Can tax-funded schools teach Jewish culture (without God)?

A controversial Hebrew-language public school in Florida has apparently got Jewish mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt thinking big.

The Hollywood, Fla., school, a charter school, promises to teach Hebrew and Jewish history — without teaching Jewish religion.

There is much debate about whether or not this is possible.

Steinhardt, who made a ton on Wall Street and lives on a 51-acre estate in Bedford, is very intrigued, according to an “article”:http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14469 in the new Jewish Week.

tjndc5-5b4v8hzuq8i1fjy167p4_layout.jpgWhen I interviewed Steinhardt for a profile a few years back, he told me that one of his dreams was to start a series of secular Jewish day schools, which would teach Jewish culture and history but leave out the God parts.

Steinhardt (that’s him) is an atheist. But he life’s goal is to preserve the Jewish community in the U.S.

He told the Jewish Week that he has spent nearly $2 million over the last 10 years trying to set up secular Jewish schools. But now he sees the charter school option as a real possibility.

“The bulk of Jews today would probably consider themselves secular, and that easily fits under the rubric of a charter school,� Steinhardt told the JW. “It would create problems of church and state, but it would ultimately survive the problems.�

He recently met with Peter Deutsch, who founded the charter school in Florida, and the two may work together to create similar schools in other states.

Deutsch told the JW that he plans to open five more charter schools in Florida and one in LA next year. And he wants to open a high school in NY in 2009.

All with public money.

As the JW article makes clear, many in the Jewish education world are deeply concerned about where all this is going.

It’s mighty interesting, isn’t it?

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.