There's no free lunch

The High Court was justified in denying funding for meals in 'super independent' haredi schools.

With its recent school lunches decision, the High Court of Justice "has shown itself to be a leader in racism [and Justice Mishael Cheshin] a sybarite wallowing in pleasures and sated in fat who has obviously never experienced hunger." Thus railed United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz. Not to be out done, Shas leader MK Eli Yishai blasted the Court for "abandonment and anti-Jewish apartheid," as did UTJ's MK Meir Porush for "sheer wickedness." The three haredi MKs, who usually reserve such invective for the hated Reform and Conservative movements, were reacting to a recent decision by a High Court panel headed by Justice Cheshin which found that the Ministry of Education was within its rights in denying state-funded hot lunches to the children of independent haredi schools in the solidly haredi and national-religious Jerusalem suburb of Betar Illit. The court found that the haredi schools in question, by their own choice, were not considered to be state schools which is the condition for entitlement to the hot lunch program. The hot lunch program is linked to the ministry's extension of long school days to a small but growing number of schools. The vast majority of schools in the country, state secular and state religious, have not yet been included in both programs. In Betar Illit, however, there are at least seven haredi schools affiliated either to the independent Ashkenazi or Shas El Hama'ayan school systems which have their long school days and attendant hot-lunch programs funded by the Ministry of Education. The issue on which the High Court ruled was the extension of such state-funded programs to "super-independent" schools which by their own choice are excluded from ministry recognition and supervision. The purpose of such exclusion is to avoid the slightest hint of the imposition of minimal general core subject curriculums and the attendant ministry supervision. Nearly all haredi rabbinical and political leaders have opposed the introduction of such general core curriculums. The emotions generated by this conflict are apparently behind the argument over free school lunches. The ministry previously announced that eligibility for state funding would be made conditional on schools adhering to such core curriculums, to prepare students to earn a living upon graduation. In fact, however, the ministry has not insisted on the inclusion of such core subject curriculums by haredi schools. The charge of "racism" and "anti-Jewish apartheid" is especially strange coming from Ashkenazi (East European origin) haredim as their schools are notorious for discrimination against children from Sephardi families, whom they consider to be less rigorously observant. Which makes Shas leader Eli Yishai's joining in the invective just as strange. The Jerusalem Post editorial Wednesday in criticizing the excessive force used in putting down haredi protests against the extension of Highway No. 6 went on to comment on the Betar Illit issue too. It pointed out that "Haredi children make up the bulk of Israel's most impoverished juvenile population. They get just as hungry as any other children." THAT IS to woefully simplify a complex issue. As I have pointed out above, the parents of these children in Betar Illit do have alternatives: to send their children to other national religious or haredi schools in Betar Illit. What their political and rabbinical leaders have been insisting on, however, is their right to split away into atomized schools each affiliated with a specific haredi stream or rabbi, with the ministry footing the bill. Theoretically, such a "right" should be extended to all parents, including secular ones who are moved by their own separatist educational ideologies. There is no way the education budget, which has already been cut time and again, could possibly bear such extravagances; nor is there a whit of justification to foot the bill for the haredim first. The hot-lunch state subsidies are part of a broader front of issues which pit the various haredi populations, their rabbis and politicos, against the good of the larger majority. True, many haredi children are classified as poor. But a good part of this is part of a haredi ideology of self-imposed material poverty, with the large secular and traditional majorities expected to foot as large a part of the bill as can be squeezed out of them. Haredi parents and communities do have the alternative of having fewer children, or of additional family members going out to work to support the children they do have. This is exactly the way haredi Jews behave in the Diaspora - whether in Brooklyn or in Antwerp. The difference is that the goyim there would never let such haredi parents get away with it, and no Diaspora haredim would have the hutzpa to even hint at such entitlements to government subsidies while refusing to work for their own support. The same haredi attitude can be seen in refusing to take part in the defense of their country, which has been under armed attack for all of its years. There are ways to work out workable compromises in the political system; riots and demonstrations whose purpose is to make life for the majority unpleasant or unlivable will only invite extreme counter-measures by that majority.