The Basic Mistake in Israel Is the Separation in Education

If an abominable apartheid exists in the education system, at least let free, non-religious education be in free and humanist hands.

Olivier Fitoussi

The main point of the attack on education in Israel has been forgotten. The attack is on half of the education system. Half the Jewish children who start first grade are sent to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox schools. It is a totally different world. The foot of non-Orthodox teachers can never tread on the half that controls the education system.

A teacher whose skirt is a little short can expect immediate dismissal. Girls and boys are separated. Separation also prevails on the state-religious stage, on orders from high, from fourth grade onward. Declarations like the Talmuds You [the Children of Israel] are called man, and not the nations of the world who are not called man are also bestowed to them, of course.

The continuous effort of a line of religious education ministers espousing the messianic theology of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook – from Zevulun Hammer and Yitzhak Levy until today, with the help of the religious bureaucracy they appointed – is directed toward conquering non-religious education. Thus is defined in Orthodox sources the attributes of the evil one: Whats mine is mine, and whats yours is mine.

And the price is that the non-religious system has been stripped for years of basic humanist, scientific content. Even among the non-religious half, they dont teach at all philosophy, evolution, general history and psychology. Einstein, Freud and Kafka are strangers to youths. Instead, they keep learning about Jewish holidays, not as culture studies, heaven forbid, but rather as indoctrination of an a-historic religious myth, as if it were history. And indeed, in reality there were no Jews in Egypt, and the history out of which Hanukkah, Purim and Lag Baomer were born is completely different from what is learned.

More amazingly, if you are looking for Jewish heritage and not only general humanistic scientific studies, there is a basic fact alien to Israeli pupils: In the three generations that preceded the Holocaust, Europe underwent an unprecedented cultural renaissance. Jews like Einstein, Freud, Kafka, Proust, Zweig, Schoenberg and Berg stood at the center of this renaissance, as well as tens of thousands of other scientists and artists. Millions of other talented Jews dived enthusiastically into the world of education and creation when emancipation, the fruit of the French revolution and Napoleon, brought civil equality. The thirst for a humanist education also pervaded among tailors and carpenters. In France you can still see this burning fire among educated Jews who originate from North Africa.

And what do non-religious children in Israel know about this? Nothing. There is no pride, no knowledge and no identification. The contribution of Jews to philosophy, to music, to physics, to psychology, to socialism, to making the world a better place? They never heard about it. It has all disappeared, like the socialist-Zionist dream that established Israel. And indeed, Nazism arose against this Jewish contribution to humanism.

A child in a Ponevezh yeshiva for youngsters learns what they learn in the Ponevezh yeshiva, only in a language that is age appropriate. A non-Orthodox child does not learn almost anything of what they teach in university, certainly not in the humanities and social sciences. Instead of probing, curious studies, instead of being proud of the humanist creation of Jews as they do in France and everywhere, the world of the children has been narrowed by the system.

The basic mistake in Israel is the separation in education. The heart of every democratic state is one educational system that embodies Jews and Arabs, religious and non-religious, without discriminating between race or religion or gender, and gives everybody the same scientific and humanistic base. But if an abominable apartheid exists in the education system, at least let free, non-religious education be in free and humanist hands. We must not let the principle of whats mine is mine and whats yours is mine do terrible damage to us.