Last I heard, Hebrew was just a language

If I remember correctly, the New York Times was not that upset about a tax funded school in New York devoted to giving Muslims a proper Arabic and Muslim culture education. I guess it was just sleeping the day that news story came out. Today, it’s wide awake and really wants people to be upset about a Florida school teaching Hebrew, of all things! Despite the fact that millions of secular Jews, not to mention Israeli Arabs, speak Hebrew as their day-to-day language, the Times is pretty sure that Hebrew language education is a sneaky back door to the evil Judeo-Christian Bible (emphasis mine):

The new public school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard stands out despite its plain gray facade. Called the Ben Gamla Charter School, it is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.

About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.

Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries.

But supporters say the school is no different from hundreds of others around the country with dual-language programs, whose popularity has soared in ethnically diverse states like Florida.

“It’s not a religious school,” said Peter Deutsch, a former Democratic member of Congress from Florida who started Ben Gamla and hopes to replicate it in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. “South Florida is one of the largest Hebrew-speaking communities in the world outside Israel, so there are lots of really good reasons to try to create a program like this here.”

The battle over Ben Gamla parallels one in New York over Khalil Gibran International Academy, a new public school that will focus on Arabic language and culture. But some who have followed the evolution of both schools say Ben Gamla could prove more problematic. As a charter school that receives public money but is exempt from certain rules, they say, it is subject to less oversight.

Someone ought to remind people out there that language is a vehicle for thought and not the same as thought itself. The fact that Pagan Romans spoke Latin in their day-to-day lives, only to have time turn it into the language of both the Catholic liturgy and medieval politics should be more than sufficient to demonstrate that language is not religion.

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