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?

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Read more at Social Science Research Network

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

 

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy