When it comes to the state-religious sector, the Ministry of Education runs a program called "The Religious Family: Education for Coping in a Changing World," which includes certain elements of sex education. In recent years, authorities in the field have had to recognize the growing openness of religiously observant adolescents to the world outside the confines of the Torah.
"Our reality," says Deborah Rosenberg, the director of the unit in charge of the program, "is not exactly the same as what our grandparents experienced. All young people experience the same biological, emotional, psychological and physiological changes - but religiously observant young people are less exposed to a systematic approach to the subject. Our aim is to maintain a dialogue about the subjects that preoccupy them."
This is a voluntary program; the decision about whether to include it in the curriculum is up to each school.
"We do not have exact data on the extent of exposure to the program," Rosenberg says. "But in most schools the girls are exposed to it at one level or another, because they do a matriculation exam about personal relations and family as part of Oral Law studies. The boys, less so, but the tendency is to expose them as well."
The classes are given - separately, of course - by guidance counselors, homeroom teachers or social coordinators who have gone through training.
"The program has three parts," Rosenberg explains. "Maturation, from the normative aspects to addictions, eating disorders and suicidal behavior; friendship - needs and expectations, characteristics of friendships between the sexes in the religious society; and, toward the establishment of a family - love and falling in love, choosing a partner, marriage, masculinity and femininity."
Do they talk about AIDS?
Rosenberg: "The subject comes up."
"That, too. It's complicated."
"A discourse on that has been opened in the wake of the film 'Trembling before G-d' [about homosexuality in the Jewish ultra-Orthodox sector]. Young people ask everything today, they pull no punches."
"It's talked about it with the boys. We try to get them to act in accordance with what is written in the Torah."
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