Feb 5, 2024 1:10 PM
Hasidic residents in Williamsburg woke up on Sunday to streets littered with protest fliers — known in Yiddish as pashkevillin — against Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, the leader of Williamsburg’s dominant Satmar faction.
“CHILD TRAFFICKING ALERT!” the fliers read. “ZALMEN LIEB TEITELBAUM. Don't sell MY children for YOUR money. DON’T!!!”
The fliers, in bold, blood red letters, were unsigned, but they followed a pattern of increasingly heated rhetoric against yeshiva leaders cooperating with government officials on new education rules, without which they risk losing their government funding.
In recent weeks, a heated debate has been taking place among Haredi leadership on how to respond to New York State Education Department efforts to enforce state education laws for nonpulic schools, including yeshivas.
The Zalmanite faction of Satmar has been working with Agudath Israel, a prominent Haredi lobbying organization, along with an organization known as PEARLS, or Parents for Educational And Religious Liberty in Schools, to choose one of seven “pathways” allowed by the state in order to comply with education laws.
Opponents of such collaborative efforts include Zalmen’s brother Aaron Teitelbaum, who leads Satmar’s Aaronite faction and has been accusing Agudath Israel and PEARLS of “selling out our children for money.” Aaron Teitelbaum, and others who share his view, claim that any accommodation to government demands compromises the “educational purity” of their yeshivas, and jeopardizes the educational independence that Haredi schools have enjoyed for decades.
The new regulations have been adopted by the state after years of advocacy by yeshiva graduates who accused their schools of ignoring state education laws that require nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. In recent months, the state has been urging nonpublic schools, including yeshivas, to demonstrate compliance with education laws by selecting one of seven “pathways,” some of which allow schools to avoid direct oversight by local education authorities.
An important issue at stake is government funding. While the state cannot technically shut down a yeshiva for not meeting the government's standards, it may find a school to be non-compliant, thereby risking its funding from the government, which has provided yeshivas with millions of dollars over the years.
Last November, Aaron Teitelbaum called on Haredi yeshivas to simply ignore the state’s demands, and many within the Satmar community have taken his message to heart. In January, at Agudath’s Israel annual “Yeshiva Summit,” a small group of protesters stood outside holding up signs, “Don’t sell out our children’s education for money.”
In recent weeks, however, a coalition of dozens of Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn, representing most major sects — such as Bobov, Belz, Vizhnitz, and Skver — has followed the Zalmanites’ lead and coalesced around the strategy of accommodation encouraged by Agudath Israel and PEARLS.
A lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court by Agudath Israel and PEARLS won a partial victory last March, and the state filed an appeal in October. Oral arguments before the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department, are now scheduled for late March 2024.