S.Y. Agnon and Hayim Nahman Bialik are considered icons of Israeli prose, but you won't see their works taught at many national religious schools, which appear to favor a subject titled 'Jewish Thought' over classic Israeli literature.
During a recent conference of the High School Principals' Association, Dr. Zvi Zameret, the head of the Education Ministry's Pedagogical Secretariat, has expressed concern that 40% of last year's national religious high school graduates were not tested on literature.
Literature is a core subject on which all Israeli students are required to be tested in order to graduate. However, over the years a trend has spread within the religious school system to offer the students an 'Jewish Thought' course, which deals with contemplations of Israeli thinkers as an alternative. Zameret noted that many of the students choose it over the more difficult Israeli literature class.
The Education Ministry has established a committee to look into the matter, Ynet learned recently. The committee aims to reverse the trend among religious students.
According to one principal of a central Israeli yeshiva high school, national religious schools have narrowed the scope of the material covered in literature classes, so much so that many graduates do not recognize classic Israeli works.
"Personally, I am saddened that many of our graduates are not familiar with the works of Agnon, Bialik or the poet Rachel," he said. "There is no doubt that 'Jewish Thought' studies are important to national religious students, but it is unclear to us principals why they made it an alternative to the literature subject, as they are two completely different subjects.
"Just as the kids of the national religious education system must know Maimonides, so they must know the heroes of Israeli culture," he added, referring to famous Torah scholar Rabbi Moses ben Maimon.
Professor Ariel Hirschfeld, who heads the Hebrew Literature Department at the Hebrew University, also expressed disappointment that students are offered a choice between the two courses.
"It makes it look as though the two subjects are similar, when in actuality there is an immense and fundamental difference between them, which expresses the conservatism and fixation of the national religious education," he said.
"No one would conceive of giving a choice between History and Math, and the thought that a student in Israel
does not learn Israeli literature is unacceptable," he added. "Literature studies everywhere in the world express a person's ability to deal with spiritual life."
Professor Rachel Frenkel-Madan, who heads the Literature Department at the Levinsky College of Education, said that eliminating Literature studies distances students from the history of Israel.
"Literature is an exact mirror of what goes on inside the soul of the individual, the group, the community and the people," she explained. "An educational plan that turns its back on these studies denies the origin of our development, our foundation and our wondrous ability to exist, which perpetuates our history and guards the threshold, and criticizes our reality every day."