Sunday, February 06, 2005

A Big Step In Our March Rightward

Something big has happened in the Anglo-Jewish Orthodox secondary school scene during the last couple of weeks. Something that I think will have ramifications for the future. The Jewish papers have reported it but nobody has commented upon it; so I will have a go.

We have in Golders Green a set of schools (3 –17 years) called Menorah. There is a Menorah Primary School, a Menorah High School For Boys and a Menorah High School For Girls. These schools follow in the tradition of Torah Im Derch Eretz taking secular studies very seriously but most parents who send their children there would consider themselves chareidi as opposed to MO.

Although the primary school gets most of it’s funding from state aid, the high schools are funded entirely from fees. The current girls high school premises are less than modern and they really need to move to a purpose built site. They applied for state aid and their application succeeded. They were offered £3,000,000 for a new building and a yearly grant that would have substantially reduced the £4000 per annum fee. You would expect there to be a round of le’chaim’s; but no. The school governors have rejected the grant. They say that following the official regulations as one must in a state aided school would jeopardise its rigorous religious ethos.

The Menorah school governors (I am sure they had help from a Rav or two) have come to the conclusion that state funding and a Torah Im Derech Eretz style school are incompatible. They are saying that even a school that takes secular studies seriously, that appreciates a ‘good education’ has to refuse an offer for funding. At a time when the orthodox community is growing with leaps and bounds, at a time when the current educational facilities are full and under funded, at a time when decisions have to be made about a new generation of educational institutions this is something that should make us all stop and pause for some thought.

It was only a short ten years ago that the middle-of-the-road chareidi institutions (and I don’t mean MO) came to the conclusion that the only practical way to sort out the perpetual funding crises in our schools is to fight for state aid. Many schools have done so over the last decade. But the process has recently slowed down and with the Menorah decision has all but come to a halt. If Menorah can’t do it nobody else can. Nobody else will even bother.

I think its sad. It’s a step backwards. The consequences for educational funding are enormous. It’s difficult for me to criticise the governor’s decision. I am not privy to the reasons. But I suspect it is closely related to the relentless move to the right by chareidi Jewry. We seem all caught up in its wake. Like so many chareidi institutions the Menorah schools, that nominally find their inspiration in the writing of Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsh, are not immune from the pressures to veer right and slowly but surely this is what’s happening.