Hundreds join Charedi anti-Schools Bill demo outside Parliament
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Hundreds join Charedi anti-Schools Bill demo outside Parliament

Around 300 members of Stamford Hill's Strictly Orthodox community, and men from further afield, took part in Wednesday's protest against the Government's "discriminatory" Schools Bill

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Around 300 members of the Strictly Orthodox community have taken part in a protest against the government’s Schools Bill in Parliament Square, Westminster, claiming that the legislation is “discriminatory” against the traditional way of educating boys over the age of 13.

The all male gathering, who took part in the demo on Wednesday afternoon held aloft banners which declared the Bill, now going through the House of Lords, as being “anti religion”.

A larger banner read: “Let Us Continue Our 3000 Years Old Torah Education” with the words “Which proved successful under today!” written underneath.

Amongst those to address the crowd was the Union of Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Friedman, and Rabbi Asher Gratt, part of the Stamford Hill based rabbinical committee who had arranged the protest.

Also speaking from Manchester was Rabbi Weiss, who told the crowd:”We gather here today in front of the House of Lords on a matter of personal concern for our community.”

He said the Bill, “if enshrined in law represented a direct attack” on the Charedi community.

Rabbi Friedman was among those to wish the Queen mazeltov on her recent Platinum Jubilee adding Her Majesty had also been a protector of “religious freedom” in this country.

He added:”The Queen at all times has been a pillar of democracy, tolerance, freedom of religion.

“This is the reason we are here today, to voice are concern to Her Majesty for freedom of religion.”

The rabbi said the growth of yeshiva in the UK had allowed boys to “immerse themselves” i religious learning.

But he then referred the Holocaust, and how the families of those who perished moved her to begin new lives, with yeshivas being set up as the “core of the Jewish religion.”

He said a new general had “emerged from the ashes of the Shoah” to continue the religion, and that “any attempt to secularise” the yeshiva was an attack on Jews.

Friedman specified specific parts of the Bill that in his view needed amending.

Rabbi Gratt meanwhile stressed that the best judges of whether the Charedi schools provided good education for the community were the parents of the children themselves.

One of the rabbi’s son’s Shmili Gratt said the Bill “represented a devastation for the Jewish community.”

He said the Bill “should not go through because regulation was not needed for us and our schools. We don’t want it, because it will affect the curriculum.”

At one stage the organisers played the National Anthem through the sound system that had been erected in the Westminster square.

It was the same location at which the mainstream Jewish community had staged their Enough Is Enough demo against Labour antisemitism.

But the Charedi community avoided accusations that the government legislation was antisemitic.

Publicity before the protest had though said the demo was being organised the banner of “Holocaust Survivors Stand Up Against Discriminatory Schools Bill.”

Other rabbis also led the protesters through renditions of tehillim on the boiling hot afternoon.

At one stage Rabbi Elayakim Schlesinger, 100 years old, was introduced to the crowd.

Amongst those also in attendance was Shraga Stern, the Stamford Hill activist who had one aligned himself with Jeremy Corbyn.

Stamford Hill’s celebrity Rabbi Herschel Gluck was also at the demonstration, and spoke to the audience stating that Jewish educational establishments should not be classed as schools.

He said these institutions go back thousands of years and teach “the basic and spiritual values” of Judaism.

The government’s Bill will close a loophole which exists at the moment allowing yeshivot to teach a narrow religious curriculum because they do not count as schools under the present definition of the law.

As a result, they are exempt from registration with the Department of Education and they are not subject to Ofsted visits.

More than a thousand Charedi boys aged 13 and above in Stamford Hill are estimated to be currently learning in institutions beyond the reach of state scrutiny and standards.

The government will also be given powers to suspend schools where there are serious safeguarding failures.

Schools will also be instructed to teach children on LGBT issues.

Gratt, along with his supporters are also behind a letter, which has been sent to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi calling for the government to give the Charedi community freedom to continue raising their children in accordance with their religious principles.

The letter asks for changes to the Schools Bill 2022, claiming it violates the rights of parents and their children to practise their religion.

Given the potential impact, the new Schools Bill could have on some elements of the Haredi community, Jewish News understands a new Committee has been formed to support dialogue with decision-makers around the new Bill, the Vaad Hapoel Le’ezras Hayeshivas, or in English, the Yeshiva Liaison Committee (YLC).

YLC will advocate the position of Yeshivas, and communicate with relevant stakeholders and policymakers. Rabbi Binyomin Stern, President of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) stated, “We are pleased that this Committee has been set up to communicate the needs of our community and wish them every Hatzlocha.”

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