'Haredim Must Be Allowed to Educate Their Children as They See Fit'

Ultra-Orthodox students petition the High Court in response to move against exempting Haredi schools from the national core curriculum.

A Haredi education is no different than a state one, and even gives the students tools to enter the job market, a number of ultra-Orthodox students told the High Court yesterday in response to a petition against exempting Haredi schools from the national core curriculum.

The response, authored by a several former and current yeshiva students, led by attorney Aviad Hacohen, made pragmatic and principled arguments that there is no difference between Haredi and secular core curricula, and ultra-Orthodox parents should be able to educate their children as they see fit.

Yeshiva students and teachers last month protesting a High Court ruling.
Tomer Appelbaum

The original petition was filed by former education minister Amnon Rubinstein, former IDF logistics chief Elazar Stern, and Prof. Uriel Reichmann, president of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. The petition was aimed at forcing the Education Ministry, the Knesset and the association of principals of Torah study institutions to roll back a Haredi exemption from the core subjects.

"The absence of core curriculum subjects from small yeshivas is no accident, but a deliberate move motivated by an educational, cultural and social ideology," Hacohen wrote in the 96-page response. "It seems appropriate that Israel, which likes to pride itself on its multiculturalism, will not harm the uniqueness of the ultra-Orthodox students and force them, in a manifestly intolerant way, to study subjects which they do not desire."

The ultra-Orthodox students are asking the panel, to be chaired by Court President Dorit Beinisch, to reject the petition. "The petitioners are trying to create social and political change by making inappropriate use of court processes," the respondents wrote. "It's clear that the subject at hand, even if it dresses in legal clothing, is fundamentally social, educational and political, and should be discussed in the Knesset, in the 'forum of ideas' in the media or social sphere, not in the courtroom."

The respondents say the petition ignores the intense yeshiva studies, which help students acquire learning habits, sharpen their minds, "and nurture fresh, critical and creative thinking."

"An average yeshiva student studies 14 hours a day, much more than his state school peer," they argue. "Reality shows that most of the yeshiva students who decided to turn to the job market are extremely successful and rise to prominent positions in whichever areas they join."

The students also maintain that "a democratic society, most certainly one concerned with liberalism and multiculturalism, must be inclusive of different hues and treat various sectors within it with patience and tolerance charted by the 'majority society.'"

The respondents note that students in democratic high schools also enjoy the liberty not to study certain subjects, including ones on the core curriculum, and that anyone who wants to can make up for core curriculum studies later and integrate in the job market. "Tens of thousands of Haredim can testify to that," they write.

Meanwhile Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in his weekly sermon that graduates of state schools were "fools and Shabbat desecrators."

"People worry about matriculation exams, they want their son to have a job," the rabbi told his followers. "Why, are rabbis starving? God provides, provides any living being. What's the matter? He'll have a living, he'll have everything. He'll be a rabbi, a Torah scholar, a rabbinical judge, they'll give him lots of money. Yes. Why should he think of other things?"