True cost of Hebrew lessons

By David Robson, August 20, 2012
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Nick Boles, MP for Grantham and Stamford, is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel. In May 2011, he entered a civil partnership with an Israeli man. You can't get much friendlier than that. But Mr Boles is no friend of Anglo-Jewish parents with school-age children. Last week it emerged that he had claimed £678.80 in parliamentary expenses for Hebrew lessons. This was disclosed under the Freedom of Information act. It's information we would be much freer without.

It would be rather a good idea for all MPs to have Hebrew lessons. It might bring a new spirit of fraternity to the corridors of Westminster - "Shalom, Mr Boles"… "Oh Shalom, Mr Galloway". But if Boles needed money so he could afford to learn his Aleph-Bet, I wish he'd asked me. I would have organised a discreet whip-round sharpish. Why? Because the words "Hebrew lessons" and "allowances" or "expenses" should never ever appear publicly in the same sentence. Our children might see it.

Just imagine! If Jewish kids got so much as a hint that Hebrew classes and expenses were in any way connected, it would destroy the financial basis of family life as we know it. "Come on, my boy, time for Hebrew classes"… "Actually Dad, I wanted to talk to you about that. I've been going to cheder for years"… "Yes"… "And I've never charged anything"… "Charged anything?"… "Someone told me about this MP who gets an allowance for going to Hebrew lessons"… "Yes, but he's a Friend of Israel"… "Well, I am, too? It's so unfair. If we can't come to some sensible arrangement I think I'll abstain."

What a thought. The whole point about Hebrew lessons is they're non-negotiable. The rabbi who was principal of my school wrote an essay about prayer. "Why do we pray?" he asked. "Because being what we are, we must." It looks like a neat, compelling sentence but it doesn't begin to hold up as an argument. Actually it may be completely meaningless. But consider this: "Mum, why do I go to Hebrew classes?"… "Because being what you are, you must." That has the ring of truth.

There are many children for whom missing Hebrew classes is unthinkable. There is nowhere they would rather be. Others don't even get close to going - their parents being what they are, they never get asked nor told to. But many more go because they must; it may be boring, the teaching may be terrible, the whole thing may offer pleasure and progress comparable to the trenches of the Somme, but there's no getting out of it. And there's no financial reward. You don't get paid for undergoing a brit and you don't get money for doing this.

I know a man whose son would only go to Saturday morning barmitzvah lessons if his father went to shul. So that is what they did. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. No money changed hands. Mr Boles will tell you that the expenses are to pay the teacher, not to go into his pocket. But the damage, I fear, is done. How many £678.80s do you spend before you learn the word sheket?

Last updated: 10:45am, August 20 2012