Last week in this space we made note of Senator Simcha Felder’s yeoman efforts to protect the right of chassidic Jews to see to it that the education of their children is consistent with their religious beliefs. As we said, he was the principal mover of legislation that set guidelines for state educational authorities in determining if yeshivas offer students an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that offered by public schools, the statutory standard.
Felder’s legislation requires an evaluation of the totality of the school’s educational program – the length and the rigor of the school day, instruction in reading comprehension, and the marshalling of arguments and other skills in which yeshivas ordinarily excel. That an accommodation for chassidic yeshivas is required by America’s tradition of freedom of religion seems obvious. After all, it hardly seems reasonable that jettisoning deeply-held religious beliefs should be required of American citizens.
And yet, some of Felder’s legislative colleagues, particularly in the Assembly, greeted his efforts with anti-Semitic venom. We recognize there can be principled opposition to the new law (although we think some are illogically stuck on the traditional curriculum of the three R’s –“reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”), but we were unprepared for all the vitriol.
We have heard several reliable reports of outright anti-Semitic comments from legislators – some from those in leadership positions. Some criticized any special accommodations being made for Jewish schools. Others accused Felder’s of using his unusual leverage in the Senate to engage in “blackmail,” “shamefully” holding up the passage of a $168 billion 2018 budget package to get his way.
We intend to name names. But given the gravity of charges of anti-Semitism and the fact that there are few written records of what went on in Albany in the days right before Pesach, we have some catching up to do in speaking to some of those members who were within earshot of the comments.
Hopefully we will present some eye-opening revelations soon.