Ultra-Orthodox protesters threaten to leave UK over sex education bill

The rabbis describes the legislation as “a threat to alter fundamental facets of Jewish practice.”

By World Israel News Staff

Hundreds of demonstrators from the hasidic community of Stamford Hill in north London gathered outside the British Parliament on Wednesday in protest over a proposed bill that would require religious Jewish schools (yeshivot) to teach secular subjects.

The rabbis leading the protest described Schools Bill 2022 as “a threat to alter fundamental facets of Jewish practice” and threatened that the entire haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community would leave the UK if the legislation wasn’t nixed.

Ahead of the protest, a local advocacy group called the Traditional Charedi Chinuch’s Rabbinical Committee (‘Chinuch’ is Hebrew for education) issued a statement saying that the bill “seeks to interfere” with religious life “by assimilating them into the lifestyle of the majority.”

The committee said the bill would require them “to teach secular teachings in a manner that is in direct contradiction to their religious beliefs, thereby violating the rights of parents and their children to practice their religion.”

The bill would require yeshivot to become regulated and teach secular subjects, including LGBT rights and sex education. They would also be subjected to routine inspections from the UK’s monitoring body, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).

As of now, yeshivot remain unregulated because of a loophole in the education system that does not classify them as schools.

Some 1,500 boys aged 13 to 16 currently study in such yeshivot, according to estimates by the London borough of Hackney, where Stamford Hill is located.

Thousands concerned, attend meeting

Around 2,000 community members attended a meeting last month to protest the legislation.

Rabbi Asher Gratt, a community activist at the forefront of the protest, said the bill “amounts to a decree of expulsion from Great Britain for haredi Jews.”

During the protest, Gratt said it “threatens to dismantle the very fabric of our community. It is a threat to our way of life, our very survival as a distinct religious community.”

“Please do not take away our religious freedom. Parents have fundamental rights to educate their children in their own way,” Gratt implored British lawmakers, according to the London-based Jewish Chronicle.

Moshe Mayer Sterngold said the threat “reminds us of the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition.” The whole community “would leave,” the report cited him as saying.

Some of the organizers came under fire for evoking the Holocaust in an effort to get the bill cancelled. During the protest, which was advertised under the banner of “Holocaust Survivors Stand Up Against Discriminatory Schools Bill,” organizers emphasized that Holocaust survivors were present.

“I have just spent two hours with one survivor, who was actually in the crematorium,” Gratt told the London-based Jewish News.

“Over the last week I have spoken to other survivors, they all feel scared and intimidated by the language the is in the Schools Bill. We have to stand up for our rights,” he said.