Family & Education

Plan to regulate yeshivot would mean 'expelling' Orthodox Jews, Education Secretary warned

Protest against Schools Bill attracts large gathering in Stamford Hill


An estimated audience of 2,000 men attended a meeting in Stamford Hill on Monday to protest against the government's plans to regulate yeshivot.

Under measures proposed in the new Schools Bill, yeshivot run by the Strictly Orthodox community - which are currently not defined as schools - would be required to register with the Department for Education, forcing them to teach secular lessons and subjecting them to inspections from Ofsted.

A senior member of the North London Charedi community has written to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, warning that if the bill became law, it would mean “expelling” Orthodox Jews, who would be compelled to educate their children overseas.

The meeting was addressed by the centenarian yeshivah head Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, who is associated with the more conservative factions in Stamford Hill, and a member of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations’ rabbinate, Dayan Shalom Friedman, among others.

The UOHC called a day of prayer on Monday amid concerns about the Bill.

Around 1,000 to 1,500 young teenage boys in Stamford Hill are currently estimated to be learning in yeshivot.

The Bill also wants councils to keep a register of children receiving education outside school settings and to give the Education Secretary new powers to suspend independent schools judged to put their children at risk.

Charedi schools are already at odds with the education authorities in resisting requirements to teach about LGBT people, which are laid out in equality guidelines and the recently introduced relationships and sex education policy.

Writing to Mr Zahawi this week, Rabbi Asher Gratt, said the Bill appeared to “serve a secret agenda: the assimilation of our community to the practices of the majority”.

Education, he said, was “the essential part in preserving the knowledge of Torah and Jewish law to ensure that our principal fundamentals live on without dilution or distraction. Our schools and yeshivas play the critical role in serving the community and educating the next generation.

“Following the Holocaust, we have no choice other than protecting the foundation of our existence as a people and our human rights.”

Yeshivot, he said, enable Orthodox families “to raise their children in line with a high standard of morals and values. It is well-known that crime rates within our communities are disproportionately low across the board.”

Boys aged 13 went to yeshivot, while receiving home-schooling or apprenticeship training elsewhere, he explained. “But the religious education and the general education are kept separate. This has been our community’s customary practice for generations.”

But the result of treating yeshivot like schools would “impose on them a duty to teach secular subjects besides religion, fundamentally changing their role and purpose. This undermines the parents and children’s right to practice their religion.”

Many members of the community were “shellshocked” at the proposals, he said.

“I do not believe that you are contemplating expelling Orthodox Jewry from the United Kingdom, but this is in effect what this discriminatory Bill would be doing,” he warned.

In a debate in the Lords last week, the government received cross-party support for the regulation proposals as well as for giving Ofsted additional powers to inspect unregistered institutions.

Although yeshivot were not mentioned explicitly in the Lords, government papers that preceded the Bill have referred to them.

Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn said during the debate, “The organised denial of the rights of children by groups and institutions, whether from closed or other communities, is the challenge the government have to meet here.”

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