Government Funding for Yeshivos: A Right We Should Demand



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    Government Funding for Yeshivos: A Right We Should Demand

    There are those in the community that say that we should stay away from accepting any Government funding and they say that we should not be encouraging the Government to get involved in any way with religious education. What is the Rebbe’s approach to Government funding for schools? Rabbi Gershon Avtzon answers in this week’s Chinuch and Moshiach column • Full Article

    By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

    Question: I am the administrator of a local day-school. In our state, there is a special voucher program for all chartered schools, including religious schools. If we were to get approved for this funding, it would allow us to significantly grow the enrollment and alleviate many financial stresses. There are those in the community that say that we should stay away from accepting any Government funding and they say that we should not be encouraging the Government to get involved in any way with religious education. What is the Rebbe’s approach to Government funding for schools?

    Answer: (1) In 1961, there was much discussion about the Government funding of religious schools, including Yeshivos and Talmud Torah’s. During Tishrei of 5722 (1961), the Rebbe received a letter from Rabbi Dov Aryeh Chait a”h of Boston, asking the Rebbe to clarify his stance on this issue. The Rebbe responded:

    Refusing Funding Weakens Torah Education

    “I have already published my opinion with its reasoning (See Likkutei Sichos Vol. 8 p. 302 for a very detailed rebuttal of all the complaints against Yeshivos accepting such funding) and it was also published in the Hamaor Torah journal which I am sure that you have a copy of. My general outlook is as follows:”

    “Chazal told us that Yerushalayim was destroyed because the Jews at the time stopped the learning of young children. Who has the audacity to think of preventing such funding which would definitely increase the enrollment of children in Jewish schools?! If the Torah learning of children could not be interrupted even for the building of the Beis Hamikdash, how much more so in this case where there are only abstract (or very small possibility) of negative repercussions. 

    “A “proof” that the frum institutions and their leadership should think about (so that they should be convinced to take the funding, despite certain objections raised by some official Jewish institutions), is that those against the funding of religious schools (with the official reason that they are protecting religious liberty etc), were the same ones which were against parochial schools [to begin with]; [a parochial school is a “private primary or secondary school affiliated with a religious organization” — Ed.), against religious schools receiving funding from local federations; against the “released time program” [where public school children can learn about religion for one hour a week] in the public schools, etc.” (Igros, Vol. 22 p. 6; #8223).

    We Must Demand It!

    (2) In 1963, the Rebbe wrote a long letter to the Iggud HaRabbanim of America. They were having their annual summer conference and the Rebbe wrote them a letter in which he outlined the “needs of the time” that should be discussed by the conference. One of the points was Government funding for schools and Yeshivos. The Rebbe wrote the following:

    “Another point is the idea of Federal Government funding for ‘Parochial schools.’ I have made my position abundantly clear many times about the necessity of such funding. There is no true foundation to object to such funding and on the contrary: It is a sacred responsibility for everyone to publicly and clearly demand such funding (for our schools). (Ibid, p.475; #8688).

    Is There Truly “Separation of Religion and State” In America?

    (3) Once we are discussing the Rebbe’s approach to the “Separation of Government and Religion” doctrine, I would like to quote a small excerpt from a long letter that the Rebbe wrote defending his position of having a “Moment of Silence” or prayer in all Public Schools:

    Without going into the question whether there actually exists a strict separation between State and Church in this country (for there are undeniable facts to the contrary, e.g., the institution of Chaplaincy in the armed forces; the opening of Congress with a prayer; the motto “In G‑d we trust” on American currency, the emphasis on Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence; etc., etc.) (From an English letter dated 26 Sivan 5724 (1964))

    The Moshiach Connection

    On January 25 1984, President Ronald Reagan gave his annual State of the Union address. In the middle of his speech he said the following: 

    I will continue to press for tuition tax credits to expand opportunities for families and to soften the double payment for those paying public school taxes and private school tuition. Our proposal would target assistance to low and middle-income families. Just as more incentives are needed within our schools, greater competition is needed among our schools. Without standards and competition, there can be no champions, no records broken, no excellence in education or any other walk of life.”

    “And while I’m on this subject, each day your members observe a 200-year-old tradition meant to signify America is one nation under God. I must ask: If you can begin your day with a member of the clergy standing right here leading you in prayer, then why can’t freedom to acknowledge God be enjoyed again by children in every schoolroom across this land?”

    The next Shabbos (Mishpatim 5744), the Rebbe spoke at length about this speech — and even commented on how many standing ovations the president received — and the Rebbe said that this concept (of having funding to send children to religious schools) is taste of the Messianic prophecy that “Kings will be serving you.”

    In these times when this funding and more in New York State is being challenged, let us stand strong and proud in defending the chinuch of Jewish children without compromises!

    ***

    Rabbi Gershon Avtzon is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Cincinnati and a well sought-after speaker and lecturer.

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