Daily Israel Report

Supreme Court Declares War on Hareidi Schools

The Supreme Court ruled today that the State may not fund hareidi religious schools that do not uphold the minimum curriculum standards set by the Education Ministry.
First Publish: 12/15/2004, 2:43 PM / Last Update: 12/15/2004, 4:26 PM

MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said in response, "We are ashamed that the Supreme Court of the State of Israel has declared that this is not a Jewish State."

Today's ruling, delivered by Justice Edmond Levy, stated that the State may not publicly fund school systems that do not fulfill requirements set by the State. Doing so is a "blow to the concept of equality," he stated.

"Allocating money to institutions that do not fulfill the conditions as set by law, and that do not fulfill the objectives of the public education system, is a deviation from the legal authorities granted [to the Education Ministry]," the court ruled. The ruling will take effect beginning in the 2007-8 school year.

The issue was brought to the Court by the Irgun HaMorim Secondary Schools Teachers Union, which claimed that the sum of 180 million shekels allocated annually to the hareidi schools is unfairly deducted from the total amount allotted to schools that follow the State-set regulations. Government representatives defended the allocations, saying that a process is underway to ensure that the hareidi pupils receive instruction in basic subjects, in addition to the Torah disciplines.

The Education Ministry recognizes the hareidi school system as an independent educational system, and has - until today - traditionally allowed it to set its own curriculum.

Eight months ago, Education Minister Limor Livnat launched a new program designed to stem the decline in educational achievements among Israeli pupils. The program defines the basic knowledge that students must receive, including "knowledge clusters" such as math and sciences; languages and literature; physical education; tradition; humanities; and more.

Until now, the Education Ministry has partially funded schools that fulfilled at least 55% of the program, and provided full funding for those that implement at least 75% of the curriculum. It is this arrangement that will now be ended.

Anat Schor, spokesperson for the Teachers Union, told Arutz-7 today, "The State of Israel has determined a curriculum for the entire country, in order to enable students from every sector to have a common language. With this program, a hareidi student from Dimona and a secular pupil from Haifa will be able to understand each other. What, do the hareidim want to have two nations?"

Asked if implementation of 55% of the program, as has been acceptable until now, would not be sufficient to form this common base, she said, "There's one program, and that's it. Either the school implements it, or not... We simply want to give every student the tools to deal with modern society."

Arutz-7: "There's a difference between 'giving tools' and 'shoving them down their throats.'"

Schor: "... This arrangement will also be good for the hareidim, in that they'll be officially subsidized by the government, and won't have to depend on handouts determined by various coalition negotiations, with the accompanying bad-mouthing of the hareidi community."

This past May, the hareidi rabbinic leaders decided that their schools would not adopt the new Education Ministry program. "The Education Ministry's intervention in our schools is an injustice that cries out to heaven," sources close to leading hareidi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv said at the time. "Our education is better than that of the secular sector. Why should they try to educate our children when they themselves have failed?"

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said then, "Hareidi education must remain in the hands of the Torah giants. This is a matter of principle - especially since our pedagogical independence has proven itself. Hareidi education is better than the public education in every parameter; even in English and math, we received higher scores."

Three months ago, the Education Ministry publicized the hareidi-school results of its fifth-grade Meitzav tests, which measure "school-wide achievement and growth" - and the hareidim did better than other sectors. Hareidi students - i.e., those who study in private recognized religious school systems - scored an average of 79 on the tests, while their counterparts in public and public-religious schools scored only 71. The tests were administered last year - the first time the religious schools participated in this testing system. Close to 6,000 hareidi students in 161 schools took part in the tests.