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July 01, 1988 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-07-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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V

Separation

Continued from preceding page

fer for a New York congressman. "When
the Agudah people come by, people listen."
"The range of our interests is tremend-
ous," Zwiebel says, "but the most promi-
nent focus is education. We formally
represent the schools that come under the
umbrella of the national Society for
Hebrew Day Schools— 500 or more, and
growing. At the same time, we represent
the interests of the higher education
community—about 60 schools associated
with the Association of Advanced Rab-
binic and Talmudic Schools."
Zwiebel doesn't mince words when it
comes to Agudah's approach to federal
money for education. "Our philosophy in
education is that we try to have our cake
and eat it, too. On the one hand, we tell
government that our schools and their
students should not be discriminated
against; whatever neutral forms of aid are
made available to the rest of society should
be made available to us as well. Translated
into a short sentence, this means 'we like
money from the government.'
"At the same time, we tell the govern-
ment, 'keep your cotton-picking hands out
of our schools. Don't over-regulate us to the
point where we'd lose our identity. We don't
like it when the government imposes on us
certain anti-discrimination provisions we
can't live with."
Agudath Israel doesn't hesitate to go
into the trenches to fight what they see as
any attempt to "encumber" their right to
free religious expression. When New York
Mayor Ed Koch tried to fight discrimina-
tion against homosexuals with an execu-
tive order requiring non-discriminatory
policies by institutions receiving public
money, Agudath Israel took the city to
court—and won.

Strange Alliances

NOT SELECTED ITEMS

MENIIIIIIV

Zwiebel admits that their positions on
"morality issues" frequently result in very
strange alliances. In the New York case,
Zwiebel worked side by side with represen-
tatives of the Christian Right, leading to
charges that Agudath Israel had made
common cause with groups that tradition-
ally have little use for Jews.
"The truth of it is, it's a very uncomfor-
table question," Zwiebel says. "Ultimately,
the answer is that we live by our principles.
There are times when there are other peo-
ple with similar principles whom we don't
identify with in any way. But those are still
the principles we stand for, and the prin-
ciples we'll fight for. If we had lost, we
would have given up our city money—
about $6 million. It would have meant the
closing down of our senior citizens pro-
grams, much of our housing division, and
several others. But we were prepared to bite
the bullet, and make a stand on our prin-
ciples."
Agudath Israel participates in coalitions
as a matter of political expedience—but
they reject the kind of coalition politics

that is an article of faith among "centrist"
Jewish activists. 119 groups like the Union
of American Hebrew Congregations, coali-
tion-building is at the heart of the political
process; the best way to safeguard the
future of American Jewry is to work for
social and economic justice for all
Americans.
Agudath Israel, coalitions are strict-
ly marriages of convenience. Suggestions
for alliances with other groups never
penetrate Agudah's outer shell. David
Zwiebel has some latitude for compromise
on issues—but only within the clear bound-
aries set by the panel of rabbis.
"We're not opposed to coalitions," he
says. "But we are against the kind of coali-
tion politics that involves compromising
one's principles and losing one's identity as
a Jew."
Agudath Israel stands squarely against
another mainstay of Jewish politics—the
endless battle to enforce the separation of
church and state.
"There are instances when we think that
a rigid wall of separation amounts to
discrimination," Zwiebel says. "Take this
child care issue as an example; to design
it in a way so that its benefits flow only
to persons who are comfortable putting
their children into certain types of
surroundings is a form of discrimination.
Our people would not feel comfortable put-
ting their children into certain environ-
ments; should they be forced to do so in
order to receive federal money? That's
something we've spoken out on very
strongly."
In the case of the child care bill, Agudath
Israel has tended to side with the U.S.
Catholic Conference—another group deter-
mined to use federal money for sectarian
services.
Agudath Israel is also staunchly anti-
abortion, though its opposition contains
Talmudic wrinkles that distinguish it from
the blanket opposition of most anti-abor-
tion groups. While Agudah leaders oppose

"We're not opposed to
coalitions, but we are
against the kind of
coalition politics that
involves compromising
one's principles and
losing one's identity as a

abortion on demand, they also oppose
legislation outlawing abortion when ter-
mination of pregnancy is required by
Jewish law—for example, when a full-term
pregnancy would endanger the life of the
mother.
It was their position on abortion that led
Agudath Israel to actively support last
year's nomination of Robert Bork to the

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