Ex-Charedim challenge school system

After age 13, Charedi children in Israel are taught only Torah and Talmud

After age 13, Charedi children in Israel are taught only Torah and Talmud

A former education minister, an ex-general and a university president have joined a group of formerly Charedi men in challenging the political arrangement which allows strictly Orthodox schools to receive state funding despite not teaching secular subjects.

For the past five years, the Education Ministry has been trying to make all Israeli schools that are financed by the government teach a set of core subjects - including grammar, mathematics, basic sciences and English - as a condition of funding.

The Charedi leadership has steadfastly resisted these demands, insisting that the government should not be allowed to intervene in the way it teaches its younger generation.

At the age of 13, all Charedi boys enter yeshivot ktanot, or junior yeshivot, where the only subjects are Torah and Talmud studies. Charedi elementary schools and girls' seminaries teach some of the secular subjects, but government inspection is minimal.

We were denied an education that allowed us to make a living

Despite this, the Charedi schools receive government funding at levels ranging from 55 to a 100 per cent of their budget.

In 2008, the Charedi parties in the coalition managed to pass a law in the Knesset exempting "culturally unique education institutions" from the core subjects requirement, effectively allowing them to continue receiving government funding.

Professor Amnon Rubinstein, a former education minister; Elazar Stern, who served as the chief of the IDF's Education and Personnel Corps; Professor Uriel Reichmann, president of the Interdisciplinary Centre at Herzliya; and a group of young men who were raised in the Charedi community, but are now secular, have joined together to try to end this situation.

The formerly Charedi petitioners are currently students who had to spend years learning basic English and mathematics before they could take up their places at university.

In a petition handed to the Supreme Court on Sunday, they demanded that the state withhold funding from any school that does not teach the core subjects and that the law allowing this be overturned.

The petitioners claim that the current arrangement denies the students in the Charedi education system their constitutional rights by failing to equip them with the necessary skills to succeed in the workplace.

According to the petition, the government allows a situation "whereby an education that includes the knowledge and basic skills necessary to realise personal autonomy; to make a respectable living; and to integrate in Israeli society as an active citizen with equal rights, is denied".

Around 20 per cent of male high school students are enrolled in the yeshivot ktanot and the petition claims that "no democratic countries maintain such an arrangement, which allows the existence of a large education system that is exempt from national supervision and does not teach the national curriculum, but is still heavily funded by the state".

    Last updated: 2:48pm, May 21 2010