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The Education Ministry's noncompliance with a 2004 High Court of Justice ruling that ultra-Orthodox high schools should not get government funding if they do not adopt the state's core curriculum threatens the rule of law, the High Court said yesterday.

Despite its criticism, however, the court said it was not issuing "operative instructions" to immediately stop the funding because of a law passed last week that exempts ultra-Orthodox high schools from implementing the core curriculum even if they receive state funding.

The law will "perpetuate and make more extreme the gap between educational institutions," the court said in a 47-page ruling in principle, adding that it was "inexplicable" to surrender to the demands of a community "that refuses to accept the law and the world of basic principles obligating the entire education system."

The Israel Religious Action Center and the Secondary School Teachers Association, which petitioned the High Court to get the Education Ministry to comply with the earlier ruling, said yesterday that they were considering filing another petition protesting the law passed last week.

The Education Ministry has an "abysmal" awareness of its civic obligations, said the court panel, headed by Justice Ayala Procaccia.

"For a government authority to avoid obeying a judicial verdict is one of the most serious and worrying dangers lying in wait for the rule of law in a democratic country," the court said. "From the response of the Education Ministry to the petition, and from the position of the court, it emerges clearly that this court's verdict in the first instance was not implemented on time, and has not been implemented so far, neither in letter nor in spirit."

"The extent of the awareness the Education Ministry and the education minister have of their obligation based on the verdict in the first case was abysmal," the court said.

The justices criticized Education Minister Yuli Tamir for proposing last year that high school yeshivas receive temporary exemptions from teaching the core curriculum while their status is changed from "recognized but unofficial institutions" (which are funded at 75 percent) to "exempt institutions" (which are funded at 55 percent).

The court wrote that the decision to change the schools' status "reflects a difficult and surprising stand by the Education Ministry" with regard to its obligation to carry out the court's ruling.

The justices did not accept Tamir's arguments about implementing change in ultra-Orthodox schools slowly, saying that the ministry did not appear to be dealing with the matter at all, nor did it seem to be prepared to do so in the future.

The High Court went so far as to say that the law could not succeed "from the point of view of equality, and it will be struck down."

Tamir said there was little chance that the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas would have adopted the core curriculum in any case.