Opinion

State Religious Schools Have Gone Mad

Pupils received books with material explaining things like when a Jewish soldier can sleep with a non-Jewish female captive, and how to demand something from non-Jews that belongs to us

The comic strips that explain when a Jewish soldier can sleep with a non-Jewish female captive.
The comic strips that explain when a Jewish soldier can sleep with a non-Jewish female captive.

A storm has swept through parts of the state religious school system in recent days due to calendar books distributed to the students. The calendars include comic strips that explain such things as when a Jewish soldier can sleep with a non-Jewish female captive, and how to demand something that belongs to us when it’s in the possession of non-Jews.

The latter has a humorous punch line: “It’s too bad we didn’t demand the Temple Mount, too.” There are explanations of the laws of ritual impurity and other content that it’s hard to believe anyone sober would think should be put in a calendar book for elementary school students.

Many parents were furious, and the Education Ministry said distribution of the calendars has been suspended because the content wasn’t appropriate for students that age. This could have been a reasonable end to a story in which a mistake was made and those responsible for it, or their supervisors, took responsibility and sought to correct it. One could have said someone was smoking something, and the establishment that allowed this madness had been celebrating and getting drunk together on the evening it went to press.

This might have been possible, but don’t believe it. First, this wasn’t a bout of madness, but a clear ideology propagated by extremist movements within the state religious school system that seek to take it over, flood it with right-wing religious extremism and inculcate arrogance and hatred of foreigners. Moreover, the story of these calendars is much bigger than the bad taste that made its way into them. The real story is the parents – those who protested, who said “we’ve had it” and brought the incident to its reasonable conclusion, but even more so those who thought that this is the Torah and this is its reward, so if they want a religious education for their children, they must pay the price it entails.

When it comes to handing out candy in school, these same parents stand outside the principal’s office and threaten an organized revolt. They’re also the ones who raise an outcry when there’s no third assistant in the kindergarten or when the schnitzel is fried rather than baked. But when it comes to the messages that are force-fed their children, they keep silent.

I’m not talking about parents who actually identify with these racist, chauvinist, archaic messages, but about those whose lifestyles accord with the lifestyle promoted by their children’s schools. Many such parents meekly acquiesce when they’re told that this is what the Torah says and we educate our children in its path, and therefore it’s important that during recess, the children browse through the laws for menstruating women and review the ways to pressure non-Jews.

These parents don’t ask themselves when religious Zionism turned into Zionist ultra-Orthodoxy, or how the state-oriented half of the equation disappeared from the state religious schools. They listen to those who say that if they don’t like it, they should switch to secular schools, without protesting that secular education doesn’t fit their lifestyle, and that those who want more Torah-intensive education are the ones who should leave. To a large extent, they are party to the regrettable process that the religious Zionist community and religious Zionism as a whole are undergoing, even though they don’t intend to be.

True, the comics in those calendars were based on Jewish laws, but so what? Nobody would dream of approving a calendar that showed pictures of all the different types of sexual harassment mentioned in the penal code, or graphic drawings of the Shin Bet security service’s permitted interrogation techniques.

Only the tiniest drop of judgment is needed to decide what to teach, and it’s hard to decide which is more outrageous, the thought that such judgment wasn’t exercised and there’s simply no one who cares what our children are being fed, or the fear that a guiding hand was stirring this concoction.

Dr. Idit Shafran Gittleman is a post-doctorate fellow in law at Tel Aviv University.