Take a Stand, Minister Tamir

In this battle for the future of the state and its character, we must not blink first. We must force the core curriculum on the ultra-Orthodox.

It's not clear what is happening to Yuli Tamir. It looks as though she is being deliberately defiant, as though she has decided to show disdain for her electorate and to do exactly the opposite of what they expect her to do. If we were talking about an education minister from Shas or United Torah Judaism, that would be understandable. But a secular, statesmanlike and educated education minister officially exempting tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox students from the "core curriculum?"

It is interesting the kind of Israeli society she pictures in a situation where an increasingly large percentage of this society will not study English, mathematics, civics and sciences at all. How can they ever join the job market? How will they be released from dependence on the rabbis? And what kind of solidarity does she foresee for Israeli society at a time when an increasing percentage (99 percent of the children of the ultra-Orthodox) do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces, thanks to the Tal Law?

What Limor Livnat did not dare do (in spite of the natural alliance between the ultra-Orthodox and Likud), and what Yossi Sarid never dreamed of doing, is now being done by Tamir. She decided to exempt 25,000 ultra-Orthodox students from the requirement of studying the core curriculum in the yeshivas for primary and secondary education. From now on they will study only Bible, halakha (religious law) and Talmud there. But in spite of that they will receive from the government 55 percent of the budget it gives to the public school systems.

In other words, the education minister is allowing a large group of ultra-Orthodox students not to receive from the school system the minimal tools required for joining the work force. She is dooming them in advance to a life of parasitism, at the expense of the government and of donors from abroad, and to ongoing dependence on rabbis and wheeler-dealers who will provide them with one more allowance and one more stipend in order to survive.

This is an embarrassing surrender to the pressure of the rabbis, who want to keep the ultra-Orthodox youth in ghettos of poverty and ignorance in order to reinforce their power and their control over their communities. The rabbis understand that the more ignorant the young ultra-Orthodox person is of the "liberal" subjects, the more dependent he will be on them for his livelihood. Does Tamir have no compassion for those young people who will not realize their potential?

The extremist ultra-Orthodox want to isolate themselves as in the Diaspora. For them the Zionist-secular regime is the embodiment of all the evil in the world. Therefore they must refrain from any connection with it, except for extorting budgets. But that is not in the interest of Israeli society. This isolationism endangers its existence. Because what will happen when their percentage of the population grows larger? Who will support them then, who will serve in the army?

Only recently the Knesset passed the "Nahari Law," which forces the local authorities to budget the "unofficial" ultra-Orthodox institutions in a manner identical to the funding of the official institutions. This means a harsh blow to state education, which is faltering due to the transfer of hundreds of thousands of shekels to the schools that do not recognize the basic values of the State of Israel, that are not Zionist, do not recognize democracy, whose children do not serve in the army, and who are opposed to the core curriculum.

In this battle for the future of the state and its character, we must not blink first. We must force the core curriculum on the ultra-Orthodox. After all, it's not Jewish to live at public expense without working. Our sages said (in Ethics of the Fathers): "Torah study without work will end up being useless and will cause sin." In another place there they said: "Love work and hate authority." Maimonides explained the text and said: "He who does not teach his son a trade teaches him banditry."

And in fact in the Diaspora they work, whether in Antwerp or Brooklyn. Only here in Israel is there an unacceptable norm of not working. A norm that we should fight, and to which we should not surrender.

The struggle is not simple. Yesterday the ultra-Orthodox chalked up another major victory in Jerusalem. The leader of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Edah Haharedit, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum (the Satmar rebbe) arrived in the capital to lay the cornerstone for a new neighborhood, which will include 100 residential units and educational institutions in the heart of Jerusalem, on the ruins of the Edison Cinema.

Teitelbaum, who lives safely in New York, is one of the harshest critics of the Zionist state. He is vehemently opposed to the demand that ultra-Orthodox institutions teach the core subjects. The Satmar rebbe says that this is unacceptable secular interference in the "pure education" of the ultra-Orthodox. Tamir must fight him and must not cooperate with him.