Yeshivas

‘We will not respond’: Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum urges Haredi schools to ignore the state education department

In instructions to all schools affiliated with the Aaronite Satmar faction, Teitelbaum ordered officials to defy education department demands by simply ignoring them

Main synagogue of Kiryas Joel, NY. Credit: Mo Gelber/Shtetl

Nov 28, 2023 2:35 PM

Updated: 

Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, grand rabbi of one faction of the Satmar community, urged schools across the state not to respond to the New York State Education Department as it seeks to enforce more rigorous education standards in Hasidic yeshivas.

During a morning lecture to students at a yeshiva in Kiryas Joel on Monday, Teitelbaum issued what appeared to be instructions to Hasidic schools across the state not to cooperate with state education officials. “I want to notify the leaders of our schools, those of Kiryas Joel, those of Williamsburg, those of Borough Park, and those of Monsey,” he said. “The only solution [to the education department’s demands] is not to respond. With God's help, we will not respond to the government.”

Teitelbaum, the spiritual leader of the upstate village of Kiryas Joel and one of the most influential Haredi leaders in New York State, leads one of two major factions of the Satmar Hasidic sect. In addition to leading many schools in Kiryas Joel, he also serves as the effective leader of several schools in other parts of the state.

J.P. O’Hare, a spokesperson for NYSED, responded to the rabbi’s comments.

“We have an obligation under the law to ensure all students receive an education that enables them to fulfill their potential and teaches them the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to society and participate in civic life,” O’Hare said. “We remain committed to ensuring students who attend school in settings consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs and values receive the education to which they are legally entitled.”

New York State law requires all private schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to what public schools provide. In July, for the first time ever, NYSED released a list of deadlines by which private schools, including Hasidic yeshivas, would need to make progress toward demonstrating substantial equivalency. Teitelbaum’s speech concerned the Dec. 1 deadline, by which all districts will need to show how each private school in their area intends to demonstrate substantial equivalency.

NYSED provided a list of seven pathways schools could use to demonstrate this, including obtaining accreditation from an approved accreditation agency, administering approved assessments to students, and undergoing review by the local school authority.

“Whoever knows the truth knows that each of the seven pathways is dangerous,” Teitelbaum said. “If everyone stands firm and no one responds, it will demonstrate the tremendous power of the many.”

Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder expressed a similar attitude toward the pathways, according to a video of his remarks at a substantial equivalency training event hosted at Rockland BOCES, an organization that assists local school districts.

Jewish people “have been subjects and subjugated for centuries, by the Egyptians, the Romans, the Inquisition, the Crusaders, and most recently, the Nazis, yet we have survived them all,” Wieder said. “The New York State Education Department will not be the one to break us.”

Teitelbaum lamented the fact that some Haredi leaders have expressed willingness to work with NYSED.

“I call on the leaders of other yeshivas not to be persuaded by those activists who have sold their souls to the devil,” he said. “Using lies and deceit, they are attempting to fool our school principals to follow in their paths.”

Teitelbaum didn’t name the school leaders he was referring to. But an article in Heimshtut, an Aaronite newspaper in Kiryas Joel, accused the Haredi organization Agudath Israel of America of announcing it would cooperate with the state.

Heimshtut claimed that during Wieder’s visit to the Rockland BOCES event, a representative of Agudath Israel "piped up that 'we are here to represent the schools that are ready to cooperate with the state.'"

Agudath Israel did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment.

Joel Petlin, the superintendent of the Kiryas Joel public school district, which is responsible for meeting NYSED deadlines, did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment.

There are over 150,000 students in hundreds of Haredi schools in the state of New York, according to the advocacy group Teach Coalition, which is part of the Orthodox Union. 

Read more in Shtetl: 

State attorney general appeals ruling previously celebrated by Haredi leaders

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.