Rabbis criticize ‘cultural’ Bible classes
National-religious rabbis condemn Bible studies curriculum at state religious schools.
State-religious school Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Several prominent national- religious rabbis have condemned the Bible studies curriculum of the state religious school system as overly cultural in its approach, in a letter addressed to religious educators.
Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hebron Dov Lior was the principal signatory to the letter, and was joined by Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, chief rabbi of the Samaria district, along with rabbis Michael Hershkowitz, David Hai Hacohen, and Shimon Cohen. Rabbi Avigdor Nevenzhal, former chief rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, was also a signatory to the letter, noting his association to the issue “with pain.”
“The approach to [Bible] studies requires the clear understanding that [children] are not learning ‘biblical stories’ or a history book, but about events that we are supposed to derive lessons from, which must be implemented in our lives on this earth,” the rabbis wrote.
They added that the current curriculum does not emphasize this purpose of biblical study, and that there are also approaches within the current curriculum “that are not consistent with the views of rabbinic Judaism, combined with distortions and interpretations of the Torah which do not conform to Jewish law.”
The rabbis were referring to the religious-studies program of state religious schools, which are attended mostly by children from national-religious backgrounds, and addressed their letter to principals, educators and teachers in such schools around the country, calling on them to protest against the current curriculum.
“We are talking about the education of our youth, and there is real spiritual danger here,” the rabbis wrote.
In an addendum to the letter, Rabbi Mordehai Sternberg, the dean of the national-religious Har Hamor yeshiva and Rabbi Yehoshua Zukerman also of Har Hamor added an additional complaint, that teaching materials which had been made available on the website for state-religious educational institutes discuss Bible criticism and contain unfavorable views of biblical figures.
Explaining the Bible in this way, they said represents “a betrayal and false depiction of Jewish tradition.”
They noted that although the materials were subsequently removed, the introduction of “secular and non-Jewish interpretations” demonstrated “the real intentions of the curriculum authors.”
In response, the Education Ministry pointed out that the curriculum was designed by the professional committee on the Bible within the state-religious department of the ministry, headed by Rabbi Professor Eli Asis, head of the Bible studies faculty at Bar Ilan University and Rabbi Yeshayahu Hadari, president of the respected national-religious Yeshivat Hakotel.
The ministry also emphasized that the curriculum had been approved “in its entirety, without reservation” by several prominent and respected national-religious rabbis, including rabbis Ya’acov Ariel and Haim Druckman.
As to the teaching material available on the state-religious education website, the Ministry said that they were taken down following “comments,” but added that these resources had not been a mandatory part of the curriculum and were provided as extra “enrichment” sources for educators interested in teaching such issues.