Investigation Reveals New York Times Curated Distorted Hit Piece Targeting Hasidic Jews, Leading to Yeshiva Regulation - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Investigation Reveals New York Times Curated Distorted Hit Piece Targeting Hasidic Jews, Leading to Yeshiva Regulation

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Emma-Jo Morris

The New York Times published a report in late September targeting Hasidic Yeshivas — alleging students “[know] nothing” and grow up “barely [able] to support their own families” — coinciding with a Board of Regents vote to regulate their religious education. However, Breitbart News has learned that the Times omitted relevant information, shunned sources directly involved with the schools, and declined to publish pertinent on-the-record statements, in pursuing the story — resulting in a funhouse mirror hit piece, pressuring the board’s unanimous vote to force state edicts on the religious schools.

Breitbart News has learned the Times did not establish communication relevant to reporting with at least two schools the story is based on — titled, “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money” — until days before publication, with request for comment on the final product. Breitbart has identified two instances of relevant sources to the story speaking to the Times and having their statements disregarded. Breitbart has also learned of one instance where the Times accused two schools of the same claim of corporal punishment, and two instances where request for comment was responded to but never published.

Breitbart has reviewed correspondence between the Times and teachers and administrators from various Hasidic Yeshivas from different sects, reviewed class work from a Hasidic Yeshiva, a breakdown of public funding for a Hasidic Yeshiva, and public data, showing the Times obfuscated information to produce a broad story with little bearing on the complex facts of what it is talking about.

Most of the sources who spoke with Breitbart requested their names and identities be concealed.

The New York Times “Investigation”

The Times “investigation” hinges its headline on a case where a school administered a Regents exam in 2019, which students failed. The Times then makes the false claim that the Satmar-sect Hasidic school that took the exam, United Talmudic Academy (UTA), “helps set the tone for other schools in the community, including those run by Bobov, Skver, and Viznitz groups.”

The report is bolstered by statements from former members of the Orthodox community and sources the Grey Lady says are current members, alleging that private Jewish schools are “failing by design,” as “generations of children have been systemically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency.”

The story — which relies on an astonishing assumption that a community of roughly 40,000 families in Brooklyn alone is engaged in a massive and visible conspiracy to abuse their own children — features former members talking about their personal anecdotes, quoting one, for instance, saying his “biggest fear” is that his sons will stay in the Orthodox community, lamenting, they will “get married and start having kids.”

The Times implies the schools are a tool for control of the communities by the rabbis in leadership, and claims these rabbis also coerce politicians via their “voting bloc.”

The Times adds that these schools have “found ways” of receiving a disproportionate amount of public funding, despite noting that Yeshivas “receive far less per pupil than public schools, and they charge tuition.” The Times is not clear whether the public money going to Yeshivas is granted to be spent at their discretion, or whether it comes in the form of food programs, transportation programs, etcetera.

The story, co-bylined by Education reporter Eliza Shapiro and Metro reporter Brian Rosenthal, claims leaders of the boys’ schools were reached out to “on dozens of occasions over the past year” and have refused to engage with the paper. The Times says representatives of the schools only responded after being presented with a summary of its reporting for comment.

News Not Fit to Print

According to documents reviewed by Breitbart News, and statements provided by schools and individuals referred to in the article, Shapiro and Rosenthal did not connect with relevant parties in the over-year-long period they spent working on this report, and, in at least one case, Shapiro shirked the opportunity to speak with a Hasidic teacher who was communicating with her via email and offering her materials to review.

“Wait can you get me inside a Hasidic Yeshiva or not? Really striking that it’s so hard for reporters if there’s nothing to hide right,” Shapiro barked at an Orthodox Jewish user on Twitter on February 18, 2021.

But according to multiple schools referenced in the article who spoke to Breitbart — one of which hosted Breitbart for an hours-long meeting and allowed Breitbart access to reams of schoolwork — the Times did not make an effort to visit or speak to administrators in researching their story.

Administrators at the school that hosted Breitbart, which is one of the largest in the area, said the Times did come, unannounced, to stand outside and snap photos of children exiting the building, but did not initiate a meeting with that school’s administrators.

Another school named in the article informed Breitbart the Times did reach out to them, but only to ask for clarification as to why the school had multiple corporations, and what they were. The school said no meeting was requested, and no information was requested about schoolwork or curricula, achievement rates of students, or anything pertinent to the thrust of the claims made about the school in the story.

Yochonon Donn, a teacher at a Hasidic Yeshiva, shared correspondence with Breitbart between him and Shapiro, from February 18-21, 2021, where the reporter exits the conversation after she learns Donn’s role.

The conversation begins with Donn informing Shapiro that he is a graduate of a Yeshiva, to which she flippantly requests he “let [her] know” if anyone at his alma mater would talk to her for her reporting. Donn replies that he is skeptical about his former Yeshiva’s willingness to talk to the press, but offers her his children’s textbooks.

“Ah yes, classic move when no one has anything to hide :),” Shapiro replies, referring to the school’s trepidation, before asking what company published the textbooks.

“I’m not sure what you meant by that but I can assure you that the vast majority of Yeshivas outperform public schools,” Donn wrote back, linking to performance data on individual Yeshivas.

“But most Hasidic Yeshivas don’t even offer Regents – it’s not a relevant data point! I’ve done my homework on this issue :),” she responds.

“You’d be surprised to learn that many do! The Yeshiva I attended is a Hasidic Yeshiva and they have a full Regents program. I give a writing class in a different Hasidic Yeshiva and they have a full Regents program. Most do, some don’t,” he writes back.

Following a few more messages back and forth, where Shapiro refers to herself as “the most experienced education reporter in New York City,” and “a serious reporter who doesn’t pull punches,” Shapiro asks, “Wait, are you employed by a Yeshiva…?”

“Well, technically yes since I give a weekly class in English writing in a Yeshiva. But I work full time as a reporter,” Donn answers, referring to his career at a Jewish publication, before Shapiro ends the correspondence with, “Got it thanks”.

The two had no further communication, and Shapiro never reached out to Donn on any other occasion, he told Breitbart News.

Shapiro did not respond to request for comment on the correspondence.

“There was a certain angle that she was looking for, as you can see, this is towards the beginning of investigation, if it took almost two years, this is towards the beginning of it,” Donn told Breitbart. “And you see that, basically, she has her mind made up already about Yeshivas — that they’re not doing Regents, that they don’t have an education.”

A Satmar community leader and representative of “Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools” (PEARLS) told Breitbart News that he spoke to the Times for over an hour about their story on background, but that they did not use any of the information he shared with them.

After the Times’ article was written and reporters began reaching out to relevant parties for comment, two schools, which had not been previously solicited for information, received emails making the exact same accusation, verbatim, that a former student was alleging corporal punishment took place during his time at the Yeshiva.

The claim, sent within a few days to two different schools from different Hasidic sects, was that a former student was “dragged across the room when he was 11, and that his head hit a locker and started to bleed.”

In both instances, the schools that received emails for comment on the incident were the wrong schools named in the accusation, as Hasidic sects splinter off as they grow but keep similar names. The Times was informed that they confused the schools by both parties, along with denials of the incident by both parties. Breitbart News has reviewed both email chains from both schools with the Times. The Times ultimately pinned the accusation on one school and ran it. The schools involved have requested not to be named in this story.

Both schools also provided additional comment to the Times, to address the rest of the claims leveled at them, but those comments were not published.

One school affiliate reached for comment on the final product addressed a number of false claims in the reporting, and provided corrections, which were not applied. That response to the Times was also provided to Breitbart, and reads in part:

“I reached out to the school administrators … and none of them received your email. As an aside, your conflation and confusion between the names of various schools and their affiliation seem to perhaps be endemic in your overall reporting,” the statement begins, and goes on to explain the fact that as sects splinter off, groups become independent of each other while maintaining similar names.

“I would add that I was also very surprised that your article nowhere mentions the extremely high averages of the Regents scores that Yeshiva students achieve. In fact, the majority of the top 20 slots for highest Regents averages for schools in [New York State], are filled by Yeshivas.

“Your email asking for comment stated ‘our highest priority in preparing this article is to ensure that it is accurate, comprehensive and fair,’ yet you asked for comment only in the late 48 hours of a multi-month process; not early on. That is not called ‘fair’.”

The Times did not take any input from the school for the story before publication.

The full, official statement to the Times from the school was:

Our ‘secular’ studies start as young as pre-school; not at age 8-9 that you incorrectly allege. Secondly, ‘Religious’ or ‘Judaic’ studies include history, geography, language, reading, mathematics, ethics and more[,] so it’s misleading to suggest that those hours of study have no bearing or equivalency to public school education; a definition that is not clearly defined and is currently being changed by the Board of Regents. This is borne out by the fact that the majority of the top 20 slots for highest Regents averages, for schools in NYS, are filled by Yeshivas. Third, a public-school student in NY gets on average $25,000 in taxpayer services outside of the food nutrition programs or locally-funded vouchers. Our students get around $1,000 each per year; a fraction of the $25,000. Our school system is therefore a net money saver for taxpayers based on the low cost and more so based on the outcomes: Yeshiva students are not the ones beating up people every weekend in Brooklyn; they are in fact the victims, and Poverty Rates in the Hasidic community, when adjusted for age and family size, is much more aligned with the rest of society.

Despite claiming to have “reviewed thousands of pages of public records, translated dozens of Yiddish-language documents and interviewed more than 275 people,” none of the statement provided by the school was quoted by the Times.

Another school’s response to the Times, which was also provided to Breitbart, was also ignored. That response pointed out two specific incorrect statements made by the Times, which were not followed up on.

The Times was also apparently not aware of the way public funds are spent in the Yeshivas’ case. A breakdown of funds provided to Breitbart News by a Hasidic Yeshiva shows there is not any money going to religious education. Funds come in the form of child care vouchers to parents, child nutrition programs, student transportation, mandated services such as testing and attendance tracking, and college financial aid, where accreditation allows. The school receives $2,500-$5,000 of funding per student.

Reached for comment by Breitbart, Times spokesperson Melissa Torres denied this reporting, claiming it “contains several false statements and inaccuracies,” and that Shapiro and Rosenthal “spent months seeking to help readers understand what is happening inside these Hasidic Jewish religious schools,” adding that the Times is “confident in the accuracy of our reporting.”

The Times did not provide an example of what in Breitbart’s reporting is “false,” and did not identify any particular “inaccuracies.”

The Times devoted a section of its report to quotes from a group of formerly Orthodox Jews advocating for Yeshiva reform, called “Yaffed,” founded and run by Naftuli Moster.

Yaffed describes itself as being “committed to improving secular education in Haredi & Hasidic schools & Yeshivas — because every child has a right to learn.”

Yaffed’s website claims, “a basic general education should consist of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and other required subjects,” adding, “we want children to receive a minimum standard of education in the schools they currently attend.”

But a clip posted on Twitter from a May 24 panel called “Let My People Learn,” hosted by Yaffed, shows a stretched definition of “minimum standard of education” — to include “a sound sex education and knowledge of diversity.”

 

“Part of a well-rounded education includes understanding diversity, understanding different people’s experiences, being able to cope in the world and engage with people of all kinds of experiences, including yourself, your siblings, your children — I think a sound sex education and knowledge of diversity, its part and parcel of a wholesome education. I think the Hasidic community doesn’t get to say that their children are above that, or don’t need access to that,” panelist Chavie Weisberger says, as Moster nods along.


Reached by Breitbart, asking whether Yaffed believes a standard education ought to include “a sound sex education and knowledge of diversity,” Moster distanced himself from Weisberger’s comments — claiming Yaffed did not host the panel, despite a flyer posted on Yaffed’s Facebook page clearly stating it hosted the panel — and reiterated that Yaffed doesn’t “advocate for teaching anything that is explicitly objectionable to Orthodox Judaism,” but supports whatever the law mandates children learn.

Asked if Yaffed supports a strictly classical education to be introduced in Yeshivas, Moster replied without directly addressing the question, saying that Hasidic boys “have never heard the word ‘literature’,” and in another email a few minutes later, insisted they are “intentionally destined to live in poverty and dependence on government assistance.”

Asked whether Yaffed denounces the comments made by Weisberger during the panel he hosted, Moster refused to respond.

“No One’s Keeping You from Learning”

In reviewing documents provided by a Hasidic school, public data, and interviews with teachers and parents, Breitbart has uncovered a markedly different story of what goes on in various Yeshivas than what has been reported in the Times’ “investigation.”

“There are so many skills that go into the type of learning we do that, you know, when girls or boys start in the work field they’re definitely at an advantage when it comes to analytical skills,” Malky, a Satmar mother with three sons at a UTA-affiliated school, told Breitbart News. “I have no desire for my kids to learn less Torah.”

Parents in these communities, by and large, see public school curricula as less rigorous than what their children are currently learning, and, in many cases, a clash with their values — especially the “diversity, equity and inclusion” curriculum currently being implemented in many schools, public and private.

“If you look at the curriculum, it’s full of values that we don’t hold by — whether it’s LGBTQ or, you know, talking about sex and sex education in a way that is foreign and frowned upon in our culture,” Malky said in an interview with Breitbart. “Torah is what makes us who we are — it’s a living and breathing text — it’s not something that we’re just studying for the academic factor, you know, it’s who we are,” Malky said.Donatebalance of nature>

She emphasized that outside forces attempting to alter or transform religious education, which Jews have been practicing for millennia, will not be accepted by a community with hundreds of thousands of members who reject that change.

“If the government will work with us, we will work with them,” Malky told Breitbart News of reform in Yeshivas. “But the real issue that we have is, this is a nefarious way to input and to softly put on values that we don’t hold by, and we’re going to do everything in our power, whether it means losing billions in government funding, whatever it is, we’re going to do everything in our power to prevent that from infiltrating our community.”

“They may think that they can outsmart us,” she went on, referring to efforts to insert lessons that undermine religious values into Yeshivas. “We have thousands of years of different countries, different governments trying to do that. It’s not going to happen, and the more they push, the more pushback there is.”

“I don’t believe that the government has any place, or say [in Yeshiva education], I think all they’re doing is they’re making [Hasidic] people more committed. Fighting about the issue, and trying to impose education values that are so far removed from everything that we believe in, everything we stand for … these articles, and laws, and trying to force change, it’s literally just going to have the opposite effect,” Malky told Breitbart.

Breitbart met with administrators at a Hasidic Yeshiva in Borough Park, Brooklyn, who provided access to students’ work in “secular” studies. Despite claims by the Times that children in this school are “denied basic education,” Breitbart reviewed reams of assignments and exams showing otherwise.

Breitbart was presented with exams written by students in Grade 5 from the 2021-2022 academic year, showing lessons and proficiency in Social Studies, English essay writing, and Math.

Redacted Yeshiva Assignments by Breitbart News on Scribd

Despite claims by the Times — and Yaffed — that Yeshivas are “trapping” Hasidic people in “a cycle of joblessness and dependency,” a 2013 study by Pew, titled “A Portrait of American Orthodox Jews,” shows that claim has no connection with reality.

The study distinguishes Hasidic Jews from other Orthodox Jews, classifying them as “Haredi” Jews.

Haredi Jews receive a Bachelor’s Degree at a rate of 15%, according to Pew, with the U.S. general public receiving a Bachelor’s Degree at a rate of 19%. Haredi Jews receive Post-Graduate degrees at a rate of 10%, compared with the U.S. general public’s rate of the same 10%.

According to Pew, Haredi Jews earn over $150,000/year at a rate of 24%, compared to the U.S. general population’s rate of 8%. Haredi Jews earn between $100,000-$149,999/year at a rate of 13%, compared with the U.S. general population’s rate of 10%. Haredi Jews earn less than $50,000/year at a rate of 43%, compared with the U.S. general population’s rate of 56%.

A cultural data point in the study showed that Haredi Jews are 64% politically conservative, compared with 38% of the U.S. general population.

And, contrary to the Times’ claim that the religious child rearing process is a system of coercion to keep people trapped in their religion — or, to “wall them off from the secular world,” as the Times put it — Pew found that 52% of Americans who were raised as Orthodox Jews have left Orthodoxy.

“I think it’s absurd, I’ve never heard something more laughable,” Malky said of the idea that Yeshivas function to keep children from leaving the community. “They don’t keep us from studying English or Math or any of those other subjects, they do it. The reality is, when kids start their day at seven, eight o’clock in the morning, and they’re learning heavy subjects that take real brain space, the latter part of the day they’re going to be more tired, less invested, that’s just the reality. But no one’s keeping you from learning these things.”

“You can’t keep anyone from going [away from Orthodoxy]; we try to show our kids the beauty, and the joy, and the meaning in true Torah life, but that’s all we can do,” she continued.

“You know how you feel when Putin slams America, saying America is ‘undemocratic,’ and you think it’s, like, a joke, like, ‘they’re telling us what democracy is about?’ So when they talk about, ‘we’re uneducated;’ we have been the gold standard of public education, going back 2,500 years — this is a matter of public record — we established public education, and now they’re telling us how to run our schools,” Donn told Breitbart, of New York functionaries hectoring the Jewish community about education.

“You read the Times, it’s like you’re talking about a community in a vacuum — you might as well be talking about some small North Korean village — there was absolutely no context to the whole case. It doesn’t talk about the community, it doesn’t talk about, you know, Satmar is known in the Orthodox community as the warmest people, they’re the ones establishing all these charitable organizations for anything you could possibly need, they’re the ones innovating in helping people,” Donn continued.

“This is the tradition they have, and it’s all part of education in the Yeshiva. Every community is a product of their education,” he concluded.

Emma-Jo Morris is the Politics Editor at Breitbart News. Email her at  or follow her on Twitter.

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