Haredi protest in Jerusalem
Photo: Noam Moscowitz
Haredim protest in Bnei Brak
Photo: Dudu Azulay

The haredi school scam

Yedioth Ahronoth learns religious schools not teaching basic subjects despite receiving millions from State to do so. Economists: Rabbis want to keep public ignorant; in 20 years job market will be nonexistent

A  large number of religious schools were receiving full budgeting from the State despite neglecting to teach the number of hours of basic subjects required by law, Yedioth Ahronoth revealed Friday in a special investigative report.


The report centers on Haviv Hudida, a loyal supporter of the Shas party. He rubs shoulders with party members, attends functions, and has even taken the fall for former Knesset Member Ofer Hugi, who was convicted in 2007 of defrauding the Welfare and Social Services Ministry.


But Hudida is not just a Shas affiliate; he also serves as an Education Ministry inspector for Shas' education network, Maayan Torah. The network is comprised of 130 schools, altogether 25,000 students.


As inspector, Hudida is charged with reporting to the ministry about the number of hours of basic subjects – English, Mathematics, Science, etc. – taught in these schools. The ministry uses these reports in order to allocate funds – schools teaching 90% of the required hours of basic subjects receive 90% of the budget; those teaching 80% of hours receive 80%, and so on.


Yedioth Ahronoth obtained inspection reports filled out by Hugi and his colleague, Shimon Shimoni, an inspector of the religious Independent Education Center. The reports show that the State has not been enforcing the law which conditions funding upon the number of hours of basic subjects taught in schools.


It appears that many of the schools have continued to receive full funding while neglecting to teach the required hours of basic subjects, and according to the ministry's calculations at least $38 million have been distributed unlawfully to the religious education networks.


However Yedioth Ahronoth's report was dubious regarding this sum as well, saying that reporters investigating the various schools discovered that in many instances the inspectors changed the data they reported on to benefit the schools.


This, the report says, is unsurprising, considering the inspectors are themselves members or affiliates of the parties to which the schools belong.


'Rabbis want to maintain idiocy'

Rabbi Uri Regev, who heads the Hiddush organization, or Freedom of Religion for Israel, advocates the teaching of basic subjects in ultra-Orthodox schools. He explains that the current situation has profound ramifications for Israeli society.


"It's time we understood that after the security threat Israel faces, the refusal of the haredi population to implement basic subjects in schools and its absence from the job market is the greatest threat. It is a dooming process, or so say senior economists, including President of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, who recognize the unemployment problem in the haredi sector as one of the market's major ailments," he said.


"The lack of inspection on the basic subjects is a tool in the hands of the haredi leadership, which is apparently trying to maintain idiocy and perpetuate poverty and isolation. The rabbis want the haredi crowd to remain ignorant, segregated, and uninvolved in the job market. They are afraid the haredim will develop free thought and free will, and then perhaps choose a less severe lifestyle."


A law on the basic subjects was fostered by the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who sent a letter to the rabbinical union in 1947, before the State was established, saying that "the State will of course determine the minimum of basic studies – Hebrew, History, Science, etc. – and inspect the fulfillment of this requirement".


Then, in 1953, the State Education Law was drafted, obligating schools to teach the basic subjects to which Ben Gurion was referring. However the Education Ministry was slow on developing a formal education plan consisting of these subjects until 2003, when the then Education Minister Limor Livnat formulated the "Liba" plan (Hebrew acronym for "basic studies in state education").


But Livnat made allowances, some would say for political reasons, for the ultra-Orthodox education networks – Maayan Torah and Independent Education Center – which were permitted to teach just 75% of the plan while still receiving the entire budget allotted to schools.


Later that year Elyakim Rubinstein, who was then the attorney general, altered this after receiving complaints from his office. He announced that from then on, funding would be corollary to the hours of basic subjects taught, and all schools would be equal in the eyes of the State.


The announcement, however, was to no avail. In 2005 the Education Ministry published a report saying 24 religious schools were still receiving full funding from the State despite the fact that they did not teach the required hours of basic subjects.


Yuli Tamir, who was education minister after Livnat, also chose to turn a blind eye to the matter. She did, however, implement the Meitzav exam – standardized testing for students in various grades – in order to keep tabs on pupils of the religious schools.


Ministry knows, yet continues funding

This measure, however, drew a chuckle from attorney Riki Shapiro-Rosenberg, of the Center of Jewish Pluralism. She said the religious schools were the ones composing the tests, that they were only testing students on two subjects rather than four, and that they had adamantly refused to test students during their final year of high school – requirements strictly adhered to by secular schools.


"Time after time it turns out that the Education Ministry has no idea how much of the Liba plan is being taught because it has no efficient inspection – neither tests nor inspectors," Shapiro-Rosenberg said.


Shimon Shimoni, the inspector for the Independent Education Center, published a report saying a third of the schools under his jurisdiction were not teaching the Liba plan fully – the exact percentage named by the Education Ministry in its 2005 report. In other words, the ministry has known this for five years and yet has done nothing.


Hudida's report lists a similar number of schools. Altogether, the ministry knows of 51 schools consistently violating the education law, yet they continue to receive full funding from the State.


There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, however, with current Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who has promised to implement order next year.


'Basic subjects? What, like English?'

But Sa'ar relies on reports by inspectors Hudida and Shimoni, both of whom are affiliated with the parties controlling the schools. Yedioth Ahronoth's report found significant flaws in the datum offered up by these inspectors, and claims that every school the paper checked taught less hours of basic subjects than appeared in their reports.


One Bnei Brak school, which had reportedly been teaching 100% of these hours to first-graders, was actually teaching less than 46. In the higher grades just 56% of the Liba plan was being taught, though the inspector had reported 87%.


The paper also found a school in Kiryat Gat whose eighth-graders were not learning a single hour of basic subjects – their day begins with a prayer, moves on to Talmud, and ends with Ethics. Despite this, the inspector's report lists 74% of the basic subjects. The fifth grade of an Ashdod school had similar results.


A former attorney with the Justice Ministry was not surprised when the paper asked for her response. She said she had once discovered inspectors were handing in as proof of their reports education plans the schools had published 20 years ago.


"Two people are inspecting the education plans of tens of thousands of students," she said. "And they are haredim. They won't dare to report the correct hours – they could be expelled from the community."


Many schools are also publishing false schedules, Yedioth Ahronoth discovered. One school the paper called in Elad had a schedule showing all of the basic subjects, but the school secretary said there was "nothing to worry about, only Torah studies are taught here". Other schools in Ashdod and Beit Yaakov had similar answers for the journalists calling.


"What do you mean by basic subjects? English and stuff?" one secretary was quoted by the paper as asking. "We don't teach English, only Torah studies, Mathematics, and arts and crafts. We don't teach History or anything like that either."


No teachers, no books

The paper found that the subject least taught in ultra-Orthodox schools was English. Most do not teach Science, Geography, or physical education, and usually the only basic subject taught is Math. The average haredi student only reads two history books throughout his school years: 'Second Temple Period' and 'Torah Kingdom'. Most schools do not own a single English textbook.


But perhaps worse was the field of Science, in which the most popular textbook appears to be one called 'The Nature of Creation', which teaches mostly about the human body in combination with various Torah teachings. The section on sense of smell, for example, says that "when you smell something bad, you mustn't say a prayer or quotes from the Torah". The section on the muscles and bones says, "When God saves a man's body from something bad, the bones on which the body stands must thank him." There is nothing at all in the lesson plan on plants, animals, or, needless to say, technology.


This lack, says the former Justice Ministry attorney, is also a derivative of the teaching force. "Where to find an ultra-Orthodox man who can teach Geography?" she asked. No Hebrew teachers are to be found, either. "We visited schools and discovered teachers who write with very serious spelling mistakes, too," she added.


There is also the matter of books. "The state education system's books may show a boy and a girl playing together, but no such book can be introduced into a haredi school. They can only show two boys with yarmulkes and fringes. All of the books need to be prepared anew. Even if real inspection is implemented right now, they still don't even have the foundation to teach basic subjects, because they haven't the books or the teachers," she said.


The ultra-Orthodox high schools are in even worse shape, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. Two years ago a law was passed allowing "small yeshivas", or haredi high schools, to refrain from teaching any basic subjects at all. There are only four small yeshivas in Israel currently teaching any percentage of the Liba plan.


65% of haredi men unemployed

Economist Dan Ben-David expressed concern, especially in light of the rising percentage of haredim in Israel. "The haredi children who don't study so many different subjects are even below third world children," he said, adding that once the kids were past a certain age they would experience extreme difficulty learning subjects necessary in order to find a job.


"Those who don't study this stuff today will not be able to complete it later, and then we will all be in a bind," he said. "The Israeli market needs engineers, physicists, and doctors, and when the haredim become dominant where will all these come from? A country with security troubles such as ours does not have the luxury of going bankrupt. We will not be able to maintain an army to defend us, or fund the equipment we need. If the haredim continue to receive the same education, I have no doubt Israel will not be able to exist in two decades."


More worrying is the leap in haredi students – a 49% increase since the year 2000. Most of the students in Israel today do not belong to the state education system for the first time since the establishment of the State – haredim and Arabs currently make up 43% of Israel's students.


According to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, haredim and Arabs will make up 78% of Israel's population by the year 2040. The data seems to spell doom for the job market, as 65% of haredi men are unemployed. The average number of children in ultra-Orthodox families is also high – 6.7.


The data represents a big leap in unemployment. In 1979, for example, just 20.9% of haredi men did not work. In today's England, 67% of haredi men work.


Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, director-general of the Education Ministry, appeared hopeful. "We plan to appoint inspectors for the haredi education system. Once we have serious inspection, we will be able to enforce the Liba plan," he said.


Shoshani said each inspector would be responsible for just 20 schools. He added that following the Yedioth Ahronoth report, he would investigate the reports and punish any school caught lying about its program.


The Education Ministry also issued a statement regarding the affiliation of the two inspectors with the parties owning the schools they inspect. "The inspectors are former teachers who know the stylings of the schools they inspect," the statement says. The inspectors themselves had no additional comments.



פרסום ראשון: 07.12.10, 19:02
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