The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Fly in the Ointment: Haredi Separatism and the Liberal State

The insistence of OFSTED, the UK school inspectorate, that haredi schools teach their pupils about LGBT relationships has shocked American observers who are unfamiliar with the highly centralized nature of even private education in the UK. This lecture will look at the issues from two perspectives, the first is that of the British State for whom the clash with the haredi community is an unwelcome distraction from its core agenda of introducing advanced liberal values to the British population who are not members of separatist communities through the education system. The combination of the intransigence of the haredi community and the British State’s traditional fastidiousness about the consistent enforcement of rules has turned this into an accidental dispute over religious freedom and parental rights.

The second perspective is the role of the haredi community in subverting the function of immigration in the liberal state. There are many drivers of immigration, of which one is obviously the insatiable appetite of business for lower wages, but the most consistent is the use of immigrant communities as justification for emptying the British public sphere – including its schools – of any specifically British content, be it cultural, religious or ethnic, which would exclude immigrant communities, so that liberalism can replace it as a neutral set of values to which all can adhere. The most intractable obstacles today, however, to the further progress of liberalism, come from minority communities who have taken the promise of diversity literally. This problem is not solvable through the neutral application of general rules, and it is not clear how the British State will respond when this becomes too apparent.