Two new and separate petitions challenging the refusal of the haredi educational system to teach core curriculum subjects essential for the modern workforce are currently afoot in the High Court of Justice.
One was filed last week by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). The other, due to be submitted in the next day or two, was prepared by Uriel Reichmann, president of the Interdisciplinary Center – Herzliya, former Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein, and four men who left the haredi community into which they were born.
The latest initiatives are part of an ongoing effort to force haredi schools to teach at least the key subjects of the core curriculum, including mathematics, a foreign language and Hebrew studies; or, if they refuse, to cancel the state budgets they currently receive.
The full core curriculum includes Bible, expression in Hebrew, Hebrew literature, history, the history of the Jewish people, citizenship, mathematics and one foreign language.
In 2002, IRAC and the High School, Seminar and College Teachers’ Association petitioned the High Court with the same demands.
At that time, there were two haredi school systems. The larger one consisted of schools that were recognized by the state but were not official state schools. They received 75 percent of the state funding (state schools receive 100 percent) and, in return, were expected to teach 75 percent of the core curriculum. Another stream, known as the “exempt” schools, comprised mainly talmudei torah which received 55 percent of the state funding and were expected to teach 55 percent of the core curriculum.
The recognized but unofficial school system includes primary and secondary schools (little yeshivot) for boys, and primary and secondary schools for girls.
The primary and secondary girls’ schools have been teaching “modern” subjects. But the boys’ schools, particularly the “little yeshivot” have not.
In 2004, the High Court ruled that the haredi boys’ schools should teach the core curriculum, but gave them three years to introduce the courses.
In 2007, after the haredi schools failed to introduce the core curriculum, the petitioners returned to the High Court and demanded a final ruling on the case.
Four days before the ruling was due to be handed down, the Knesset approved a haredi-initiated law establishing a new type of secondary school, described as “special cultural” educational institutions. According to the definition included in the law, these schools were “educational institutions in which a systematic education was given in accordance with the special characteristics of the special cultural group that studied in each.” The law exempted these schools from studying the core curriculum (since it allegedly clashed with the “special culture” of the various communities that studied in each school). According to the law, these schools were to receive 60 percent state funding.
Four days later, the court handed down its ruling. It sharply criticized the Knesset for passing the law on the eve of the ruling, but said that it could not order boys’ secondary schools that were recognized by the Ministry of Education as “special cultural” schools to teach the core curriculum.
Now, some four years later, the battle is being joined once again.
Reichmann told The Jerusalem Post
that he is calling for the rescinding of the law allowing haredi high schools not to teach the core curriculum on the grounds that it violates the Basic Law: Human Freedom and Dignity, and the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation.
“The law causes human and national damage,” said Reichmann. The human damage was represented by the four petitioners who had left the haredi community.
“They did not know a word of English,” he told the Post
. “In fact, some of them did not know there was an English language. Some did not know how to multiply.”
One of the petitioners began to study when he was 23 years old, Reichmann continued. After beginning law school at the Interdisciplinary Center, he got bogged down for almost two years because he had trouble learning English. Earlier, he had had serious problems when he joined the army, but ended up as an officer in the Golani Brigade.
“They are wonderful people who have suffered terribly,” said Reichmann.
The petition filed by IRAC charged that the state had failed to keep its promise to increase the supervision of the haredi schools regarding not only the core curriculum – which still applies to recognized but unofficial primary and secondary schools and “exempted” schools – but also other standards, such as the minimum number of visits by school supervisors each year, the number of teaching hours, the schoolbooks in the curriculum, levels of learning achievement, and so on.
The petitioners quoted from the state’s response to its petition in
2007, in which it admitted that the supervision in the haredi schools
was insufficient and must be “significantly” reinforced.
Since then, wrote IRAC’s attorney, Ricki Shapira Rosenberg, a total of
two supervisors has been added to the recognized but unofficial school
system, and none to the “exempted” schools.
Thus in 2007, there was one supervisor for every 101,901 students in the
recognized but unofficial school system, none for the estimated 40,000
students in the “exempted” schools, one for every 5,328 students in the
state secular schools and one for every 3,941 in the state religious
With the addition of the two haredi supervisors, there is now one
supervisor for 50,950 students in the recognized but unofficial school
system – and that is the extent of the promised improvement.