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This is one of those stories that worry me. VIN and NJ.com report that Lakewood Yeshiva (BMG) has been approved by the State of New Jersey for an over ten million dollar grant in what Governor Chris Christie is calling a “new era” for the state’s institutions of higher learning.

I’m sure that Lakewood applied for that grant legally and truthfully. I do not believe for a second that there was any fraud involved. And I congratulate them on a successful outcome. Lakewood certainly needs the money. But I remain with some serious concerns.

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The grant was given for the construction of a library and research center. Governor Christie’s goal is “keeping New Jersey’s “best” and “brightest” in-state, while attracting new research and business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs.”

What worries me is that in spite of what I am sure was a completely honest presentation of Lakewood’s plans to the state; I am not convinced that the state’s purpose in granting them that money is even a dream in the back of the minds of Lakewood’s leaders. Nor do I believe for a minute that such a library will serve any other purpose than the stated mission of such an institution – Torah study. The kind of research that library will offer will no doubt be only in that vein. Neither am I convinced that it will result in anything near attracting new business partners.

This project will help to retain some of the finest minds in Torah Judaism. Lakewood is the premier “Torah Only” Yeshiva in the United States. It attracts the best and brightest among its constituents. Expansion means attracting more of the same. Some of whom may settle there and eventually have good jobs (and some – not such great jobs).

But even so, Lakewood cannot claim that as its goal. It can only say that this is a by-product of their ‘Torah Only” system. This is a yeshiva that forbids its students to take any secular courses while enrolled there and discourages it even after they leave. This is a yeshiva whose rosh yeshiva (dean) made disparaging remarks about someone who has been a pioneer in providing higher education for students of yeshivos like Lakewood so that they could get decent jobs… basically referring to him as a second class citizen (…full time students of Torah being first class citizens). One might even say that the rosh yeshiva would view someone like that as undermining the goals of Lakewood!

It is also no secret that Lakewood uses the welfare system legally for students who qualify for aid. Most of them probably do – since they do not have jobs but do have large families. Even those whose wives work (most of them, I’m sure) do not make enough money to disqualify them from some sort of government assistance. Again, nothing legally wrong with that.

I have to ask, is there not a moral or ethical issue of misrepresenting yourself to the world in this way – even if you qualify legally? Is there not something wrong with able bodied people choosing not to work and using the welfare system as a means of income?

And by the same token, is there not something wrong with taking over $10 million knowing what the government thinks you are going to do with that money – and using it for something else – even though it technically qualifies? A Beis HaMedrash may be a library. But is a $10 million Beis HaMedrash going to attract business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs?

Even if it truly a research library and not a Beis HaMedrash – it will certainly only contain Seforim – religious books – even if some of them will be in English. What kind of research will this foster – other than research in Torah studies?

I of course have no problem with such a library. I think it will be a valuable resource for student of Torah. But is this what the State of New Jersey had in mind in approving $10 million dollars to Lakewood?

Lakewood’s goal is not Governor Christie’s goal. Lakewood wants to expand its student base. The enormous growth in the numbers of Orthodox Jews, especially among Haredi Jews of the “Torah Only” persuasion, demands such an expansion. For some time now, Lakewood has been talking about doubling its capacity to over 10,000 students!

I guess they have found a way of doing that. But is it ethical? Will the state be happy with the results? And how will this be perceived by the secular public? Will they not see this as being unethical? Is this ultimately the wisest way of raising money for their cause? Will the potential negative fallout be worth it if it happens?

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunately, I have to agree with the author here. This is really a fraud being perpetrated on the public and will only lead to the further entrenchment in the minds of the non-Orthodix, Jewish or otherwise, that Lakewood leaders are perpetuating their type of mind-set, regardless of how they act. This is the ends justifying the means. I thought Orthodixy was better than that.

  2. C'mon. The State certainly is not being hoodwinked (although taxpayers possibly are). No, it doesn't appear that BMG "misrepresented itself" to anyone. If anything, the State is misrepresenting this initiative to the public, and they might deserve blame, but ultimately allocation of funds is their responsibility, and BMG is perfectly justified in lobbying for some of that money. Blame aside, the success of BMG arguably does indirectly keep and attract some of the "best and brightest" economic contributors to NJ, BMG's ideology notwithstanding. BMG's stated goal is a distinction without a difference (i.e. the State's stated practical goals might be met in this way). Also, Torah learning is not unique in this regard – there are many academic fields that do little directly to contribute to stimulating the economy. It's up to the state (and it's constituents) to decide whether to fund business and other vocational schools or libraries at liberal arts programs and yeshivos. It's all too easy and unfair to blame BMG.

  3. C'mon. The State certainly is not being hoodwinked (although taxpayers possibly are). No, it doesn't appear that BMG "misrepresented itself" to anyone. If anything, the State is misrepresenting this initiative to the public, and they might deserve blame, but ultimately allocation of funds is their responsibility, and BMG is perfectly justified in lobbying for some of that money. Blame aside, the success of BMG arguably does indirectly keep and attract some of the "best and brightest" economic contributors to NJ, BMG's ideology notwithstanding. BMG's stated goal is a distinction without a difference (i.e. the State's stated practical goals might be met in this way). Also, Torah learning is not unique in this regard – there are many academic fields that do little directly to contribute to stimulating the economy. It's up to the state (and it's constituents) to decide whether to fund business and other vocational schools or libraries at liberal arts programs and yeshivos. It's all too easy and unfair to blame BMG.

  4. all religious institutions get grants whether they are muslim, christian jewish or many other ones also, they can all apply for federal grants they can apply for state grants and they make the decision whether or not to give the money.

  5. all religious institutions get grants whether they are muslim, christian jewish or many other ones also, they can all apply for federal grants they can apply for state grants and they make the decision whether or not to give the money.

  6. Like it or not Jews and especially religious Jews that hold themselves out as having high ethics will be judged. Asking for money from the secular state when its earmarked for economic development is falsehood by omission. It will come out in a few years that this money was misallocated and then orthodox Jews will once again be associated to scandal.

  7. Politicians are the ones at fault! Politicians are simply buying votes, and saying thank you for past support, with taxpayer funds. Politicians know very well what the money will be used for! Do we expect BMG to refuse a 10 million dollar library? C'mon.

  8. I'm sorry – had this been a Church or a mosque, there would be some issue. The same same can be said for the Jews. It should be put to PUBLIC not private usage. It's taxpayer's money. I do not trust that Governor especially since the State needs the money to still recoup from the hurricane that went through there. Why act like it is California and the nonsensity of it all? I'm sure the Yeshiva can find the money via donations but it should NOT be public.

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