Friday, August 24, 2007

Hebrew Language Charter School Opens in Florida. Controversy Ensues

Apparently a Hebrew language charter school in Florida is creating a bit of controversy:

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Aug. 23 — The new public school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard stands out despite its plain gray facade. Called the Ben Gamla Charter School, it is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.

About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.
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The battle over Ben Gamla parallels one in New York over Khalil Gibran International Academy, a new public school that will focus on Arabic language and culture. But some who have followed the evolution of both schools say Ben Gamla could prove more problematic. As a charter school that receives public money but is exempt from certain rules, they say, it is subject to less oversight.
Then there's this:

Rabbi Siegel said the school was proceeding with such extreme caution that even a neutral mention of religion was unlikely. The sign outside Ben Gamla was going to include a Hebrew phrase for “welcome,” Rabbi Siegel said, but because the literal translation is “blessed are those who come,” he decided against it.

“Even basic things, like if there was a page that had a picture of a shofar, I pulled it out,” Rabbi Siegel said, referring to the ram’s horn used in High Holy Day services. “We went so far overboard, it’s crazy.”

The school board rejected Ben Gamla’s first two Hebrew curriculum proposals after finding they included religious references. The second, which relied on a textbook titled “Ha-Yesod,” asked students to translate phrases like “Our Holy Torah is dear to us” and “Man is redeemed from his sins through repentance.”

Rabbi Siegel said the school would have omitted such phrases from lessons. On Tuesday, the school board hired Nathan Katz, a religious studies professor at Florida International University, to vet the latest curriculum proposal before its next meeting on Sept. 11. The school cannot teach Hebrew before then, a school board spokesman said.
As long as the school stays away from blatant religious instruction, I don't think there should be a problem. The more bilingual schools the better. I'm no Constitutional scholar, but it seems like it should be permissible to study some sections of the Torah in Hebrew as literature. We're allowed to study Genesis in English class, right? It's probably a good thing, though, that this guy isn't in charge anymore:

Rabbi Siegel was originally the school’s principal, but he hired someone else after people said it was inappropriate for a rabbi to oversee instruction. Rabbi Siegel, who does not have a congregation, said it should not have mattered.

“One of the most ridiculous complaints is that the line between culture and religion is so thin,” he said. “Who better to make that distinction than a rabbi?”

Who, indeed?

1 comment:

Zsommand said...

Why is this a topic which draws attention in US?