Haredi Leader Orders Followers to Boycott Israeli Education Ministry Inspectors

The ministry intervenes in Haredi educational institutions' curricula and demands that teaching staff participate in training sessions, some of which contain “heresy and sacrilege,' according to a letter by Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman.

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, center, at an ultra-Orthodox rally in Bnei Brak, March 11, 2015.
Moti Milrod

A top leader of the non-Hassidic Haredi community ordered his followers to boycott the Education Ministry department responsible for ultra-Orthodox schools.

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman cited the intervention of ministry administration and inspectors in Haredi educational institutions. The ministry intervenes in the schools’ curricula and also demands that teaching staff participate in training sessions, some of which contain “heresy and sacrilege,” according to a letter by Shteinman published in the Haredi press.

Shteinman’s letter ordered all the principals of all educational institutions, including preschools, not to cooperate with ministry inspectors - even those who are ultra-Orthodox - and not to participate in ministry training sessions.

“We must gather together to defend ourselves from the terrible decree,” he wrote.

On Monday, dozens of principals of ultra-Orthodox institutions came to the Knesset complain to the representatives of the United Torah Judaism party about how Education Ministry inspectors were treating them.

The principal of a religious school from Bnei Brak, Rabbi Eliyahu Friedlander, described several cases, including one when a ministry supervisor allegedly told Haredi female preschool teachers, “All the male teachers should be assumed to be perverts, and you must report to me. The principals spend all day thinking about how to defend [these teachers].”

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) attended the meeting, and he too criticized his boss, Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

The current conflict with the Education Ministry is the continuation of a confrontation that started in September 2015, when the Haredi department took a stance against the principals of Haredi seminaries for high school girls who refused to enroll dozens of students, most of whom were ethnically Mizrahi. The principals called it “an intervention in the educational content.”

Over the past few months, Bennett responded to pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas to replace the head of the Haredi department. But the Haredi leadership has also criticized the new head, Yitzhak Zahavi, and Porush criticized him for being nonreligious.

However, the principals said the real problem is the ministry’s attempts to influence Haredi educational autonomy.

Despite all the complaints, only a month ago the Haredi leadership declared, via Degel Hatorah’s newspaper Yated Ne’eman, that a new page was being turned in the community’s relationship with Bennett. he paper wrote at the time the atmosphere had changed and the Haredi leadership appreciated Bennett’s new attitude and hoped the new discourse would be translated from pleasant words into action.