Secular Israeli Parents Protest Orthodox Religious Coercion in Secular Schools

'I have no interest in having my children educated by Orthodox seminary teachers intent on spreading their worldview,' says Reform Rabbi Orna Pilz.

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Two of the protesters, Reform Rabbi Orna Pilz (L) and attorney Smadar Dekel Naim.Credit: Nir Kedar
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Students in non-religious state schools in Herzliya and Ramat Hasharon have been subjected to Orthodox Jewish religious activities that are not part of the curriculum and are conducted by religious organizations. A number of parents told Haaretz that Orthodox organizations have taken control of so-called Jewish identity programming, and that they oppose the change but fear the Education Ministry will not step in to stop it.

Some parents told a reporter that a workshop conducted recently by an Orthodox seminary at a Ramat Hasharon high school included both quotations attributed to Adolf Hitler and the Biblical story of David’s anointment as king.

In another incident, fifth-graders from Herzliya who went to the Western Wall during a field trip to Jerusalem last week were allegedly instructed to tell their parents that they must go to a religious school and eat kosher food, because it will hasten the coming of the Messiah.

Sources in various Jewish renewal organizations that are involved in education said the Education Ministry has made no move to stop Orthodox groups from monopolizing identity education in Israeli schools. One figure, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said, that with Naftali Bennett as education minister the ministry was even less likely now to move against the Orthodox organizations. The only way to change the trend is “from the bottom up,” the source said, by encouraging parents to complain and to demand a pluralistic approach to identity studies.

The Orthodox Lahav seminary conducts numerous programs in the state non-religious school system. Late last month instructors from the institution held a workshop for 10th-graders at a Ramat Hasharon high school who are about to receive their Israeli identity cards.

The students were given a bibliography that included a quote from 1 Samuel:16 about God’s choosing David and anointing him as king. Alongside were quotations, ostensibly from Hitler, from Hermann Rauschning’s book “The Voice of Destruction: Conversations With Hitler 1940.” They included, “The Jews have inflicted two wounds on the world: Circumcision for the body and conscience for the soul. ... The war on world domination is only between the German people and the Jewish people.”

Orna Pilz, a Reform rabbi, protested that the school had invited teachers from a religious nongovernmental organization that is trying to spread its Orthodox world view among the secular public.

“I have no interest in having my children educated by Orthodox seminary teachers intent on spreading their worldview ... I’m certain the school’s teachers are capable of teaching the students about their identity and their Israeli identity, and are much more suitable to do so,” she wrote to the principal.

“The texts chosen to read in the classroom are not suitable for preparing students for receiving their identity card — which is a secular civilian document. It has nothing to do with God or Hitler,” Pilz wrote. “This is part of a broad, systematic move of blurring Israeliness and Judaism. Why mix the Bible and Hitler with the identity card? What do they want from the children?” she asked.

Pilz said parents send their children to school believing the teachers and their training is supervised, but apparently this is not the case. “There must be full transparency of all the groups [from outside the school] that come into contact with the students,” she wrote.

Pilz said “most of the parents did not know about this workshop. I saw the bibliography by chance and was shocked.”

Last Wednesday fifth-graders at a Herzliya school had a field trip to Jerusalem. At the end of the visit to the Western Wall an ultra-Orthodox man approached the boys, apparently from a Chabad booth, and told them to follow him. According to one of the students, Itay Naim, “He asked us to pray with him for the Messiah to come. He said we must tell our parents that we’re embracing Judaism fully and must go to a religious school and eat kosher food, because this is how the messiah will come.”

“Others laughed, but to me it seemed a little strange and troubling,” he said.

Naim’s mother, attorney Smadar Dekel Naim, who conducts rites for the pluralistic organization Havaya, Israeli Life Cycle Ceremonies, protested. She wrote to the school’s principal, “I have no objection to singing and dancing at the Western Wall, on the contrary, it’s also possible to sing songs that reflect other Jewish values than the faith in the messiah’s arrival.”

She also wrote, “It’s unacceptable that the children were sent home with a ‘message’ to become religious.”

The principal replied to Dekel Naim that parents who took part in the trip said “the encounter with the religious man was enjoyable and was not seen by them as an attempt to make the children religious but as a chance for dialog at home and in school about the various streams in Judaism.”

The Lahav seminary said in a response that its activity at the Ramat Hasharon high school was held “transparently and in coordination with the school staff. The texts had an educational, clear and accurate link pertaining to identity.

The Education Ministry declined to comment on either incident.

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