Coercive Imposition of Western Culture

A High Court decision imposing core curriculum study, at the expense of study programs based on ideological outlooks, would cause a public outcry and stir feelings of schism and discrimination.

Yitzhak Levy
Yitzhak Levy
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Yitzhak Levy
Yitzhak Levy

A grave phenomenon is occurring with regard to the core curriculum issue. Academics, public figures and the courts are involved. They are trying to impose Western culture on Jewish culture, without publishing any serious research that would prove their claims concerning the essentiality of the core curriculum.

Ultra-Orthodox students.Credit: Emil Salman

The country's "Western elite" has decided that in order to earn a living and compete in the labor market, 10- to 18-year-olds should study mathematics and English. Many believe this to be a self-evident truth. However, it can be shown to be untrue on several grounds.

The first, and most important, argument is that there is no need to study mathematics and English for eight years in order to gain mastery of these subjects in a way that opens the door to various types of jobs, even in high tech. Private institutions that prepare students for matriculation exams, as well as pre-academic courses in higher education institutions, have proven that one can attain a high level on matriculation exams in these two subjects as a result of studies that last a year or two, and are undertaken at any stage of a person's life. Since this is the case, why should studies in these two areas be forced upon those who are not interested in them for such a lengthy period?

The second argument is that not everyone aspires to work in a field that requires knowledge in these disciplines. Many earn a living modestly in manual labor, religious teaching, agriculture and small trade; in none of these endeavors is mastery of core curriculum subjects requisite.

The final argument pertains to the preference shown to Western culture in a study program that includes mathematics, sciences and languages - this preference comes at the expense of Jewish culture subjects, including the Bible, Talmud, Jewish thought and Land of Israel studies. Were the Jewish and democratic values of the State of Israel to be calculated equally, the core curriculum's makeup would be different.

At play here is an attempt to impose a non-essential study program that stems from apparently good intentions, but which overlooks the fact that the state offers an array of private education options (non-official yet recognized educational programs, ultra-Orthodox educational networks, Christian education networks ) and does not force studying in the state education system. It must therefore respect a variety of desires and objectives in study programs, and not coercively impose non-crucial programs.

Subjects that are necessary and should therefore be required core curriculum items are the Hebrew language and civics. The spoken language, as well as an understanding of the duties and rights of citizenship, and of the legal and governmental frameworks, are essential subjects for inclusion in Israeli civil society.

To my mind, the fact that a nine-justice High Court panel intends to consider a petition requiring core curriculum study is surprising. It should have rejected this petition. Some subjects are amenable to discussion and persuasion, over the long term.

Clearly there has been "movement" among the ultra-Orthodox in the direction of involvement in the workplace and induction into the IDF. Such movement stems not from laws or High Court decisions, but rather from social and economic processes. A High Court decision imposing core curriculum study, at the expense of study programs based on ideological outlooks, would cause a public outcry and stir feelings of schism and discrimination.

The storm surrounding the Immanuel girls school would pale in comparison with what such a court decision could spark. The petitioners would do well to withdraw their request, and try to exert influence in other ways, in order to attain their goal.

Rabbi Levy is a former education minister.

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