Why the board can't talk to me

By Charles Golding, November 30, 2007
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And so, it starts. A small item in the JC last week, which all but the committed reader would be forgiven for missing or skipping. Orthodox to get their own voice on schools. Another step up the ladder in the rise and rise of vocal Jewish Orthodoxy in the UK.

In short, the Orthodox community wants separate representation when discussing matters of Jewish education with the government. No longer does the UK’s Charedi community feel the Board of Deputies represents effectively its educational aims. And make no mistake, this is the first in a line of issues where Orthodox Jews who believe in the Torah and halachah (and not the pick’n’mix version available at your local reformed bookstores) are starting to say, “Err, hang on a minute. I actually don’t want my kids to learn that Adam and Eve is on the same moral level as Adam and Steve, whatever the government wants us to believe this week. I want someone to tell them that on my behalf.”

The Orthodox are biting back as they begin to demand to be allowed to speak for themselves and not through a moral deflavourising machine, where all views are equally presented and weighted as of equivalent worth.

And while the Board shifts around perched uncomfortably on its all-things-to-all-persons fence, many

Orthodox folk are putting their money where their mouths are and forming new committees.

Don’t misunderstand me, please. The Board does a fine job. It’s been around for close on 250 years and I think it’s marvellous that the founders seemingly still run the place. (Okay, I do question the need for 300 or so representatives for just 270,000 UK Jews, when we have a Parliament of 646 MPs for 65 million Britons.)

But that aside, before you’re taken in by populist arguments about Jews needing to be united and sticking together as one people, do not fret. We are united. There are just too many opposing views, and on this occasion (and there will be more) the old Anglo-Jewish compromise won’t wash for many of the community. And why should it?

Actually, we have loads of representation on the Board. We all do. Why, I have representatives from shul, my sports organisation and my Israel bodies. Loads. Oodles. I have more than eight people representing my views — what about you? UJIA, the JNF (both of them), BICOM (remember them?). The Zionist Federation... and it goes on. And they all duplicate mercilessly. Norwood, Jewish Care. As Yul Brynner said: etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But in education, the rules are different. The majority of Jewish day schools in the country are Orthodox and their heads and governors want to speak for themselves. The black hats and sheitels, or knitted kippahs and “I got stoned at the Wall” T-shirts, are the fastest-growing community in the UK. Add the ba’al teshuvah, or returnees to the faith, movement to the kiruv (outreach) groups and you can see where the dynamic areas of increase are.

And that’s what’s really bugging those who would diss the frummer folk. The modern reformist and liberal experiment didn’t end in a surge of people converting to Judaism and increasing the numbers. Despite its aims and attempts to make things welcoming and easier, it is failing. Progressive was anything but progressive. Orthodoxy is now starting to utilise its rights in a representative

democracy by speaking to those who we and they all elect to Parliament. And what’s wrong with that?

Orthodox Judaism is just, well, Orthodox. The way it always was. Applying the timely to the timeless. Adapting and moving forward. However little or much you and I manage keep of it, we know what the rules are and they don’t change. Speak to any Orthodox person and they’ll tell you: they have certain, very definite aspirations for their children’s education — reflecting fundamental beliefs not shared by other sections of UK Jewry.

How can any organisation or institution honestly claim it can represent adequately all of Judaism to anybody in this area? Why should a Shabbes-keeping Jew have to accept a representative who might well believe in the exact opposite of what she or he wants their children to be taught?

Just imagine the scene as the education committee sits down and tries to come up with a joint mission statement: “Errr. Now, how many hours of interfaith lessons should there be?” What will bind a woman rabbi who believes in same-sex marriages and eating prawns with a Jew who keeps Shabbes and prays in Hebrew? The question has to be asked — why try to do it in the first place?

In a democracy, it’s the Orthodox community’s right to speak up for themselves. Why shouldn’t they do it directly? Charedi, steady, go!

Charles Golding specialises in media and presentation training at bowtie.co.uk

    Last updated: 12:18pm, May 23 2008