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Charter Schools and Isidore of Seville

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

I have always been a fan of Charter Schools (naturally there are poor ones too). And I was always shocked that American Teachers’ Unions opposed them on principle and have consistently tried to block them. Even Barack Obama who campaigned for them because they helped the poorest and most disadvantaged children get far better results than public schools, capitulated to Union pressure once he was elected. The Wall Street Journal last week (June 16th) reported.

“Stanford’s Center for Research on Education has delivered the third in a series (2009, 2013, 2023) tracking Charter Schools outcomes over 15 years, covering two million charter students in 29 States and a control group in traditional public schools. Credo’s judgment is unequivocal. Most charter schools “produce superior student gains despite enrolling a more challenging student population.”

No surprise. But you may wonder what this has to do with St. Isidore of Seville. In the same edition an op-ed reports that Oklahoma has given its approval to a new Charter School.

“Saint Isidore of Seville Catholic virtual school is a joint venture of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa diocese. It will serve students statewide to bring high-quality Catholic education to those who need it most as the state’s bishops explained after the vote. The school will be founded in the Catholic intellectual traditions of excellence and provide innovative educational options for underserved populations including students in rural areas Hispanic native communities and those with special educational needs.”

Isidore of Seville was the Archbishop of Seville in Spain and an outstanding Christian scholar who was influenced by Greek philosophy. He lived from around 560-636 CE at a time when Christianity was converting the pagan Visigoth kings of Spain (who had helped bring an end to the Roman Empire) to Christianity. Christianity was split between those who believed Jesus actually was of God. And the opposition, called Aryans, said he was just the son of God.

Isidore led the campaign to defeat Arianism and impose central authority on Christian Spain.

At the same time, he tried his best to convert the Jews of Spain to Christianity. Even so, he objected to forced conversion and violence against the Jewish communities of Spain.

Despite the negative, there always were medieval Christian scholars such as Pico della Mirandola (1463 -1494), and Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522) to name only the most famous who studied Judaism and defended it against all the other clerics and Popes who restricted Jews, forcibly converted, killed, exiled them, and burned the Talmud. Not to mention the blood libel that accused Jews of killing children to drink their blood and eat their flesh for Passover. Still a favorite meme for antisemites.

Growing up in England I was taught about “The Glorious Crusades.” These murderous, barbaric excesses of intolerance and violence that swept through Europe during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries decimated Jewish communities and lives along their route toward Jerusalem to free it from the Muslim heretics. For a while they controlled Jerusalem, massacred all its Jews, and held on until the Muslims defeated and drove them out (and allowed the Jews to return). Glorious? For whom? I’d rather say they were revolting.

We would play sports against teams from schools with names of historical figures who were our oppressors and murderers. One school was named after Simon DE Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester (c. 1208 – 1265). Today there is also a Montfort University in Leicester. As Earl of Leicester, he expelled Jews from that city; as de facto ruler of England, he also canceled debts owed to Jews through violent seizures of records. DE Montfort was responsible for the massacre of the Jews of London, Worcester, Derby Winchester, and Lincoln.

Then there was Simon Langton (died 1248) an English Archbishop. In 1222 He introduced laws encouraging forced conversions, forcing Jews to wear badges forbidding Jews from mixing with Christians or building synagogues, imposing triple taxes on Jews, and supporting the Blood Libel.

And to cap them all Edward 1st (also known as Edward Longshanks was a great English hero (hated by the Scots), King of England from 1272 to 1307. Who having imprisoned and robbed the Jewish community, expelled them in 1292. All names are revered and celebrated to this very day. And no one gives a second thought to their antisemitism.

Throughout Europe, there are local monarchs and heroes still celebrated despite their records or antisemitism. Cross the Charles Bridge in Prague and you will see statues of clerics celebrated for attacking Jews, forcibly converting, or driving them out. There are memorials to local heroes who fought off their oppressors but at the same time killed Jews in their thousands, such as the Ukrainians Chmielnicki and Petlura. And no one bats an eyelid.

I don’t want to play the Oy Vey version of Jewish History. “They hated us, they killed us, but we survived, let’s eat.” They were not all bad then and not now. Many have seen and do see another side to us even if they fought for what they believed in. I do not object to Oklahoma using the name of Isidore of Seville or any other Christian saint. I wish them well and I think their values and goals are admirable. And I hope they teach the full story of the man, warts, and all. It doesn’t help to hold grudges. But neither should we not forget our own different history.

The prevailing intellectual climate now is to rake up all the old dirt and immerse oneself in anger and hatred. And I say history is his story and her story. We all have our own versions. but that should not prevent us from getting along with each other. A far bigger problem is the ideology that puts dogma before human needs. That hinders positive education because of personal agendas. That seeks to eradicate history instead of learning from it.


Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.


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