Plan for Mamlachti Chareidi Schools Raises Ire

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Education Ministry is going ahead with plans to create an unprecedented challenge to the independent chareidi school system by establishing a new educational stream, to be called mamlachti chareidi, or state chareidi.

Under the plan, schools signing on to the new stream will be fully funded and their curricula entirely determined by the Education Ministry, including how many hours students will study limudei kodesh and which masechtas will be covered, and the textbooks used will be the same as in the secular education stream. This framework will give the ministry much more control over content and school administration than the previous demand that schools implement a core curriculum with a certain number of hours of secular studies.

The Education Ministry has agreed to give the schools what it calls “pedagogic autonomy.”

Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) said that at this stage, the mamlachti chareidi will offer incentives to the chareidi schools that are willing to join the new system, submitting to its direct supervision and testing programs.

The program will eventually be offered to all chareidi schools, and those who decline will face punitive budget cuts. The stated goal of the plan is to bring about an abandonment of the traditional Torah networks of Chinuch Atzmai and El Hamayan, which have refused to allow the ministry to determine its schools’ curriculum, on the direction of Gedolei Yisrael.

The proposal for the cuts to the chareidi networks had been included in the initial budget draft presented to the government several months ago, but it was dropped after UTJ and Shas threatened to sue in court, claiming that the ministry was not offering a funded educational alternative for chareidi schools. The ministry hopes that after some schools join for the coming year, it will be able to implement the cuts to the traditional networks next year since it will have offered a funded alternative.

Hamodia has learned that in recent weeks secret meetings have been conducted with the directors of certain chareidi schools around the country. The ministry specifically targeted schools in dire financial straits, trying to persuade them to join the new system by offering to cover their entire budget.

Information obtained by Hamodia indicates that 14 schools are likely to sign on in the coming days.

Rabbanim and principals in the chareidi school system have urged school administrators not to fall prey to the ministry’s proposals. They warned not only of the risk to the educational quality of their schools, but also of legal complications since the term “pedagogic autonomy” used by the ministry has no legal definition. As such, the schools are liable to be completely subject to the dictates of the minister of education, retaining little or no control over the education of their students.

For its part, the ministry has expressed optimism about its success in attracting enough schools to begin a pilot program for the 2013-14 school year, with some officials explicitly saying that the schools that are considering joining are doing it “because of the money.”

In response, Chinuch Atzmai chairman Rabbi Avraham Yosef Leizerson told Hamodia that it would be unthinkable that any chareidi school would allow the government to meddle in the Torah education system to which Gedolei Yisrael have dedicated themselves for decades.

“Anyone who allows himself to be tempted and signs on will assume grave responsibility for a betrayal of the pure values of Torah education in Eretz Yisrael,” he said.

Rabbi Leizerson also put the issue into historical context, recalling that when the state was established, Gedolei Yisrael categorically rejected David Ben-Gurion’s proposal to incorporate the chareidi schools into the state system. It was for that reason that they ordained the establishment of Chinuch Atzmai, to preserve an independent Torah curriculum that has been recognized by Israel’s secular leaders since then.

He also noted that in recent years former education minister Gideon Saar (Likud) tried to push a limited secular curriculum on the chareidi schools, but not with the coercive method employed by Piron and not with the scope suggested by the current program.

Rabbi Leizerson concluded by saying that only with siyatta diShmaya and “a firm, uncompromising stance” will we be able to resist the government’s designs.