by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths
Op-Ed - In the past two weeks there's been a large series of articles on the ultra-orthodox Jewish population in Israel that devotes a majority of time to studying Torah rather than working. This is my Op-Ed response.
Dear Mr. Lapid (Israeli Pundit) and the statistical trackers of Israel:
I note your recent concern with Israel's economic future, a concern we both share. You are concerned because you note that the percentage of Israel's students who are orthodox has reached 50%, and you see a (near term) future for Israel that diverges significantly from the one you live today. Since you focus primarily on the economic aspects, let me do so as well.
You point out the skills necessary to do well in today's hi-tech economy, and note that some portion of these skills are not being taught in the charedi education system. But let's be honest my friend, serious education funding and focus doesn't exist in Israel. The secular education system may be teaching the skills, but the students need to learn them while dodging fights, abusing teachers, and dealing with woefully inadequate facilities.
Secular students that succeed in Israel do so in spite of the system, not because of it. Israel's per student education funding is some of the lowest in the Western world. Creating a top notch education system simply has not been a priority in Israel.
Now when you look at the religious education system, which you so disdain, I'll note that the national religious system (schools designated dati leumi, charedi leumi, or torani) receive only 2/3 of the funding secular schools receive. And schools in the ultra-orthodox system (schools designated chinuch atzmi - outside the direct governance of the Minstry of Education) receive 45% of the per student funding.
So while I hear your pain that your taxes are funding schools which the government wields very limited influence upon, let's note that the funding provided is completely insufficient. Further, let's also note that Israel funds it's education at about 1/8th the rate of funding (in a straight dollar for dollar cost) in the U.S.
I think it's clear, it's NOT the wonderful Israeli education system that has brought success to Israel. As the recent book The Start-Up Nation pointed out, factors such as the army (and associated training therein) and the massive Russian immigration (which brought a million highly educated scientists looking for opportunities) are what revamped this nation. Naturally being a charedi I'll throw in the brachot (blessings) from Hashem that aligned the right factors.
But let's agree on something. Math, science, and language education is necessary for reasonable survival in the modern world. And I would like my children to receive it, and will support your efforts to make it happen. But it's not going to happen when charedi children are learning in hallways such as my son did last year (for inadequate space), are trying to learn computers from a book (without the computer) such as my daughter did this year, or are discussing chemical reactions instead of mixing them (as my younger daughter did this year).
Further, the Israeli government has a strong historical record of attempting to de-jewdify the orthodox community through every avenue. Math, science, and language is certainly acceptable, as long as the materials and methods being used aren't presenting material with ideology and cultural approach. Much of the historical resistance to the involvement of the Ministry of Education is exactly due to this.
If so, then we're agreed. I'll teach my children math, science and language, and you'll fund education equally for all children and limit core curriculum requirements to these subjects, and present them in such a way that they focus only upon the subjects.
While we're on the subject of education I'd like to add a point. My charedi daughter, who by the way is in the IDF, was at recent Independence Day events on her base. While the commanders spoke of Zionism and the commitment it brings to Israel, her unit mates had NO IDEA what the commanders were talking about. Similarly we had a friend come from the US to volunteer to "help the IDF" for two weeks. While this is clearly not something Israel really needs anymore, it's a nice way for Jews around the world to connect to Israel (in a secular way). Our friend, part of a group from Reform and Conservative synagogues in the US, left the program together with almost all the other participants after a few days due to the soldiers griping about their limited partying opportunities on Shabbat as Israel limits retail business on Shabbat - and how it's disgusting that Israel makes itself Jewish.
My dear secular friend, if you don't make a point of including some JEWISH education in your child's education, then your child will indeed find themselves without any commitment to Israel. For if Israel is just another Western nation, a rather small one with enemies around her, then why try to stay and build a better future here? The zionism of the past holds no strength for the future generations. For that, you must open the Torah, at least a little, for your children.
P.S. It's good to be talking to each other. While these shouting of statistics is creating some 'secular backlash', it's time that secular Israel begin to open paths to success for the charedi community rather than working to suppress it. As the demographics show, the choice is only how you work to mold the change, not whether it's going to happen. Programs such as Nachal Charedi in the army and Kachol v'Lavan in the air force are a good start. Such positive channels meeting the religious community's needs while building the future opportunities Israel needs are exactly what must be done. Now it must be done farther, wider, and faster.
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא