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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Functionally illiterate Chasidim

This weeks Hamodia had a very sad letter from a Chassidishe housewife living in Boro Park. It seems that her husband who was born in NY cannot speak English. He is completely dependent on her for any interaction outside of the Chasidic community. From her letter it is clear that this is not an isolated incident but is a normal phenomenon in many Chasidic groups in NY.

My wonderful capable husband is completely handicapped. He can't call the telephone company without me. Any questions on our credit card bill must be resolved through me.
...
Yet, if my husband must venture out into the world, even simply via a telephone call he is at a complete disadvantage due to the inadequate command of the English language.
...
my husband went to take his road test. When he arrived home, I asked him how it went and he sheepishly handed me the paper the instructor had given him. He hadn't been able to figure out whether he had passed or failed.
...
my husband is a native New Yorker, born and raised. He is also quite intelligent. Yet, when I walked in he was at a complete loss and the nurses were gaping at him in disbelief not comprehending how an American adult could not respond to such elementary questions about his own child without assistance.


This is very sad and is spreading to the non-Chasidic community. I can identify a Yeshivish kid right away by the way they speak Yinglish instead of English. English today is the language of the world and for people living in America not to learn it is a terrible shame.

19 Comments:

At 12:36 AM, Blogger pondering said...

I had always wondered - at how did our forefathers managed in eastern Europe w/out knowing polish or Hungarian? May be the world is more global in interacting now - so English is more necessary then polish 100 years ago.
But one cannot blame these Chassidim for not knowing English. They are products of the system which encourages people to speak Yiddish, to live in isolation, to have no living skills. If one wants to put blame on someone - then one must blame the people who set up the system and who encourage it.
It seems to me that there are many people who are very happy with this situation. I know many rabbonim who encourage people to speak Yiddish. Rav Miller always comes to mind. But I never heard a haredi rav who encouraged people to speak English. But the reality is that this is the goal of the charedi educational system. Which is to encourage Jews to be separated as much as possible from the gentiles. This chosid who cannot call his credit card company - also cannot call a lady who offers certain kinds of services as well for example. I do not want to write to much on this topic, because it is very complex. But just to touch upon it - the charedi jew really belongs in getto. And haredi mentality never even feels comfortable outside of it. There is something deeply in haredi psyche that cannot even relate to a concept of gentiles being nice and etc.
On other hand - this chosid and others like him - are much less likely to intermarry among non-jews. If he cannot talk to "shiktza", he will not ask her out. So this ghettonization is what ultimately helped jews from assimilation. Why cannot jews on large scale be cultured and not assimilate? i will not go in to it now.
dovid komarov

 
At 7:46 AM, Blogger abiebaby said...

In his last years, according to one of his offspring, the Chofetz Chaim regretted that he had never learned the local language. He opined that it would have been better had he been able to meet with government officials without an interpreter.

 
At 10:14 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Pondering,

They had a very hard time in Eastern Europe not knowing the language.

There is no question that not knowing English creates a barrier with the surrounding society, the question is at what cost?

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger SephardiLady said...

Thanks Marty for pointing this out to me. Just tragic.

And I believe many Jews in Eastern Europe did speak at least elementary Polish, Hungarian, and/or Russian.

 
At 11:10 PM, Blogger SephardiLady said...

Despite the educational system, I do believe at some point at adult needs to take responsibility and enroll in an ESL class. Although, my friend's Israeli now x-husband did that and ended up learning to speak Spanish first. But, then again, if you speak Spanish, you can speak to the credit card company and the bank.

 
At 2:44 AM, Blogger pondering said...

abiebaby
Thanks for pointing out the story about Chofetz Chaim. However, it only reinforces what I had said before. Chofetz Chaim did NOT say that it is good for Yiden to know Polish, all he said was that he personally regrets.

Also this story disproves other Rebbishe stories how Gedolim can master any language in two weeks or something.

 
At 2:54 AM, Blogger pondering said...

bluke said - at what cost?

1st of all charedi society does not care about the cost. Because charedim can be impovreshed and "uncultured" but they will not assimilate. Look masses of german jews assimilated into german society and went lost. But primitive chasidim from eastern europe continued on being jewish.

2nd of all - why do you think that the cost is so high? In america today, poor people are taken care of relatively well - food stamps, free medicine, section 8 etc. But even in 1920s in Israel - the old yishuv was drowning in poverty and still survived.

Also keep in mind that these ignorant chasidim today and before are the producers of jewish people, at least in terms of babies. Chasidishe family on average has many more kids than yeshivish and modern orthodox.

 
At 3:08 AM, Blogger pondering said...

SephardiLady said - Despite the educational system, I do believe at some point at adult needs to take responsibility and enroll in an ESL class.


I agree w/you. BUT the educational system has completely brainwashed them. They CANNOT think outside of what they were taught. They were taught that english is treif, and only Torah is a worthy of ones time. And major part of that educational system is that Hashem provides for ones needs, and one does not have to do anything to prepare to provide bread for ones family. By the way, it is an old problem - it goes back to europe at least 150 years ago. If you want more info on this subject, then e-mail to me. My e-mail is pondering.avrech@gmail.com.

Side point
Also, keep in mind, these chasidim marry very early and do not use any form of birth control. So lets say he is 30 years old and has seven kids and now he is short on money. Even if he learns English - still he will not be able to provide for his family, because he has no living skills. English skill is only part of the problem. So, since even w/english he still has many other issues which are not solved- then why should he even bother learning it?

Dovid komarov

 
At 3:38 AM, Blogger pondering said...

I have just noticed that the only people who complain about not knowing english - are the wives (even they call their husbands as "wonderful capable"). It seems to me that the husbands themselves are not too bothered by it.
I personally would never call someone who was born in US and does not know English as "wonderful capable". I privately think that person is a dolt who is woefully incapable.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Pondering,

The wives complain because the burden falls on them. They have to do everything. The husbands don't care because it doesn't bother them. Their wives take care of everything.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Pondering,

We are starting to see the cost in terms of divorce and kids going off the derech. The US is not Eastern Europe and it is very hard to shut out modern life. People today expect much more and if they don't get they are unhappy.

 
At 8:02 PM, Blogger Lion of Zion said...

i taught english/math in a satmar elementary school in boro park 1994. to say that these kids (actually, this woman's husband could have been my student) were in desperate need of ESL instruction would be an understatement.

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger pondering said...

>bluke said...
The wives complain because the burden falls on them. They have to do everything.<

My point was that despite their complaints, they still call their husbands as "capable". Even the wives do not realize how NOT capable their husbands are.

 
At 10:12 PM, Blogger SephardiLady said...

pondering-I will email you later time. Thank you.

I think a wife always wants to believe her husband is "capable" even when he is showing otherwise. I do know of at least one divorce where the mother of many felt tired of also being a "mother" to the husband. I'm sure there is more to the story, but I think there is a necessity to believe the other spouse is bringing something to the table.

 
At 10:44 PM, Blogger pondering said...

>bluke said... We are starting to see the cost in terms of divorce and kids going off the derech.<

Actually not true - both of these problems exited back in europe. There is a new book that came out - it is called something like "ghetto mythbuster". read it if you can.
And even if these two problems exist, they still are not so bad. First of all - Chasidim have lowest rates of divorce among orthodox. Much much less than Modern Orthodox who do know English. Also drop out rates among them are not bigger than drop out rates among the rest of orthodoxy. It seems to me that the drop out rate are acctually much smaller.
Even if they have a 1/2 drop out rate - they still will have frum lids left - who will continue reproducing. I call it the cockroach method. No matter if you kill tons of them - it is impposible to whipe them out. There is still few cockroaches left which can repopulate your home rather quickly.

> The US is not Eastern Europe and it is very hard to shut out modern life. <

It is acctually much better in US in drop out rates today than in europe hundred years ago. Two reasons - one chasidim have more kids today than ever - thanks to science. Second - drop out rates are much smaller, then in europe and even less than israel in 40's and 50's in old yishuv and in US back then. The charedim learned how to survivve with modernity. back in europe they did not know how to dealt with it as well as charedim do today.

>People today expect much more and if they don't get they are unhappy.<
Maybe they are not happy. It does not mean that they will get divorced or fri out. Look at these women who wrote letter to Homodia. They do not look like they will divorce their husbands at all. I will now say a very important point. You cannot understand fully how they fell. Just because something would drive you and me mad ( like if my honey could not speak english) it does NOT mean their wives are as upset/mad as you
are. You and me are MORE frustrated with their husbands than their wives are.Do not put yourself in their shoes, because these charedim think very differently then you.

By the way in NYC when one goes to govermental office everything is translated into like seven languages at least - spanish, chinesse, russian, korean, hebrew and etc. I do not think that yidish is available. Yet.


I agree that this method is faulty. I personally could never live such a lifestyle. I just want people to be aware that there is a good reason why they do things their way.


dovid komarov

 
At 10:59 PM, Blogger pondering said...

SephardiLady

Good point. Maybe these women do feel that their husbands are complete dolts and are lying to themselves when call them as capable. I cannot tell you for sure what these women feel in their heart.
This divorce case that you spoke about. Did that woman divorce because her husband was an illitirate or because he was not feeding the family? There is a difference between the two. I assume that the husbands from hamodia, do provide bread on the table (as do mojority of chassidim). It is just their wives were frustrated at them not being able to do some things due to language skills. These women want their husbands to do more than just feed the family, like calling a credit card company about wrong bill.
Back to your divorce case - so what will this woman do now with bunch of kids- all alone. It is not like she has a different guy waiting to marry and provide for her. And if she does have a different guy - than she probably had him when she was married to her 1st husband as well. Kepp in mind that divorces usually cost people money - lawyers and stuff. So now she has to spend even more money fighting legal battles with her ex. It just does not make sense for such a woman to divorce. Also is this woman very chasidish? No english at home, chasiish schools etc.

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger Garnel Ironheart said...

There's an old Isaac Bashevis Singer story about his childhood in Poland. One Chanukah, on the way home from cheder he got lost and accidentally wound up in a Polish neighbourhood. Being a good Jewish boy, he spoke only Yiddish and couldn't communicate with any of the Poles who might have told him the way home.
Nice to see that spirit of ignorance is alive and well. I thought we were supposed to emulate Chazal. Wasn't a qualification for sitting on the Sanhedrin that you had to be a multi-linguist? Didn't our Sages speak many languages and engage in entymological studies?

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger Garnel Ironheart said...

There's an old Isaac Bashevis Singer story about his childhood in Poland. One Chanukah, on the way home from cheder he got lost and accidentally wound up in a Polish neighbourhood. Being a good Jewish boy, he spoke only Yiddish and couldn't communicate with any of the Poles who might have told him the way home.
Nice to see that spirit of ignorance is alive and well. I thought we were supposed to emulate Chazal. Wasn't a qualification for sitting on the Sanhedrin that you had to be a multi-linguist? Didn't our Sages speak many languages and engage in entymological studies?

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger TorahForever.net said...

Thank you, also good site for basics of Torah & Judaism TorahForever.net

 

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