problems are unique insofar as the entire country is surrounded by non-allies so it is expected, or at least hoped, that the Jews living within its own borders support the system of government, perform the army service required to keep the State safe, and comport to the educational system established to educate the children.

In Israel, the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox sentiment is dangerous because of the very real foreseeable possibility that in a few years Israel will not be able to defend itself. In only a short time, the numbers of citizens who lack a basic understanding of secular subjects will outnumber the citizens who are well educated. And finally, it will not be long before the State of Israel cannot support its citizens, particularly those who live off of the social benefits and give nothing back.  

The ultra-Orthodox Israelis who reject Zionism

Before the sun has a chance to rise, Israeli riot police tiptoe through one of Jerusalem’s oldest Jewish neighborhoods, their shadows dancing across lines of anti-Zionist graffiti decorating buildings and walls.

Their objective is to arrest residents in Mea Shearim for refusing Israel’s mandatory army draft and organizing against the state, according to community claims. They say such raids have occurred on a near nightly basis in the neighborhood for decades. However, in recent years Israel’s police operations have escalated in Mea Shearim.

In their telling, when Israeli forces break into homes during these overnight raids, ultra-Orthodox residents are dragged out of their beds and thrown into police vans.

Many in Mea Shearim, established in 1874, are part of the Eda Haredit, “Congregation of God-fearers” in English – an ultra-Orthodox group in Jerusalem that is also fiercely anti-Zionist.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld described a less recurrent scene. He was not able to provide the numbers of arrests carried out in the neighborhood over the past few months, but told Mondoweiss police units do not normally carry out night raids “unless there are specific individuals who the police know were involved in illegal demonstrations.”

The Eda Haredit opposes the Israeli state and any attempts at assimilating them into the larger Israeli society. The cloistered neighborhood of Mea Shearim has become a symbol for the group, whose members insulate themselves from state institutions and affairs as much as possible.

Eda Haredit members also reside in the Jerusalem-area city of Beit Shemesh and Safed in northern Israel.

Many of the group’s members are descendants of the Old Yishuv, Jews who resided in historic Palestine under Ottoman and then British rule.

Outside the homes of many Eda Haredit members in Mea Shearim hang signs that read: “Here lives a non-Zionist Jew.” Palestinian flags fluttering outside homes are a common sight here.

Eda Haredit members can often be found protesting the state and Israel’s army draft on the streets of Jerusalem. Israeli forces typically respond by dousing them in skunk spray – a noxious smelling liquid.

The members come prepared, even wrapping their black, wide-brimmed hats in protective plastic. When Israeli police releases skunk spray on the protesters, instead of running away, Eda Haredit members often sing and dance as the putrid concoction rains down on them.

The Israeli police have been accused of using excessive force on the demonstrators, including severely beating unarmed Eda Haredit members.

A century-long anti-Zionist struggle

Mordechai Mintzberg, a rabbi in Mea Shearim whose family resided in historic Palestine generations before Israel was founded, told Mondoweissthat the establishment of the Eda Haredit was a “counter reaction” to Zionism in the early 20th century.

According to Mintzberg, as Zionists tightened their grip on the British Mandate of Palestine following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Jews were forced to determine their relationship to the Zionist movement.

“The ardent anti-Zionist Jews decided to establish a self-sufficient community that was unquestionably opposed to the Zionist movement,” Mintzberg says.

The Eda Haredit developed its own separate school system – taught entirely in Yiddish – and an independent religious court, known as a Badatz.

When Israel was established in 1948, the group’s struggle against Zionism intensified.

Although Israel has always hosted anti-Zionist Jews across the political spectrum, the Eda Haredit stands apart for the strict adherence to their beliefs.

In the early years of the Israeli state, Eda Haredit members refused to accept Israeli IDs and some even rejected the use of Israeli currency, Benjamin Brown, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, told Mondoweiss.

Other ultra-Orthodox groups identified with the self-proclaimed Jewish state and integrated into government institutions with their constituents now participating in Israel’s parliament. Leading political parties like Shas and Agudat Yisrael have members who are ultra-Orthodox yet ardently support the state of Israel.

The Eda Haredit considers these ultra-Orthodox groups “traitors” for “collaborating with the Zionist enemy,” Mintzberg said.

For the Eda Haredit, he says Israeli IDs and citizenship are now “forced” on the community, but members “do everything in [their] power to disassociate from the state.”

Eda Haredit members boycott elections and refuse to accept Israel’s national insurance. If members receive unwelcome assistance from the state, it is immediately placed into a fund dedicated to supporting members organizing against the Israeli army, Mintzberg said.

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