I had the pleasure of reviewing American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York for First Things. The book is a legal history of the struggles of this Jewish enclave to run itself independently of the surrounding town. It’s a fascinating story, especially in the context of certain disagreements over post-liberalism.
As Stolzenberg and Myers describe it, the village was shaped by a clash between “illiberal liberalism” and “liberal illiberalism.” The surrounding community took the approach of “illiberal liberalism,” paying lip service to pluralism but unwilling to tolerate the “wrong” kind of community. The people of Kiryas Joel took the approach of “liberal illiberalism,” mustering the distinctively American rights system to carve out a space free of individualist values and the aspects of American culture that conflicted with their faith. The fights between the two began over zoning and multifamily housing, but soon shifted to their natural battleground: the schools.
Schools lie on the border between the family and the wider world. Both parents and teachers see it as their job to shape character, not just convey sterile facts, and they are right to do so. But when the values of families and the values of a country diverge, the school is the place these clashes come to a head.