Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Etrog v. Kurtzman

A letter to my school paper.

To the editor:
As a [School] teacher and a religious Jew, I was disturbed to read in the November 4 [Newspaper] that two Lubavitch rabbis had come to classrooms and hallways and led students in Jewish rituals during the holiday of Sukkot. [School] is a public school, funded by the taxpayers of New York, and therefore should not be imposing religion (whether a majority or a minority religion) on any student. America is a place where people of all religions, as well as people of no religion, are able to thrive, precisely because of the separation of church and state codified in the First Amendment. Entanglement between government and religion is harmful to both government and religion.

It is true that learning about Sukkot in a Hebrew class can serve a valid educational goal, much like learning about Cinco de Mayo in a Spanish class, since Sukkot has a deep cultural significance alongside its religious significance. However, it seems from the article that cultural education is not all that went on. The Hebrew prayer said over the lulav (palm branch) begins "Blessed are you, our God, ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with your commandments..." This is explicitly religious content, and to dismiss it as merely cultural (and thus acceptable in school) is to demean the religion.

Furthermore, the [Newspaper] reports that the rabbis asked passing students "Are you Jewish?". The [School] community encompasses many religious identities, including Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I am proud to be part of a school where students with all these identities can learn together in harmony. Compelling students, as these rabbis did, to divide themselves on the basis of religion or ethnicity runs counter to our community's values.

I do not know who invited these guests to [School], but I hope that future guests are more respectful of our multicultural community and of our constitutional protections.