Police in France raided a well-known Orthodox Jewish school, arresting 16 teachers for alleged child abuse and placing dozens of underage students provisionally under the state’s custody.
The raid Monday on Beth Yossef, a prestigious boarding school-style yeshiva near Paris attended by many students from Israel and the United States, was the largest-scale operation in recent history against a Jewish school in France, and the first time that the entire faculty of such an institution was arrested.
At least 42 underage students from the yeshiva in the Paris suburb of Bussières (Seine-et-Marne) were placed at an undisclosed child welfare facility, Le Figaro reported. The state has assumed custody of the children provisionally for five days, during which attempts will be made to reunite them with their families abroad, the report said.
The status of any child whose legal guardian will not be located at the end of those five days will be determined by a family court, the report said.
The Prosecutor’s office of Meaux, a municipality east of Paris, said in a statement that the raid was over “sequestration, confiscation of IDs, unsuitable living conditions, maltreatment, denial of access to education and other services without the possibility of allowing [students] to return to their families.”
According to Agence France-Presse, police began investigating Beth Yossef in July, after a student left the institution and sought the help of staff at the U.S. embassy in Paris.
Attempts by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to reach staff of Beth Yossef, which was founded in 1948, were not immediately successful. An accountant working for the institution said he had not been able to contact his employers since the arrest. Reports in the French media about the arrests did not include the reaction of the institution to the allegations.
Meyer Habib, a lawmaker in the French National Assembly and a former vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, told JTA that he does not have information about the conditions at Beth Yossef, and can therefore “not assess at this point the merit of the allegations.”
According to Habib, who has been following the affair, “there are all kinds of claims circulating: On the one hand, that things that shouldn’t happen did happen at Beth Yossef. And on the other hand, that this is a case of students settling scores with teachers.”
What is known, he said, “is that the children are well, they are together in one place, they are getting kosher food and their legal guardians are being contacted.” Habib also said that “it is sad that this happened at such a reputable institution.”
The raid at Beth Yossef occurred amid a crackdown against unlicensed schools in France that began in 2020. The move, announced by French President Emmanuel Macron, was widely understood to be aimed at curbing the activities of informal Muslim schools as part of a broader push against radical Islam. Many French Jews have supported the crackdown.
Asked whether the raid at Beth Yossef could be collateral damage in the crackdown on Muslim counterparts amid fears of radicalization, Habib said: “It’s a good question. It’s a question we will be asking in the coming days.”
A task force set up to lead the crackdown on unlicensed schools — the Inter-ministerial Taskforce of Vigilance and Fight against Sectarian Movements — has also flagged the school, the report said.
Orthodox schools in Western Europe have come under increasing pressure by authorities in recent years to conform to mandatory curriculums.
Among other issues, European officials have objected to the segregation of male and female students and the instruction of the theory of evolution by natural selection in Orthodox schools. The tension has resulted in inspections, loss of public funding and citations for noncompliant and partially-compliant institutions. Arrests, however, have been extremely rare.