Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Teves 5764 - January 21, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Core Curriculum: The Attempt to Reeducate the Chareidi Sector

by S. Fried

It started with the best of intentions, recounts MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz (UTJ). During the previous term, while Rabbi Ravitz was serving as Deputy Education Minister, the Education Minister arrived at the conclusion that schools were plagued with astonishing ignorance in the areas of Jewish heritage, Judaism and Jewish values. In the Knesset and in other forums she announced she wanted to introduce a program into the curriculum that would ensure at least minimal knowledge of Judaism.

When the Education Minister brought her idea to the Pedagogical Secretariat, its members were suddenly reminded that students lack knowledge in other fundamental subjects. At that point, there were those who were willing to concede chareidi students might know about Judaism, but they lack the fundamentals in other subjects. Civics, for example.

Meanwhile the High Court was lurking behind the scenes. As early as four years ago Yosef Paritzky, then a new MK who wanted to gain prominence by waging war against chareidim, filed a petition claiming the chareidi educational institutions were not abiding by the Education Ministry's "fundamental program" (the term "Core Curriculum Program" had not yet been invented) and therefore their budgetary allocations should be decreased. The petition frightened the Education Ministry, which rushed to set up a committee to determine what subjects should be including in the program and required of the chareidim in order to bring them into the 21st century.

In retrospect perhaps that was the time to rise up in arms against the plan. But apparently word did not reach the right figures or else nobody paid serious attention to a committee that presumed to evaluate the needs of chareidi education.


In the summer of 5762 (August 2002) the committee, headed by Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, released its recommendations. The committee charter authorized it to reevaluate the budgeting method for the three types of educational institutions-- official, recognized and exempt--"following findings that indicate unreasonable budgeting gaps among them." In effect, to make special allocations part of the Budget Law.

According to a letter from the Education Ministry's legal advisor, Attorney Dorit Morag, to Attorney General Eliakim Rubinstein, the Shoshani Committee's conclusions were accepted before the Education Minister determined the Core Curriculum.

Why is the order of events significant? Because certain figures, such as Attorney Amnon De Hartoch, head of the Justice Ministry's department for support payments and a dyed- in-the-wool knitted-kippoh man ranking with the likes of Yaakov Ne'eman and Eliakim Rubinstein, insists that the Shoshani Committee conditioned the budgeting of chareidi education institutions on the acceptance of the Core Curriculum Program as determined by the committee.

In her letter Morag also draws an important distinction between education and funding. "The funding order in the Budget Fundamentals Law . . . is only intended to regulate the way they are funded . . . "


The Core Curriculum Program obligates every school in the country. The program calls for certain mandatory subjects, but does not determine the curriculum itself. The required subjects are Tanach (Arab students study Heritage instead), Social Studies, Hebrew, English, Nature and Sciences, Math and Physical Education. "Arts" is also required to be offered as an elective.

Based on negotiations with Chinuch Atzmai representatives, the Education Ministry determined that "recognized" institutions (Chinuch Atzmai and Bais Yaakov) would be required to study only 75 percent of the program to receive 100 percent funding. "Exempt" institutions (the chadorim) would have to study 55 percent and would receive 55 percent of funding.

Unlike Chinuch Atzmai institutions, notes Rabbi Ravitz, exempt institutions--a category that includes most chadorim--are free of all curriculum oversight as provided in agreements of many years standing and are only required to meet safety and health standards, and the like. In order to retain their independence, from the outset these institutions agreed to forego regular funding and receive only "support" from the Education Ministry. They also receive per-student funding rather than per-class funding to prevent the Education Ministry from dictating class size. Any interference with curriculum at exempt institutions--even just 55 percent, even 5 percent--is in contradiction to the agreements and the unique character of these institutions.

On the other hand at Chinuch Atzmai institutions, particularly girls' schools and Shas institutions, all of the Core Curriculum subjects are already incorporated into the curriculum, and the Education Ministry even agreed to exchange English for sciences in certain cases. The Shas network of schools, which comprises 19 percent of all chareidi education, notified the Education Ministry it agrees with all of the requirements, thus Shas is not taking part in the struggle.


Although several years went by, Yosef Paritzky's deep-seated concerns over the "edification" and the "future" of chareidi children studying in frameworks that do not comply with Education Ministry directives were eventually addressed by the High Court, which ruled that the Education Ministry must require chareidi institutions to introduce the Core Curriculum Program and dispatch inspectors/commissars to verify that it is being taught in classrooms.

At the beginning of Av 5763 Mrs. Abramovich, director of the senior division for recognized education, sent a letter to principals of exempt talmudei Torah. The Core Curriculum Program, she writes, "applies to all institutions in the primary education system in Israel and is a prerequisite for receiving government funding. Exempt institutions must teach at least 55 percent of all the hours defined as mandatory in official schools and must reach the level of achievement typical of official schools . . . As such principals are required to sign the declaration that their school fulfills the directives." Mrs. Abramovich further warned that during the school year Education Ministry inspections will be conducted to ensure "you are carrying out the Core Program on which you signed in the declaration."

"Here is where the big uprising began," says Rabbi Moshe Gafni. "Until then it appeared we could hold our ground quietly. Chareidi Jewry has plenty of battles to fight and sometimes the best strategy is not to head out to the battlefield right away. But when the principals were required to sign the declaration it became clear a red line had been crossed."

Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita summoned Rabbi Moshe Gafni and expressed his staunch opposition to the declaration. He directed Degel HaTorah MKs to "battle with mesirus nefesh" and "to do whatever it takes, uncompromisingly." Rabbis Gafni and Ravitz soon began explaining to the Education Minister that this was a fundamental matter of principle and that we would not sign, come what may.

"As soon as HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman shlita heard about the declaration from talmud Torah principals in Bnei Brak he summoned me and asked that I attend to the matter," recounts Rabbi Ravitz. He instructed educators involved in the matter not to sign under any condition. "Under no condition will we allow them to interfere with the curriculum of our institutions of holy purity," he said.

"First I contacted the Education Ministry," continues Rabbi Ravitz, "and I asked them, `Where's the agreement that has been in place for 30 years?' They told me it was all because of Paritzky's petition to the High Court. The High Court turned to the Education Ministry for answers and the Education Ministry just gave in and announced it would act accordingly."


When the chareidi world demonstrated clearly it was not prepared to compromise, the Education Ministry realized it would be pointless to engage in a direct confrontation and agreed to postpone implementation until the 5765 school year. Anyway, said Education Ministry officials, the program was to be introduced gradually over a period of five years, so there was no need to butt heads right away.

But to die-hard enemies of the chareidi world even postponing the matter was too big a concession. At this point another figure from the knitted-kippoh ranks and a self-styled expert on chareidim, stepped into the fray, a reporter for Ha'aretz named Anshel Feffer. "Education Ministry Yields to Chareidim on Core Program" proclaimed the headline. Whether the article spurred MK Ilan Shalgi (Shinui), chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, to act or whether Shalgi whispered into Feffer's ear remains unclear.

In any case Shalgi made ready to do battle with the Education Minister, with whom he was embroiled over other issues as well. He wrote a long letter expressing his frustration and profound concern for chareidi enlightenment in light of the Education Ministry's intentions not to force the Core Program on chareidi institutions. "I hold that from the outset it was unnecessary to demand schools in the chareidi sector implement only 75 percent of the Core Program. Making allowances for them invited an aggressive and arrogant attitude on their part. The Ministry's consent not to have English taught was inadvisable from the start and apparently invited them to later refuse to implement the Core Program."

Shalgi also came up with his own interpretation of gedolei Yisroel's opposition to the proposed curriculum. "They want to keep them severed, ignorant and poor, under their authority and dependent on them . . . " reiterating the timeworn claim by the proponents of the Haskalah.

In the Knesset the issue was raised through a question by MK Amram Mitzna, who for some reason began to take an interest in the Core Program, or in chareidi education -- or perhaps in newspaper headlines. The Education Minister rejected various slanderous remarks cast about, repeatedly explaining that the plan could not be foisted on the chareidim all at once. She ran up against Shalgi, over other matters as well, and announced she would not cooperate with him until he apologized.

MKs Gafni and Porush took advantage of the Knesset deliberations to make it clear that gedolei Yisroel unambiguously determined they would not agree to any oversight or interference in curricular matters. This is where the matter now stands, although toward the beginning of the 5765 school year the issue is liable to flare up again, and then the controversy is likely to get even hotter.


In a letter to MK Shalgi, Rabbi Gafni suggested the impetus behind the skewed efforts to impose change on the chareidi education system was a reaction to failures in secular education. " . . . At a time when it is obvious to all the secular education system has collapsed and the chareidi education system is succeeding, and you, as chairman of the Education Committee, refuse to discuss this despite my repeated requests . . . the conclusion you reach is unambiguous: to cut off Chinuch Atzmai funding, apparently because of its success, besiyata deShmaya . . . "

Rabbi Gafni's argument is based on recently released studies showing government schools in Israel, particularly secular government schools, lag far behind schools in other countries and are plagued with violence and disciplinary problems.

Will the Education Ministry realize what the real problem is? Will it succeed in finally building a Core Curriculum Program toward real education and not the mere transmission of information? If so it would do well to start by coming to the chareidi education system for a few words of advice.


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