May 13, 2010

Religious or secular coercion

Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger installed some mezuzas on the classrooms of a school run BY THE HaShomer HaTzair organization yesterday. HaShomer HaTzair has always been extremely anti-religious but they run a school in Mevaot Eyron that has students from all around the region, not necessarily affiliated with HaShomer HaTzair. Actually, according to the principal, about 80% of the student body come from different villages and towns in the area and are not part of the Hashomer HaTzair movement.

The school invited Rav Metzger to participate in the event and honored him with installing the mezuzas. It was a closed event with just a couple of the classes, 7 and 9, invited to participate.

After the fact, the older students, from classes 11 and 12, sent a letter of protest. They say the event was closed in order to prevent other students from stating their opposition, and the whole event was arranged in a way that was kept secret so nobody could oppose it. The HaShomer HaTzair respects the diversity of Judaism and the various styles, but installing mezuzas in their school is inappropriate and they do not want it. it is, they say, religious coercion, and symbolic of the Orthodox way being victorious over their way.

The principals response was that the event was closed because it was only for those classes, and not relevant for anyone else. They decided to have the event because the students requested it, as about 80% come from villages in the area and are not affiliated with HaShomer HaTzair, they happen to be overwhelmingly traditional and they wanted the mezuzas on the classroom. There was no coercion involved, and even if someone is anti-religious, there is no need to be anti-Jewish, as this was simply a ceremonial, something cultural, and no more than that. Classes that do not want to have a mezuza on their rooms will not have them. (source: mynet)

I agree with the elder students that religious coercion is bad and if they don't want mezuzas nobody should force them to have them, and for sure nobody should force students to kiss the mezuzas when they do not want to. Yet why does a small group of students think that they have a right to secular coercion - There was a large group of students that requested the mezuzas, and for this small group to oppose them is simply secular coercion. Nobody is forcing them to kiss the mezuza, or to even pay it any attention. They say they are proud of the diversity, yet they oppose recognizing that diversity in their own school, when 80% of the school is from other parts of the diversity of Judaism and Israel.

Just like they protest against religious coercion, they should be aware of when they are guilty of the same.

7 comments:

  1. you seem to be arguing that it is a majority-minority issue. i do not think you want to stick to that argument consistently in the israeli public arena.

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  2. The headline of Yediot today was "Secular Coercion".

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  3. It's still not clear to me why this would be religious coercion, even if the classes involved hadn't requested it. Noone is forcing anyone to do anything. The school was putting up mezuzahs. The fact that the students would be forced to sit in classrooms with a mezuzah on the door does not seem to me to be coercion of any kind.

    In addition, as there is no obligation to put a mezuzah on a door to a classroom, it seems to me that this isn't a religious activity at all.

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  4. If a majority of the students had wanted them, then the other grades would have been invited to the event--it would have been "relevent" to them. The principal probably knew what the 11th and 12th graders were thinking, and that's why he didn't invite them. This lends credence to what the older students are saying. Also, if the principal is saying the mezuzas can be taken down for classes which don't want them, why didn't he ask the students and not put them up in the first place?

    I am not saying that the principal was not in his right to have this event. I am saying he does seem to be white-washing the situation and down-playing the students' protest.

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  5. I understood not that he willt ake them down for those who dont want - he only put up the ones where they were specifically requested. other classes that do not request it will not get it.

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  6. Nice post Rafi,

    I had a different take on the whole issue which I blogged about here:
    http://betweenjerusalemandtelaviv.blogspot.com/2010/05/mezuzot-not-in-our-school.html

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  7. Yoni doesn't it become more of a question once people eat in the classroom?

    Reminds me of a lawsuit in LA that was eventually tossed, in which some were suing a "kosher soup kitchen" that it was discriminating against non-kosher patrons by only serving kosher.

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