Attacking Yeshivas in Court Poses a Threat to Religious Liberty

Feb. 12 2019

Founded by graduates of ultra-Orthodox schools in the U.S., the organization YAFFED seeks to force these schools to provide a more comprehensive secular education. Its claims that many of these institutions’ curricula don’t meet the minimum requirements imposed by New York State law have led to increased scrutiny from the state’s department of education. But more important to the future of the yeshivas, and of religious liberty, is a court case recently brought by YAFFED that challenges the constitutionality of existing legislative carve-outs for religious schools. Michael A. Helfand comments;

So far, New York State has ruled to preserve the right to religious practice in areas ranging from schools to dietary laws. But that precedent is being slowly reversed in court cases and legal arguments that hinge on reinterpreting some of the Constitution’s foundational precepts and will have far-reaching consequences both for religious communities and for broader attitudes toward the freedoms to which they’re entitled. . . .

To get a flavor of the real-world impact of this argument, consider the following. Federal law currently requires all forms of animal slaughter to be “humane.” Under typical circumstances, that means before an animal is slaughtered, it has to be “rendered insensible to pain” by, for example, “gunshot or an electrical, chemical, or other means.” But on nearly all accounts, doing so would render the animal’s meat not kosher. Sensitive to this quandary, federal law also added the following: slaughter is humane if done “by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith” as well as any other religion that adopts the Jewish rules for ritual slaughter.

Traditionally, legislatures have been able to modify laws so that they express the religious tolerance and pluralism that form the backbone of America’s value system. YAFFED, however, argues for the antithetical view that granting religious exemptions is not an admirable application of the Constitution’s religious-liberty principles but rather, evidence of privileging one religion over others and thus a violation of the First Amendment. . . .

There is an old legal adage: hard cases make bad law. Ultimately, the YAFFED lawsuit pits two core commitments against each other—the autonomy of religious families and communities to control the education of their children, and the responsibility of society to ensure that all its citizens have access to a meaningful education. Casting these values, like gladiators, into a constitutional death match raises the prospect that the devotion to protecting religious liberty, so essential to the American project, will suffer as collateral damage.

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More about: American law, Jewish education, New York, Religious Freedom, Ultra-Orthodox, Yeshiva

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians