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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Would You Really Wish For Public Funding in an Ideal World?

Rabbi Shafran has published an article called "Who is a Briton?" He takes offense regarding a decision of a British Court over the question "Who is a Jew?" But the article is a bit misleading. Rabbi Shafran finds the court's decision an outrage as a religion should be able to define the terms of entry into the religion on its own terms, not on those of a secular body.

While others argue over the court's decision and its implications, I will detour and ask, if the State did not subsidize religious schools, would the British Court system be involved in determining whether or not the school's admission policies are in compliance with British law?

The call here in the US is to increase our lobbying efforts to secure public funding for religious schools. The call is getting increasingly loud as the "tuition crisis" looms large. If that battle is won (doubtful), are we prepared to deal with the inevitable aftermath? Are we prepared to relinquish independence and just how much independence are we ready to relinquish and in which areas?


steve mcqueen said...

wrong on two counts:

1. If the original judgment is upheld, no school, private or state funded, will be able to admit children just because they are Jewish. That will amount to racial discrimination. Schools will still be able to use practice based factors, such as synagogue attendance or keeping shabbos but schools that just admit children based on religious affiliation and nothing else will have to change. The ruling would affect private schools as well

2. If the commmunity was consistent in its approach to who is a jew there would be no problem. but we insist that it is anti-semitism when a reform jew is abused and claim taht judiasm is a race so we are entitled to race relations protection. the court does not accept tha you can be jewish for some purposes but not others

Anonymous said...

JUDAISM IS NOT A RACE. That is how there are Black Jews, Indian Jews, Asian Jews, etc. We are not one race and nor should be we be considered one, though we are a religious and possibly ethnic minority and deserve protection as such.

OK, now that I covered that...

THANK YOU so much for this blog post. I am a frum Jew and though I was upset by the ruling in Britain, my upset was followed by my wondering why it *would* be okay for a STATE-FUNDED school to "discriminate". From a secular standpoint, which the government represents and *should* represent, what is going on is discrimination between Jews. If religious school want to operate according to their own rules (which I would support) they should NOT be getting state funding. Period. I do not think an institution that gets state funding has a right to discriminate. If there is some way to legally justify Jewish schools that only admit Jews, fine. But the state cannot be expected to represent halachic interests, only to represent its own laws. It is a huge mistake for a secular government to be funding religious institutions. I don't want my taxes going to fundamentalist Christian schools that teach terrible things about Jews or that all abortion is evil, so why would I want other peoples' taxes going to Jewish schools? We need to support our own educational institutions and not get into this messy and constitutionally questionable area of state funding. I am surprised Britain hasn't already realized the folly having their hands in the religious educational world. Governmental intervention in our religious lives is a slippery slope.

Sima said...

If you read the writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, you will note that he was adamantly against state funding for religious schools, for the (now obvious) reason -- the one who pays the piper picks the tune. His words still hold true.

JLan said...

As Steve McQueen pointed out, the actual problem here is that the case is currently a "racial" discrimination one, rather than a religious one.

More to the point, the issue is that the court's definition of religion is based on a Christian worldview, in which conversion is easy and even desireable (while practice is considered important in some sects, and you have to take catechism classes to convert to Catholicism, conversion doesn't really take all that much effort). Contrast that with conversion to Judaism, which requires (at least in Orthodoxy) a commitment to follow all of the mitzvot, and which takes quite a while. And the London Beis Din is one of the harshest on that last bit; conversions in England regularly take 10 years or so.

One has to wonder what would happen if this was, say, a Zoroastrian school instead of a Jewish one (Zoroastrians don't take converts at all).

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

In Ontario the government funds two school systems - public and Catholic. The reason for this is because when the province was founded, there were two systems - Protestant and Catholic and the Catholics negotiated permanent funding so their kids would not have to get a Protestant education.
Over time the Protestant system became the religion-free public one.
Now the Jews are looking at it and saying "We want funding for our schools too!" but beware what you ask for. With government funding come government rules. If a progressive government decides that teaching about gay marriage, for example, must be part of the civics curriculum then even the frummest school has to do it.
The best idea which we briefly had here was a tax deducation for tuition payments. No direct fundings but parents get a break.

tesyaa said...

Garnel, just curious: have the Catholic schools been forced to teach anything they object to?

I personally am not in favor of "vouchers" for many reasons.

DAG said...

If a woman who knew how to learn applied to BMG in Lakewood, she could sue for discrimination when she was rejected.

That would give BMG a choice, accept her or lose ALL Federal funding...and it's hard to imagine they could survive without Federal funding.

steve mcqueen said...

I have lived in the USA as well as England and about the only thing the community in England has over life in the US is the schools. The Government funding is an incredible resource and supports a whole range of schools, from schools catering to a non-frum clientele, to schools that teach kodesh in Yiddish, and all points in between. You only pay for the kodesh part of the program, which means that the building and the hol teachers are provided totally free.

Most faith schools are Protestant or Catholic but there are Sikh Muslim and Hindu schools on the same deal. The state curriculum requirements are very small and can be managed creatively.

Ariella said...

Aren't there Jewish schools in Brooklyn that are fully funded for preschool under he city's Universal pre-K program? I do believe that by law they have to accept nonJewish children. I don't know about government involvement in the curriculum, though.

tesyaa said...

Ariella, in Passaic there was, for a few years, a funded Jewish pre-K. The limudai kodesh were taught as "multicultural studies", and no non-Jews were enrolled. After a few years it was over; I don't know if the city tried to enroll non-Jews or to take over the curriculum, or what. I wasn't involved and I don't even live in the city of Passaic, but it was obvious that for a few years, many families got free Jewish preschool.

Miami Al said...

If the government picks up the tab, the government has a say. However, for all the "outrage" about the British judicial decision, they have a free school with ONE student that they don't want in the school because they don't approve of the conversion. Take off the blinders for a moment, this is a FREE Jewish school, with the caveat that one of the students has a mother that converting under a Masorti/Conservative Rabbi. The child considers themselves Jewish, to the point of suing to enforce the action.

So they may not have 100% of what they want, but they have 99.75% of what they want and the government picks up the tab for the non-religious instruction. So the "community" pays 30% of the costs for 99.75% of what they want...

This is unreasonable how?

Lion of Zion said...


for that reason riets is not technically part of yu and is incorporated separately fwiu

I don't kno about the potential for a lawsuit in Bmg, but I'm waiting for the day parents sue a yeshiva because the kids was rejected foe frumkeit reasons


new York pays for the secular part of pre-k and there are very strict guidlones that must be followed down to how the classroom is arranged into learning centers.
Here's the kicker: the state only pays for about 3 hours a day so parents still have to pay tuition. But it's not any cheaper than the other grades. Tuiton is artificially inflated so that real tuition is not any cheaper
this is one reason i don't see vouchers working. Say we get vouchers worth 5k, watch how quickly tuition goes up 5k. After all you could pay xk until now, so why should you get away with paying less just bEcause of a voucher

Anonymous said...

Why not get some of our taxpayer dollars back for a change? One of the reasons an Orthodox lifestyle is so expensive is because we are being charged twice for our kids' educations!

Ariella said...

Someone in Cedarhurst enrolled a child in one of those free preK programs in Brooklyn. Both parents worked in Brooklyn, so they didn't have to go out of their way to get her to and from school. They were not thrilled about the presence of nonJews in the class, so I don't think they would have done it unless they were really saving money as a result. They could have enrolled the child in one of the area schools as they did when it came time for pre1A. I'm not sure this was all on the up-an-up because I would guess that the NYC funded programs are really intended for NYC residents.

tesyaa said...

Ariella, uh, yeah, the fake address thing. My father remembers is from the 1930s, and it's still used today. I even know of a professional couple who used a grandmother's address so their daughter, living in NJ, could go to Hunter College at the NY in-state tuition rate. In my city the district is trying to crack down on this, but it's very difficult to prove and document.

Ariella said...

Yes, Tesya, when I lived in Passaic, there was someone who moved in but kept his Brooklyn address as his legal residence for the sake of saving on CUNY tuition. It is possible that the LI family put down a grandparent's address, ad in your example.

Ariella said...

Sorry, Tesyaa, I missed one of your a's --typing error

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi Tesyaa,

No, both Catholic schools and hospitals have, at the present time, their own governing boards so they don't have to teach or do things opposed by Catholic teaching. They match the secular stuff with the public system pretty well, after all they don't want their kids at a disadvantage but otherwise their cirricula reflect Catholic values. Same with the hospitals. They won't do abortions or tubal ligations, for example. However, much of this is based on the constitution of Canada saying that Catholics have a right to a separate status in such matters. A Jewish school system would not have that constitutional protection and could be forced into teaching unJewish values.

Anonymous said...

What would be so wrong to have NonJews in a Jewish School. How many would want to learn Jewish subjects 2 or 3 hours a day or more. It would only be people who consider themselves Jewish, people who being in a Jewish environment might convince to convert.

Orthonomics said...

I'm far more tolerant than many regarding the issues of non-Jews and/or those who identify as Jewish despite a non-halachic conversion in the line sharing a classroom with my own children. But others feel differently and government funding comes with strings. The strings are what interests me.

Charlie Hall said...


Federal law expressly PERMITS single sex undergraduate education, which is what BMG technically provides.

Anonymous November 17, 2009 wrote, "What would be so wrong to have NonJews in a Jewish School."

In the Republic of Ireland there is one Jewish school, supported by the government. It can give preference to Jews but must admit non-Jews if not enough Jewish children apply, which has been the case for decades. And it teaches Christianity because the government requires all schools to teach about religions other than the one of the sponsoring religion and in fact students have to pass exams in multiple religions (almost all schools in Ireland are run by churches). A major job of the chief rabbi is to design the Judaism curriculum for the Protestant and Catholic schools. You can scream HERESY but the government was very smart to do this: The Republic of Ireland today is completely free of sectarian religious strife in part because all children have to learn about other religions.

Charlie Hall said...

"But others feel differently and government funding comes with strings. The strings are what interests me."

There is absolutely no question that in the US a government funded Jewish school would have to admit non-Jews. But that government funding will never come; 38 states expressly prohibit it and every voucher proposal ever to come to a vote in the US has lost by landslide margins. Even in overwhelmingly Republican and Mormon Utah, vouchers only received 38% approval.

Commenter Abbi said...

Oooooh, scary, they have to teach Christianity in the Jewish school in Ireland! I'm shaking in my boots!

"Teaching Christianity" used to be called "Western Civ". I studied it for four years in Ramaz, along with a concomitant Jewish history curriculum.

ProfK said...

Even without a voucher plan the government is already involved in yeshivas on the elementary and high school level here in the US. In order to qualify as an alternative means of education to a public school there are certain regulations that must be adhered to and certain subject matter that must be taught. There are exams set by the state here in NY that must be taken by all students, regardless of type of school. Should students from yeshivas not pass any of those tests you can bet that the state would rethink if a yeshiva would pass as an alternative to the public schools.

However, the oversight by the government is pretty much hands off as far as their coming in and inspecting the schools. As long as the required reports go to the state and as long as students are taking the required exams the state doesn't mix in to who is teaching what and how.

Vouchers or complete funding by the government would change that completely. Oversight would become far more hands on. No doubt in my mind that the state would require higher standards for who gets to teach--at a minimum a BA/BS from a recognized college or possibly also state certification, which would require a Masters degree. Private schools in NY can set their own curriculum as long as they meet some very nebulous minimum and as long as the kids pass the tests. If government were paying for the schools, the yeshivas would have to follow the state set curriculum, use the books on the state's list of acceptable texts and provide a whole lot of services that many yeshivas don't provide right now. And yes, admittance standards and requirements for students would need to meet government standards.

There are definitely tradeoffs if you take funding from the government. Do what you want but be going broke doing it or do what they want and have no money worries.

DAG said...


Do you have a source for that Federal law that allows single gender undergradaute education...and as an aside, BMG offers graduate education as well.

ProfK said...


for discussion about single gender schools.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in London, my school became government funded (called voluntary aided) about four years ago. The school has curriculum guidelines and inspections and the government can stop giving money if they don't like what is going on, i think that all general studies teachers have to be trained.
However unlike NY where i currently live, even before the school was government funded, there were frequent inspections and curriculum basics that had to be followed. In NY private schools seem to be able to do what they want.
In London, a lot of Frum, even Charedi schools are government funded, the government doesn't mix into Limudei Kodesh and besides for Kodesh teachers salaries, everything else is paid for.
Now that i live in NY, i think that the tuition crisis is out of hand and growing year by year. It's scary

Lion of Zion said...


"My father remembers is from the 1930s"

fake adresses were generally used then for a different reason (to get around anti-semitic quotas)


"Someone in Cedarhurst enrolled a child in one of those free preK programs in Brooklyn."

afaik the programs are free only for half a day

tesyaa said...

LoZ: I think my grandparents used a relative's address to get my father into a better elementary school than the one he was zoned for.

Lion of Zion said...


oh, it was elementary school. i thought college.
it still happens in brooklyn with public schools. ppl use grandparents' or other relatives' addresses