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“Here in Cardiff, I pleaded with the Board of Education to permit the Jewish boys and girls to leave school on short Fridays an hour before sunset and the authorities complied with my request.” (Rabbi Asher Grunis in a letter to Editor dated 27th Sivan 1935.) This effort is documented in these replies to Rabbi Grunis.

Rabbi Grunis appears to have begun with a personal approach. The Cardiff Director of Education wrote on 8 December 1923, “I beg to state Alderman Thompson, Chairman of the Education Committee, has fixed an interview with you…”

Rabbi Grunis also approached the Board of Deputies of the British Jews. Their secretary advised him on 11 February 1924 : “We have to work very cautiously because not even a Minister of State can give an Order to a local Education Committee that they are to interpret an Act of Parliament otherwise than in accordance with its real legal meaning.” As the meaning was unclear it would unwise to test it. They add: “It is curious that the same difficulty does not appear to have arisen anywhere else.” It would seem that arrangements had been reached for Wood Street School, as it is suggested that other children be grouped there. The reference to ‘High Schools’, which could mean secondary schools, is here interpreted as “schools of a higher class”.

It appears Rabbi Grunis did not heed this advice. The Board of Education Private Secretary replied on 31 May 1924 that he would “lay before the President for his consideration” the matter of “Jewish children in Cardiff being granted the privilege of leaving school”.

Meanwhile Rabbi Grunis had also contacted the MP J C Gould who replied from Merthyr House on 6 June 1924 that “you have certainly secured good concessions so far, and I do not see why they will not grant the same concessions on the Secondary and also the remaining elementary schools of Cardiff”. He added, “I am putting your letter in front of the Minister of Education in the hope that such concessions will be granted.”

Rabbi Grunis had already written direct to the Minister on 29 May 1924. On 11 June 1924 Charles Trevelyan, who was President of the Board of Education (the post was not known as the Minister of Education before 1945), replied that “the matter is really one for arrangement between yourself and the Local Education Authority, and not one in which I could properly intervene.” He advised Rabbi Grunis to ask the Chief Rabbi about the arrangements that “worked smoothly” in London.

Local schools also replied to Rabbi Grunis. Radnor Road Boys’ School wrote on 9 December 1924: “In response to your request, the Jewish boys here were allowed out of school at 3.45 on Friday last” and would continue to be so. However, he raised another problem: “I desire to point out, however, that if boys are withdrawn before 4.15 (2 hours after the registers are marked), their attendances have to be cancelled.” Part of this letter appears to be missing but he advises that the Director of Education should be asked to send instructions to all schools.
(In an undated copy, the secretary of the Board of Deputies of the British Jews addressed the attendance issue, advising that parents have the right of giving notice to withdraw their children, but if the session has not lasted two hours “the child does not obtain marks for attendance during that Session”. He said that “where there are sufficient Jews to justify it”, some schools may commence earlier, or, “In other cases the last three quarters of an hour is not real work and no writing is done. This time is occupied in talks, reading and lectures.”

The Headmistress of Canton Municipal Secondary School wrote on 24 November 1925: “I have always respected your religious sentiments, and have allowed the girls to do whatever the elder ones tell me is necessary, although, as you will understand, it puts them to considerable disadvantage.
“As to leaving early on Fridays, I told the three elder girls to ask you, if it was really necessary, as some girls ask for it, and others do not…I do not know whether it is a matter of choice…They also tell me that they may stay to listen to a lesson provided they do not write.” After expressing concern over the older girls missing Arithmetic prior to Matriculation, she concludes, “They say that as it is so important, you have allowed them to be present for the explanations provided they do not write, but that you wish the younger girls to go in any case. If this is really necessary I will arrange for it.”

Elwyn James, Headmaster of Canton Secondary School for Boys on 14 September 1926 wrote: “I always have allowed Jewish pupils to leave school on Friday afternoons at such a time as enables them to conform with their religious duties.” He then requests exact information regarding times, “I note you require them to leave at 3.30 during November, December and January, will you please let me know up till what time they can remain in school in September, October, February and March.”

Radnor Road Girls' School wrote on 4 November 1927: “I beg to state that I shall be able to allow the Jewish pupils attending the above school, to leave school at 4 pm. on Fridays during November, December and January. They shall be exempt all writing work from 3.30 pm.”

Elwyn James, Headmaster of Canton Secondary School for Boys wrote again on 6 December 1927: “It is not my fault that Jewish boys did not attend Synagogue last Friday. They all know that they can leave school at 3.20 during December and January.”

City of Cardiff High Schools for Girls took a different tack (29 October 1931): “Any girl who wished to leave school at 3.30 pm on Friday afternoon will be permitted to do so if she brings me a note from her parents.”

The Headmistress of Marlborough Road Girls’ School (5 November 1931) seems to sum up the position: “I shall be very pleased to allow the Jewish Children – pupils of this school – to leave on Friday afternoons at 4 pm. sharp, in accordance with an arrangement which is already being carried out in some of our schools in this City, and which is, I believe, in agreement with the Jewish Community.”

Rabbi Asher Grunis stated that he was born in Pietrokov (now Piotrków Trybunalski, although other sources mention Czarnocin/Ksarloshin), in Poland in 1877. He married Hannah Baila in 1896 and they had seven sons and one daughter. In 1902 he was appointed Rabbi of Wilczyn in Poland. In 1921 he was appointed the first communal Rav of Cardiff, overseeing the correct application of Jewish religious dietary laws. Five of the sons and one daughter came with their parents to Cardiff and one son, Hirsch, was a minister to the Bangor and Bettws-y-Coed communities before the war. Rabbi Grunis successfully campaigned to permit Jewish children to leave school early in winter on the Sabbath, and prevent Jewish students being forced to take examinations on Saturdays and Jewish Holy days. He also unsuccessfully tried to have kosher food available to Cardiff prisoners throughout the year. He died in July 1937 and he and his wife are buried in Highfields Jewish cemetery. His major work, a commentary titled P’ri Asher (Fruits of Asher), was published posthumously. [Sources: Page 43 of Bimah issue 18 (Pesach 5759 - 1999) and Introduction to the Fruits of Asher by Rabbi Asher Grunis and his son Iyeleg Grunis]

From the Grunis family archives, which are to be deposited in the National Library (Edward J. Safra Campus) at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

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