Hebrew-Speaking, But Jewishly Ignorant

Once again, on the eve of the opening of the 2003/04 school year, we are being shown that the Jewish education being received by Israeli children is extremely wanting. Educated Israeli contestants on the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" quiz show have no difficulty in answering challenging trivia questions on various universal subjects, but even the greatest Israeli trivia champions fail the easies

Nadia Matar,

OpEds Nadia Matar
Nadia Matar
Arutz 7
Once again, on the eve of the opening of the 2003/04 school year, we are being shown that the Jewish education being received by Israeli children is extremely wanting. Educated Israeli contestants on the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" quiz show have no difficulty in answering challenging trivia questions on various universal subjects, but even the greatest Israeli trivia champions fail the easiest questions related to Judaism and Jewish Tradition. In the last program, a young 25 year old contestant did not succeed in answering the question: "In which Hebrew month is the Holiday of Shavuot celebrated?" He was given four options: Nisan, Tammuz, Tishrei, and Sivan. He was unable to answer, and needed the help of the audience. We would expect that 100% of the audience to know the answer, but only 80% answered correctly. 20% were wrong. They thought the right answer was Tishrei!

Articles on the subject of "Who is a Jew" have appeared recently in the newspapers; in these, as well, it has been demonstrated that the non-religious public, including prominent public figures, are lacking basic knowledge of Jewish tradition  knowledge that is possessed by every first-grade pupil in the religious educational system.

Obviously, these individuals are not to be blamed for their ignorance. It is the State non-religious educational system that is at fault. For most of the years in which they were educated, Israel was in the hands of leftist governments. These governments must bear the blame. These governments saw "religious coercion" in everything connected with Judaism (Remember Education Minister Shulamit Aloni?). They took care to conduct the De-Judaization of the education of Jewish children. They turned our Jewish children into complete ignoramuses regarding any aspect of Judaism, and took away their pride in being Jewish. This tactic was apparently done with malicious intent, for if the majority of the Israeli public was severed from their Jewish roots, it would be much easier for the extreme Left to realize its objective  that of transforming the Jewish State into a state of all of its citizens, without any Jewish coloration.

I grew up in Antwerp, Belgium, in a non-religious family. We did not keep kosher nor observe the Sabbath. But my parents, like a great majority of the secular parents in Antwerp, took care to light Shabbat candles, and to recite Kiddush on the Sabbath. They also brought us to synagogue on all the Jewish Holidays. Naturally, they sent us to a religious school, because it was inconceivable to them that a Jewish child would not receive the basics of Jewish tradition and their rich heritage from non-religious teachers. The message of our parents was clear  we may not be religious at home, but as a Jew, you must know how to pray from a Siddur (prayer book), you must know how to respond to a Mourner's Prayer (Kaddish) and you must know the Jewish Holidays, and observe them. Obviously, you must know who your forefathers were, the Bible, Jewish History ,about the Mishna, and the Talmud, the Jewish Calendar; and that the place to pray was at the synagogue. We were encouraged to join Jewish Zionist youth movements, and to take educational trips to Israel, which was part and parcel of the life of every non-religious Jewish child. I still clearly remember how shocked we were when a family who emigrated from Israel came to Antwerp, and their 12-year-old daughter admitted that she had never visited a synagogue, nor did she know anything at all about Judaism.

Perhaps the humorous story about Yankele will illustrate how important it is to have a knowledge of Judaism. A young yeshiva student wanted very much to meet the well known apikoris (heretic) from Warsaw. He walked there on foot and he searched for him in every secular place  at the universities, at the libraries, at nightclubs, but could not find him. Tired and hungry, Yankele came to the synagogue. An elderly Jew was sitting there studying the Talmud. Yankele asked him if he knew where the famous heretic from Warsaw could be found. "I am that heretic!" the elderly Jew exclaimed. Yankele, undaunted, asked him how come he was sitting studying difficult sections of the Talmud in a synagogue. To which the elderly Jew responded: "I may be a heretic, but I am not an am haaretz (ignorant Jew)!"

Every Jewish child in Israel and abroad must receive a Jewish education. That is the only way to insure a future for our people and for Israel. The sentence "I am an Israeli," has no content or meaning, without adding, "That is, I am a Jew." Education for Judaism is not "religious coercion"; it is the educational and fundamental obligation of any people that wishes to continue to exist.

The current situation of governmental "non-religious" education in Israel is intolerable. It is in need of immediate correction. If not, Heaven forbid, a generation of Israelis will grow up who will be capable of participating in "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", but will not know anything about their magnificent Jewish heritage. In other words, Hebrew-speaking, but without any idea about themselves, their ancient history and roots in their historical homeland. This factor would be a much graver threat for the future existence of the State of Israel than any threat of the Arabs.

We are now entering the month of Elul, a month in which we are required to engage in repentance (teshuvah  literally, "to return"). On the national level, we must return all Israeli children to a knowledge of Judaism, to their roots. They will then know how to respond to a question "in which Hebrew month is the holiday of Shavuot celebrated?" They will also know the reason why they are living in this Holy Land, and how very proud they can be of their forefathers.

When the response of the majority of Israeli children will be "I am a proud Jew who lives in the Land of my forefathers, Israel. That Land belongs only to the people of Israel, in accordance with the Torah of Israel," then, and only then, will victory over our enemies, both internal and external, be assured, with God's help.

[The foregoing is a partial translation of Nadia Matar?s Women in Green radio program of Rosh Hodesh Elul, 5763 (August 29, 2003), on Arutz-7 radio.]





top