The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, representing nearly one thousand rabbis and spiritual leaders serving throughout the United States of America — expresses shock and outrage over the new educational guidelines issued by the New York State Department of Education headed by Commissioner Marry Ellen Elia.
Recently, New York State released new guidelines about nonpublic schools – including day schools, yeshivas and Bais Yaakov’s, which currently educate over 100,000 students – redefining the requirement to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of the public schools. Going forward, Jewish schools must meet onerous government standards about what they teach and for how long they teach it, subject to watchful government inspection.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America asserts that these newly promulgated guidelines represent an unacceptable governmental encroachment and intrusion in the autonomy of our religious schools. Each school’s board and educational committee should be entrusted to determine the course of education for its students, according to the traditions and philosophy of its community and parent body.
RAA Executive Vice President, Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, noted that “the sacrosanct wall of separation between state and religion is being breached in a most egregious manner, as evident by the draconian guidelines issued by the New York State Department of Education.”
This country was settled due, in part, to the desire to live and raise one’s children according to one’s religion. The constitution protects the right of a citizen to parent and educate one’s child in the religious manner one sees fit.
Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, Chairman of the Presidium noted that President Thomas Jefferson expressed these very same sentiments in a famous letter to the Baptist of Danbury, Connecticut dated January 1, 1802 that is excerpted here:
“To Messer’s. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut …
“…Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his G-d, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties …”
Jewish schools have done an outstanding job in educating the community’s children. In addition to extensive Judaic content and core secular studies, these schools teach critical thinking, logic, textual skills and traditional values – skills that are crucial to becoming productive, law abiding citizens. The numerous graduates of the Jewish educational system and their manifold accomplishments, throughout the USA and abroad, attest to the high quality of Jewish education.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America fully and unequivocally supports all the actions being taken by community leaders supporting religious liberty and Jewish education and in combatting the edicts of the New York State Department of Education encroaching upon the separation of religion and government.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America calls upon the New York State Educational Department to abolish these draconian regulations that are, in our considered opinion, both unconstitutional and an infringement on religious freedom, the promise of our cherished USA.