During a lecture on civil defense given by Israel's Home Front Command soldiers, fifth graders were given a booklet with guidelines on coping with emergency situations. In the chapter on earthquakes, it says, “We know and believe that all natural phenomena take place solely if God wills it and at his command.”
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The scientific explanation goes on to say, “Even if the data points to a high likelihood of an earthquake, if God doesn’t decree it, it won’t happen!” Religious content appears in other chapters of the pamphlet. The foiling of a terror attack is presented as a divine miracle, for example.
When the soldiers were asked if they’d mixed up booklets meant for religious schools with those meant for secular schools, they replied that there was only one booklet to be distributed to all schools.
The content of the booklet was first reported by Chico Menashe, deputy news director at the Kan broadcasting network, whose son was in the class. Menashe posted shots of the booklet on Twitter in which he tagged the Home Front Command and wondered why religious dogma was inserted in a place where it served no purpose.
Complaints about promoting religion in the secular school system have been heard in a wide range of contexts, from the introduction of the Jewish-Israeli culture curriculum as a core subject in grades 3 to 9, through the invitation of religious groups to the schools to provide content and activities, to secular classes going on trips to Jewish sites, some of which are politically controversial. Education Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the storm generated by Menashe’s tweet, saying, as he has in the past, that there is no effort being made to influence children’s religious identity and calling these reactions “exaggerated suspicions.”
Many parents are complaining that over the past two years textbooks have been filled with quotes from the Bible and that ceremonies that in the past would have taken place in school, supervised by the teachers, were being moved to synagogues or are being supervised by religious functionaries.
This week a Knesset secular caucus was formed that is making a struggle against this phenomenon a priority. Fifteen MKs attended the founding meeting, not a single Yesh Atid MK among them. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said earlier this year, “The fact that my children finished 12 years [of schooling] without seeing a page of Talmud is a failure.”