Netzer effectively banned at King David Schools

by Maskil on 20 Nov 2008

This article on the SAUPJ (SA Union for Progressive Judaism) website highlights the controversy surrounding what is effectively a ban against Netzer (the Reform youth group) activities at King David Schools (KDS) – the flagship schools of the SA Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) – in Gauteng.

My initial reaction? Disgusted but not surprised.

Due to a unique set of circumstances – and unlike elsewhere in the English-speaking world – Orthodoxy came to be exclusively identified with Judaism in SA. While Progressive Judaism and Reform Jews participated fully in Jewish life and institutions in SA, they did so provided that they “knew their place”, i.e. did not attempt to upset the status quo that regarded Orthodoxy as normative Judaism.

Rather than being content with this status quo, however, it appears that official Orthodoxy is doing everything it can to squeeze Progressive Judaism (and Reform Jews qua Reform Jews) out of Jewish institutional life. This is pretty much to be expected, and occurs wherever Orthodoxy tends to dominate Jewish public life (Israel being the prime example). It is also the opposite of what generally occurs in the Western Democracies, where cooperation and pluralism tend to prevail.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that matters have come to a head in this way, with the SAUPJ having now set up an online petition calling for Netzer’s access to KDS to be restored. To my mind, however, this still doesn’t go far enough.

I would actually like to see the Progressive community call on the SABJE to re-constitute all the Jewish day schools for which it is responsible (including KDS) as general community or pluralistic (rather than Orthodox) day schools. It should also withdraw support for schools that cater to only one part of the community (albeit currently the majority).

Failing this, the SABJE should be called on to reconstitute itself as the SABOE (SA Board of Orthodox Education) or SABHE (SA Board of Haredi Education), and a new, pluralist SABJE should then be established.

The Pluralist SABJE should call on all those within the Jewish community who espouse a pluralist approach to Judaism to withdraw all financial and other support from KDS, and establish a non-denominational Jewish day schools network, initially in Gauteng.

Support for such a network is likely to come not just from current KDS pupils, but also from those enrolled at secular and multi-cultural private schools such as Crawford and Eden, which currently perform the role that a non-denominational Jewish day schools network should be fulfilling. It is also likely that even students currently enrolled at government schools would be attracted to an open, pluralistic approach to Jewish education in SA.

One thing is clear, however: Things cannot be allowed to remain as they are. As I said in one of my previous pieces on this subject, “Jewish education is too important to be left in the hands of a cabal of Orthodox rabbis”.

The next institution to be tackled in the same manner is the SAJBoD (SA Jewish Board of Deputies), the SABJE’s silent partner in these shenanigans. The SAJBoD claims to speak on behalf of all of SA Jewry, but appears to do little to promote cooperation and tolerance between denominations in issues such as this.

Oh, and please don’t forget to sign the petition here, or join the Facebook group here.

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