Secular Judaism "brought us Haskalah and maybe 'Big Brother,' but Jewish culture that provides a new Jewish language - this it did not bring," former Shas leader Aryeh Deri said on Tuesday at the annual Herzliya Conference.
Deri, who has been waiting for a long time to reenter politics after serving a prison sentence for bribery, was speaking on a panel on education along with former education minister and Labor MK Prof. Yuli Tamir, and Maj. Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, former head of the Israel Defense Forces human resources branch and the Education Corps.
Stern, who is Orthodox, said the national Jewish camp's identification of Judaism with the Greater Land of Israel is "the tragedy of the state and the tragedy of religious Zionism."
Tamir criticized Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, which she said were insular and "built on the desire to create distance from others." As opposed to many of her friends, she said, she is not worried about the level of involvement of the ultra-Orthodox in the daily life of the country, but rather is worried that "this is a group whose Judaism is defined inwardly. It does not share with us the discussion of what Jewish education is."
"Forget about religion," Deri told Tamir, in response to her comment that "the argument is over whether one says to children 'those who don't keep the Sabbath won't get to heaven.'"
"We have a way of life and a culture from the time a child is born until 120 years of age," Deri said, "which gives content, gives life, gives us a common language. All that has disappeared. What is the fear of teaching these things? I'm not going to get into the Sabbath according to Jewish law or not according to Jewish law... Until 200 years ago, it was only religion that was the culture. Then, 200 years ago, they decided to establish some new secular Judaism. Unfortunately, this did not bring us another culture, with all due respect."
"We need there to be an educational system here where graduates will say 'I am proud to be Jewish,'" Stern said. He added that it was unfortunate that the secular educational system has since the 1990s been closed off to spokespeople from religious Zionism.
Deri offered praise for the large number of ultra-Orthodox Jews getting academic degrees and learning trades. "It's not a revolution that [will happen overnight]," Deri said, but "in a few years they will say that the ultra-Orthodox have also taken over higher education."
Deri denounced the ultra-Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem last year who he said "slander us all." The former Shas leader said he was against the demonstrations, "and you should know that most of our community is against them."
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