To the Editor:
Jewish education and religious freedom are both vital to the American Jewish community, but it would be a mistake to sacrifice one for the other, as advocated by Shai Franklin.
We are in agreement that Jewish education is essential to strengthening the community and countering assimilation. My June 29 op-ed highlighted the importance of elevating Jewish identity and connection with Israel through increased community funding for Jewish education. Mr. Franklin, however, advocates a shortsighted solution that would be bad for religious freedom and bad for the community.
As I pointed out in my Op-Ed, Jewish day school funding is a real challenge and does not lend itself to easy solutions. But Mr. Franklin’s call for the seemingly easy, quick fix of government funding would come at an unacceptable cost.
Set aside questions of scarce government funds and divisions within our community about the need for tax increases to pay for existing government health and social welfare commitments. If government foots the bill for Jewish education, it must also do so for other religious schools — some of which may teach inaccurate or even extreme views about Jews and Israel. Requiring taxpayers to fund religious views that they do not observe or are contrary to their beliefs is antithetical to religious freedom.
And then there are practical realities to consider. How well should we expect our small Jewish community to fare in the inevitable tough competition for these scarce government funds? And do Mr. Franklin and others who share his view really think these public dollars would come to Jewish schools with no strings attached? Are we prepared to risk our independence and autonomy in day school curriculum and hiring decisions?
Mr. Franklin is right that in recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door to government funding of religious schools under limited circumstances. But what is legal and what is wise policy can be two very different things. Jews have thrived in this great country precisely because religion-state separation has ensured our full acceptance as equal citizens.
Simply put, the Jewish community should not press for a government handout at the expense of undercutting constitutional protections that have served us so well for more than 200 years. If Jewish education is truly an imperative for our community, we should not have to rely on the government to pay for it.
Abraham H. Foxman