Monday, May 04, 2020

Marvin Schick, Advocate for the Orthodox Community, Dies at 85 

Marvin Schick, a pioneering advocate for the rights of Orthodox Jews to maintain their religious practices in the places they worked, died on April 23 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 85.

The cause was a heart attack, his son Avi said.

Mr. Schick grew up in an America where Orthodox Jews often faced painful choices in trying to earn a living: turn down jobs that demanded they forgo yarmulkes and remain beyond sunset on the eve of Sabbath or resign themselves to flouting their religious traditions. That began to change sharply in the 1960s because of activists like Mr. Schick.

In 1965 he founded the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, known as COLPA, which successfully brought lawsuits and sought new legislation. And as a liaison to the Jewish community for Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York, he carved out other accommodations for the Orthodox. In the wake of such ferment, American society and law became more sensitive to the sometimes arcane needs of the Orthodox.

Municipal hospitals and jails offered kosher food. Government agencies and public utilities paved the way for Orthodox communities to set up eruvim — demarcated boundaries between which Orthodox followers were allowed to carry small items like keys and push baby carriages on the Sabbath. Orthodox Jews in the military were allowed to retain their yarmulkes and beards. And after a lawsuit brought by COLPA, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company agreed to accommodate the schedules of those who observed the Sabbath.

While Mr. Schick worked for the city, the Lindsay administration even arranged for Hasidic families in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to be given priority for apartments on the lower three floors of public housing so that they would not have to press elevator buttons on the Sabbath.

Perhaps most important, as a result of legal battles brought by COLPA and Roman Catholic organizations as well, government was allowed to provide aid to yeshivas and day schools in a few discrete categories — like transportation, textbooks and computers — after the courts ruled that such help did not violate the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.

"In the 1950s, people thought we were residual and we were going to die out," said Samuel Heilman, a distinguished professor of sociology at the City University of New York and the author of several books on the Orthodox world. "People like Schick came along and said America is a free country and allows people to practice as they see fit."

Mr. Schick, who was an ordained rabbi and had a doctorate in political science, taught political science and constitutional law at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and the New School for many years. He wrote a book on the American judge and judicial philosopher Learned Hand (1872-1961), "Learned Hand's Court" (1970).

For over 40 years, Mr. Schick was the unpaid president of Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious yeshivas, whose alumni include Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Robert Aumann, who won the 2005 Nobel in economic science. Mr. Schick helped rejuvenate the school and transplanted it from its dilapidated home among the tenements of the Lower East Side to two campuses on Staten Island and one in Edison, N.J.


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