Haredi schoolchildren
Haredi schoolchildrenFlash90

What is at the heart of the current 'religionization in secular schools' controversy? Before we can understand the situation, we must understand the problem. As everyone knows, there have always been Jewish studies in Israeli schools.

Former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and the rest of Israel's founders were much more proficient in the Hebrew Bible than most of us, and the Bible Quiz was not invented by current Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party. There is no disputing that there was greater Shabbat observance in the public sphere in the past than there is today in Israel.

Just this week, the Haaretz newspaper wrote an article about how things have 'improved.' Unlike the 1990s, when businesses closed on the Shabbat as a matter of course, today there are hundreds of restaurants open every Saturday in Tel Aviv. The old municipality announcer who called on residents to dress modestly on the streets of Tel Aviv has been replaced by huge posters on the highway calling on us to buy sunglasses or SUVs promoted by scantily clad models. A gay pride parade would have been a pipe dream not so many years ago.

It is difficult to compare the level of Jewish studies in public schools today to what existed at the time of the founding of the state. The secular matriculation exam in Bible studies includes a number of ridiculous items. Talmud and Mishna (the Oral Jewish Law) are not studied at all, and instead of a generation of unbelievers, an entire generation has grown up here whose first exposure to Judaism occurs in the IDF.

Nevertheless, a huge campaign is being waged now, complete with hysterical shouts of 'religionization by coercion! There is religionization everywhere: in the IDF, in the schools, and in the public sphere!' Even if a large part of it is just knee-jerk liberal reactions and hysterical allegations, the emotions behind the reactions are difficult to hide, They see the objective data showing the growth of the haredi population, and the increasing representation of the haredi worldview in the media, IDF, and the government, and they are afraid.

The problem of the secular forum 'Molad,' as well as the other participants in this campaign, is not the fact that Judaism is taught in the schools. Rather, their problem is that those who teach Judaism in the schools and the IDF wear a skullcap. Behind the smiles and the lectures, these 'defenders' of religious freedom claim, is a nefarious plot to bring Jews back to Judaism. The Education Ministry denies these accusations, but I personally hope that this is not true.

Do religious Jews not want their fellow Jews to return to Judaism eventually? The great love we feel for our people should not blind us to the fact that the world cannot be perfected while a large part of the Jewish people are estranged from the traditions of their ancestors. One of the foundations of faith is the power of repentance which, according to the promise of the Torah and the Prophets, is to restore the people of Israel to our origins. We pray for this three times a day every day.

The secular may not be knowledgeable about Judaism, but they are not stupid. They understand very well the hidden intention behind the lessons in Judaism, and a thousand denials will not set their minds at ease. Therefore, they are rightly angry at those who disguise that in their lessons on Jewish heritage and pretend that there are not an effort to bring the listeners back to Judaism.

This incitement campaign is important in that it is intended first and foremost to provide a lesson to the religious community. We must stop hiding behind a shield wrapped in cellophane. and be proud of what we are. We must be proud of the tradition of our Torah and our Sages, which we have kept for thousands of years. Perhaps they would start to listen to us if we would say aloud that there is nothing better for a man than the Torah, that there is no greater lasting pleasure and security for the soul than the Shabbat, kashrut, and the observance of ritual purity.

If we are as proud of the Torah and the commandments as they are of liberalism and pluralism, they might begin to respect us. The incitement campaign would stop because there would be no more secrets to reveal. Everything would be out in the open. If we declared our love for the Torah in a unified voice, we would be able to teach the Torah and Judaism without shame and without apologies.

The writer is a rabbi, an IDF captain (res.) and a media consultant.