Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bernie Farber's chutzpah

The Hebrew word pilpul precisely sums up the verbal gymnastics of Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, on the Three Wishes issue. A means of reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable in Jewish law and its interpretations, pilpul has come to mean the use of increasingly fine distinctions in argument, often in casuistical fashion.

Mr. Farber doesn’t want to be branded a censor, as he indignantly makes clear in today's Globe and Mail. But, on behalf of the CJC, he sent a letter to all school boards in Ontario, "asking them to reconsider" whether this book is appropriate for Grades 4-6. The Ontario Library Association (OLA) says it is, but the latter, Farber states, with breathtaking chutzpah, are not experts on curriculum design.

That the same is true of Mr. Farber and the CJC is obvious, but that didn't stop them, and a few school boards have caved in. Farber praised the Toronto District School Board in particular for “courageously decid[ing] that
Three Wishes is best read by students in older elementary grades, knowing full well that a decision running contrary to the position of the OLA might engender controversy.”

The hard fact is that making decisions contrary to the position of the CJC can land one in controversy too. Nobody wants to be branded an anti-Semite, and for these boards, discretion was clearly the better part of valour when an official letter from the CJC landed on their desks.

The upshot? The book is now banned from several classrooms, whose children are deemed unready by the CJC to hear the voices of their faraway cousins in Israel and Palestine. If that isn’t censorship, what is?

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