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Guidelines set up to facilitate prayer in secular schools
EHUD ZION WALDOKS
01/29/2008
The Education Ministry will permit whomever wishes to pray during the school day, regardless of religion.
The Education Ministry announced during a Knesset Education Committee meeting Monday that it would allow secular students from secular schools to pray during school hours if they wish to do so. The decision was made against the backdrop of a rising number of secular high schoolers seeking to pray at school. At the end of December, the committee discussed options for alternative prayer venues for students at the secular Ohel Shem High School in Ramat Gan. MK Shlomo Benizri was sent to investigate off-campus possibilities. "I visited the Ohel Shem school and I checked out the options for a prayer space. The closest shul is not an option; the Bnei Akiva building is closed; [at] the Paratrooper's House, which is the current solution, they've been prevented from praying at least twice," Benizri told the committee. Shmuel Gross, who is in charge of the Ramat Gan district for the Education Ministry, told the committee that ministry Dir.-Gen. Shlomit Amihai had put together the following guidelines for allowing prayer in secular state schools: The Education Ministry will permit whomever wishes to pray during the school day, regardless of religion; the prayers will take place at a location to be determined by those in charge of the school building; if the space allocated for prayer is not inside the school building itself, it must be no more than a 10-minute walk away each way, and the entire time required to arrive at the prayer space, as well as pray, will be a recess for all students, he related. Committee head MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) was not pleased that the guidelines did not stress finding a place to pray within the school building. "If a school has 1,500 students and 10 of them want to pray, all students will be forced to recess for half an hour?" he declared. "Those students who have to wait around for those who are praying will resent the ones praying. Finding space within the school building will enable prayers to take place during the regularly scheduled break." Melchior urged the Education Ministry to adjust its guidelines to state that the first preference was for prayer to take place within the school, and only if that option were determined to be unfeasible would a place less than 10 minutes walk away be found. Ramat Gan Mayor Tzvi Bar also threw his support behind the notion during the meeting. "I have to find a comprehensive solution to students who wish to pray. I want to help solve the problem, and I ask that I be given some time to find places either within the school building or close by," he said.
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