There's a New Subject on the Curriculum: Pluralistic Jewish-Israeli Culture

Some pluralistic organizations say they haven’t even heard about the program, and the teachers colleges haven’t been officially notified.

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Israeli high school students taking matriculation exams.
Israeli high school students taking matriculation exams.Credit: Archive

The Education Ministry plans to introduce a new subject into the school curriculum, “Jewish-Israeli culture,” which ministry sources say will be pluralistic and not strictly Orthodox Jewish.

In the first stage, due to begin this year, teachers, students and parents at all grade levels will take part in “learning and experience sessions” focused on Jewish texts. Next year, the subject will become a formal part of the curriculum from kindergarten through 10th grade in all secular Jewish state schools.

Ministry sources say the program will be pluralistic, though some of the ministry’s other projects appear to have an Orthodox character. It will be taught in addition to existing subjects like Bible and history.

Internal ministry documents obtained by Haaretz say the program aims to “develop and shape a Jewish-Israeli identity” and “develop a feeling of belonging and responsibility toward Jewish-Israeli heritage via a pluralistic, open and critical approach.”

The sessions will generally include the study of a text along with some other activity. The topics will be chosen by the schools and will be run “primarily” by the school staff – wording critics view as an opening for the involvement of outside groups.

The documents suggest a long list of possible session topics. For instance, kindergartners can learn Bible stories such as Noah’s ark or “the values of Shabbat” via the prayer book.

Topics for first- and second-graders include receiving the Torah or Talmudic stories about interpersonal relations; for third- and fourth-graders Jerusalem or “social responsibility” in the context of the sabbatical year; and for fifth- and sixth-graders Zionist heritage or the weekly Torah portion.

Topics for seventh- and eighth-graders include honoring one’s parents, attitudes toward the other or observing Shabbat; for ninth- and 10th-graders various Jewish movements (such as Orthodox, Conservative and Reform) or social justice in connection with the values of the sabbatical year; and for 11th- and 12th-graders Hasidic stories or tikkun olam (repairing the world).

The program will incorporate the “Israel culture and heritage” program introduced by Education Minister Shay Piron’s predecessor, Gideon Sa’ar.

On November 20, the advisory committee charged with drafting the new subject’s curriculum will hold its first meeting. The panel is expected to be chaired by Prof. Ron Margolin of Tel Aviv University, who also drafted a Jewish studies curriculum for another former education minister, the Labor Party’s Yuli Tamir.

Though one of the program’s goals, according to the documents, is promoting cooperation between pluralistic Jewish groups and the education system, some pluralistic organizations say they haven’t even heard about the program. The teachers colleges also haven’t been officially notified, and some say they’re unenthusiastic.

“There’s no need for another program like this. Over the years, many committees have been established that dealt with teaching Jewish heritage and culture, and nothing ever lasted,” said a senior staffer at a teachers college.

“Moreover, there are too many reforms, and this confuses the teaching staff. The ideas that are always being thrown into the air just create chaos and disorder.”

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