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Kiryas Joel

Kiryas Joel

Kiryas Joel is a Hasidic enclave within Monroe, NY with its own schools, emergency medical and other governmental services. A recent book by Louis Grumet with John Caher, “The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise of a Village Theocracy and the Battle to Defend the Separation of Church and State” (Chicago Review Press, $27.99), details the machinations behind the extraordinary carve out of a school district for a religious group.

Monroe contains incorporated and unincorporated land.  Hasidic Jews have bought land and settled in the unincorporated part of Monroe, and since 2013, they have been fighting to join the rest of Monroe and become a part of the Kiryas Joel school district.

The Wall Street Journal has published an excellent summary of the issues involved in the proposed annexation.

The issue is complicated. The Hasidim claim that opposition to incorporation is anti Semitic. If the new land is incorporated, Hasidim will form a majority in the town. If they follow the pattern they have in neighboring Monsey, Hasidim will dominate the school board and attempt to cut funds to public schools and advantage religious schools.

A 2013 report by a state appointed monitor found that East Rampopo (the school district for Monsey) cut services to public schools while increasing public money spent on religious schools. On March 16, 2016, FBI agents raided schools and computer stores in Monsey, with a warrant that alleged that the Monsey had used federal educational technology funds (designated for public schools) to buy technology for yeshivas. So far no charges have been filed.

But the problems in Kiryas Joel go beyond disdain for state and federal law and the rights of their neighbors. In May 2016 a video that appears to show a rabbi sexually abusing a young boy was posted on facebook and quickly went viral. The rabbi is the principal of the school. Did the community rise up and demand that the principal resign? Hardly. On May 12, the FBI raided the school and removed a number of computers.  The rabbi has yet to be charged.

This incident follows one a few months ago in which a similar video was leaked to police, an investigation by state authorities was launched and no charges were filed.

The now largely irrelevant New York Times wrote of the most recent video as an intrusion into a religious community that policed itself, and characterized the video as inconclusive. The Times apparently did not consider the fraud of federal funds in Monsey to be newsworthy at all.

New York state law does not defer to a community to ‘police itself’ when a crime occurs. If the principal abused the boy (and the tape certainly looks like nothing else) he may or may not be liable to his religious community, but he is liable to the state of New York that has a responsibility and an obligation to protect its citizens. An abused child who is part of an insular yet powerful religious community would seem to be a prototypical powerless individual whom the state must protect.

It is hard to imagine a different example of an elementary school principal caught on video abusing a child and not facing immediate arraignment and parental protest. I know of no reason to afford Hasidic Jews any special deference within our legal system. There is no excuse for journalists from ‘the paper of record’ to follow a hands off policy where religious communities are concerned. 


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