During the recent High Holidays, Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values became a focal point for sermons by a number of rabbis.
Members of the Montreal Jewish community remain on edge over the Parti Québecois government’s controversial charter, which would place a ban on religious symbols. If adopted, public servants such as judges, police, prosecutors, public daycare workers, teachers, school employees, hospital workers and municipal personnel would only be allowed to wear small, inconspicuous religious symbols such as necklaces, rings or earrings with crosses or the Star of David. Headgear such as a turban, kippa or hijab would be forbidden.
On Kol Nidre, Rabbi Lionel Moses of Shaare Zion Congregation said he believes that the objective of the PQ is to create a religiously neutral Quebec society that they imagine would unite the province under one set of values shared universally by every person in Quebec.
“A lofty goal, but we Jews and many of the ethnic minorities who have succeeded in immigrating to Quebec have already experienced societies that have tried to impose a single religious or ethnic or even cultural stamp on their society with the expectation that everyone live by it,” he said. “As Jews, we have experienced every type of intolerance and prejudice, racial and ethnic prejudice in Nazi Germany, religious intolerance throughout medieval Europe and cultural intolerance in the former Soviet Union to name but a few of the better known examples.
“In Germany, we also learned that intolerance can be legislated democratically. Intolerance breeds hatred and hatred leads to persecution and persecution results in the mass murder of innocent civilians. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch from a law banning hijabs, turbans and kippas in the public employee sector to the type of overt economic and physical persecution we Jews experienced in Nazi Germany or the former Soviet Union. When did a physician’s kippa or hijab or turban ever harm a patient? When did a kippa or hijab or turban at the SAQ (Société de alcools du Québec) or Revenu Quebec prevent anyone from getting the wine or liquor they wanted or an answer to a question about their taxes? The answer to these and a thousand other questions like it is never.”
Rabbi Michael Whitman from Congregation Adath Israel in Hampstead said, “It saddens me that in Quebec, this wonderful province, so many people look at someone like me wearing a kippa as something negative, to be protected against – automatically incapable of serving others with the highest levels of dignity, respect and fairness. What have I done, just by putting on a kippa, to lose the confidence of Quebecers?”
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Congregation in Côte Saint-Luc pulls no punches either.
“It’s wrong,” he said. “Anyone who cares about democracy – Jew, Muslim, Christian or atheist – should oppose this law. Democracy is not only based on the rule of the majority, but also on protecting the rights of the minority. John Locke describes the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ where a larger group removes the rights from a smaller group. Sadly, by removing rights from some people, they are undermining the rights of all people.
“This is misguided; a solution without a problem. Is there a serious issue with kippas and hijabs in the public service? Have there been complaints? Some proponents of the law say they are concerned with Muslim fundamentalism. But this is not the solution. Forcing Muslim women to remove their hijabs to find work will not moderate Muslims; it will only alienate Muslims. In France, laws against the hijab have marginalized Muslims, and empowered the radicals. The French model is a terrible one.
“This is mean-spirited. There is no question that this is a political gimmick, done purely to gain votes. The Marois government knows that this charter will have particular appeal for people with deep prejudices, and she hopes to garner political benefit from these prejudices. And now there is a steady stream of racist acts, the easily foreseeable consequences of a law that focuses on removing rights from minorities.”
Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation, also in Côte Saint-Luc, said of the PQ: “They are incapable of providing a coherent answer to what problem this charter solves.
“They speak of Quebec values yet ignore the foundational values of tolerance and religious freedom. This proposal is nothing but an attempt to exploit xenophobia for short-term political gain, with no concern for the lasting damage to communal harmony.”
By Mike Cohen, The Jewish Tribune