I often read Shmuley Boteach’s columns in the Standard. They are ordinarily harmless and sometimes even silly, filled with his usual mix of name-dropping, self-promotion, and occasional insights. His June column, on the “tuition crisis” in Jewish day schools, was in many ways typical. It contained its obligatory reference to his “close friend of 18 years, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark.” We also learned of Gov. Corzine’s appearance at his “Friday night Shabbat table.” It offered his perspective on the tuition crisis – a subject about which well-intentioned people can disagree as one can see from the various articles and letters that have recently appeared in this newspaper.
Buried inside the usual benign fare, unfortunately, was a disturbing and offensive slap at teachers’ unions that should not go unanswered. In the midst of his argument that it is necessary that the Bergen County Jewish community ardently and insistently support school vouchers, he asserted that “teachers’ unions continue their hegemony that has led to so many failing New Jersey schools and so many neglected students.”
Boteach certainly has the right to be anti-union. I imagine, however, that such a position might pain his pro-union friend Mayor Booker – or especially his Shabbat guest Gov. Corzine, who will certainly not reject NJEA’s endorsement in the upcoming governor’s race if the union chooses to offer it to him, as it did when he was first elected governor. To blame the unions means, of course, to blame their members for neglecting students. To make such a claim is nothing but ill-intentioned, ill-mannered, indeed scandalous. Surely the many Jewish teachers that disproportionately work in our New Jersey public classrooms and therefore are members of both the NJEA (which I must admit that I am actively involved in as chair of its Higher Education Committee) and AFT (whose President Randi Weingarten is Jewish) are not going to work on a daily basis and neglecting the children in their classrooms. Such a claim is disingenuous. I bet that some of those teachers even try to help, and do their best for, the young people who are entrusted to their care and expertise. So if he really does not believe that New Jersey’s public school teachers neglect and harm their students, and I really do not think that the rabbi believes his own blurting here, what is he thinking when he makes such a hurtful, gratuitous, transparently stupid assertion?
Since I cannot read Boteach’s mind, and so cannot answer my own question, I suggest that he begin his next column with an apology to the many fine teachers in New Jersey, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who actually work very hard, every day, to assist their students to become well-educated, productive citizens. A little Mosaic humility is in order for Rabbi Boteach.