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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.