Judaism Yes, Science No

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Habayit Hayehudi leader Rafi Peretz in an elementary school in the West Bank settlement of Elkarna, September 1, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Israeli schools are coping with an acute shortage of teachers, particularly in math, sciences and English. This crisis has forced schools to try to recruit teachers who are only partially trained, at best. But despite this shortage, there is one subject that enjoys an unprecedented growth in new teachers: Jewish studies.

This anomaly reflects the erroneous priorities of the country’s recent education ministers, and it ought to be a wake-up call to the minister who is appointed after the election: Developing Jewish studies, certainly in the state secular system, isn’t meant to come at the expense of the scientific disciplines. Contrary to the hope expressed by Education Minister Rafi Peretz, the vision of “schools for prophecy” replacing educational institutions is destructive to the State of Israel.

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According to Education Ministry data, of the teachers who joined the secondary school system this year, the largest number, 477, were trained to teach Jewish subjects. By contrast, only seven had finished their training to teach physics, eight are teaching chemistry and 20, biology. According to data collected by the Teachers Union, the educational system has only a thousand chemistry teachers, 1,250 physics teachers and 2,000 biology and computer science teachers. This results in the ongoing deterioration of science education in Israel. While there are 470 new English teachers and 360 new math teachers, this isn’t enough to meet the demand.

A partial examination by the Education Ministry recently found a shortage of 1,700 teachers for the school year that opened earlier this week. Some 1,200 of these open positions are in the Tel Aviv, Dan and Central districts, where some 10,000 teaching hours have no coverage. In an effort to find a solution, the ministry announced it was recruiting education majors and apprentice teachers in their last year of studies, many of whom have not received the proper training for the subjects they’re being assigned to teach. Thus, high school principals have had to compromise on teacher quality to fill their classrooms.

Although the shortage of science teachers has been known for several years, the Education Ministry prefers to deny that there’s any problem. Yet beneath this deliberate blurring of reality, it becomes clear that Jewish studies are actually thriving. It seems that the ignoring of the teaching crisis comes not just to avoid possible criticism, but also expresses the unconcealed agenda of right-wing education ministers, who believe the system entrusted to them needs its Jewish dimension constantly reinforced. The data on new teachers points to the ministry’s real priority: promoting Jewish studies and not the sciences.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.