Between religious and secular learning

Does prayer belong in a science book?

RAM VROMEN (photo credit: screenshot)
(photo credit: screenshot)
The issue of hadata, or religionization, is reappearing as the start of the school year approaches. Hadata refers to alleged attempts by the Education Ministry to incorporate more religious elements into the public-school curriculum.
Denying the notion of hadata, Education Minister Naftali Bennett introduced the “Israeli Judaism” program during the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee meeting last Wednesday.
He said: “There is no hadata, what this is, is to give every child in the State of Israel a chance to get to know the ways of our people... I am proud of this program, and I invite all the members of the Knesset, everyone, to open the book and stop with the media spinning.”
The program promises to teach pupils information about Judaism, including kiddush and havdala, and about Jewish figures such as Moses and the Rambam.
Ram Vromen, chairman of the NGO Secular Forum, has been leading the fight against the hadata of the education systems for the past two years. He believes studying Judaism in schools is acceptable, but it should be taught by secular teachers.
“We have no problem with studies of Judaism, but what happens in schools today is much more than that,” Vromen told The Jerusalem Post last Wednesday. “There is a huge difference between studying some basics of Judaism, especially when taught by secular teachers, to the current status where the balance between general studies to Jewish studies is distorted; where religious content is introduced to study books and materials in all subjects. This is what we call hadata, and it has nothing to do with studying some basics of Judaism.”
The “religious content” he referred to came up in an article published by Haaretz on Friday, in which the author of an elementary-school science textbook was required to include the Jewish prayer for rain in 2011.
According to the Education Ministry, the textbook was for fourth graders in the state-secular and state-religious schools.
Naftali Bennett blasted the article later that day in a Facebook post by equating those who saw the piece as a “warning” to “auto-antisemites.”
The Facebook reads: “What is auto-antisemitism?” Those who read the article in Haaretz take it as a warning that a Jewish educator in Israel wrote that a farmer was praying for rain. The abuse from it [the article] continued until it convinced to remove the word ‘prayer’ from the book. This is not hadata, this is ‘auto-antisemitism.’” The Facebook post continues: “Auto-antisemitism is a social-psychological phenomenon in which a Jew develops obsessive contempt and hostility toward Jewish tradition, Jewish customs and traditional Jews.”
Vromen called this reaction “childish” and told the Post on Sunday: “This year the secular parents are coming prepared to the schools. We are constantly educating and training secular partners throughout the country to fight for secular learning environments in their children’s schools.”
Praising the efforts to bring more religion into the classroom, Shas MK Ya’acov Margi believes that Israeli students must be connected to their Jewish culture, and that it is “more than acceptable to show a farmer praying for rain in a science textbook.”
“Do not cancel Jewish traditions! We need to be connected to our culture and traditions,” he said in the Education, Culture and Sports Committee meeting. “Why are there those who wish to prevent Israeli children from recognizing their heritage? Why is it OK for a textbook to portray a Buddhist monk praying for rain, but when a prayer according to Jewish tradition is shown in a book, it causes outrage?” Vroman disagreed with Margi’s sentiments, saying the new program introduced by the Education Ministry alienates nonreligious pupils.
“This new program is not a fit for secular schools and should either be put on hold or revised significantly to fit the need of secular students,” he said. “In order for such a program to be taught in secular schools, one should eliminate all the many religious subjects and treat them from a truly secular perspective.”