What Are We Doing About the Assault on Our Mosdos HaTorah?

The Interlink Foundation is the U.K. membership charity for Orthodox Jewish community organizations. It supports the needs of the community by providing organizations with high-quality information, training and consultancy; making connections between organizations and the people and resources they need; and advocating for community needs.

The Jewish community in the U.K. is fortunate to live in a malchus shel chessed. For decades we have taken our religious freedoms for granted. Now, secular voices are on the ascendance. They argue that religious belief may be a human right, but religious action must be curtailed if it causes harm to others. Read “others” to include one’s own children, and you have hit the core of the secularist agenda: schools should not be vehicles for “inflicting” religious beliefs on children.

Widespread fear of Islamic extremism has empowered these secular voices, and the result is increasing state interference with religious education. Every school now has to inculcate pupils with “British values,” a concept often interpreted in ways deeply challenging to a frum chinuch.

Much has been said about the forces that are undermining the work of mosdos haTorah in Britain. We are facing challenges to our basic educational norms, such as separating our boys and girls, limiting their exposure to concepts that compromise their innocence or their Yiddishkeit, and encouraging them to progress to yeshivos and seminaries. In each of these aspects of education, our mosdos haTorah are open to the charge of failing to “prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.”

Dozens of mosdos have failed to meet the regulatory requirements. A common consequence of failure is the stress of repeated inspections and negative publicity. A harsher consequence is when a mossad is prohibited from taking in any additional pupils. In other words, it is slowly being closed down by the state.

The regulatory regime feels merciless, arbitrary and counterproductive. If Talmud Torahs where cheder yingelech are scoring well in English and math SATs tests are unable to satisfy the regulator, what is the point of any of the other chassidishe chadarim even trying? Is there anything except hopelessness if schools where girls get excellent GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) results can’t make the grade?

Much time has been spent talking about the problems. It is time to move on. We need to talk about solutions. We need rachamei Shamayim, and we also need to act. What are we doing as a community to deal with this crisis that we are facing?

First, our community needs to act together. One of our failings has been a fragmented approach, with different individuals and organizations doing their own things. Even worse has been when different players in the community have undermined each other.

The good news is that a cohesive approach has now mobilized. As reported in these columns, a national Va’ad Rabbanim has been formed, and underneath it, a national Va’ad Askanim, made up of representatives of local communities and mosdos. A cohesive national voice and governing structure has emerged.

We need to come together and back this united effort. The Interlink Foundation will put our resources and skills to the service of this cause if it is wanted. We must call for a stop to the distracting activities of unrepresentative voices, which can do great damage.

Second, we need the proper machinery to deliver. There are two aspects of the work that need to be strengthened.

One aspect is the ongoing work of government relations. This is already taking place every day, and there are many excellent relationships and lines of approach. This work needs to be accelerated and boosted.

The other aspect that needs bolstering is the infrastructure support for those of our mosdos that need help to meet the regulatory standards in areas that have no bearing on Yiddishkeit. Interlink has already built the foundations for this through our school support program LinkEd, led by Rabbi Aharon Pinczewski. There is much more to be done.

Finally, we need to pay attention to our collective communal weakness — media and messaging. We are too content to talk to ourselves, and have failed to speak to the wider public. We have allowed ourselves to be misrepresented and smeared and cast as the guilty party in this conflict. Too many people, including those with influence and power, see the regulator Ofsted as doing its job robustly, and rightly calling out our schools for failing to teach. We need a communications and media strategy to tackle this problem.

The task is huge and can only be achieved with siyatta diShmaya. It will also take collaboration, a concerted pooling of efforts and a greater and wiser investment of communal resources.