New York Times Column Smears Satmar Chassidim as Ignorant Welfare Sponges

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By Ira Stoll

The latest salvo in the New York Times’ one-sided campaign against traditional Jewish education comes in the form of a column by Ginia Bellafante that is one of the nastiest and most unfounded attacks on a Jewish group published by the Times in recent memory.

The Times columnist accuses Satmar Chassidim of being welfare sponges:

Politicians who might otherwise feel free to lecture black and Hispanic communities on the importance of grit, self-reliance and the sacred path of higher learning express remarkably little outrage over the habits of a group that essentially enshrines its own dependency on the system. According to a 2011 study by the UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish philanthropic organization, just 11 percent of Hasidic men and 6 percent of Hasidic women in and around New York City hold bachelor’s degrees, while the poverty rate among Hasidic households stands at 43 percent, nearly twice the figure citywide.

A reliance on public assistance is remarkably common among the Hasidim, explained Lani Santo, the executive director of Footsteps, an organization begun in 2003 to help those who decide to leave the ultra-Orthodox world.

This is problematic on at least two levels.

First, the hypocrisy and double standard of which the Times accuses the politicians applies just as equally to the Times. Times columnists feel free to accuse politicians of racism or callousness when the politicians deplore welfare dependency in the black or Hispanic community. But the Times columnists lead the charge against welfare when the targets are Chassidishe Jews. (The column doesn’t mention that many such Jews pay taxes to support public schools that they do not use.)

Second, the statistical basis on which the Times makes its argument is erroneous. The Times cites the 2011 UJA-Federation of New York study to claim that that “the poverty rate among Chassidishe households stands at 43 percent, nearly twice the figure citywide.” But the UJA-Federation study, as the first footnote in the poverty chapter makes clear, uses 150% of the federal poverty guideline to define “poor.” It’s an apples to oranges comparison; the UJA-Federation uses a different and far more expansive definition of poor than the one theTimes uses as a comparison.

The same UJA study that found the 43% “poverty” — actually, up to 150% of the federal definition — rate among Chassidishe Jews also found an even higher 71% poverty rate among elderly Russian-speakers and a 48% poverty rate among those with disabled people in the household. Yet there’s not a peep of complaint from theTimes columnist about welfare dependency in those communities. It’s almost enough to make a reader suspect that what the Times columnist really dislikes isn’t welfare dependency but religiosity, particularly when it is of the fervently Orthodox Jewish variety.

Likewise, a Times news article from 2011 reported that “Among Hispanic single mothers in the Bronx, the poverty rate was nearly 58 percent.” That’s using the federal definition, not the more expansive 150% of the federal poverty rate UJA-Federation definition. The Times columnist doesn’t mention that, perhaps because it would undercut her effort to portray Chassidishe Jews, or Satmars in particular, as especially shiftless.

The rest of this column is marred by similar tendentiousness and errors of judgment. The Times quotes one “exile from the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn” complaining about her education: “They didn’t teach us anything in high school so I didn’t know anything, no Shakespeare or anything like that.” Nothing against Shakespeare, but how many Chassidishe Jews are going to become Shakespearean actors or English literature professors? The odds of professional success in such careers are extremely long even if one isn’t a Chassidishe Jew. The apparent success of the “exile” in finding her way to such material on her own itself undercuts the claim that the failure of her school or parents to force-feed it to her amounts to some kind of abuse or insuperable obstacle.

The Times column begins, “In the mid-1940s, Joel Teitelbaum, an eminent and charismatic rabbi, immigrated to the United States, colonizing a section of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for his Hasidic sect, the Satmar, its name taken from the Hungarian town of Szatmar, where Rabbi Teitelbaum had fought to resist the encroachments of a modernizing society. Subsequent decades have seen virtually no retrenchment in the sect’s mistrust of the larger world.”

Well, what possibly was happening in 1940s Hungary that might have engendered “mistrust” of “modernizing society”? The Times doesn’t say, in a remarkable exception to the newspaper’s usual post-Holocaust Holocaust obsession.

“Encroachments of a modernizing society” is Times-speak, an Orwellian euphemism for the Nazis who sought to exterminate Jewry — and who nearly succeeded in doing so in Europe. With their rockets and Zyklon B, the Nazis were plenty “modern” and knew all the science that the Times is complaining that the Chassidishe schools in New York don’t teach. But the Nazis, like this Times column, lacked any concept of the limits of modernity, or of the importance of traditional Judaism and its enduring values in understanding the proper and improper uses of science.

I’m not a Satmar. But on the basis of this particular piece of work — and, for that matter, the recent coverage of Jewish education — for closed-mindedness and ignorance, the Times metro section and its columnist are well down there below the worst that any Jewish religious school has to offer.

(c) 2016 The Algemeiner Journal



  1. The facts are correct. I never thought about the double standard of critize the black and not the chasidim but it makes sense.

  2. Footsteps? Wherever they are, you are sure to find bitter angry people with unresolved issues….blaming their LACK OF EDUCATION on everything, when we all know that it’s a scapegoat for a million other issues.
    Lack of education never hindered the thousands of UNEDUCATED chassidim who did very well for themselves, thank you. Neither did the fact that those who wanted MORE, found a way to educate themselves without bitterness or leaving the path…all a bunch of hogwash to do what they really want to do and that is to live the life of Riley and attain FREEDOM FROM RESPONSIBILITY…PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
    Regardless of the situations…life and how u accept it is an attitude not a cause…
    The world is full of heroes, in other words, people who have overcome and climbed those obstacle courses laid out for them and mastered it quite successfully…
    Footsteps…please step aside and take your issues elsewhere. You will not change our derech…you will not break our spirit and you will eventually pay a heavy price for being choiti imachti es harabim…AND for chillul Hashemi and mesira….
    G…do has a lot of patience…. even a lifetime, but you will not be the victor in the end.
    Your temporary status will eventually be up as all those ENLIGHTENED b4 you.

  3. Chassidishe Yidden are a tiny minority in this world. Why would the Times bother itself with us? Are they perhaps extremely uncomfortable around us?

  4. Yes, the Times article truly was embarrassing, but I did not quite understand some of the Matzav author’s arguments against it.

    Granted that elderly Russian speakers, Hispanic single mothers, and families with disabled individuals in their households have higher rates of poverty, and this is unmentioned in the Times. But wouldn’t the Times respond that their article was about a culture that EDUCATES its entire community to lifetime welfare dependence, rather than one that educates its children to support themselves but includes individuals (elderly, disabled, single Hispanic mothers) who, not of their own choice, cannot compete?

    I also did not understand seizing upon the “exile’s” quote about Shakespeare and using her individual success as an indicator that if she could do it, anyone could. True, not having read Shakespeare is not in and of itself economically crippling, but inability to speak and write basic English certainly is, and that is the RULE with 80% of Satmar-educated MALES, as the article points out. While it certainly POSSIBLE that SOME will be able to rise above this deficit, anyone with basic familiarity with programs that try to prepare adult Satmar men for the workplace will be able to tell you that, unfortunately, the vast majority, hard as they try, will remain functionally illiterate.

    As for the Times’ not having sufficiently explained Satmar’s experiences with the holocaust and the reasons for its mistrust of modernity, I fail to see why that would have been the Times’ job, given that they were setting out to describe the REALITY and cultural-economic CONSEQUENCES of Satmar’s denying its adherents’ a basic education.

  5. so he learned nothing about shakespeare. he also did not learn how to cheat and steal. he did not learn how to make fun of other people. he did not learn how to disrespect teachers and parents. he did not learn how to take things that dont belong to him. the list of all the things he didnt learn is endless

  6. Um, I’m not defending the times piece. Just wanted to point out that the articles comparison of regular families living at the poverty rate to elderly immigrants, households with disabled members, and single parent households is actually counterproductive.

  7. Well, at least they live wholesome lives, they don’t have children out of wedlock or claim to be unwed mothers…

    They are different than blacks and hispanics…

  8. Great point. I don’t know numbers, but in our circles the vast majority DO know who the parents are. VS other cultures religions races colors etc. DO NOT know. Not to mention they don’t know who their father is, but large number of children don’t even know who their mother is. Maybe someone could fill in the blank in the statistic number, because I lack this info. Thank’s

  9. The seeking by reporters of “making the big scoop” is a major influence on bias in interviewing a subject as well. This seeking for glory was aptly said by Hersh when he broke the story of the My Lai massacre of civilians by American soldiers during the Vietnamese war; “You think I wouldn’t sell my mother for My Lai? Gimme a break.” NYT executive editor, Max Frankel, on the pressure on the Pulitzer Prize board’s decision to give their reporter John Burns an award despite his not being recommended by the selection jury: “We didn’t hide our disappointment. we went around muttering about it…The advisory board, in its wisdom, reached around the jury.” ..

    Jill Abramson, new editor of the New York Times 2011 said, “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion. If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

  10. This sort of thing is not an accident. The New York Times has a style guide – the current edition is not available to the public, but you can preview the 2002 edition [here] – where the usage of words and phrases is meticulously defined and refined over the years. When the NYT decides to make up a nonsensical phrase .., it means that they are changing their style rules to subtly push the lie

    Which means that the “newspaper of record” is willing to influence common usage of American English itself to push a ..sociopolitical.. agenda.


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