‘Only threat of closure can justify secular studies’

Member of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages denies encouraging English study in elementary schools.

mass haredi riot bnei brak 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
mass haredi riot bnei brak 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Nothing less than the threat of closure can justify a Talmud Torah teaching core curriculum subjects, a member of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages said.
According to Rabbi Shimon Ba’adani, head of the Torah VeChaim Kollel in Bnei Brak and one of three senior Sephardi sages, headed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, comprising the highest authority in Shas, even elementary- level schools should refrain from secular studies, unless the fines they’d be subject to from the Education Ministry would cause the school to close.
Ba’adani, who spoke before hundreds of teachers and inspectors of Shas’s Ma’ayan Chinuch Torani network on the topic some two weeks ago in Bnei Brak, was quoted reiterating this stance in Thursday’s Yom Leyom, Shas’s weekly newspaper.
General studies exist in Talmudei Torah, and not providing them would constitute a breach of the state’s laws, which could provoke a penalty.
While primary and secondary girls’ schools in the haredi “recognized but unofficial” educational system teach general subjects, considered essential for the modern workforce, boys’ schools, from junior high-age, do not.
There are currently two petitions pending before the High Court of Justice, challenging the refusal of the haredi educational system to teach core curriculum subjects.
The belated report of Ba’adani’s address follows the publication of an article in last weekend’s Bakehila, a haredi weekly, that cited the senior Sephardi rabbi as endorsing English studies in Talmudei Torah, as a compromise with those demanding core curriculum studies in the haredi schools.
Ba’adani was further quoted there as noting the importance of a good command of English for rabbis who need to lead and educate communities in the Diaspora.
Thursday’s Yom Leyom, however, slammed the “irresponsible journalists who completely distorted Ba’adani’s sentiments, till he appeared to endorse the teaching of core curriculum subjects.”
Ba’adani was quoted in Yom Leyom as relating the problems Talmud Torah principals shared with him, when they were fined by the Education Ministry for not teaching secular subjects.
After consultations with Yosef and the other members of the Council of Torah Sages, Ba’adani said, it was decided that principals should be ordered to bar non-religious topics from their institutions, so long they could withstand the fiscal penalties, “even barely.”
But if there are schools, “especially small ones, where every fine could bring to the school’s closing, as per the principals’ testimony, then secular disciplines should be taught there, but only in accordance with the guidelines provided by the great rabbis of the Independent Education Center decades ago.”