One of Britain’s leading Strictly Orthodox rabbis has said state interference in religious education is “possibly the most serious” issue facing Jews in the UK since the expulsion ordered by Edward I over 700 years ago.
Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the Gateshead Rav, said “the Jews of England feel that they are in an emergency situation” over demands by Ofsted, the education watchdog, for schools to acknowledge the existence of same-sex couples and those of transgender status as part of teaching “British values” of respect and tolerance.
“I believe it’s the most serious problem facing Yiddishkeit in England,”, he said in an interview published by American Orthodox magazine Ami.
He added: “And if it isn’t addressed, we pashut [simply] won’t be able to stay there.”
Although, reflecting on whether Jews would leave, he suggested: “Probably not”.
While British values were fine in the abstract, he explained, Ofsted had introduced a new demand for schools to mention what the magazine described as “people with alternative lifestyles”.
The requirement was part of a “larger cultural battle”, he said, that had led to “overall interference in our religious education”.
Schools were also being required to teach about other faiths and evolution.
The progressive left, he argued, was not satisfied with having achieved equality and acceptance of “things that were once considered a mental illness or a crime… They want to force all of us to accept them. It isn’t enough that we don’t discriminate.”
Rabbi Zimmerman said senior rabbis from across the country had recently agreed the need for a unified front at a meeting which included representatives from the London, Federation and Manchester Batei Din.
Asked if American Jewish activists should get involved, he believed it would be “helpful”, although he did not speak for everyone in England.
The Gateshead Rav, who leads a community of more than 3,000 Strictly Orthodox Jews, also said a letter he had signed five years ago to dissuade Orthodox rabbis from attending the Limmud Festival had been successful.
It had been written following the decision of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to go to the event for the first time that year.
The letter, Rabbi Zimmerman explained, had targeted the rabbis of synagogues under the Chief Rabbi’s auspices – half of whom were graduates of Gateshead and a quarter from Lubavitch.
While only eight rabbis from United Synagogue-type congregations had gone to Limmud in 2013, only one went in the past year, he said. “Ultimately only the most isolated left-wing rabbis attended.”