Orthodox Jews’ Principled Case against Anti-Religious Discrimination

In 1961, a prominent American Orthodox activist named Moshe Sherer testified at a congressional hearing in favor of legislation that would grant federal funds to religious as well as secular private schools. By doing so, he broke with the mainstream of U.S. Jewish opinion, and the major Jewish advocacy organizations, which have consistently favored the strictest possible application of separation of church and state. His position has since then grown even more popular with Orthodox Jews in America, who must pay significant sums to send their children to religious schools. But, Michael A. Helfand explains, this position is not based solely on pragmatic concerns:

At their core, such calls for including religious schools in government funding programs were grounded in principles of equal standing and equal citizenship. Sherer, in his testimony, did highlight the budgetary struggles of Jewish day schools, noting that they “labor under the pall of constant financial crises.”

The bulk of his testimony, however, pressed for an inclusive approach to government funding on the basis of “American ideals.” . . . On this account, the denial of government funding to religious schools was wrong not because of the financial impact, but because it harmed religious citizens due to their faith, which Sherer described as discrimination.

[Yet] the core values underlying Orthodoxy’s advocacy for equal funding—anti-discrimination and equal citizenship—have often been ignored. Instead, the thrust of such advocacy is often misdescribed, in the form of characterizations that lionize separationists as advancing “principled” arguments against government funding, while describing Orthodox advocates as advancing “pragmatic” arguments in favor.

In this way, continued debates within the Jewish community over the appropriate degree of separation between church and state amount to principled clashes going to the heart of American Jewish identity. Both visions of church and state—one that demands absolute separation and another that requires a commitment to neutrality—draw from different visions of the appropriate space for religious pluralism in the public square.

Read more at Sources

More about: American Judaism, church and state, Freedom of Religion, Jewish education, Orthodoxy

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security