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The Yesh Atid party's reforms are being cancelled.
Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ben-Dror Yemini
Leaving children, and the country, behind
Op-ed: The state is abandoning ultra-Orthodox children when it waives core subject requirements for the sector's schools; this isn't just a problem for the young people being harmed, but a looming crisis for the entire country.
In October 2015, 52 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva graduates, who later in life turned secular, filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the state of Israel. They managed, by the skin of their teeth, to bridge the educational gap and find work. It took them years, since the state gave the institutions in which they studied a waiver from teaching core subjects (such as mathematics, science, and English).

 

 

In response, the government blamed the plaintiffs' parents and the educational institutions themselves. What nerve. If there's one topic that should not be disputed between left and right, between those in government and those in the opposition – this is it. This is where democracy is trampled.

 

There are areas in which the state, justifiably, enforced its will on people. You have to wear a helmet and a seatbelt. Those who would prevent children from acquiring core subject education are dooming them to an educational disability. Only a minority of them will be able to make up what the lost. Most graduates of these ultra-Orthodox institutes are doomed by the state to a life of dependency and ignorance.

 

Why is Shas, whose school network teaches core subjects, against the reforms in ultra-Orthodox education? (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Why is Shas, whose school network teaches core subjects, against the reforms in ultra-Orthodox education? (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

 

The state is supposed to use its education budget to encourage core subject education in the ultra-Orthodox sector. As part of the previous government, the Yesh Atid party managed to lead a reform according to which ultra-Orthodox schools that teach 100 percent of the required core subject requirements would be funded at 100 percent. Those that teach less, would be funded accordingly.

 

The coalition agreements signed with ultra-Orthodox parties ahead of the formation of the current government cancel that reform, whose implementation was set to begin in 2018. The problem is that even with the reform, there is a gap between hypothetical rules and real-life consequences. The Ministry of Education has virtually no way of supervising the implementation of this policy. If studying the Bible is part of the core subject curriculum, than ultra-Orthodox schools can just claim to be putting a bigger emphasis on it.

 

Former Education Minister Shai Piron promised the ultra-Orthodox public that the curriculum would be adjusted to their needs. He also explained that he was planning a two-way partnership: More core subject education for the ultra-Orthodox public, more education in Judaism for the rest. It did not help him advance his argument.

 

It doesn't have to be this way, though. In France, for instance, ultra-Orthodox schools have to stick to a full French educational curriculum, which includes a lot more than the Israeli core subject requirements. And somehow, this does not cause any great harm to the Lord or his teachings.

 

It does, however, help these institutes create graduates who can function in a society. When the Israeli government, in contrast, omits these requirement from ultra-Orthodox schools, it denies students the ability to properly enter the job market in their future. And most of all, it dooms itself to a creeping disaster.

 

Former Education Minister Shai Piron. Yesh Atid's reforms have been rolled back. (Photo: Eli Mendelbaum)
Former Education Minister Shai Piron. Yesh Atid's reforms have been rolled back. (Photo: Eli Mendelbaum)

 

Shas (the Knesset's Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party) was supposed to be leading the efforts for core subject education. After all, they more than anyone want their public to catch up to the rest in the long run. It's spokesmen claim that their school network teaches core subjects. But if that's so, why did Shas support funding for ultra-Orthodox schools that do not teach core subjects?

 

Well, they did so mostly because there's a difference between Shas's network of schools, which is targeted mostly at traditional Jewish people, and the party's leadership, which is entirely ultra-Orthodox. In fact, it's doubtful that even one of Shas's MKs has even one child enrolled in Shas' school network. They're part of the hard core of the ultra-Orthodox education system, preferably at an Ashkenazi school.  

 

The opposition to core subject education, which translates to unemployment in the future, is not based on any religious principle. Maimonides said it himself when he wrote, "Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates (God's) name (and) dishonors the Torah."

 

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