Since 1952, Montreal’s Hasidic Yeshiva Toras Moshe high school has taught the ways of God and the Talmud to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Only five hours a week are dedicated to non-religious study. It has completely ignored several ultimatums from Quebec’s Education Ministry to change its curriculum and, by doing so, has become the poster child for reasonable accommodation run amok.
Now, however, it looks like Toras Moshe may be altering its ancient syllabus once and for all. You might call it peer pressure: two other Hasidic schools that have been fighting to keep their curricula intact recently announced that they will conform to Quebec’s education standards, and it looks like Toras Moshe may not be able to hold out on its own.
The Education Ministry recently gave Toras Moshe, as well as the Belz and Skver schools, until the fall to conform to provincial accreditation norms—meaning they must teach a minimum number of hours of non-religious subject matter. Belz and Skver, which are subsidized by the Quebec government, have both agreed to meet the government requests. Toras Moshe, which isn’t subsidized, hasn’t.
However, the school is in discussions with the province and will likely conform to the law once Belz and Skver have done so. School officials didn’t return calls, but a community spokesperson told Maclean’s that change is coming. “When the other two schools are settled, Yeshiva will begin negotiations,” he said. “Toras Moshe wants to come to a deal. I don’t know how, but we’ll do it.”
Alex Werzberger, a graduate of Toras Moshe and the ad hoc spokesperson for Montreal’s 17,000-strong Hasidic community, isn’t happy about the development. The Hasidic community, he points out, has managed to get this far without changing. “If it ain’t broke,” he says, “don’t fix it.”