New York State’s Regulations for Private Schools Threaten Religious Freedom

Jan. 22 2019

In November, Albany issued a new set of guidelines for the state’s independent schools that not only increase the requirements placed on these institutions but also authorize public-school administrators to evaluate local private schools. Yaakov Bender, the principal of a Jewish school in New York, argues that the new policies pose a threat to the freedom of religious parents, and parents in general, to determine the educations of their children:

The parents who choose our school do so . . . because they want an education that is rooted in Jewish texts and informed by Jewish morality, history, culture, ideals, and hopes. What they do not want is a curriculum chosen by the local school district [or] a school schedule that is subject to the approval of the local school board or teachers who answer to Albany. . . .

Religious [schools] are also concerned that control over the academic curriculum today will lead to control over the values they teach tomorrow. These concerns are not so easily dismissed.

Witness what is occurring in England, where an all-girls Orthodox school was recently designated “inadequate” [by government bureaucrats] because students did not receive “a full understanding of the world.” The school was criticized for not affirmatively promoting respect for same-sex marriage, for not providing sex education, and for not teaching evolution, which conflicts with the school’s religious beliefs. In the eyes of the UK Office for Standards in Education, this all added up to a failure to provide students with “a well-rounded education.”

However well-intentioned New York’s regulators of today may be, history teaches that once the autonomy of independent and religious schools is undermined, the reach of the state will only expand. Even now, the government has “offered” to evaluate our Jewish- studies classes, which are chock-full of academic and intellectual value. But an evaluation today will lead to a suggestion tomorrow and a mandate down the road.

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More about: American Jewry, Freedom of Religion, Jewish education, Politics & Current Affairs


The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank