Controversies over COVID-19 School Closures Pose Tough Questions about the Purpose of Jewish Schools

July 19 2022

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, some religious schools mounted legal challenges to state prohibitions on in-person schooling, on the grounds that similar secular institutions such as daycares were allowed to remain open. Such a lawsuit was filed in California on behalf of several educational institutions, including three Orthodox day schools. Michael A. Helfand observes that this case and those like it raise important questions about these schools’ underlying mission of Torah u-madda, or Jewish instruction combined with secular knowledge:

[E]ven if a court accepted the schools’ argument, what was the appropriate remedy? Should it ease restrictions for the entire school day or only for religious instruction? Much of the answer depends on the pedagogical comparisons courts would draw to the two halves of a dual curriculum. On the general studies side of the equation, providing such “religious instruction protection” would require recognition of the strong religious value of general studies, such as math, science, and language arts. This immediately goes to the heart of the Torah u-madda agenda and its aspirational goal of an integrated curriculum.

On the Jewish-studies side of the ledger, the extent of legal protections afforded schools depended on how courts viewed religious instruction. Consider that California, in an attempt to provide enhanced protections for religious exercise, had authorized outdoor gatherings for “places of worship and providers of religious services and cultural ceremonies.” If Jewish studies in day schools qualified as religious worship, then schools could provide in-person instruction; but if it qualified as simply education, then providing in-person instruction—even if outdoors— remained prohibited.

In these ways, determining the legal protections available to Jewish education, required a theological assessment of both limudey kodesh (religious instruction) and limudey ḥol (general studies). Is Jewish education more like prayer or more like your garden-variety private-school education—or something in between?

Read more at Social Science Research Network

More about: Coronavirus, Day schools, Education, Freedom of Religion, Modern Orthodoxy


American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy