Ed. Min. Pressured to Reinstate Leviev Program

Representatives of the Lev Leviev Foundation's Zman Masa (Journey Time) program for bolstering Jewish identity have recently been pressuring the Education Ministry to reverse its decision to stop using the program in schools. The program, which focuses on understanding Judaism, is designed to be taught at state-run elementary schools.

The Education Ministry has found that the terms it set for the program were not met. The pressure on the ministry increased another level this week, according to ministry officials, as the mayor of Netanya, Miriam Fierberg, joined other mayors, including from Rishon Letzion and Petah Tikva, in protesting the ministry's decision.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Zman Masa representatives are not afraid of taking on the ministry - even though the program does not meet the ministry's educational criteria. She told Haaretz, "There is constantly pressure on the matter. It is problematic to hand over to a private individual a program with educational content, and therefore we are supervising particularly [closely]."

Tamir added that there was no truth to the claims that the ministry's demands were stricter in the case of Zman Masa, saying other programs were careful not to violate the ministry's guidelines.

Last week the ministry ordered the 65 elementary schools using the program to stop teaching it. The ministry's terms were that the program must be taught by certified school teachers or student teachers from state colleges - not ultra-Orthodox teachers from outside the education system - and that the material must be pre-approved.

During the last school year, the Zman Masa program operated in 66 elementary schools in Rishon Letzion, Petah Tikva and Beit Shemesh. The program and the cost of its teaching materials were covered by the Leviev Foundation.

In the past, two versions of the program were submitted to the Education Ministry for approval, and both were rejected, mainly due to the blatant Orthodox motifs in large parts of the study material.

In practice, the program has been taught over the past two years without the ministry's supervision. In recent discussions, however, Zman Masa Director Shai Rinski, who served as an advisor to former education minister Limor Livnat, has agreed to amend the program's material in compliance with Education Ministry requests.

A ministry source said, "The two conditions for the approval of the program were very clear and unequivocal. Several weeks later, we realized Zman Masa wasn't fulfilling either of them. You cannot laugh at instructions and expect the program to be approved."

When ministry officials met in late April to discuss the matter, pedagogic secretariat head Prof. Anat Zohar said that "the essential concept was not amended," and "the program is written from the viewpoint of faith, observing the commandments and accepting God's sovereignty."

Another official at the meeting said there had been "patchwork revisions, not a change of concept."

After the discussion in April, it was decided that the program's course pamphlets would be brought in line with the Shenhar report, which stipulated that Judaism studies at state schools must take a pluralistic approach.

Zman Masa responded: "We are not organizing a pressure campaign. We do not intend to beg to educate Israel's students."