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Government is guilty of keeping religious kids unfit for real life

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys seen the first day of school at an Ultra-Orthodox school in Neve Yaakov neighborhood of Jerusalem, Aug. 9, 2021. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Haredi schools in Israel are about to receive a windfall, thanks to an ultra-Orthodox government that believes in taking care of its own! The Knesset agreed to transfer a whopping 480 million NIS ($126 million) to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and boys’ schools, which do not teach core subjects, such as math and English. This represents “a partial fulfillment of coalition promises to ultra-Orthodox parties to infuse their educational systems with cash.”

Does it matter that budgetary cuts were made at the expense of others, including money that should have been given to Holocaust survivors, childcare subsidies and disabled individuals in need of care? Not to government ministers who are making sure that their needs come first.  

Ironically, United Torah Judaism party member, Moshe Gafni, who chairs the Finance Committee, claims that this money will be a start in “filling in all the gaps that have harmed the ultra-Orthodox public.” 

Apparently, he doesn’t seem to think that not teaching math and English is harming Haredi children who, without those subjects, would be unfit to ever enter the Israeli workforce. It’s a small detail that has no relevance for Gafni since he clearly believes in the perpetuation of this segment of the population being subsidized by everyone else's tax payments.

This remains one of the greatest thorns in the side of Israel’s working-class citizens. Young, able-bodied men are being educated solely in religious studies, which exempts them from military service, participation in the work force and contributing, in any meaningful way, to a country whose government has determined that they should have a special status. 

Yair Lapid, former interim prime minister and now leader of the opposition, voiced his anger by accusing the government of “abusing the weakest citizens and crushing the middle class.”

It's a tragedy that ultra-Orthodox political parties, whose numbers comprise many within the government coalition, represent an extreme segment that sees no benefit to granting these boys (and girls as well) a full, well-rounded education. Such an education would adequately prepare them for life, however, it’s an even greater tragedy that the supposedly more moderate Likud party members, as well as the prime minister, would willingly sacrifice the future of these children on the altar of politics in order to keep these radical coalition members happy.

Does no one care about these kids who are being held hostage by their religious and political leaders? Why has someone decided that they should remain a burden on the State, its citizens and their own families whom they will be unable to support? 

Among Likud party members are many highly-educated individuals with advanced degrees. They studied for years, many of them obtaining impressive professions. Some hold doctorates. So, why do they feel that depriving Haredi children of the same opportunities is a desirable outcome for them? And why don’t they understand that it is their complicity in this transfer of money that is making it possible for all of this to happen?  

These so-called more moderate Likud party members bear full responsibility for allowing these children to receive an inferior education, which will render them useless to themselves and society. In fact, many of these kids who have chosen to leave their communities, once they become adults, have realized, after seeking employment, that they are literally unfit to do anything. One such individual, named Shulem Deen, wrote a book about his own experience entitled, “All Who Go Do Not Return.”

It was after coming to the conclusion that he could no longer hide his true feelings as he pretended to live a pious life of study which left him unfulfilled and unable to aspire to so much more, that he left the fold. For many years, he had to be satisfied with menial jobs, due to his insufficient English skills as a result of not having studied it in school. His story is not unusual.  

Without any academic or social preparation, these kids are relegated to a life that has been planned out for them by their own leaders who believe that this is their sole destiny – to study Torah and Talmud from morning to night. But there is evidence that a growing percentage of young men are not fully on board.

“In 2018, the dropout rate among Haredi students was 4.6% compared to 1.4% among the general public. But experts say the real numbers are much higher and estimate that at least 20% of Haredi students do not complete their religious education.”

The problem is that “rabbinical leaders who view the study of Torah as a supreme Jewish value have blocked any initiative to cater to those who can’t or won’t live a stringent yeshiva life.”

Obviously, everything is stacked against these young people who have no way out of a system that is forcing many of them to continue a way of life that keeps them ignorant, in the dark and personally unfulfilled. Without being willing to pay the price of full ostracization from their communities, they have no choice but to comply. 

Yet, here is where the government could override this ill-fated, religious prison sentence, which has been responsible for taking away the dreams, aspirations and personal goals that these young men may have ever dared to imagine for themselves.

Shame on the Likud members, especially the highly-educated ones, who have willingly agreed to facilitate a dead-end future for thousands of these unfortunate individuals who are trapped and unable to extricate themselves from a way of life that many might not choose if it were up to them.  

If our own government will not fight for a better future for these kids, who will? Perhaps, as Likud government ministers tuck their own children to bed at night, they will realize how blessed their offspring are to be able to dream big dreams and accomplish whatever they set their hearts upon. 

Should not every child be given that same right? And if their own parents and religious leaders won’t, at least those of us who have the ability to stop this insanity, should seize this moment to say we will not agree to fund “keeping these children in the dark.” 

If their parents choose to do that, let it be on their shekel but not ours.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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