As Was the Case 80 Years Ago, the Battle for Jewish Schools Centers on Checking the Power of Government

Aug. 13 2019

Last fall, New York State’s education commissioner released a series of guidelines for private elementary schools that would force most Jewish schools to abandon much of their religious curriculum. While a group of Jewish, Catholic, and independent private schools successfully challenged the guidelines in court, the state has now submitted the same requirements to the Board of Regents, hoping to have them made official regulations. Marvin Schick, the president of one of the schools involved in the litigation, notes a telling moment in the deliberations:

At a court hearing this past April 15, a lawyer for the New York State Education Department . . . claimed the rules were imposed for the “voiceless child who can be conscripted at his parents will” to attend a private school. Four days later, the court declared the guidelines “null and void.” But what the court could not nullify is the bureaucratic mindset that denigrates parental choice and characterizes as conscription the act of choosing to pay for a child’s private or religious education.

Schick looks back to a similar legal battle that began in 1939, when the New York State Board of Regents issued a set of regulations that seemed targeted specifically at Jewish religious schools. Then the state’s 26 yeshivas together submitted a brief to the board which, drawing on the language of a 1926 Supreme Court ruling, summed up the case potently: “The child is not the mere creature of the state, and its parents have the right and duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Schick adds:

The argument presented [by the yeshivas] in July 1942 remains true today, as is attested by the professional success attained by yeshiva graduates and their regular admission to first-rate graduate and professional schools. The ḥasidic community has an entrepreneurial spirit that has created thousands of successful businesses in New York and tens of thousands of jobs for New Yorkers of all backgrounds.

As is true of all human endeavors, the yeshiva system has a measure of failure and room for improvement. None of this supports those who believe the worst about yeshivas. Critics of the yeshivas are likely more offended by our continued success attracting students seeking a religious framework for their lives than by educational failures. Consider the regents’ 1939 resolution. It was as concerned with a morning “session in a foreign language” as it was with there being “only an afternoon session in English.” Given the stellar academic performance of yeshivas, it is fair to ask whether the goal was as much to achieve a de-emphasis on Jewish studies as it was to achieve an increase in secular instruction.

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More about: Education, Freedom of Religion, Jewish education, New York

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy