BRUSSELS (Sep. 6)
A Jewish school in Belgium has lost government recognition because it refuses to teach the required sexual education curriculum. Five other Jewish schools are negotiating their status with the Department of Education over the issue.
Losing status as a recognized school entails a loss of subsidies, as well as the schools’ ability to award state-recognized diplomas.
“The standards for sexual education are incompatible with Jewish beliefs,” said Mordechai Stauber, principal of the Satmar Bais Rachel primary school in Antwerp, which lost its recognition.
The Satmar school took the decision to court, but lost. The school has applied for renewed recognition, and is negotiating with the Department of Education on the matter.
As in much of Western Europe, Jewish schools in Belgium are eligible for state funding for the costs of teaching the secular curriculum. This curriculum is set by the state, and schools that receive state recognition are mandated to teach it in order to award recognized degrees.
Universities in Belgium, many of them also state-funded, will only accept students with government-sanctioned diplomas.
The issue arose since the curricula have become increasingly detailed and controls have become more stringent.
Education policy in Belgium is carried out on the regional level, and the Flemish law on education, which applies in Antwerp, states that children who finish primary school must “be aware of their bodily functions.”
Antwerp’s Jewish community of around 15,000 people includes a strong fervently Orthodox community, and few liberal Jews.
As much as 90 percent of the Jewish community is estimated to attend Jewish day schools. Not all Jewish schools in Antwerp are affected by the matter, as some follow the prescribed curriculum.
Meanwhile, some community leaders claim that the state curriculum is acceptable according to Jewish law.
“Sexual education is most certainly not against Jewish beliefs. The Torah openly discusses all kinds of sexual behavior, and so do Jewish codes of law,” said Henri Rosenberg, a local lawyer who teaches Torah law at Radboud University in the Netherlands.
Officials with the Consistoire, the central group for Belgian Jewry, said it would not take a stand on the issue because it concerns a secular topic, not a Jewish one.