Opinion |

Fight Religious Power in Secular Schools

As long as secular people choose to continue living in Israel, they must wage a head-on war against this missionary brainwashing

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
Ultra Orthodox school children walk to school in the Mea Shearim Ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Ultra Orthodox school children walk to school in the Mea Shearim Ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.Credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Israeli children have faced an onslaught of religionization since the school year began, two weeks ago. Their tender minds have been abandoned to missionary brainwashing, with no one to help them. God has no pity on them, not even the kindergartners. God, or at least the way his image is being used pedagogically, is part of the problem.

At the new school year assembly at a nonreligious, grades 1-8 state school in Ramat Gan, the students were told that the world was created 5,778 years ago. Last year the school held a meeting, only for girls in their bat-mitzvah year, that included the religious ritual of hafrashat challah, dough offering or separation.

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Second-graders in an after-school program at a nonreligious state school in Nes Tziona learned the grace after meals. The instructor told them they were to say it after every meal. And at the end of the session, she taught them a song of praise to God.

The science classroom of a nonreligious state school in Tel Aviv had posters on the walls. Next to an illustration of the heart was a verse from Psalms: “My heart and my flesh sing for joy unto the living God.” Alongside a diagram of the digestive system was another verse from Psalms: “My heart is become like wax; It is melted in mine inmost parts.” Next to a diagram of the circulatory system were two quotations: “The heart, king of all the organs” (from the medieval rabbinical scholar Ibn Ezra) and “the blood is the life” (Leviticus 12:16).

Fourth-graders were given worksheets explaining different names for Rosh Hashanah. For example: “The first reason Rosh Hashanah is also called the Day of Judgment is that on this day, a person’s fate is determined by the heavenly court. ... A second reason is that on this day, the creation of the world was completed.”

>> Read more: With Israeli Education Minister Bennett, a New School Year of Indoctrination Opens | Analysis

This creationism and divine providence nonsense is spreading unchecked into informal education as well. Geology and the theory of evolution are pushed aside or removed from museums and nature sites.

On the cover of this month’s newsletter of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel was an illustration of storks in flight, captioned “Migrating to the Tishri holidays!,” referring to the Jewish month of the fall holidays. In the real world, birds migrate because of the changing of the seasons.

The publication’s section for children featured the story “The Rose of Jericho and Tristram’s starling.” In reality, Tristram’s starling is a desert songbird that nests in the streambeds of the Judean Desert. It was named after the zoologist Henry Baker Tristram, who documented its life cycle. The Rose of Jericho is a thorny plant with a spectacular adaptive mechanism: In dry weather, its branches curl into a tight ball. Only after prolonged contact with water does it open up like a fan, bud and blossom.

But in this newsletter, the Rose of Jericho pleads with God: “Please, creator of the world, save my life!” And God replies, “If you do a good deed in the next few days, I’ll grant you eternal life and you’ll never die.” The rose reaps her reward by inviting the Tristram’s starling to hide its nestlings in her branches.

In Israel, religious parents are allowed to expose their children to all kinds of nonsense in their own separate school system. But secular parents never chose to do so. Their parental and societal commitments include raising their offspring on the values of progress, science and rationalism and not sending ignoramuses out into the wider world.

On this issue, using Facebook and griping in your own home isn’t enough. As long as secular people choose to continue living here, they must wage a head-on war against this missionary brainwashing. Otherwise, they are guilty of participating in a crime and of failing to offer help to minors in distress.

This onslaught of religious coercion is overseen by a cynical, reckless education minister and implemented by battalions of fundamentalist envoys, together with secular collaborators who have bowed to the spirit of the commander. We must fight them the way Jews fought in the past against edicts of annihilation and forced conversion.

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