Senior haredi leaders have called a conference for Monday night to discuss
challenges facing the ultra-Orthodox education system, including what the
community sees as threats by the government to insist that haredi schools teach
the state core curriculum.
The haredi leadership is increasingly
concerned that the independence of its school network is coming under attack,
especially in light of recent comments by the education minister, Rabbi Shai
Piron, of the Yesh Atid party.
Piron said earlier this month that under
the reforms he was planning, any school that does not teach the state core
curriculum subjects would receive no state funding whatsoever.
the United Torah Judaism haredi party have described Piron as “the most
dangerous man in Israel for the haredi community.”
Rabbi Aharon Leib
Shteinman, spiritual leader of the Ashkenazi haredi world, is set to speak at
the conference, which will take place in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and
other prominent haredi rabbis are expected to attend as well.
current arrangement with the Education Ministry, Ashkenazi haredi elementary
schools receive from the state between 55 and 75 percent of the budget allotted
to non-haredi schools, and are expected to teach a corresponding proportion of
the state core curriculum.
In practice, however, this is extremely rare –
haredi elementary schools teach far less of the state core curriculum than is
expected; the overwhelming majority of haredi high schools teach no secular
On Friday, the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat
Yisrael movement, which represents the hassidic strain of Israel’s haredi
population, issued a declaration in two hassidic newspapers calling on the
government not to interfere in the haredi education system by enforcing the
teaching of core curriculum subjects.
“We are commanded to stand firm
against the attempts of the authorities to force changes, God forbid, through
the temptation of [state] funds or threats to cut off such funding,” the council
The notice forbids any changes in the content of studies at
haredi elementary and high schools, prohibits the teaching of core curriculum
subjects, and forbids students from working towards the state high-school
diploma or towards academic degrees not approved by Agudat Yisrael’s Committee
of Rabbis for Education.
The council further stated that school
administrators should ensure that teachers at their schools do not participate
in (secular) academic studies, and that haredi girls should not study in
universities or colleges where the state high-school diploma or academic degrees
The religious-freedom lobbying group Hiddush denounced the
council’s declaration, saying it amounted to a decision that the hassidic
community would continue to live off the state and taxpayers.
decision proves once again that the haredi parties are conducting a campaign of
resistance and are not prepared to enter into dialogue, Hiddush deputy director
Shahar Ilan said.
Ilan, in a statement to the press, emphasized “how
essential it is to cut off funding for any institution which does not teach core
“This decision proves what a terrible crisis of
leadership the haredi community is suffering from, and the fact that its leaders
refuse to stop and consider of [their] failures,” he wrote.
spiritual leadership views education as the bedrock of its community, its
lifestyle and the means through which haredi identity is defined. For this
reason, haredim have throughout the history of the state fiercely guarded the
independence of their education system.
Before the establishment of the
state, David Ben-Gurion, as part of a deal designed to exemplify to the United
Nations Jewish unity in Mandatory Palestine, promised Agudat Yisrael that “full
autonomy” would be granted to all sectors of society to control their own
educational frameworks, Ben-Gurion’s letter promised that “complete freedom will
be given to each sector to manage [its] education [system],” but added that
“minimum [levels] of Hebrew, history, sciences and similar” would be obligatory,
and would be subject to state inspection.