STORY: Step inside the classroom of an Orthodox Haredi Jewish school in London
where the pupil’s faith-based education is feared to be at risk of state intrusion.
(Rabbi Hershel Gluck)
“Leave us alone, allow us to be ourselves to allow us to keep our identity.”
(Rabbi Asher Gratt)
"This is basically a campaign which is to completely eradicate our belief in God.”
15-year-old Yossi Hamilton and his peers pour over sacred texts
as their Jewish ancestors did for over two thousand years.
It’s part of a curriculum that he says prepares him for his future.
"Really what I want to do for the rest of my life is, or as long as possible, I want to sit and ponder the Talmudical texts, but as long as I can, and after that then I can go out into the workforce and add to the English economy,"
This special faith-based education – taught in private schools or at home - is profoundly important to his strictly Orthodox community.
There are 80,000 Haredi Jews in Britain,
many of whom are the descendants of Holocaust survivors and are extremely protective of their way of life.
But the community - along with some Muslim and Christian groups in Britain is deeply troubled by a new proposal backed by the British government to register all home-schooled children.
Although the proposed new legislation wouldn't directly affect pupils in schools such as Hamilton's,
faith groups see it as the state exercising more control over education and fear it could ultimately lead to new rules on what children are taught, both at home and at school.
Rabbi Zvi Levovics is one of the headteachers at Hamilton's school:
"We’ve been around for thousands of years as you know if you read the history. And the only reason that we have survived until now is because of the education and once that is uprooted or undermined we will lose our children. So we really feel it’s a threat."
In Britain - all children from the age of five must be in full-time education.
They can be in state school, private schools, or home educated.
The government says it needs the new legislation as there's no legal obligation to report whether a child is home schooled.
It estimates more than 86,000 children were being taught at home as of early 2023.
Conservative lawmaker Flick Drummond is behind the bill in England.
She says the legislation has no intention of targeting faith communities.
"I want every local authority to know exactly where the children in their area where they are and how they are being educated. They won’t be allowed to say you’ve got to do this you’ve got to do that. That’s not the point of the bill at all. There are children falling through the net at the moment, they are the ones I am really concerned about."
Once local authorities know a child is being home schooled, they are able to check - just as in schools - that the quality of the education is suitable.
The definition of ‘suitable’ – and who defines it – is the sticking point.
At present, it’s defined as including numeracy, literacy and skills to equip them for life within the wider community.
Hamilton’s high school in North London was deemed not to have met this mark.
The pupil’s nine-hour day begins with intense learning of the Talmud, a study of Jewish law,
and is followed by core subjects such as maths and English, as well as sports.
But lessons omit the modules on sex education and sexual diversity typically taught to their secular peers,
which are deemed inappropriate or contrary to biblical teachings by the school.
Pupils use computers, but smart phones are not allowed.
The boys leave at 16 to pursue advanced religious studies before marriage and careers typically in commerce.
An inspection by Ofsted - the government's educational standards office - found that the school’s teaching didn’t pay enough regard to respecting gender and sexual orientation, saying it limited pupils' preparation for life in modern Britain.
Despite government assurances about the intentions of the register, the Haredim like rabbis Sher Gratt and Hershel Gluck fear interference.
(Rabbi Hershel Gluck)
"And Judaism for us is our identity. It’s the very essence of who we are. And therefore to deny the Jewish community the ability to pass over, to transmit Judaism from one generation to the next, what that is, the very basis of what this legislation is attempting to achieve is denying the very air that we breathe from the Jewish community.”
(Rabbi Asher Gratt)
"Children will be required to violate fundamental religious laws and values and this would be putting our way of life at risk. This is basically a campaign which is to completely irradicate our belief in God.”
"It’s very good that the government are trying to raise the standards of education throughout England. But instead of looking at what they think we should be doing, they should look at the results. The boys that come, are they good, are they emotionally healthy? Can they join the workforce? Are they enjoying what they are doing? Etc, etc. And then they should base their evaluation on the school on that rather than what they think we should be doing."