Coalition Votes to Support Exemption From Core Curriculum for ultra-Orthodox Schools

The process for passing the bill into law has been accelerated under pressure from Haredi parties, associates of the education minister confirm.

Chaim Levinson
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A classroom in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Chaim Levinson

Under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided Sunday that the coalition will support the draft bill to exempt Haredi educational institutions from teaching the core curriculum. The bill is expected to come up for a first reading in the Knesset plenum later this week.

In his coalition agreement with United Torah Judaism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to restore support for the ultra-Orthodox educational system as it was prior to the entry of Yesh Atid into the coalition in 2013.

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) told Haaretz that the process will be completed before the Knesset summer recess at the end of next week. “There’s nothing complicated about it, it was included in the coalition agreement. We demand to return to the situation in 2012. From our point of view, it’s the last law from the period of Lapid that we are erasing,” he said, referring to Yair Lapid, the chairman of Yesh Atid.

Associates of Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) confirmed Sunday that ultra-Orthodox parties are behind the accelerated process to pass the law. At the same time, the Education Ministry is cooperating with the pressure. A memorandum of the bill, which allows ministries to present their reservations about its wording, was published for the first time only 10 days ago. Usually, memorandums are be distributed at least 21 days before the bill comes up before the ministerial committee.

In effect, the ministries were given six work days to read the bill and respond to it. The accelerated procedure will now force a lightning discussion in the Knesset Education Committee, which has to incorporate the committee members' comments into the final version within about a week. The clause in question in the Compulsory Education Law, which requires the teaching of the core curriculum. It will be replaced by amendments to be decided on by Bennett, and will come into effect as soon as the bill becomes law.

Most of these amendments have apparently already been agreed on in discussions between Gafni and the education minister, and include a partial requirement to teach the core curriculum in the partially state-funded religious elementary schools. About 10% of the 400,000 pupils in the Haredi education system study in these institutions.

According to the anticipated amendments, Bennett will be able to determine the necessary scope of study for subjects such as Hebrew language, Bible, history, Jewish heritage, science and physical education in order for the schools to receive funding. The institutions will also be able to teach a second language of their choosing, such as Yiddish, instead of English.

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