The Small Business Administration yesterday rejected a request by a group of Hasidic Jews to be designated a socially disadvantaged group, which would have eased their participation in special minority business development programs.
The SBA said that the Hasidic Jews are a religious group and that Congress, in authorizing the SBA 8-(a) program to aid socially and economically disadvantaged groups, did not intend to include religious factions.
The Hasidim can, however, apply individualy for the aid, just as any other person would, the SBA said.
"Based on the information submitted in support of the Hasidic application and without prejuding any particular case, it is frankly anticipated that the typical Hasidic entrepreneur will have little difficulty in establishing his or her social disadvantage," the SBA decision said.
Rabbi Zwi Kestenbaum, a spokesman for the Hasidim in New York, said he would not comment on the decision until he read it. There is no process within the SBA for appealing the decision, but the Hasidim could bring the case to federal court, an SBA spokeswoman said.
The issue elicited 151 comments to the SBA, some offering support. Among them were Sens. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.) and Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md).
However, Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.) had said that the issue raised serious constitutional questions concerning religion and that a favorable decision would lessen the amount of aid available for blacks and Hispanics.
Other persons commenting on the case had said that if the Hasidim were declared socially disadvantaged, other groups would want to be included. For example, some Pakistani-American and Eastern Indian business people are considering applying to enter the program, an SBA official said.
Mitchell even said that the Unification Church, commonly known as the "Moonies," and the Amish in Pennsylvania could claim to be socially disadvantaged if the Hasidim were so designated.
The Hasidim said in their petition to the SBA that their businessmen are often shunned by outsiders because they "speak halting and broken English compounded by a thick accent" and have unusual dress, including side locks, beards, black frock coats, broad-brimmed hats, prayer shawls and white collarless shirts that are worn by the men.