CHAREDIM are feeling very threatened. Justifiably so. Nearly 100 of their schools could be closed.
Ever since the 2014 Trojan Horse fiasco in which Muslim schools were, it turned out, falsely accused of fomenting a radical extremism takeover, all faith schools have been targeted by Ofsted — particularly, Jewish charedi ones, which are accused of not promoting British values.
What are these British values?
All charedi schools maintain that they do inculcate in their curricula the Education Department’s four fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs.
So what’s the problem?
The problem lies in what the DfE calls protected characteristics under equality law.
A test case is London’s Beis Ruchel d’Satmar school in Stamford Hill, which is currently appealing to Education Secretary Damian Hinds after failing to meet Ofsted standards.
The school fully met protected characteristics standards in relation to disability, age and race, but refused to comply in the areas of religion and beliefs, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
Charedi schools preach tolerance of other people’s beliefs and lifestyles but refuse to expose their pupils to explicit knowledge of these. So what?
These schools are not preaching jihad on others different from themselves. They just want to be left alone by the education authorities to inculcate their way of life in their next generation.
In a country which prides itself on tolerance and freedom of belief, surely this should be possible.
But the DfE is not at all happy and has published a consultation document which would allow non-compliant schools to be closed almost at a moment’s notice.
The charedi community is in a panic. Mass meetings were called in areas of large charedi populations with attenders urged to fill in the consultation document.
It is reckoned that about 10,000 responses came from the charedi community, most of whom had no clue how to fill in the forms.
The mass form-filling was followed by large prayer gatherings to plead for divine intervention.
The Jewish Leadership Council’s director of policy and public affairs, Claudia Mendoza, said: “Curtailing religious freedom as a response to religious extremism will erode the foundation of our democracy.”
The JLC’S education division Partnership for Jewish Schools said that detailed information on sexual preferences to children was “clearly not acceptable to a significant proportion of the Jewish community”.
They felt this was not necessary in primary schools and only at an age at which the children learn about heterosexual relationships.
PaJeS said: “There is no evidence of homophobia or transphobia from the Orthodox Jewish community or homophobic bullying in schools.”
Nevertheless, despite this fulsome support from the Jewish mainstream community, charedim have turned their back on them, proclaiming that they have now formed their own “united front” to confront the educational problem by setting up their own organisation, Chinuch UK, as if the rest of us Jews and our organisations don’t exist.
The truth is that, unfortunately, in some respects our Jewish community is becoming more divided than ever. At the same time as the charedi lifestyle seems to be under threat and charedim are turning in on themselves, another movement — an anti-charedi one — is growing apace.
However perfect charedim try to paint their lifestyle, there are those who have fallen through the net, often after they have suffered some kind of abuse which they feel has been covered up by the charedi community.
Abuse cover-ups are not unique to charedim. First we had the Catholic Church, then we had Rotherham and more recently we have been re-acquainted with just how much top echelons of British society covered up during the Jeremy Thorpe affair.
Charedim guarantee our future both demographically and spiritually. More than that, they are our family, for many of us, literally.
Scholar Adin Steinsaltz asked whether Jews were a race or a religion. He concluded they are a family, sometimes dysfunctional, but family nevertheless.
So many of us have charedim in our families and many charedim have family members whose levels of observance differ from their own.
On a practical level, it mainly works. We go to each other’s simchas and treat one another with respect. Wonderful charedi chesed organisations like Hatzola, Misaskim and Ezra Care provide help in need to any Jew and even non-Jews.
But this level of friendly co-existence could, God forbid, change if the charedi press continues to build up its defences and promote an us-against-the-world mentality.
Charedim should realise that mainstream Jewish society is solidly behind their fight for freedom of religion.
But they should also realise that victims of abuse need to speak out in order to make the charedi community even more consistently caring and compassionate than it currently is.