Only Religious Teachers to Be Allowed to Teach Civics

There is some misunderstanding by schools in the field, some already implement outlines of plan by Religious Education Administration at Education Ministry, according to source.

The Religious Education Administration at the Education Ministry is developing a plan that would limit civics instruction for teachers in the state religious school system to instructors who are themselves religious.

The ministry stressed that the plan is still under discussion, but a knowledgeable source said yesterday there was some misunderstanding by schools in the field and some schools have already implemented the outlines of the plan.

Zvi Zameret, right, at the Bar-Ilan conference - Daniel Bachar - October 9 2011
Daniel Bachar

"Teachers have said a secular instructor announced she was not coming to teach as a result of the new directive," the source said, although no directive has been issued.

Religious Education Administration head Avraham Lifshiz has not withdrawn the proposal, ministry sources said, but they added that it would be difficult to implement because of the shortage of religious civics instructors.

Speaking at Bar-Ilan University yesterday at the annual conference of civics teachers from the state religious school system, Lifshiz explained the rationale of his office's proposal.

"As instructors and teachers of civics, we are really dealing with the most essential topics," he said, adding that the proper circumstances have to be provided so instructors correctly guide the students.

In a reference to religious instructors, Lifshiz added: "In my humble opinion, those who knows the terminology best come from our [religious] public."

The chairman of the state religious school council, Rabbi Avraham Gisser, expressed support for Lifshiz's plan, saying students need to study what Jewish religious law, halakha, teaches about the foundations of the subject of civics and the subject should be taught through the "worldview of a religious believer."

He added, however, that secular instructors should be allowed to engage in civics instruction for the state religious schools, but must first be firmly grounded in the halakhic foundations of the subject.

Asher Cohen, who heads the Education Ministry's advisory committee on civics, and whose children are students in the state religious system, has come out firmly against Lifshiz's proposal.

He noted that civics is a subject that is taught throughout the public education system.

"I understand that the more that a subject is values-oriented, there is a problem in secular teachers teaching religious students, but here we're dealing with instructors for teachers who are not supposed to be imparting their [own] identity," he said. "How am I to respond to claims that I am not fit to serve as chairman of a professional committee on which there are members from the state [secular] and Arab school systems because I am religious if a secular instructor is not fit to instruct religious teachers?"

He cited the example of the debate sparked by the the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and claimed it was apparent to him that there was insufficient knowledge of the language of democracy among representatives of the religious public then.

One of the teachers who attended yesterday's civic teachers' conference said she also disagreed with the proposed plan.

"We received continuing education training from outstanding secular instructors, and the truth is we have a lot to learn from them from both a professional respect and also due to the fact that they have both broad and focused perspectives," the teacher said. "No doubt we have what to learn together."

Another teacher said the proposed policy would run counter to the emphasis on teaching tolerance and pluralism.

A third teacher said she did not think she and her other religious teacher colleagues had sufficient responses on the issue of the tension between Israel's identity as both a democratic and Jewish state. Her secular instructor has frequently given her insights, she said, and if adjustments should be made to the material, she claimed, it should come in the course of the instruction and not by eliminating training by secular instructors.

On another issue, Zvi Zameret, the outgoing chairman of the ministry's pedagogic secretariat, created a storm yesterday when he came out publicly against a new civics textbook "Yotzim Lederech Ezrahit" ("Setting out on a civic path" ), calling the book biased and misleading.