Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Israeli Public School Bans Student-Initiated Recess Prayers

Maayana Miskin and Ezra HaLevi

The “Ohel Shem” public high school in Ramat Gan has decided to prohibit students from holding group prayers on school grounds during breaks. School officials and parents came to Jerusalem on Monday to discuss the issue with the Knesset’s Education Committee.School officials argued that the students would be allowed to leave school grounds and attend prayer services in a nearby synagogue if they wished to do so. Holding prayers on school grounds was a “provocation,” they said, with one official blaming the school prayers on “a group of extremist sources, who are trying to bring other students back to religion.” Other officials and parents also cited fears that outside sources were attempting to make students religious.

Religious MKs were outraged on Monday by the school’s decision that the students should pray elsewhere.

MK Yaakov Ben-Yizri (Shas) said that he himself became religious as a young man, and encourages others to become religious. He accused the officials of attempting to delegitimize Judaism, and said “Do you think prayer is some sort of fatal virus... that will damage the secular children in the school?” He rejected attempts to portray religious leaders as preying on the poor and weak, saying that secular Jews who decide to become religious are generally intelligent and well educated.

MK Shmuel Halpert (UTJ) expressed outrage, calling the ban on prayer “a classic case of anti-religious coercion.” If Jewish students had been forbidden to pray in any other country, he said, the entire Knesset would have been horrified

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