Family & Education

Government tries to reassure Stamford Hill over regulation of yeshivot

But leading opponent of Schools Bill says change is 'out of the question'


The government has tried to reassure members of the Charedi community that moves to regulate yeshivot are not intended to undermine their religious beliefs.

The proposals contained in the Schools Bill have elicited strong reaction from Stamford Hill, including demonstrations in Westminster.

In a letter to the centenarian yeshivah head, Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, Baroness Barran, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, said the Bill’s objective was to ensure that more children receive a “safe and broad education”.

Yeshivot are currently not required to register with the state as they do not meet the definition of a “school”.

But if the bill is passed, they would be treated as independent schools and compelled to teach some secular subjects, including LGBT awareness as part of relationships and sex education.

Baroness Barran wrote, “Please accept my assurances that this Bill is not intended to undermine any group, nor is it driven by a desire to dictate how anybody practices their religion.”

The government recognised and valued “the contribution of the diverse communities across the country, including the Charedi community,” she said.

“Our intention is only to ensure that the protections which apply to children who attend independent schools are applied to the children who attend other full- time education settings. There is no good reason why any child should be excluded from these protections because of their faith or ethnicity.”

She was responding to a letter written by Rabbi Schlesinger - who has been a leading figure in resistance to the Bill - to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Some registered independent schools, she observed, already offered a curriculum “primarily focused on a small number of subjects and offering education that is sensitive to religious beliefs”.

It was also possible, she noted, for settings “that do not wish to register to instead operate on a part-time basis and offer supplementary education in addition to a child’s attendance elsewhere, whether in a registered school or through elective home-education”.

But her assurances failed to convince Rabbi Schlesinger who in a reply to the minister said it was “out of the question for us to modify our educational settings in the way outlined in the Schools Bill and in other recent attempted changes to our educational systems and institutions”.

He did not believe, he said, that “it is the desire of Her Majesty’s Government to go down in history as the first democratic nation where Jews are being restricted in practising their religion freely”.

As there was not enough time to teach everything, he explained, “we choose the most crucial core subjects”. Young people learned more as they grew older and as the need arose.

He told the minister, “Unfortunately, not all Jews live their lives as dictated to us by the Almighty. I do not wish to speak about their approach, which stems from the desire to assimilate Jewish values with a liberal lifestyle.

“Orthodox Jewry on the other hand is determined not to deviate in the slightest way from the way of life passed down to us by our ancestors, and our goal in life is to pass this down to future generations.”

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