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

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