(Left to right) Yehoram Gaon, Bar-Ilan U. President Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin and Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
(photo credit: YONI REIF)
The Association of University Heads in Israel (VERA) asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reexamine his position that equates Torah education with academic degrees, in a letter sent by the group on Tuesday.
The letter comes in response to a reform announced last month by Interior Minister Arye Deri, which likens religious education to academic degrees in regards to job tenders by local municipalities.
The new regulation aims to allow ultra-Orthodox men to compete for local government jobs at the same level as university graduates.
To qualify, a religiously- trained candidate must present one of two certifications: rabbinical ordination by the Chief Rabbinate, or a certificate proving six years of study since the age of 18 at a Yeshiva and completion of three Chief Rabbinate tests.
The VERA members did not sound convinced.
“We are very concerned by the practice which recognized religious education as equivalent to an academic degree,” they wrote.
“We appeal to you to reconsider enacting this practice, or at the very least to place a one year time limit on it.”
The university leaders suggested that, after one year, a public committee be established to review the new reform’s impact on local government and public service.
A copy of the letter was also sent to the interior minister as well as to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and to Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit.
“We have a great respect for Torah-Rabbinical studies which is the foundation of our people,” the letter said. “Nevertheless, the various local government jobs require elementary skills, which are an integral part of the ongoing activity and daily conduct vis-a-vis different bodies and organizations.”
They explained that the new reform could see thousands of Haredim with religious degrees compete for jobs in local municipalities without possessing the necessary skills needed in today’s workplace, such as mathematics and English.
They highlighted those differences by noting that two of the three Chief Rabbinate tests required to compete for local government jobs were in the realm of Shabbat laws and laws of prohibition.
“An academic degree grants each person a wide range of tools and broad knowledge. A lack of basic knowledge of those who are satisfied with religious education alone will, within a few years, lower the standard of local government service providers, and in doing so will harm each citizen in need of effective and worthy service in local municipalities,” they wrote.