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

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy