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Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Simple Case of Racism?

Interesting piece in the Haaretz weekend magazine about the Yeshiva community of Lakewood, New Jersey. The article starts off by calling Lakewood the "new epicenter of ultra-Orthodox life in the United States", and noting that it is "the largest yeshiva in the world today". Good description of the Lakewood style of learning, or the "habura paradigm", as it is put:
The great majority of the world's yeshivas concentrate on a handful of tractates known as "the Yeshivishe mesechtas" that raise theoretical issues around which much of the Lithuanian style of Talmud study revolves, but Lakewood has moved well beyond this model. At any one time, just about every section of the Talmud and Codes is being intensely studied by one of the 173 haburas operating in Lakewood.

The habura paradigm is a product of the decentralization of authority, at least within the confines of Talmud study, that is one of the signature marks of the Lakewood revolution.
The article also makes mention of two recent issues that have come up in the community. One is the recent banning of books by the Yeshiva leadership. The article makes mention of three such recent incidents, most notably, of course, the banning of books written by the "Zoo Rabbi", Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, whose plight has become a bit of a blogosphere cause celebre. (Most notably here and here).
The other issue mentioned, and one that is a very real one in Orthodox communities the world over, is the increase of teens "at risk", or in rebellion from the strict upbringing that is the norm in Lakewood. Apparently, more Lakewood teens are turning to drugs and alcohol than ever before. The article outlines a few attempts some in the community have made in dealing with the problem, such as:
The Minyan, a gathering place for marginal Lakewood teenagers where they can come to pray, hear a Torah class, or hang out - even if they are wearing jeans and have a tattoo on their forearm.
But these attempts at helping such disaffected youths seem few and far between. What bothers me most is the fact that the prevailing attitute in Lakewood seems to be how to prevent the "good kids" from being affected by the "bad kids" instead of looking for preventative measures or more programs to deal with those already affected teens. One line of the article I found particularly troubling was this:
The answer for many of the schools has been to become even more selective. Dozens of prospective high school students, boys and girls, have been left stranded, without a school this year, and even gentile real estate agents have begun warning house-hunters that they'd better line up a school for their children before they buy in the community. And some of the prejudices that have haunted the Israeli Haredi world are finally hitting Lakewood - one prominent high school for girls which for years admitted students of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) origin has now changed its policy and announced it will admit only Ashkenazim.
What??? Can someone enlighten me as to why barring Sefardi students from Lakewood Yeshivas will in any way prevent troubled teens from straying? I live in a neighborhood that has more than its fair share of "wayward teens", and I can tell you that they are not limited by any stretch to coming from families of one descent or another. Can anyone shed some light on this policy, both the veracity of its existence and the line of reasoning that led its creation?

31 Comments:

Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

OrthoMom: The frummer (Ashekenazi)you get, the more you you think Sefaradim are "off the derech."

Its a big problem everywhere (the discrimination). Luckily, my kids don't think there's anything different between them, and their taymani/morrocan/tunisian/sabra/russian/anglo playmates in gan and school.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous J said...

Yeah, I also read that article on Friday and I was thinking to myself "if this sort of situation would have occurred anywhere else wouldn't everyone be screaming racism? Why do the UO communities think that they are above such moral dictates?

10:28 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Jameel and J:
-"The frummer (Ashekenazi)you get, the more you you think Sefaradim are "off the derech.""
-"Why do the UO communities think that they are above such moral dictates?"

Actually, not all UO communities ascribe to this form of racism. As a matter of fact, my kids are attending a pretty hard-core UO school (I'll bet some of you didn't see that coming, did you?) and this attitude towards Sefardi kids is not present in the LEAST. So I'm trying to figure out in which, if any, UO communities this attitude prevails.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

In addition to being immoral, such a policy is flatly illegal if the school categorizes itself as a tax exempt organization.

10:38 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Krum:
THAT is a very good point. However, I'm sure this policy is not one that is written in any of the school handbooks. That is why I would love to hear from someone who can confirm or deny this allegation. I'm not going to take it solely on the say-so of the Haaretz article, especially as it isn't backed up.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous dan the man said...

I have family in Israel that talk about this all the time. It is much more common in Israel that here, but I guess it is gaining popularity stateside. It is definitely a racist policy.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

M4: I am sure a lawsuit would be able ferret it out, written or unwritten. But I'm not holding my breath.

I have heard similar things about schools in Brooklyn.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Now that is disturbing. Ech!

1:48 PM  
Anonymous vfb said...

Note that they did not state the name of the school.

I do not believe that any schools on Lakewood have a formal policy of excluding Sephardim. I do not think that girls who live in Lakewood are less likely to get into any school if they are Sephardic than Ashkenazic. However, to the extent that that are becoming more selective, they are much less likely to take girls who come from Deal. The girls from Deal are all Sephardim. This is partly because they are culturally very different from the Lakewood girls.

There is far greater discrimination based on what the student’s fathers do than ethnicity. There are schools that officially will not take students whose fathers work rather than learn in kollel. Those that have these rules do not enforce it as an absolute, but students whose fathers learn have it much easier getting into the school of their choice.

6:16 PM  
Blogger ari said...

Every time I see an article like this I get derpressed. I learned in Israel for the past 3 years and saw this problem growing and growing.Both for Israeli children whos fathers arent in Kolel,and for Israelis that cant learn for a full day. In both cases they are ostracized and usually end up just bumbing around doing nothing with their time.This terrible problem has spread to America.As a strong believer that yeshiva is a must for almost all teenage boys I have witnessed this change> Every Yeshiva moves to the right and now the weaker students have no place to go.This is why Yeshivas such as priority one and the like(as well as the more open minded girls schools)are so important and need all of our support.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Interesting how they equate tattoos (an isur de’oraita) with wearing jeans...

7:14 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

you mean wearing jeans ISN'T an issur d'aoraiso?

7:50 PM  
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Blogger hbl said...

Talk about being an ousider. This Gentile reader thought the article was written in insider shorthand. I am interested in understanding the background. I'll bookmark this blog an come back again in the event a background article is published.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lakewood is a very sick town.Full of leeches and run by our equivalent to komeiniists.I believe that Rav Aharon would br very displeased.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Racism? You must be French.

9:07 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

anonymous 9:07:
Care to elaborate? I'm not sure how excluding those of an other race would be construed as anything BUT racism. But what does that have to do with being French..?

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>attitude towards Sefardi kids

Oh well, what goes around comes around. Certain Sephardishe communities of a note have institutionalized hatred of גרים. Some even go so far to say that it's אסור to marry a גר or גיורת.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>what does that have to do with being French

The French often like to call people racist for hating French people.

>I'm not sure how excluding those of
>an other race would be construed
>as anything BUT racism

Sephardic is a race?

9:22 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

anonymous 9:22:
Yes, the anti-Sephardi or anti-Mizrachi attitude that has permeated Israeli society for so many years has been referred to by most as a form of racism.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> has been referred to by most as a form of racism

Sounds like xenophobia to me. Calling it racism is so French.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Anonymous Who Mentioned Sephardic AntiGerism:

In those communities, they're not even allowed to marry the children of converts.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

The solution is always to build a wall to keep the problem out. When these people wake up to the fact that THEY are creating the problem, in Lakewood or elsewhere, they migh have a chance..

http://rebeljew.blogspot.com/2005/06/why-rebel.html

7:07 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Isn't it true that when the UN decided to have a convention dedicated to fighting racism, and Colin Powell wanted to attend and represent the United States, Pres. Bush refused to let him attend, because "we don't have racism here in America"?

Thus, if you speak of racism, you must not be American. Maybe French.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous dna said...

" Anonymous said...

Lakewood is a very sick town.Full of leeches and run by our equivalent to komeiniists.I believe that Rav Aharon would br very displeased. "

The little I know of Rav Aharon leads me to believe he would be quite happy with Lakewood. What makes you think otherwise?

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding my comment that Rav aharon would be displeased.Actions speak louder than words.Rav Aharon appointed Rav JB Soloveichik chairman of the board When he founded Chinuch Atzmoi.I believe that this proves that he did not believe in this holier than thou elitist BS that permeates Lakewood.

11:08 PM  
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1:34 AM  
Anonymous Sam said...

A bit late, but -

MarGavriel: President Bush did not allow any senior officials to go to the UN's convention on fighting racism in Durban because it was really just a forum to promote Arab anti-Semitism and the left's tolerance of it. Which makes the French reference that much better - they are leaders in tolerating violent Arab anti-Semitism.

11:25 PM  
Blogger MissShona said...

Ok, about the Sephardic non-acceptance of gerim thing; that has only been formally decreed by the Syrian community (which isn't even "Sephardic" when you think about it). I have not heard of another group doing so.

My neighborhood has 7 shuls, and on of the is Sephardic and have many gerim that are fully integrated into that community.

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