Haredi leaders fight Israeli core curriculum

Haredi leaders to meet Monday to discuss threats by gov't that haredi schools teach the state core curriculum.

Sea of haredi men 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
Sea of haredi men 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
Senior haredi leaders have called a conference for Monday night to discuss challenges facing the ultra-Orthodox education system, including what the community sees as threats by the government to insist that haredi schools teach the state core curriculum.
The haredi leadership is increasingly concerned that the independence of its school network is coming under attack, especially in light of recent comments by the education minister, Rabbi Shai Piron, of the Yesh Atid party.
Piron said earlier this month that under the reforms he was planning, any school that does not teach the state core curriculum subjects would receive no state funding whatsoever.
Sources in the United Torah Judaism haredi party have described Piron as “the most dangerous man in Israel for the haredi community.”
Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, spiritual leader of the Ashkenazi haredi world, is set to speak at the conference, which will take place in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and other prominent haredi rabbis are expected to attend as well.
Under the current arrangement with the Education Ministry, Ashkenazi haredi elementary schools receive from the state between 55 and 75 percent of the budget allotted to non-haredi schools, and are expected to teach a corresponding proportion of the state core curriculum.
In practice, however, this is extremely rare – haredi elementary schools teach far less of the state core curriculum than is expected; the overwhelming majority of haredi high schools teach no secular subjects whatsoever.
On Friday, the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat Yisrael movement, which represents the hassidic strain of Israel’s haredi population, issued a declaration in two hassidic newspapers calling on the government not to interfere in the haredi education system by enforcing the teaching of core curriculum subjects.
“We are commanded to stand firm against the attempts of the authorities to force changes, God forbid, through the temptation of [state] funds or threats to cut off such funding,” the council declared.
The notice forbids any changes in the content of studies at haredi elementary and high schools, prohibits the teaching of core curriculum subjects, and forbids students from working towards the state high-school diploma or towards academic degrees not approved by Agudat Yisrael’s Committee of Rabbis for Education.
The council further stated that school administrators should ensure that teachers at their schools do not participate in (secular) academic studies, and that haredi girls should not study in universities or colleges where the state high-school diploma or academic degrees are taught.
The religious-freedom lobbying group Hiddush denounced the council’s declaration, saying it amounted to a decision that the hassidic community would continue to live off the state and taxpayers.
“The decision proves once again that the haredi parties are conducting a campaign of resistance and are not prepared to enter into dialogue, Hiddush deputy director Shahar Ilan said.
Ilan, in a statement to the press, emphasized “how essential it is to cut off funding for any institution which does not teach core curriculum subjects.
“This decision proves what a terrible crisis of leadership the haredi community is suffering from, and the fact that its leaders refuse to stop and consider of [their] failures,” he wrote.
The haredi spiritual leadership views education as the bedrock of its community, its lifestyle and the means through which haredi identity is defined. For this reason, haredim have throughout the history of the state fiercely guarded the independence of their education system.
Before the establishment of the state, David Ben-Gurion, as part of a deal designed to exemplify to the United Nations Jewish unity in Mandatory Palestine, promised Agudat Yisrael that “full autonomy” would be granted to all sectors of society to control their own educational frameworks, Ben-Gurion’s letter promised that “complete freedom will be given to each sector to manage [its] education [system],” but added that “minimum [levels] of Hebrew, history, sciences and similar” would be obligatory, and would be subject to state inspection.