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Shalom Aleichem/Salaam Aleikum to Self-Segregation

Controversy continues to swirl around the Arabic-language Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York and (as Michael previously noted) its bizarro cousin, the Hebrew-language Ben Gamla charter school in Hollywood, Florida. The criticism of both schools is driven by skepticism … Read More

By / September 6, 2007

Controversy continues to swirl around the Arabic-language Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York and (as Michael previously noted) its bizarro cousin, the Hebrew-language Ben Gamla charter school in Hollywood, Florida. The criticism of both schools is driven by skepticism regarding the secular nature of the schools. It is easy to dismiss the critics as the usual suspects, from Daniel Pipes to the ACLU, but the schools have also drawn criticism from less ideological figures. Recently in the New York Times Magazine, Jewcy's favorite constitutional law scholar Noah Feldman took the view that the projects of isolating Islam from a Arab cultural curriculum and Judaism from Jewish cultural curriculum were ultimately futile tasks, and therefore both schools were of dubious constitutional legitimacy.

Although it cannot be known for certain before they have begun instruction, Khalil Gibran and Ben Gamla seem poised to teach religion as a set of beliefs to be embraced rather than as a set of ideas susceptible to secular, critical examination. What, after all, is the point of a Jewish cultural school if not to bring the students to appreciation and acceptance of Jewish values? And what are those values if not the outgrowth of Judaism's millenniums of religious faith and practice? Not that Judaism without God is impossible. Secular Zionism sought to redirect yearning for God's redemption toward a national homeland. Likewise, Arab nationalism was born from the effort to supplant Islamic religious membership with a secular, cultural identity. But in both cases, the surgery designed to excise God was only partly successful, and there is ample reason to anticipate a recurrence in the classroom as there has been in the rest of the world.

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