Tel Aviv Mayor to Send Book Recalled by Education Ministry to Jewish Religious Schoolkids

Education Ministry official ordered national-religious elementary schools to return book referencing travel on Sabbath, aimed at teaching first graders decision-making

An illustration from the book 'When Will We Know If Michal Was Elected.' The blocks read 'DEMOCRACY'
Amir Percia

Children in Tel Aviv state-religious schools who are beginning the first grade will be sent copies of a book that was recalled because it referenced travelling on Shabbat, Mayor Ron Huldai said on Wednesday.

An Education Ministry official ordered state-religious elementary schools in Tel Aviv to return copies of the children’s book, suggests people may decide for themselves whether or not to travel on the Sabbath, on Tuesday.

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Huldai told Army Radio that "this is a process where they want to take a democracy and turn it into an autocracy." He added that "if the topic of democracy and tolerance of the other is forbidden to be taught at religious schools, then it must be understood that there is a current here that is anti-democracy."

The book, “When Will We Know If Michal Was Elected,” was sent out a few days ago as a gift to incoming first graders. Shoshana Nagar, the Education Ministry inspector for religious education in Tel Aviv, complained that it “causes concrete offense” to children in the religious school system, and she sent principals a letter on Tuesday demanding that they return the books to city hall.

The book, written by Hila Tov, was published a few months ago. It addresses issues of democracy, gender, elections and choices by narrating a conversation between a woman and her daughter, who tells her mother about Michal, a friend who is “running in the election.” Michal Shalev-Reicher, Tov's partner in the project, said “children aren’t born democratic. In order for them to become democratic as adults, we must teach them to think, to make decision, to choose — to speak fluent ‘Democratese.’”

Nagar disqualified the book for religious schools over a section that discusses pubic transportation on the Sabbath. Against the background of a conversation on “how the state operates,” the mother says that “If Michal is elected, she will want children to be able to travel by bus on the Sabbath.” When her daughter asks her about children who do not want to travel on the Sabbath, her mother replies: “All children and adults can decide whether or not to travel, and the buses will only pass through neighborhoods of people who travel on the Sabbath, because there is room for everyone.”

In her letter, Nagar wrote that "the book shall not be distributed to students in our schools. It goes against and insults the world view of the religious-Zionist public, which wants education in accordance with the Torah and the spirit of the state-religious school system.” She added that the law grants “full autonomy in choosing educational content and adaptation of curricular materials.”

Nagar is expected to be promoted to director of the ministry's National Religious Sector. She is seen as Education Minister Rafi Peretz's first choice, as the only candidate invited to present her qualifications at a meeting of the National Religious Sector Council being held on Wednesday.