Shimon Cohen

We should respect Charedi schools

The values of Charedi philosophy are not only consistent with British values, but have been part of Jewish ethics for centuries

February 23, 2023 10:38

The Charedi way of life can be a source of curiosity and even fear for outsiders. With their unique dress, language, and religious practices, these communities can seem entirely foreign to those who view them from a distance.

However, upon closer examination, there is much to be learned and appreciated about Charedi life, particularly when it comes to their approach to education. One of the most striking differences between Charedi schools and those in wider society is the way in which they approach topics related to relationships and sexuality. While many schools in the UK teach these subjects from an early age, Charedi schools choose to postpone these lessons until students are older.

This is because Jewish religious philosophy views relationships as an intrinsic part of a committed marriage, and teaches that these topics should be approached with discretion and modesty. This approach to education is often met with controversy and criticism, particularly from those who view it as an infringement on children's rights to knowledge and information. However, it is important to remember that under the Equality Act 2010, “religion or belief” is enshrined as a protected characteristic, and that Charedi communities have the right to approach education in a way that is consistent with their religious beliefs.

It is also important to note that many within wider society are beginning to recognise the dangers of unchecked exposure to sexual content, particularly on the minds of young children. The recent Online Safety Bill is evidence of this growing awareness, and many MPs and peers are now calling on Ofsted and the Department of Education to address the “wild west” of sexual education in many UK schools.

Another all-to-common accusation from school regulatory bodies against Charedi schools is that “pupils lack readiness for life in modern British society”. This is a loaded accusation, with each word of that sentence coloured with a subjectivity and complexity. The Charedi communities are a part of modern Britain, and a claim to the contrary is simply discriminatory, dismissive of the parental rights of educating their child to thrive within their own religious and cultural context whilst still contributing to society at large.

Legally speaking, education is deemed suitable legally if it “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member.” So, bringing up a child to be an active player within the Charedi community, proud of its values and celebrating its way of life, is certainly valid. Yet, even moving beyond the legal requirements, these pupils do embark on their journey to adulthood ready for jobs and employment, with countless alumni of Charedi schools becoming teachers, entrepreneurs, accountants, beauticians, and office workers, and more.

My agency has worked with many organisations busy in the Charedi work sector, both in Israel and in the UK, all of which are testament to the vast career opportunities within these communities. In the past, we have supported the Kemach Foundation, for example, which serves as the gateway for Charedi society in Israel to enter into the world of employment and education. We have also collaborated with JTrade, Britain’s Jewish expo, a bustling fair of property, tech firms and more. In the coming months, we will be involved in a ground-breaking networking event in central London, Bizlabs of Achim Global, showcasing a number of rising Charedi tech start-ups, active in areas from healthcare to big data.

These all show the industriousness of the Charedi community, and that its members are certainly ready for modern life. The careers Charedi schools guide their pupils towards are culturally appropriate, but such does not mean that they are not guided, in the same way that Eton or Haberdashers, say, also guide their pupils to only a certain spectrum of careers, picking those that their parents and ethos regard as the most suitable.

“Life in modern Britain” is diverse, and if children can become productive citizens somewhere within its mosaic, such is surely a success. Ultimately, the Charedi approach to education should be understood and respected, even if it is not always agreed with. These communities have the right to approach education in a way that is consistent with their religious beliefs, and to protect their children from exposure to sexual content until they are older.

Moreover, the values of respect and dignity that are at the heart of Charedi philosophy are not only consistent with fundamental British values, but have been a part of Jewish ethics for centuries. As we continue to grapple with the challenges of education in the 21st century, it is important to remember that there is much to be learned from the Charedi approach. We may not always agree with their choices, but we can certainly respect them, and work to create a society that values diversity and supports the rights of all communities to live according to their own beliefs and values.

Shimon Cohen is founder and chairman of The PR Office

February 23, 2023 10:38

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