mercredi 2 septembre 2009

"Two hundred Quebec rabbis against the Ethics and Religious Culture course"

[Traduction française à venir]

The Canadian Jewish News publishes an article today on the ERC course, of interest the number of Orthodox rabbis opposed to the course and the fact that the government allows Jewish schools some leeway which is precisely what Loyola High is asking for.
« Quebec religions course seen incompatible with Torah

Thursday, 03 September 2009
MONTREAL — A new group called the Council on Jewish Education in Quebec (CJEQ) has declared that the province’s compulsory ethics and religious culture school course (ERC) is incompatible with Torah law, and that Jewish day schools should forgo government funding if modifications aren’t made to the curriculum.

The CJEQ placed a third-of-a-page advertisement on page 3 of Montreal’s Gazette Aug. 21, which according to the paper cost between $6,000 and $7,000, saying the course should allow teachers in Jewish schools to “pass a value judgment on the beliefs being studied.”

“Torah law requires Jews to epistemologically recognize the prophecy of Moses as absolute eternal truth, which cannot be contradicted by any other prophet. Therefore, when a Jewish school class studies a belief that is incompatible with the prophecy of Moses (e.g. atheism), the Jewish teacher is obligated to identify the incompatible belief as false,” the ad reads.

As an alternative, the CJEQ suggests that Jewish schools be permitted to teach only the Noahide Code, which, according to Jewish belief, are the seven laws of moral behaviour God gave to Noah to spread among all humanity.

The CJEQ insists that Jewish schools must limit religious teaching to Judaism and the Noahide Code.

The ERC, introduced for all elementary and high schools last year, is intended to acquaint students with the major religions of Quebec – Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and native spirituality – and survey other world beliefs, including secularism, while avoiding actually teaching any particular religion or passing judgment on their validity.

Rabbi Shalom Spira, the CJEQ’s volunteer executive director, told The CJN the position was arrived at after consultation with 200 rabbis in Quebec, as well as rabbis J. David Bleich and Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University, a leading institution of modern Orthodoxy in New York, of which Rabbi Spira is a graduate.

The position represents “a consensus of rabbinic opinion,” he said, backed as well by study of the historic rabbinic response.

While it’s not ideal, he said Jewish schools could teach about Christianity, for example, but students must not be left with the impression that it is equal to Judaism.

The Torah, he noted, requires Jews to respect every human being and that can be accomplished through the teaching of the Noahide Code.

The CJEQ draws the line at any teaching of atheism. “That is not kosher at all,” he said.

According to its six-page constitution, the CJEQ was formed as “an ad hoc organization… to serve the Quebec Jewish community by providing a halachically correct response to” the ERC “as a public education and service.”

The CJEQ is respectful in how it addresses the provincial government, referring to it as “righteous and honourable” and its intention of promoting understanding and tolerance as a noble pursuit.

“We 100 per cent applaud the government in its aims. It deserves praise,” Rabbi Spira said.

As for suggesting schools give up government funding if it comes down to a choice between violating the Torah and following secular law, Rabbi Spira said this has been put on the table because that is what Jewish sources prescribe.

“Jews are permitted by Torah law to earn their own livelihoods and thereby support their own schools [Talmud, Berakhot 35b],” the ad states. “Thus, Jewish schools are expected to follow [Torah law] irrespective of financial considerations.”

The point the CJEQ is trying to make, Rabbi Spira said, is that “we cannot forfeit our loyalty to Torah for financial reasons,” and although compliance with civil law is a cornerstone of Jewish teaching, a line has to be drawn. “If a government asked us to start a fire on Shabbat, we couldn’t do it,” he said

He acknowledged the point may be moot, because all schools in Quebec, whether they receive funding or not, are obliged to follow the province’s prescribed curriculum.

Rabbi Spira is spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Yehouda, a small Sephardi synagogue in Côte St. Luc (although he is Ashkenazi himself) and a research assistant at the McGill AIDS Centre based at the Jewish General Hospital. His position as the CJEQ’s executive director is voluntary, he said.

The CJEQ’s head is Rabbi David Cadoch, who, according to the CJEQ constitution, is a qualified rabbinic judge and has taught in the Jewish day school system.

The CJEQ was formed last December, but is not legally incorporated. It does not represent any schools or parents, Rabbi Spira said, nor has it made any direct contact with the government or education department to present its position.

Although he calls it a “grassroots organization,” Rabbi Spira was vague about who else makes up the council, other than the 100 members of the congregation he leads.

Rabbi Spira is not a parent, but Rabbi Cadoch does have children in school, he said.


The goal is to make that rabbinical opinion on this issue available to as many Jews as possible, and that’s why the group chose to purchase a prominent ad in a daily newspaper.

“We hope others will share our position and sign on. But we do not want to detract from those who do not share our opinion. There can be a healthy debate.”

Charley Levy, executive director of the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS), said his group’s position on the ERC remains the same as it has been from the beginning, which is that it’s the law and schools must do their best to implement it.

The AJDS represents eight school corporations, all within the mainstream community. The most Orthodox is Hebrew Academy. All of them taught the course last year, he said.

“The course has two components: themes which are compulsory and examples which you can bring in yourself. The ministry has allowed some latitude and flexibility. The schools do the themes to the best of their ability, and if certain things are not possible, they bring in something else.”»

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