KJ Update

I’ve written previously about the unique situation that is the Village of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, NY (where I used to own a home and live).  Here is an update on some of the proceedings for those interested.  I’m curious to see how this matters is ultimately resolved.  I think there are a lot of fascinating issues at play here, including the interaction between local and non-local governments; various 1st Amendment issues; self-autonomy and determination; and more.

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17 thoughts on “KJ Update

  1. It seems to me that you can’t really stop a large group of like minded people from “overflowing” from wherever they are to wherever they want to go as long as they can pay for the real estate.


    • That is my sense as well. If a group of people is determined to grow its population, they’re going to grow. I mean, absent really immoral means to stop them. The opposition’s response seems to be, “We don’t want to give them more land for their town. But we don’t want them in our town either.” Ugh.

      There are real issues that need to be addressed with regards to school districting, taxes, environmental impact, and the like. But those are much better addressed by working with your neighbors than in opposition to them.


  2. Rod Dreher needs to take a long, hard look at KJ before finishing his Benedict Option book. It’s basically what he’s describing.


      • I’m sure he will. His biggest (modern) inspirations are a couple of communities that have sprung up around monasteries in the US. Many of the bad counterexamples – cults on one end and groups that assimilated into nothingness on the other – he handwaved away because they didn’t have the thick doctrine of an established church and leadership to keep the community on the straight and narrow.

        In KJ, you have an established clerical class basing decisions on centuries of Torah and Talmud law. This solves Dreher’s problems with institutional drift and heresies, but it doesn’t really address the question of what happens when your community’s behavior annoys neighbors and its self-enforced insularity makes it much harder to work out traditional secular public policy solutions.

        A few humble homeschoolers sharing a cul-de-sac may be Dreher’s fantasy, but when they become large enough to start to be a voting bloc, this is potential result.

        I’m not a big fan of the Benedict Option or Dreher’s ideology, though I read his blog because they guy is intellectually curious and at least a little heterodox. My guess is that he’ll claim that the mainstream hostility against the Benedict Option combined with the lack of the cudgel of anti-semitism allegations means BenOppers will lay low on issues like school funding. In addition, Christians don’t have the same legalistic sabbath restrictions that keep them tightly geographically bound, which is connected to the annexation issue.

        I don’t believe it. If the leadership necessary to gather such a community wakes up one morning to find that they can vote as a bloc to control finances and ordinances within their town, they’ll do it in a heartbeat.


          • I’m from the metro area. I’ve followed the KJ/ Ramapo school district fights on and off since the initial court cases. And as a Jewish person who travels, I occasionally have to explain to people how I don’t necessarily see eye to eye with the haredi yet it’s the same religious tradition.


            • Thanks, . I grew up in an Orthodox neighborhood in Bergen County, NJ, bounced around the various east coast cities, moved to Monroe for 3 years, and am back in the metro area. Good to have another local here!


              • Let’s hear it for New York!

                Despite being nearly completely secular and intermarried, I still have this vestigial “is it good for the Jews” impulse for a lot of things.

                Ryan Braun juicing? Probably not good for the Jews. Bernie Sanders? Probably a positive for the Jews, even if I’m not committed to voting him. KJ and related Orange/Rockland County controversies over zoning and school funding? Definitely bad for the Jews.


  3. Lessons from KJ:

    1. Democracy sucks, especially when you’re in the minority. There just aren’t really any less bad ideas because democracy has the strongest claim to moral legitimacy in a heterogeneous society.

    2. It’s hard to find the right places where limits should be placed on democratic power.

    3. Majorities will constantly push up against whatever limits are imposed on their power.

    These things are going to be as true in KJ as they are in Albany or Washington or Tbilisi or in the Parks and Recreations Committee of the Municipality of Moosepiss, Saskatchewan.


    • Great points, . This is where I am increasingly drawn to the idea of the “Veil of Ignorance”. People so easily look at situations like this and think, “Well, we obviously need rules for that sort of thing.” Or, “This is exactly how it is supposed to work.” But were the shoe on the other foot, they’d likely sing a different tune. We need to find the right limits and balance independent of the specifics of a given situation.


    • I agree with your first point and would offer this sub-point:

      When culture and demography conflict with politics, culture and demography almost always win. Policy is useful at the margins, but is seldom effective enough to overcome these sorts of demographic hurdles.


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