Chen Artzi Sror
Chen Artzi Sror
Photo: Ynet
Ultra-Orthodox school

The miseducation of religious Jewish children

Opinion: A probe into a lack of secular education at ultra-Orthodox schools in New York has stirred an uproar in the U.S., but remains part and parcel of everyday life in Israel, by which no one seems to be bothered

Chen Artzi Sror |
Published: 09.12.22, 23:41
On September 11, The New York Times newspaper chose not to dedicate its front page to the 9/11 terror attacks, or to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
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  • One of the world’s most important newspapers dedicated its front page to an investigation into secular education, such as math and English, at Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish schools, or yeshivas, which as it turns out are seldom taught.
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    Ultra-Orthodox school
    Ultra-Orthodox school
    Ultra-Orthodox school
    (Photo: Getty Images)
    The paper worked on the investigation for over a year, interviewing hundreds of parents and even testing some of the children to ascertain their knowledge of core subjects. The results shocked officials in the United States, but probably wouldn't shock any Israelis. Even though the schools received billions of dollars in funding and are instructed to teach secular subjects, the kids don’t know any of them.
    This is considered a criminal offense in the U.S., where every child deserves an equal education by law. There is no such law in Israel, thanks to glorified social sensitivity to ultra-Orthodox communities.
    The question the investigation is asking, is how come schools that are funded by the state have failed to provide proper education? Well, as part of a deal between local politicians and leaders of the Haredi Jewish community in the U.S., ultra-Orthodox schools are given complete autonomy over their curriculum.
    Why? Because it allowed U.S. politicians to secure the votes of the ultra-Orthodox community. Much like in Israel.
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    טקס תחילת לימוד האותיות לבני השלוש  בתלמוד תורה במודיעין עילית
    טקס תחילת לימוד האותיות לבני השלוש  בתלמוד תורה במודיעין עילית
    Ultra-Orthodox school
    (Photo: Eitan Elhadad Barak)
    The New York Times published the story in Yiddish as well as in English, so that the ultra-Orthodox will be made aware of how their leaders are behaving. The ones who initiated the paper's investigation in the first place were a group of young, ultra-Orthodox Jews who grew up lacking proper education.
    They preferred to expose the leaders of their communities in order to save other children in the system. Children who are receiving education unfit for the 21st century. It’s sad to know that something considered a major news story in the U.S. is an accepted part of life in Israel.
    In Israel, the majority of Haredi Jewish boys don’t study secular subjects at all. Schools for girls provide a basic secular curriculum, which is still years behind education provided by regular schools. In recent years, following increasing public demand and pressure, more Haredi public schools, which teach secular subjects in a proper way, were established.
    Ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel, however, maintain their opposition to these schools, which the state isn’t supporting enough. Now, just like in the U.S., Haredi leaders are offering to teach secular subjects in ultra-Orthodox schools if they receive more funding from the state, but the curriculum must remain unsupervised.
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    Ultra-Orthodox campus
    Ultra-Orthodox campus
    Ultra-Orthodox campus
    (Photo: Yaron Brener)
    The ultra-Orthodox community itself appears torn on this issue. Many ultra-Orthodox are not thrilled not to have received a proper education, and they know more funding will likely not improve the quality of teaching.
    What is shocking to residents of New York, should also shock Israelis. It is well understood abroad that a society lacking basic knowledge in math and English is a recipe for poverty and misery.
    The system is flawed in Israel. Politicians are supposedly worried about not harming “cultural acceptance” - a poor excuse for maintaining their political power over the religious community. Every government in Israel should know that education isn’t a luxury, but a necessity.
    Education is the basis of social mobility and civic responsibility for every person in Israel, be they secular or religious.
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    Ultra-Orthodox campus
    Ultra-Orthodox campus
    Ultra-Orthodox campus
    (Photo: Yaron Brener)
    Some fear that the New York Times investigation will lead to a wave of antisemitism, but unfortunately, religious Jews have always been criticized over their "outdated" way of life.
    When it comes to Israel, there are many ultra-Orthodox leaders who can change the Haredi education system, but for that to happen they require the support of the state, which would mean taking responsibility - even without the promise of political gains.
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