Efforts to crush haredi society will backfire
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 31, 2004
Israel's haredi community faces the most frontal assault ever to its cultural autonomy. Many of the educational recommendations of the Dovrat Commission are designed to intrude heavily into the haredi educational system.
The requirement of 250 students for elementary schools and 400 for high schools, for instance, would eliminate most haredi schools, including all those outside Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. That recommendation is motivated not by educational necessity but rather by the desire to eliminate competition to the failing state system.
By requiring teachers of secular subjects to hold a BA, haredi schools would be forced to either hire non-haredi teachers or send students to secular universities. Again, there is no educational imperative.
The SHUVU school system has achieved among the best math results in the country while relying almost entirely on Bais Yaakov-trained teachers.
Dovrat conditions educational funding on fulfillment of a core curriculum filling 75 percent of the allotted school hours. The required subjects go far beyond skills arguably needed for earning a living - e.g., math, Hebrew, and English.
Given the high rates of violence in the state system and the dismal performance of Israeli students on surveys of democratic attitudes or basic knowledge of the Israeli governmental system, it is hard to see what will be gained by indoctrinating haredi students into the values of the dominant secular culture.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot fund haredi institutions that do not teach the core curriculum, thereby effectively reversing 50 years of state funding of such institutions.
The haredi institutions most directly affected were not even in court. The petitioners - an organization of secondary school teachers - and the respondent, the minister of education, both agreed that funding was illegal, and differed only as to the timetable for imposition. That allowed the court to content itself with the skimpiest legal analysis. The court effectively connived in a collusive lawsuit to circumvent the legislative process on school funding.
A post-Zionist court has, ironically, undertaken to impose a degree of cultural homogeneity undreamed of by David Ben-Gurion. The latter explicitly conceived of both the IDF and the educational system as instruments for creating a common national culture. Yet even he exempted haredi youth from military service and recognized independent haredi education.
Six years ago, the same court ruled that haredi youth groups were insufficiently Zionistic to receive funding under Education Ministry regulations requiring groups to "educate their members in the world view of Judaism and Zionism..."
Needless to say, Arab groups were exempted, and the court did not inquire as to the Jewish worldview of secular groups.
The Dovrat Commission and the court view haredi society as if it were some kind of alien growth, comparable to radical Islam in the heart of Europe. It is not. Devout Jews continuously inhabited the Land from the destruction of the Second Temple, and modern aliya began with students of the Vilna Gaon and various hassidic groups.
Haredi society poses no threat to the general society, as radical Islam threatens Europe. Islamists declare their aspiration to bring back the caliphate and impose sharia on Europe; terrorism is their means. Haredi Jews, however, await the ideal Torah state as they await the Messiah - passively.
A STATE of the Jews should make room for traditional Jewish education. Not just for the sake of haredim but for that of the general population as well. Ben-Gurion recognized that modern Israel must link itself with the Jewish past in order to survive. And that is no less true today.
After 56 years of conflict with the Palestinians and no end in sight, those with the opportunity to leave will do so absent a strong connection to the Jewish people and the Land. The pure core of Torah learning remains one of the strongest bonds with the Jewish past, and influences all of Jewish society. Haredi yeshiva students do more for the country hunched over their volumes of Talmud than they would in the army, wrote Yair Sheleg in Haaretz at a time when the government appeared ready to cede sovereignty of the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. Those students constitute one of the last repositories of unadulterated Jewish identity.
Even from the narrow secular perspective, efforts to crush haredi society can only backfire. Present social forces are propelling haredim towards greater integration into Israeli economic life, and haredi education is adapting accordingly.
Haredi education is not immutable; it responds to the changing internal dynamics of the community. Witness the widespread switch from Yiddish to Hebrew as the primary language of instruction, and the strengthening of English instruction today in many Bais Yaakov seminaries due to its economic utility.
Haredim are raised on a long tradition of sacrifice to preserve religious values. They are properly wary of the general culture, and unwilling to cede control of their children's education to its representatives. Brutal attempts to force changes in haredi education or to expedite natural changes already taking place will encounter stiff resistance, and only reinforce the community's most conservative impulses.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Supreme Court
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