What are the chances that Education Minister Limor Livnat is really planning to fulfill her promise to institute the core curriculum, which includes general studies, in the ultra-Orthodox education system? The answer is hinted at in some of the calming interviews given by Livnat to the Haredi media to mark the opening of the school year. "The official definition is 'foreign language,'" Livnat told the Bakehila Haredi newspaper, to allay concerns that Haredi schools would have to start teaching English. "The definition does not refer to English specifically. Theoretically a foreign language could be Yiddish too, even though it is not foreign. It is mama loshen [mother tongue]."
The reason the Education Ministry is declaring its intentions to institute the core curriculum in the Haredi education system is that the High Court of Justice is breathing down the ministry's neck following a petition by MK Yossi Paritzky of Shinui. Paritzky based his petition on the State Education Law, which forbids the recognition of educational institutions that do not implement the core curriculum. Livnat's pronouncement, however, raises suspicisons that she is planning to institute a make-believe core curriculum in the Haredi education system, but will nonetheless grant the system very real large budgets allocations.
According to a response from the ministry's spokeswoman, "The Shoshani Commission's report [on which the core curriculum is based] neither mentioned nor recommended the obligatory teaching of English as a foreign language. The commission recommended not enforcing a language definition, so Yiddish is one of the possible languages."
Then why should mama loshen not effectively be an alternative to English? The answer can be found in the international conventions that Israel has signed. The Convention for the Rights of the Child declares a child's right to a professional education and clarifies: "The education must be directed at developing the child's personality and talents and preparing him for a responsible life as an adult who respects human rights." Furthermore, the international Convention against Discrimination in Education states: "The right to a religious or cultural education should not be implemented such that it prevents the members of the minority group from understanding and becoming familiar with the dominant language and culture or to participate in activities of the dominant group."
In effect, the main purpose of Haredi education is just that - to prevent the ultra-Orthodox children from becoming familiar with or understanding the dominant secular culture.
The core curriculum is designed to provide all children with an identical knowledge base that will enable them to acquire a professional or academic education and to compete on more or less equal terms in the job market. Such an education cannot exclude the English language, in which professional articles and information are published on the Internet.
Only a very small proportion of the research world publishes articles in Yiddish. In the absence of the core curriculum, the Haredi children are destined for a future of poverty and ignorance, although this apparently does not concern the education minister at all. Her horizon ends at the upcoming primaries, her seat in the next government and, of course, her possible future candidacy for prime minister.
Ever since she entered the Education Ministry, Livnat has done everything possible to prove that she is more ultra-Orthodox than the Torah giants. Among other things, she has opened the coffers of the education and welfare services and the long school day to the Haredi education system. In order to gain the support of the Haredim for her candidacy for prime minister, Livnat is willing to assist and nurture an education system that actually feels that women should not even be members of a municipal council. In the interview with Bakehila, Livnat prides herself, among other things, on introducing into the state education system religious values that a religious minister could not have introduced without stirring up a storm.
Livnat, like other politicians, is convinced that she can convey contradictory messages to the secular and Haredi public without paying the public price. The double messages also theoretically raise the question as to what the politicians are really thinking. It's doubtful, however, whether that is important. When any political price is valid, a politician's values are unimportant and Yiddish can also be considered a foreign language to be studied.
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