Haredi political leader's misguided thoughts - editorial

Yitzchak Goldknopf told Channel 12 recently that he does not see how Israel gained from having math and English taught in state schools.

 United Torah Judaism (UTJ) chairman rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf is seen at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, July 28, 2022 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
United Torah Judaism (UTJ) chairman rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf is seen at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, July 28, 2022
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The new leader of United Torah Judaism, Yitzchak Goldknopf, sparked controversy on Saturday night when he told Channel 12’s Meet the Press that he does not see how Israel gained from having math and English taught in state schools.

“Haredi schools are denied their budgets by the government because they don’t teach English and math. Why? They tell me ‘because in 20 years,’ but I have heard ‘every 20 years' a few times, but I have not seen how math and English have advanced the country and its economy,” Goldknopf said.

The ultra-Orthodox leader was referring to the “20 years” it takes for someone to go through the education system and find employment. Lacking English and essential math is seen as a basic obstacle to advancing in the workforce.

Veteran journalist Ben Caspit, a co-host of the show, immediately asked Goldknopf if he had heard of Israel’s hi-tech sector, which is the main engine of growth for the economy, a sector that to work in requires an advanced familiarity with math and English.

Not the first time Goldknopf said something like this

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Shas leader Arye Deri, United Torah Judaism heads Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman (credit: Courtesy)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Shas leader Arye Deri, United Torah Judaism heads Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman (credit: Courtesy)

This is not the first time Goldknopf made comments that raised public ire. Last week, in an interview with Channel 13, he said that it is harder to sit and learn in yeshiva than it is to be sent to the front lines to serve in the IDF.

“Try sending your husband to learn Torah for a month,” Goldknopf told the reporter interviewing him. “He will tell you that he is ready to go to the army for a year and not to have to learn Torah, which is much harder to learn and remember.”

It’s not clear what country Goldknopf has been living in. Firstly, without math and English, Israel would not have as strong an economy as it does. He also would do well to learn history and he would discover that some of the greatest Torah scholars – such as Maimonides – were giants not only in Torah but also experts in secular studies. 

In addition – and with the utmost respect to people who study in yeshivot – does he honestly believe that it is harder to sit in an air-conditioned hall where you are served three meals a day and the worst that could happen to you is a book will fall on your toe, than it is to spend weeks on end in the field, hiking up mountains, carrying half your body weight and coming under enemy gunfire? 

Is studying Talmud really more strenuous than having to lie in an ambush in the rain and mud for an entire night? 

This is not just absurd. It is insulting to the millions of citizens who have served their country in the IDF in past years and continue to do so today. 

And here is the problem: if Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc gets 61 seats in the November 1 election, Goldknopf will be handed unlimited budgets and power. 

The damage he will do is hard today to imagine but here is a taste: any hopes of public transportation on Shabbat or civil marriage can be forgotten about. Any hope that the Haredim will participate more in the workforce will serve more in the army and will help carry more of the national burden can also be forgotten.

And let’s not forget who it was who promised the haredi parties that he will not tie government funding to the teaching of the core curriculum. 

That was Netanyahu, who made this pledge in order to ensure that UTJ would remain a single party and not lose any votes for the bloc. 

There are multiple problems with this, but here is the most significant: this situation is not sustainable. Without a core curriculum and without a strong economy, Israel will not be able to survive. Torah learning is important but it does not keep an economy going and does not keep a country’s borders safe.

Goldknopf knows this but, sadly, like the UTJ leaders before him, he prefers to keep his constituents ignorant and obedient. 

For him, this is not about the prosperity of the country. It is about his continued political survival and the desire to hold onto more power with which to undermine the civil liberties of the Israeli public.