Haredi leaders call for ‘major day of prayer’ against state intervention in Haredi schools

Oral arguments are set to take place today between the state government and Haredi advocates

Notice in the Satmar newspaper Der Yid calling for a day of prayer today

Mar 28, 2024 1:35 PM


Rabbinic leaders and activists are calling on Haredi communities to declare today a ‘major day of prayer’ as an appellate court in Albany is set to hear oral arguments between the state government and advocates against state intervention in Haredi schools.

Rabbis from Satmar to Chabad say that today’s oral arguments will affect generations to come, and congregants should pray for Haredi yeshiva advocates to prevail in this case. The effort on behalf of the yeshivas is being led by PEARLS, which is attempting to prevent state oversight of secular education studies offered by Haredi yeshivas.

The Chabad rabbinical court in Crown Heights issued a call to the community yesterday, saying, “We join the plea of educators and institutional leaders, alongside the souls of our children, crying out: Make tomorrow a day of prayer, dedicated to reciting Psalms, adding in extra Torah study, prayer, and the giving of charity to annul the decree against educating our children in sacred purity,” according to a letter published in the Crown Heights community news site COLlive. 

A Yiddish-language ad placed by PEARLS in multiple Haredi publications calling for “splitting open the heavens” through prayer today

A notice issued by the Zalmanite Satmar congregation, Yetev Lev D’Satmar in Williamsburg, issued a dramatic call declaring today a “major day of prayer,” at a time when the “future of tens of thousands of New York children in the generations to come hangs in the balance.”  The notice calls on reciting special prayers ordinarily dedicated to fast days and the high holy days, “so that the remnant of the Jewish people will not perish.”

The notice describes the threat to Haredi education as a result of “those who strenuously attempt to eradicate the foundations of our children’s education according to the ancient traditions of the Jewish people.”

A similar call was issued in a Yiddish-language advertisement published in multiple Haredi news outlets by PEARLS, announcing that “a fateful court session will take place about the future of the pious education of our children,” and calling today’s issue “a frightful danger” to the Haredi community’s future. “Drench your book of Psalms with tears, and let us split open the heavens with our prayers, so that our children may continue to receive the same education as did our fathers and forebears, without any change whatsoever!”

Notably, a significant faction within the Haredi community is opposed to PEARLS’s efforts. The Satmar community led by Aaron Teitelbaum, the rebbe of Satmar in Kiryas Joel, who leads a rival faction to that of his brother Zalmen Teitelbaum in Williamsburg, has been leading a months-long campaign for an alternate strategy in battling the state’s efforts, advocating for total non-cooperation with the state in any fashion. This is contrary to the position of PEARLS, which has been working in concert with Agudath Israel, and with the strong backing of Zalmen Teitelbaum and his Satmar faction, which is seeking accommodations from the state, rather than a continuous battle.

Over recent months, the two Satmar factions have been fiercely battling each other on this issue, with publications affiliated with Aaron calling PEARLS and their allies “traitors” to Haredi Jews. Publications affiliated with Zalmen have criticized Aaron for his open call to simply ignore the government’s demands, saying that “some people lack the knowledge of what to say publicly.” Late last year, Aaron said in a public speech that “we will not respond” to the state’s demands, and then reiterated that call several weeks later.

An Albany court will hear arguments from the New York State Attorney General’s office against an earlier ruling that weakened the ability of the New York State Education Department to require Haredi schools to offer what it considers adequate secular education. 

The earlier ruling, which was issued last year by New York State Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba and celebrated by Haredi leaders, limited the state’s ability to withhold funding or require parents to withdraw their children from schools the state considers inadequate. According to the ruling, parents who send their children to such schools could still follow the law by tutoring their child in secular subjects outside of school.