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

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

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas