Friday, August 03, 2007

Plans For Jewish Charter School Continues To Generate Debate

Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent carries a long article today discussing the controversy surrounding the Ben Gamla Charter School opening in Hollywood, Florida this month. (See prior posting.) At issue is whether the school will truly be a secular institution focusing on Hebrew language and Jewish culture, or whether its offerings will in fact be religious. Much of the controversy is within the Jewish community of Broward County, which includes a large concentration of Israelis. Critics say the school provides a road map for other religious groups to use to get around church-state restrictions. The school's director, Orthodox Rabbi Adam Siegel, says students will learn Hebrew, Jewish culture and Jewish history for two hours a day, but that there will be no teaching of prayer or Torah. The school will serve kosher meals, and students can organize their own worship services.

Sigel said, "I didn't get hired for this job because I'm a rabbi. Plenty of Orthodox Jews work as stock brokers and lawyers without converting people. If you're a math teacher, you focus on the math. It's not my job to chase people and make them Jewish." Meanwhile Reform Rabbi Allan Tuffs, a critic of the school and a strong supporter of church-state separation, says that the school is being marketed through Chabad Lubavitch congregations as providing the equivalent of a Jewish day school education.