Let children open their eyes

November 24, 2016 23:18

Are you all worked up over plans to force students taking GCSE Religious Studies to learn about two or more world religions? Or are you, like me, seeing this as a heaven-sent opportunity?

Last month, it emerged that in the wake of the "Trojan Horse" scandal, the new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, was minded to compel teenagers taking GCSE Religious Studies to study at least one religious faith other than their own.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is said to be "broadly supportive" of this plan. Reform rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner felt it "vital that in a multicultural society children learn about other religions." But from the desk of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis there came a depressing negative. While expressing his enthusiasm for "respect… and understanding of other faiths," Mirvis warned that "forced changes to the GCSE… is not the right way to achieve these shared goals." In responding to Morgan's proposal both Mirvis and the Board of Deputies were said to have been "particularly heated in their anger."

Most Jewish secondary schools offer GCSE Jewish Studies, and some apparently teach a modicum of detail about religions other than Judaism. If Mrs Morgan has her way, roughly a third of the entire course would have to be devoted to learning about a different religion.

Suppose this other religion was Christianity. Jewish youngsters would need to learn something about Christianity's anti-Jewish origins. They would need to demonstrate an awareness - for example- of the view of Jews put about by St Augustine, who taught that Jews should not be killed, but rather that they should be permitted to wander from land to land as a perpetual punishment for their rejection of Jesus of Nazareth. GCSE Christianity would surely also need to include some reference to the Crusades, proclaimed and embraced by successive Popes in Rome and invariably accompanied by anti-Jewish pogroms.

Jewish educators should not succumb to knee-jerk reactions

And let's not forget Martin Luther, who in 1543 (in a treatise entitled "On the Jews and their Lies") declared that Jews were "a base, whoring people" who filled themselves with "devil's faeces… which they wallow in like swine." The role of the Russian Orthodox church in sponsoring pogroms in Tsarist Russia will also need to be stressed, and I would hope that time would be found to mention both those Christians who, as a matter of religious belief, opposed the Nazi state and those who, as a matter of belief, supported and justified it.

Suppose this other religion was Islam. A balanced treatment of Jews under Islamic rule would have to acknowledge that there were indeed periods of broad tolerance, but only within a religious framework that consigned (and continues to consign) the Jews to a formal second-class status.

If those Jewish youngsters taking GCSE Religious Studies are taught anything about Maimonides, their attention must surely be called to his letter to the Jews of Yemen, in which this celebrated 12th century Torah scholar wrote in heartbreaking terms of the "imposed degradation" of Jews living under "the nation of Ishmael" – meaning Muslims.

The Koran itself contains some verses that might be characterised as antisemitic, but others that are not so. Amongst the Hadith (records of the sayings of Mohammed) one of the most infamous (not least because it has been incorporated into the founding charter of Hamas) runs as follows: "The day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."

In welcoming Nicky Morgan's the proposal, Liberal Judaism's chief executive, rabbi Danny Rich, said that "schools ought to be preparing young people for a multi-faith Britain." So they should. Those in charge of Jewish secondary education need to use their imaginations, and not succumb to a knee-jerk reaction that sees only obstacles, but is blind to opportunities.

November 24, 2016 23:18

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