Although Israel needs graduates who are skilled in math and science in order to maintain its status as the Start-Up Nation, it needs even more students who are knowledgeable in Judaism, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said. Speaking Monday night, Bennett said that Jewish knowledge and education “is in my eyes even more important than math and science studies.”
During the speech to the Tali group, which designs Jewish studies curricula for Israeli secular schools, Bennett said that “Israel is a high-tech power, creating and exporting knowledge and innovation to the world. We must also become a ‘spiritual superpower,’ and export spiritual knowledge to the world.
“From Tzion shall emerge Torah, and the Word of Hashem from Yerushalayim,” he said, quoting the famous passuk.
Bennett stressed that he was not seeking to build a teshuvah movement in the public schools. “The purpose is for every student to understand their roots and history. This is not the case now and we must repair it. All children, including Druze and Muslim children, should be proud of their heritage. The prerequisite for respecting others is knowing yourself and your own unique heritage. Once a person is secure in his own identity he can learn to respect and love others.”
The comments garnered much criticism among secular MKs and education officials, who accused the Minister of giving short shrift to math and science, and for encouraging “religious coercion.” Speaking to Army Radio Tuesday, Bennett said that “it is unthinkable that, for example, Israeli children would not know that Selichos are said in the month of Elul,” but that there were many who apparently didn’t.