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Saturday, October 12, 2013 

Belgian Haredis oppose "secular" education

Much like over here in Israel, they don't want biology classes or even sex education:
A bitter struggle over the autonomy of Jewish education in the Belgian city of Antwerp led community activists to seek an injunction last Friday against the introduction of a secular core curriculum into haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools.

Leaders of the city’s Yiddish-speaking haredi minority consider new regulations on home schooling to be a form of religious coercion, while educational authorities have cited higher-than-average poverty rates as the rationale for their reforms.
"Religious"? No, what they dislike is the insistence they teach their students a wider array of issues that can help reverse their problems with poverty and insularity. This itself is a legitimate concern.
Earlier this summer, the Flemish government issued decrees that would force both state-funded and private Jewish schools to teach mandatory curricula that include evolutionary biology, human reproduction and other subjects considered taboo.

In 2012, government auditors found that Jesode Hatorah, the city’s largest haredi school with 800 students, failed to meet minimum educational standards due in part to its censorship of educational materials. [...]

Although members of the city’s haredi community, which comprises about half of the city’s Jewish population, have traditionally worked in the lucrative diamond trade, ensuring financial success even without the imposition of a core curriculum among the more hardline ultra-Orthodox, this has been changing in recent years.

“The Indians... pretty well run the diamond business now,” one Jewish local recently told a reporter from the Canadian Jewish News.

This decline, and the dearth of secular education among many who a generation ago would have gone into diamonds as a matter of course, correlate with the poverty cited by educational authorities as their motivation for instituting changes.

However, such an approach is anathema to the ultra- Orthodox, even including those who choose to send their children to schools that provide a secular education, Rabbi Yaakov David Schmahl, leader of the Shomrei Hadass community – known as the most modern of the local haredi communities – told The Jerusalem Post. “I don’t think that anybody real feels that the authorities should mix in to the Jewish education system as it is,” he said.
If they're not telling them to throw out Torah studies - just to add scientific ones alongside - then that's not something to worry about. Besides, if the Muslim community in Europe is living off the dole, it would be very bad for the Haredis to let anyone think they're trying to pull the same tactics. If those in Belgium are resorting to such an approach, then they're proving an embarrassment at a time when it's better to avoid it.
Despite the haredi community’s contention that the new regulations are an infringement on their religious rights, secular and modern Orthodox Jewish groups have thus far refrained from involving themselves in the matter, an indication that they may not harbor similar objections. [...]

Given the widespread approval that educational reforms in Israel have received among non-haredi Jews, and the denunciations made by Jewish groups across Europe in response to attempts to ban circumcision and ritual slaughter, it seems likely that the wider Jewish world does not share the concerns of Antwerp’s ultra- Orthodox.
With good reason. They're learning a wider array of subjects, unlike the Haredis, and it's trivial to be worried about something that comes in helpful.
Some prominent members of Antwerp’s Jewish community as well as educators have said the decrees were necessary to better prepare haredim for the job market and reverse rising poverty in the haredi community.
Just like back here on home turf. And if the Haredis in Belgium are living on welfare, they're doing a terrible disservice to the rest of the Jewish community. Something better to avoid doing. They have to stop living that way.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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