Citing past wins, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum once again urges defiance of the state on education demands

Recalling past battles over ‘metzitza be’peh’ and Covid-19 lockdowns, Teitelbaum urged Haredi yeshiva leaders to once again stand up to government authorities

Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum delivering a speech. Credit: Shtetl

Dec 4, 2023 4:55 PM


Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum reiterated his call to Haredi yeshiva leaders on Sunday, urging them to ignore state government efforts to enforce education standards in Hasidic yeshivas, citing past instances of being rewarded after defying the government’s wishes.

Recalling earlier battles with government officials, such as conflict over the practice of metzitza be’peh as well as Covid-19 school, camp, and synagogue closures, Teitelbaum said, “The government realized they were dealing with a ‘stiff-necked people,’ that we don’t give in so easily, so they decided it’s best to just let things be.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams spoke earlier at the same event, telling the audience they had a right to educate their children in accordance with their faith and culture.

Teitelbaum, who leads one of two factions of the Satmar Hasidic sect and is one of the most influential Haredi leaders in New York State, delivered his remarks at an annual event that celebrates the rescue of the founder of the Satmar dynasty from the Holocaust. In his speech, Teitelbaum called on Haredi leaders to “stand strong” and not yield to the state’s demands. 

In July, for the first time ever, the New York State Education Department released a list of deadlines by which private schools, including Hasidic yeshivas, need to make progress toward meeting the state’s education standards for nonpublic schools. New York State law requires all private schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools.

“I want to say to all school principals: if we don’t respond, no harm will come of it,” Teitelbaum said in his speech. “There’s no law that says we must respond.” He added, “If over time we will have to respond, we’ll decide what to do then.”

Teitelbaum’s speech concerned the upcoming Jan. 15 deadline, by which all school districts need to show how each private school in their area intends to demonstrate substantial equivalency. The deadline was originally set for Dec. 1, but like other deadlines on NYSED’s list, it has been extended.

There are seven pathways schools can use to demonstrate substantial equivalency, including administering approved assessments to students, such as English Language Arts and Mathematics exams, Regents exams, or Advanced Placement exams.

In his speech, Teitelbaum said that none of the seven pathways are acceptable to the Haredi community, and he called on other Haredi leaders to tell the government, “We won’t accept any rules, not a single one. We have no interest in the government’s opinions.”    

In his speech earlier that evening at the same event, Mayor Adams sounded at odds with state education officials. “You have a right to educate your children,” Adams said, to applause from the crowd. “You have a right to worship in your community. You have a right to maintain your culture. You are part of the cornerstone of the city of New York.”

“When I look out over this crowd, you know what I see?” the mayor added. “I see the votes that got me elected to be the mayor of the city of New York.”

Regulations from NYSED say that for any city or district that “willfully omits and refuses to enforce the provisions of the compulsory education requirements,” the NYSED commissioner may withhold one half of funding from that city or district.

The regulations also state that a private school that has intentionally prevented a local school authority from reviewing it may receive a negative substantial equivalency determination. A recent court decision, however, restricted the state’s ability to impose consequences on schools that receive such determinations. New York State appealed that ruling in October.

NYSED did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment on the rabbi’s speech.

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.