Secular Schools in Israel Integrate Religious Content Into Science and Tech Lessons

A project for first-graders on candles that included a video about lighting Shabbat candles sparked a protest by teachers who watched it with their students

A screenshot from the lesson on candles that included a video about lighting Shabbat candles.
Galim website, Snunit organization

A web portal used by hundreds of secular state schools integrates religious content into its science and technology lessons.

Teachers assign lessons from the Galim website, run by the Snunit organization, for use during and after school.

This week, a project on candles that included a video about lighting Shabbat candles sparked a protest by teachers who watched it with their students. The video, meant for first graders, says, “the role of Shabbat candles is to separate the mundane from the holy. Traditionally, this is a woman’s role, but if there’s no woman in the house, a man can also light Shabbat candles. Women bring light and peace into the world.”

Following parental complaints, the video was replaced.

In a Facebook post, Nitzan Weisberg, a secular activist and mother of four from Hod Hasharon, wrote, “The question the video is supposed to answer is ‘why do we need light?’ The first piece of information in a video about science and technology is that the candles’ purpose is to separate the mundane from the holy. I waited for the scientific part, since it’s listed under ‘science and technology,’ and the website also has ‘Israeli Jewish culture’ for people who want pure Orthodoxy. But as the animated children continue to speak about the atmosphere of holiness, I understood that the scientific part simply wasn’t going to come.”

A search of the site reveals other examples of Jewish content integrated into “science and technology” lessons. To learn about yeast, there’s a lesson on bread and matza. The scarcity of resources is taught through a lesson on the Tu Bishvat holiday, the Jewish Arbor Day, and includes a section from the Book of Ecclesiastes about the creation of the world. In a lesson on sources of light, children are asked to find the menorah in the picture. There’s also a lesson on “metals in the Bible” which describes the Temple’s ritual vessels.

Galim is used by some 750,000 students in grades one through nine at 2,100 schools nationwide, constituting 44 percent of all Israeli schools. It’s one of more than 20 online content providers approved by the Education Ministry.

The ministry declined to comment. Snunit said it has been providing science and technology content for 25 years, but a few years ago, it decided to develop interdisciplinary content as well. Consequently, its first-grade lesson on why we need light opens “with a video that shows a blackout, panic and then, the lighting of candles. The video’s opening was taken from a full video about Shabbat candles. The part of the full video presented in this unit doesn’t deal at all with Shabbat candles or any issue connected to Jewish tradition.”

But in fact, the full video on Shabbat candles did appear in this lesson until it was removed a few days ago due to parental complaints.

Snunit added that religious holidays “are part of many children’s lives, so we’re happy to present scientific aspects of the holidays that connect various customs and traditions with the scientific world. This isn’t a replacement for scientific treatment of a subject, but is meant to enrich and connect science and technology to other aspects of children’s daily lives. We see this as enhancing, not detracting.”

For the same reason, it said, other lessons on the site open with Dahlia Ravikovitch poems.