Fierce haredi opposition to teaching basic studies in elementary schools

MK Gafni calls MKs Calerdon, Kariv "evil" for bill conditioning haredi school funding on teaching of Math, Hebrew, English.

BOYS STUDY Talmud at their school’s synagogue in Bnei Brak 3 (photo credit: REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)
BOYS STUDY Talmud at their school’s synagogue in Bnei Brak 3
(photo credit: REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)
An amendment to the Economic Arrangements Bill that would condition the funding of elementary haredi schools on the teaching of math, Hebrew and English generated a heated argument in the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee on Tuesday, with haredi MKs denouncing the legislation as an attempt to destroy ultra- Orthodox society.
During the session, senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni was so incensed with the proposals that he denounced committee members MKs Ruth Calderon and Yifat Kariv as “evil” who came to the Knesset to do evil.
Currently, haredi schools known as “exempt institutions,” which run from grades 1-8, have had to teach just six hours a week of general studies, which could include an hour of gym class and an hour of citizen studies. Such schools are funded at a rate of 55 percent in comparison to nonharedi schools that teach a full curriculum of secular studies.
According to the new proposals which were debated in the committee session on Tuesday, haredi “exempt institution” schools would have to teach 11 hours a week of math, Hebrew and English in order to qualify for funding at 55%. If such schools teach less than 11 hours of these subjects, they will be funded at just 30% of non-haredi schools.
The haredi political parties are fiercely protective of the independence of the haredi education system and the new proposals are strongly opposed by United Torah Judaism and Shas.
Gafni said during the hearing that if the bill was passed he would recommend that exempt institutions cut off all contact with the Education Ministry, while Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev said the bill represented a “culture war” being waged against the haredi community.
MK Ya’acov Asher, also of UTJ, said, “We’re talking here about a process of elimination, not a gradual process. The purpose is to eliminate the [exempt] institutions, and there is no intent here to find common ground or to help [the haredi community].”
The haredi rabbinic and political leadership sees the education system as the primary medium through which a child’s haredi identity is formed, and so zealously guards it from outside interference.
In response to the haredi denunciations, Amit Levy, an adviser to Education Minister Shai Piron, denied that the intention was to harm the haredi way of life and insisted that the minister’s goals are to encourage the development of general studies within the haredi school system.
Committee chairman Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) said that he would “search for dialogue in order to reach common ground on the issue.”