MONTREAL (JTA) – Hasidic leaders in Montreal reacted angrily to police and youth protection officials locking down a Hasidic school for several hours.
Wednesday’s action, described by local media as a “raid,” ostensibly was conducted because the school was operating without a Quebec Education Ministry permit and not abiding by basic provincial curriculum requirements.
“This was really overkill,” community leader Alex Werzberger told the Canadian Jewish News. “If you want to use a stronger word: terrorism.”
Even though several Hasidic schools are under provincial scrutiny for the same reasons, this appeared to be the first time officials had staged a physical intervention.
One newspaper, Le Devoir, speculated that the raid was prompted by concern over the “development” of children at the school.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said in a statement that since the school in question was operating without a permit, intervention by youth protection would be legal.
“CIJA-Quebec believes that every child should have access to an education in line with the ministry’s requirements,” the statement said.
A former Hasidic Jew, Yohanan Lowen, is currently suing the Quebec government for allowing an illegal school to operate, claiming it deprived him of the secular education he was legally obliged to receive.
Many haredi Orthodox schools offer little secular education, particularly for boys, focusing instead on Judaic studies, and critics argue that such students enter adulthood unprepared to support themselves financially.
Similar complaints have been made by former Hasidic Jews in New York, where a nonprofit called Yaffed is pressing the state to enforce regulations requiring schools to meet curriculum standards. The group has also spearheaded a class-action lawsuit against several yeshivas and last year persuaded the New York City Department of Education to investigate secular education at the city’s numerous haredi Orthodox schools. That investigation has not been completed, and activists recently accused city officials of dragging their feet out of a reluctance to alienate haredi Orthodox political supporters.