In a rare interview given in English, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, one of the two rabbis claiming leadership of the Satmar Hassidic movement, spoke to the Ami Magazine about attempts by government agencies to interfere in the curriculum of haredi educational institutions in New York State.
The controversy erupted when certain Orthodox groups petitioned the state to have haredi educational institutions teach core secular subjects such as English and science. Democratic legislators favored greater oversight of religious private schools, while Republican legislators were against state interference in the private institutions.
"They do not know what Judaism is," Rabbi Teitlebaum said of the activists who attempted to pass legislation dictating what the hasidic schools should teach. "They think we're like the Taliban, so we have to show them that the haredi public are normal, responsible people."
Rabbi Teiltelbaum praised New York State Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucused with the Republicans and pushed new legislation which states that yeshivas should offer an education that is “substantially equivalent” to the education offered by New York State public schools when factoring in all subjects, including Torah study. The bill was passed on the first night of Passover.
"I said [to Simcha], ‘I know that you’re a Yid [and you want to prepare for Yom Tov], but the future of klal Yisrael is dependent upon you. Everything can be done through a shaliach, but not this. Another person wouldn’t be able to do this.’ It was pushed all the way until the night of Yom Tov, and he had to go home before it was finalized," the Rebbe said.
“The vote took place at night—on the night of Pesach. They had to change the law against their will—both in the New York State Senate and in the Assembly, and the governor, bimchilas kevodo, also had to agree to it [and he signed it into law]. According to the new law it’s enough to learn only four subjects. The governor was able to say that at least they’re going to learn those four subjects. There’s no question that he smuggled in some words that we didn’t want once Pesach began, but we can say that for the most part we changed the law and it is effective immediately—not in a year from now.
“All of the mevinim know the gevaldike thing that took place over here for all of the talmidim of every single Talmud Torah. In the past, every child violated the law, and if it would have ended up in court there wouldn’t have been an answer as to why the law wasn’t adhered to. Now, baruch Hashem, this has all changed. Hodu LaShem ki tov ki l’olam chasdo (Give thanks to G-d, for his kindness is everlasting). We have to thank and praise the heilige Bashefer for what took place this Yom Tov of Pesach.”