Israeli Teachers Take on Education Ministry to Keep Bible Studies Secular

Two educators oppose Education Ministry directive that male students should wear skullcaps while writing out the verses of the Bible.

Skullcaps have no place in secular schools, even when students are copying verses from the Bible, according to two educators who oppose an Education Ministry directive that they say gets in the way of viewing the Bible as a purely cultural text.

As part of a project for schools in which more than 20,000 seventh-graders participated in writing out all the verses of the Bible, the ministry told schools that male students should wear skullcaps while carrying out the task.

Last week the students completed the "Writing the Tanakh" project, which was aimed at helping them identify more closely with the Bible.

But the Shazar middle school in Kiryat Ono, a secular public school, didn't follow all the rules, said its principal, Guy Yisraeli.

"The Bible is a cultural work, and in [secular] state schools it has less religious significance," he said.

Yisraeli said the ministry directive can make it more difficult for students to see the Bible as an important part of their heritage.

"I want my students to feel a sense of ownership over the Bible, and that's exactly why they don't need to wear a kippa," he said. "They have to feel connected to the Bible because of a cultural attitude, and not because of observing the commandments."

Chinuch Yisraeli (Israeli Education ), a movement that advocates a curriculum based on cultural and humanitarian values, is also against the skullcap requirement.

"Bible studies could have been the banner of the secular value system," said the movement's executive director, Oren Yehi-Shalom. "I respect the religious interpretation, but the kippa is not part of the agenda of a secular state school."

Education Ministry officials said they wanted to show sensitivity to children from religiously traditional families.