Family & Education

Couple sue over lack of secular education

The former members of a Chasidic group in Quebec say they were denied the right to a basic education


A case brought against the Quebec government by former members of a Chasidic community which is likely to reach the courts next year will be closely watched elsewhere in the Jewish world.

London-born Yochonon Lowen (above) and his wife Clara Wasserstein, who are both 39, are suing the state for failing to ensure their Chasidic schools gave them a decent secular education.

The couple, who have four children, grew up in Tosh, a particularly strict Chasidic sect in Boisbriand outside Montreal. They left it seven years ago.

Mr Lowen, who came to Canada with his parents when he was 10, received “rudimentary” maths and English tuition at his Tosh yeshivot but “no French, history, geography, science or PE classes,” according to his legal claim.

Ms Wasserstein, from the age of six to 13, enjoyed up to a couple of hours a day of secular education which included French, English and maths but not history, geography, science or PE. From 13 to 17, she was only taught Judaism in Yiddish, having been exempted from secular classes.

The claimants “completed their secondary education without knowing what the St Lawrence River is or ever hearing about the theory of evolution”, the documents state. They are “beneficiaries of the welfare system and have difficulty finding work, with no elementary or secondary school diploma”.

The couple argue the state’s education authorities should have enforced regulations which lay down a minimum 25 hours of secular tuition a week.

Although the state challenged the couple’s right to bring a legal action, a judge earlier this year gave them the go-ahead.

According to their lawyer, Clara Poissant-Lespérance, “they are not asking for a damages, only a declaration to the fact that the right to receive a basic education was denied them”.

If they succeed, it could inspire similar recourse to the courts elsewhere from disgruntled alumni of strictly Orthodox schools.

An Israeli court recently threw out a claim from more than 30 men who said their Charedi education had impeded them their chance of university —– but only because the action had passed the statute of limitations.

Two years ago, former students of four yeshivot in New York filed claims over their limited secular education.

So far, a similar action has yet to be attempted in Britain.

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