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… as I summarized this writer’s argument about the refusal of ultraorthodox schools all over the world to comply with required state education standards – that is, to teach basic computer, verbal, and mathematical literacy, much less, for instance, empirical method, or the institutions, practices, and history of the country in which their students live.

The writer offers a welcome acknowledgement, from within the haredi world (he heads a hasidic boys’ school), of the bullshit nature of the arguments haredim make about the high quality, by any standard, of their children’s education. He notes that in reality

many hours are spent singing songs, listening to stories, and repeating material that has already been learned. In high school, meanwhile, most of the day is devoted to unstructured learning. This, for many students, consists primarily of socializing while absorbing a tiny amount of material...

[M]ost ḥasidic schools offer something like 90 minutes a day of secular studies to students ages six to twelve, the quality of which varies widely, but is mostly well below average; and these pupils then go on to high schools that provide no secular studies at all. I can tell you, as someone who attended mainstream ḥasidic schools, that by the age of fifteen I had forgotten almost entirely the smatterings of English and mathematics I had learned in elementary school and had to start again from scratch.

As I say, such honesty about – well, about what we already know, but about which haredim lie – is welcome. Yet instead of proceeding to offer suggestions about how the closed, hostile world of the haredim might be induced – more sensitively and successfully – by state education representatives to open up enough to educate their children in even minimally non-haredi ways, the writer suddenly goes on a tear about evil liberal conspiracies to “dismantle” haredi life entirely.

[The question is] whether the liberal state is willing to let a countercultural social movement that bends the rules of the liberal order grow up in its midst. From the perspective of the state, and those loyal to it, there are reasonable grounds to prevent that. What is not reasonable, however, is the sort of liberal triumphalism that imagines that, under the pretext of implementing minor or neutral reforms, Ḥasidim will simply be intimidated into dismantling their own social order...

Liberal order here means everything – everything – that is totally “antithetical,” the writer rightly points out, to the haredi way of life. Totally. Personal choice, autonomy, the use of reason to make decisions which are right for oneself and not necessarily the group (haredim, for instance, notoriously vote as an almost solid bloc; in the last election, almost 83 percent of them, as instructed by their rabbis, voted for Trump, the highest percentage of any voting group). The haredim represent a totally solid rejection of everything modern liberal democracies stand for. Full stop.


Eli Spitzer even goes on to acknowledge that for haredi parents “preventing college is the point,” so bravo to their schools for doing a bang-up job of making successful entry to college impossible… ? Aren’t we getting a little… weird here? Has Spitzer heard of Yeshiva University? Of quite a number of other seriously religious universities in America? But even those schools won’t take you if you don’t know what a computer is and get 250 on your verbal and nonverbal SATs… tests you can’t even take, come to think of it, without basic computer skills…


So what do we conclude from what is clearly a radical, all-encompassing, isolation and stupidization of a growing number of young people in the United States?

A country by the way which is itself quite religious?

America is the most religious wealthy country in the world, according to a recent survey. A Pew survey found that Americans said they prayed more than any other wealthy nation surveyed. Fifty-five percent of Americans report praying at least once daily, 6 percentage points higher than the international average.

Again, in line with it being a religious outlier in the advanced world, the US has an extensive network of religious – and often very culturally conservative – universities. As its current political battles suggest, America’s conservative religious culture and legal institutions arguably dominate – they certainly hold their own – in the institutions (had a look at the Supreme Court lately?) and practices of this country. Anyone looking for a liberal triumphalism set on dismantling religious, conservative life will find herself seriously challenged in this god-fearing, abortion under virtually all circumstances outlawing, country.

Because of course the point here is that ultraorthodoxy does not represent merely (in Spitzer’s words) “a countercultural social movement that bends the rules of the liberal order.” I mean, whoa, Nellie! Ultraorthodoxy is itself an outlier in the religious life of this religious country, where massive numbers of seriously committed religious communities educate their children to a more than acceptable standard for a productive, contributing life in the modern world. We are talking here not about counterculture, but cult – a withdrawn, broadly non-compliant cult whose members often display a positive contempt for the laws of a country many of whose claims upon them they simply reject (this contempt for the civic realm is in all respects far worse in Israel). Far from the triumphant dismantler Spitzer perceives, the reality of the extremely liberal city of New York, for instance, is that the very voting bloc ultraorthodoxy represents stays the hand of one politician after another who might for a moment think of changing that sect’s appalling status quo.

Does it not seem strange to Spitzer that a city so obnoxiously liberal as to remove Jefferson’s statue from its city council building trembles before the power of its ultraorthodox community?


In countries like Spitzer’s – England – the ultraorthodox help make possible the just as appalling educational wreckage many Muslim schools represent. Shouldn’t Muslim schools enjoy the same freedom from an evil liberal state that, for instance, wants to stop them from treating girls like dirt, assigning anti-semitic textbooks, and refusing to teach science?

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