Chairwoman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee MK Einat Wilf
(Independence) said on Tuesday that minimal educational standards across all
sectors of society should not be subject to discussion, and that all students
should study core curriculum topics so they can join the work force and become
full members and citizens of the State of Israel.
Wilf made her comments
following a debate held in an Education Committee hearing among politicians,
rabbis, teachers and education officials over the future of education in the
haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector.
The special session was held to mark the
65th anniversary of the “Status Quo” agreement on religious affairs in Israel,
brought about by a letter sent by prime minister David Ben-Gurion on June 19,
1947 as head of the Jewish Agency to the Agudat Yisrael organization which
represented the haredi community of pre-state Israel.
The letter made a
number of promises to the haredi community pertaining to the preservation of
religious standards after the establishment of the state, including a guarantee
that “full autonomy” would be granted to all sectors of society to control their
own educational frameworks, although adding that “minimum [levels] of Hebrew,
History, Sciences and similar,” would be obligatory, and would be subject to
Ben-Gurion’s letter promises, however, that “complete
freedom will be given to each sector to manage [its] education
“All children in the country should be educated to a minimum
standard in science, Hebrew and History,” Wilf told The Jerusalem Post after the
committee hearing in reference to the status quo arrangement as it stands
“The problem with status quo is that you have the autonomy [of
different educational frameworks] but the minimum [general education]
requirements are not fulfilled.
“When people do not learn the basics of
how to be part of Israeli society in terms of work and knowledge and values,
such as openness and equality, then it’s problematic,” she added.
we’re talking about state-funded education, there is a question as to how much
the state can provide, if the graduates of that framework do not identify with
the state, see themselves as set apart from the state, and refuse to partake in
the state and its various institutions.”
Currently, boys in the haredi
school system do not generally study secular education topics after eighth
grade, although girls generally continue with a general education throughout
their time in elementary and high school.
The “independent” educational
framework of the haredi community teaches the core curriculum subjects in
elementary schools known as “Talmudei Torah.” These institutions are not subject
to direct government inspection and receive 55 percent of the funds that a
school in the state education system is provided.
However, most Ashkenazi
haredi elementary schools are not within the independent framework, and these
barely teach any general education topics at all.
Maayan Hachinuch Hatorani framework of elementary schools teaches the state core
curriculum through all elementary school grades.
From 9th-12th grade,
most haredi boys are sent to “yeshiva ketana” where only religious studies are
Rabbi Yosef Politi, national inspector of Maayan Hachinuch
Hatorani who was present at the committee hearing, said however that the lack of
general education in the haredi framework is not a direct barrier to entry into
the job market.
Politi, as well as many other leaders of the haredi
community, argue that much of the national curriculum taught during elementary
and high school does not directly prepare pupils for specific careers and that
the skills acquired by haredi students in the Torah education system are just as
helpful for eventual integration into the labor force as those obtained through
the state curriculum.
Politi pointed to professional and vocational
colleges that many in the haredi sector attend after extended study in yeshiva
and kollel, and argued that graduates of such institutions gain employment in
hitech, programming, social work and similar professions.
needs to recognize that a yeshiva education is legitimate, and furthermore, is
what has kept the Jewish people alive for 2,000 years,” Politi said. “We are the
people of the book not because we studied accountancy and literature, but
because we studied Torah.”
He acknowledged however, that people who have
not received a general elementary and high school education are prevented from
entering professions such as accountancy, law, medicine, engineering and similar
fields, unless they complete their studies in the relevant fields before being
able to apply to university programs.
Politi said that for pupils from
the haredi sector whose parents send them to high schools instead of yeshiva
ketana, a core curriculum for them should be established in conjunction with the
rabbinical leadership of the community.
He emphasised however, that it
would not be possible to introduce such a curriculum to the overwhelming
majority of haredi educational institutions at high-school age.
Geal-Dor, executive director of the Gesher social cohesion organization, said
during the session that any changes to the education system must be done through
“agreements, understanding, and without coercion.”
that minimum educational standards in elementary schools should be implemented
across all sectors of society, including in the Arab community and in private
schools, especially in the fields of biology, computing, English and
Regarding high school education, he noted that it would be “too
complicated” to have a state core curriculum introduced into yeshivot
Wilf acknowledged the importance of compromise and understanding
that Geal-Dor mentioned, but asserted that there is a difference between
compromising and accepting that the other side is incapable of
“There is a notion that liberal values are the ones subject
to compromise and the religious values are not,”she said. “I argue that this
shouldn’t be the case.”
Like Politi, Geal-Dor pointed to the vocational
colleges many haredim as evidence that even without a high-school education in
secular topics, ultra- Orthodox men can still integrate into the work
As well as stressing the importance of teaching core curriculum
subjects, Wilf also suggested that the state should promote the establishment of
schools which include pupils from all sectors of society – secular, haredi,
national-religious and Arab, “to break down walls and create common values
“There is a value in creating schools that will allow
all children from all sectors of society to study together. It should at least
be a choice. Everyone talks about the choice to be separate, but today you don’t
have the choice to be together.”