Community leaders in Norwich have expressed concern over a messianic “rabbi” who is teaching Jewish studies in local schools.
Binyamin Sheldrake, a member of the Adat Yeshua group, has been teaching the subject to children in primary and secondary schools across the city, after being approved for the role by the national Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (Sacre).
Mr Sheldrake, who was not born Jewish and became a member of the messianic group 11 years ago, believes in Jesus as the messiah and in his “physical resurrection”. But he claims that he does not talk about his messianic beliefs during lessons.
He said: “I never go into schools to convert children to the messianic faith I stick to the Sacre policy on religious education and I teach broad Judaism.
“I certainly don’t sit children down and say, ‘Let’s talk about Jesus’.”
Local Jews are unconvinced, however. Maureen Leveton, president of the Orthodox Norwich Hebrew Congregation, said: “Mr Sheldrake says that he only teaches generic Judaism, but this is not really possible to confirm.”
She said she had held meetings with the local Sacre representative to communicate the community’s concern that Mr Sheldrake did not represent an acceptable view of Judaism.
A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies said it was “wholly inappropriate” that “a person from a messianic group had been chosen to teach children about Judaism”.
Paul Hoey, head of the Norfolk County Council’s integrated education advisory service, which oversees school policy in the area, said that Sacre was aware of the concerns.
He added that his organisation had written to schools in the county to advise them of their “responsibility to provide a balanced and informed presentation of any subject, including religious studies”.
But Mr Sheldrake insisted: “I’ve never hidden what or who I am from the schools. Sacre representatives and the schools have observed what I teach and they are happy for me to do so.
“As for the topic of Jesus, I don’t think it has even come up once.”
He added that he was unhappy with “people in the community who are trying to create tension mischievously.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, has suggested that Rabbi Leah Jordan, the movement’s newly appointed rabbi in Norwich, would be a suitable person to teach Jewish studies in the city.
He said: “She would be delighted to teach in any school that needs her.”