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Not teaching math and science - another double standard for the ultra-Orthodox in Israel

Israeli Orthodox Jewish students may end up paying the price for political maneuvering

Headline in the Hebrew newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, on Sept. 13, 2022. Headline is translated as "Core studies paid the price of the (politcal) agreement"

In Israel, both state and religious schools must teach core subjects such as math and science in order to be eligible for governmental funding. Failure to do so will greatly limit their financial assistance.

However, this may soon change if Benjamin Netanyahu forms a coalition and becomes prime minister. In exchange for political support, Netanyahu promised to give more government funding for ultra-Orthodox religious schools – yeshivas – even if they don’t teach the core subjects of math and science.

Just as there’s a double standard whereby all ultra-Orthodox men and women do not need to serve in the Israeli military, another double standard may soon be on the horizon as standardized education is now a political pawn.

The background

As the next Israeli election is approaching on Nov. 1, 2022, all kinds of deals are being made by political parties who attempt to consolidate into one block to ensure passing the threshold of 3.25% of the vote. One such deal is between Netanyahu and the United Torah Judaism party.

United Torah Judaism (Yehadhut HaTorah in Hebrew) is actually comprised of two ultra-Orthodox religious parties: Agudat Israel, made up of various Hassidic groups, and Degel HaTorah, made up of a Lithuanian Jewish stream. Although the two ultra-Orthodox groups have been allied up until now, the recent issue that separated them is the teaching of core subjects, math and science.

Agudat Israel intended to teach all core subjects, which resulted in the ire of Degel HaTorah which is bitterly against such a move as they feel that yeshiva students should focus on studying the Torah. Netanyahu needs both parties in order to win in the upcoming elections. If the two parties run separately, there’s a chance that one party or both parties will not have enough votes to pass the threshold and thus enter the Knesset.

Netanyahu understood that Degel HaTorah would split from Agudat Israel if they were to implement their core study plan. Therefore, Netanyahu resorted to the oldest trick in the book – money – to make sure this wouldn’t happen. In most settings, this is tantamount to bribery, but in the political arena, it’s, unfortunately, considered shrewd politics.

Netanyahu promised both parties that their government funding will not be at risk if they choose to forgo the teaching of core subjects, something which flies against Israel’s basic values of providing quality education for all of its children – whether secular or religious.

The takeaway

In the end, the price for a Netanyahu government will be at the expense of Israeli students who will be the losers of crucial educational studies which prepare and equip youth for competing in the marketplace as they build a future for themselves and the families they hope to have one day. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox children should not need to bear this price.

Biblical perspective

(Deuteronomy 25:13-15)
13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 

(Proverbs 20:10)
Differing weights and differing measures— the Lord detests them both.

The Bible is clear on not having different measures. Thus, different measures in basic education based on religious or ethnic background should not even be an option for political maneuvering. The criteria for government school funding should be the same for all sectors of Israeli society

Joseph Magen is Co-Founder and Managing Editor of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. He has more than 20 years of experience in high-tech, software development, and the Israeli venture capital industry. Joseph lives in the Judean Hills outside of Jerusalem with his wife and five young children.

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