Some Random Pensees on Chareidi Education in Israel

This week’s English HaModia reported that the gedolei Yisrael have refused to permit Meitzav testing of student progress in certain core subjects in chareidi schools. The article attributed this opposition to fears that such testing would become a wedge for curricular intervention in chareidi schools. There is a certain irony in that such testing — and even curricular requirements — is routinely accepted in chareidi elementary and high schools in America, even though government funding makes up a small percentage of the budget of such schools, and totally rejected in Israel, where the government pays the lion’s share of chareidi school budgets.

An argument could be made that such testing in core subjects might be a means of avoiding greater intervention in the structure of the chareidi school day. The greatest fear is that the government might impose minimum hours of instruction in certain subjects as a precondition for government funding, as numerous reports on educational reform have recommended. An alternative would be to allow any school that could demonstrate that its students are within a certain range of the national median for schools in these core subjects to remain free of any requirement of minimum hours of instruction.

I wonder if it were not for the fear of government intervention into chareidi education whether we would be witnessing certain changes in that education developing in response to certain social needs. A greater openness to English-language instruction, given that the lack of English is today a serious impediment to earning a decent living someday, would be one example. Beefed-up math and reading instruction would be other examples.

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14 Responses

  1. Shlomo says:

    Everyone knows that American charedim are not “real” charedim. For better and for worse. So it’s not considered relevant whether American charedim accept testing.

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    “There is a certain irony in that such testing—and even curricular requirements—is routinely accepted in chareidi elementary and high schools in America”

    you could say even better … charedi schools typically have limudei chol until 18 years old!! apparently we in chu”l still (narrowly?) view education within the context of the larger goyish world.

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I explain the Chiloni perspective on this? I am about to write some rude, hurtful things that may not be true. However, the Halachic concepts of Mar’it Ayin and Chashad teach us that even false perceptions can be an issue. I apologize in advance if I offend anybody, and I humbly request to be corrected where I am wrong.

    Charedi education is Israel seems to be designed, among other things, to deny young Charedim the option of leaving.

    Boys are taught primarily Torah subjects, which means that they will have two choices:

    1. Stay in Kollel and eventually get a Torah job. This means staying Charedi, and being loyal to the leaders who control the supply of donation and government money.

    2. Find a menial job and accept a life time of poverty. Most Chilonim don’t realize how much lower the average standard of living is in Charedi society. But even so, there is only so much you can cut back when you have a large number of children to feed.

    Girls’ education might be more practical, but the majority of child care effort falls on the mother. Chiloni women with two to four children struggle with balancing the kids and career (as do some men like your truly). It’s hard to see how a mother with six kids or more will be able to earn enough money to survive without the Charedi support network.

    From the Chiloni perspective, this leads to the question: “why would they make it so hard to leave, unless it was so bad people wouldn’t stay otherwise?”.

    Jonathan Rosenblum: I wonder if it were not for the fear of government intervention into chareidi education whether we would be witnessing certain changes in that education developing in response to certain social needs. A greater openness to English-language instruction, given that the lack of English is today a serious impediment to earning a decent living someday, would be one example. Beefed-up math and reading instruction would other examples.

    Ori: Why would the two be related? In what way would a Charedi school that decided to beef up English, math, and technology be more vulnerable to government intervention than one that was pure Torah?

  4. SephardiLady says:

    I don’t see why the schools cannot introduce curriculum that is important and still oppose gov’t intervention. One might wonder if the reason that the introduction isn’t happening is because of a power struggle.

  5. DMZ says:

    Am I the only person who hates the term “charedi”, and wishes for it to not be applied to American Jews of any stripe?

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Am I the only person who hates the term “charedi”, and wishes for it to not be applied to American Jews of any stripe?”


    I am like that too!

    I recall that the New York Times Magazine article titled “Yeshivish at Yale” quoted someone that also “eschewed the term charedi”, in favor of “yeshivish”.

    If there would be a golden mean, a “shvil hazahav” in the charedi world that is emphasized, then I would have no problem with Americans applying to themselves the name “charedim l’dvar Hashem”.

    But if charedi-Orthodoxy means a continual “sliding to the right” beyond even what was acceptable twenty years ago in the yeshivah world, a non-nuanced rejection of the secular world, and/or apologizing for those who burn trash in Yerushalayim as a means of Avodas Hashem, then I prefer calling myself “moderately-yeshivish”. On the other hand, the use of the latter term would confuse the poor media even more!

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I think the difference approaches to government mandated testing come from the difference in the societies and the history of Charedim, as a minority, in them.

    The US is built on a pluralistic ideology. For a group to have its own school system is considered OK. Therefore, if a government body in the US claims to want to test kids to verify they are getting good education, it is easy to believe that that is indeed the purpose. If not, an attack on independant religious education will be resisted by large and powerful Christian groups that the Charedim will have as allies in such a struggle.

    While Israeli society is fairly diverse, Israel is built on a much more monolithic ideology of “we are the Jewish people, one nation with similar people”. The Israeli government has a long history of trying to get everybody in the country to conform to its ideology. It is therefore a lot easier to suspect that even something that looks harmless is just the thin end of the wedge for another power grab.

  8. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “I wonder if it were not for the fear of government intervention into chareidi education whether we would be witnessing certain changes in that education developing in response to certain social needs”

    I think that this is correct. Those who want to help the charedi community need to do it on it’s own terms, as Rabbi Rosenbloom wrote in “Israeli’s New Economic Reality: Will Israel’s Chareidi Population Have to Reinvent Itself?”(Jewish Action, Summer 2004).

    There is nothing hashkafically problematic today, even in the frumest charedi circles– at least as far as I am aware of– in having “greater openness to English-language instruction” or “beefed-up math and reading instruction”. The issue is fear of government intervention, or concern that aspects of modern educational theory not considered acceptable by charedi-hashkafa standards, not seep into Bais Yaakov teachers’ educational outlook.

    Historically, those who worked with the Israeli charedi community were successful. Thus, Nathan Strauss, a secular Jew, earned the gratitude of the Old Yishuv for his soup kitchen programs.

    On the other hand, if I correctly recall, Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer ZT’L endorsed some type of educational or work program, but was sharply criticized by zealots for his efforts. I think that Rav Shmuel of Salant comforted Rav Hildesheimer that he himself was vilified in “pashkervills” by kannoim! But we learn from this that one can only help a community on their own terms and to the extent that they are ready, by using “small and experimental” social engineering efforts, as mentioned in the Jewish Action article.

  9. Jak Black says:

    It’s unrealistic to expect change to come from the bottom up, whatever the ostensible motivation for blocking said change. It is much more likely that change will occur from the top down. Kollel families, in financial distress (due to budget tightening, etc) will eventually look themselves at increased options for livelihood. Once that happens, they will be more open a paradigmic shift for their own children.

    At any rate, I wouldn’t sweat overmuch about this recent newsbite (and this is coming from an Israeli Chareidi who has sweated much over the future parnassah of his young boys). When Chareidi society wakes up to reality – and it will happen, one way or another – change will happen.

  10. Jak Black says:

    I’ll also add in passing that while you are correct about the irony of relative government intervention, there is certainly some justification for that wariness. One gets the impression that, regardless of ideological stance, the majority of educational policy setters in the States really do have a fundamental concern for the eduction of the youth. Many of the parallel politicos in Israel are outright hostile to the concerns and principles of the rubric of Torah education (in which I include secular subjects).

  11. Shimon says:

    Rabbi Rosenblum. I would expect more from you. You know darn well why we can not let the government intervene in our education. They deny our basic beliefs, and putting ANY part of our education in their hands is giving weapons to the enemy. Sure they help us out, but do you HONESTLY think that the chiloni heirarchy in Israel has the Chareidims best interests in mind? Honest. I am not talking about individual chilonim. I am sure that there are those out there that really care for the chareidim. But among the heirarchy, i strng suspect that they are not looking out for our best interests. At best, they are interested in their own interests, and at worst, they would love to sabatoge our education system as much as possible.

    Now more than ever, Chareidim are going into the work force and making money. Now more than ever, there is less need for school reform, as one can learn whatever skills he needs on the job, or in a crash course for one semester before he starts working. Computers, sales, etc. There are plenty of jobs that do not require long term training.

    And just a side note, please show us some statistics about this “great” Israeli secular education that we are supposed to emulate. Where do they rank among the rest of the civilized world? Where do they stand in math and computers? Where do they rank in reading? Where do they rank in school violence? What do the teachers say about “chutzpah” or lack thereof. Why should we be taking footsteps TOWARDS them? Perhaps we should be running as fast as we can away from this type of education, from these higher ups who are at a loss when it comes to their own school system?

  12. Harry Maryles says:

    I note with great satisfaction that one of Agudah’s most erudite spokesmen, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, has evoked a view of reality in the Israeli Charedi educational system that I have been talking about for years. He has evoked the same kinds of questions I have over the years. I have grandchildren in the Israeli Charedi school system and I worry for them. My son keeps telling me not to worry. But I do.

    Perhaps if more people like Rabbi Rosenblum would make their concerns known that might effect some change in a system that is counter-productive to the future of a productive Torah society. We need a change in outlook, one which values learning Torah above all, yeas by all means. But one which also places value on other forms of productivity and gives their children the means to achieve success in other fields as well as that of Torah. The Torah world needs Gedolim. No doubt about that.

    But it needs doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists and myriad other services as well in order to survive. It also needs income earners and not a society filled almost exclusively with Yeshivaleit and Kollel Yungerleit who are not income earners but income users. Full time learning should be reserved for the elite: The best and brightest brains in Judaism. But not for the great masses of young men as it has today. What will it take to change the system?! Nothing seems to work and anything tried is automatically rejected!

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Regarding my comments # 5 above, I wish to make clear that the majority of the Israeli charedi community did not participate in the pre-gay parade trash-burnings in Yerushalayim, and certainly many in the Israeli charedi community abhor such conduct. The question is how to make clear to the public(and to ourselves) that this doesn’t represent the charedi community. I added a comment on Rabbi Rosenbloom’s thread tiled ” Burning Down our Neighborhood– Reconsidered”, where this issue is being discussed.

    Regarding my other points in comment # 5, in previous years, there were differences in attitudes between the Eretz Yisrael community and some of the American Torah world on the subjects of conformity in dress, secular education, and the recently controversial books on Gedolim, and those about Torah and science. Currently, there appears to be little gap on the last issue(although the topic is still complex and multi-faceted); however, there still are differences on the previous ones, even if they originate in the different natures of the the different communities.

    As discussed in the Jewish Observer, a person who wants to make Aliyah and partake in the special benefits of the Israeli Torah community, should “leave his hashkafos at home”. This would be an application of “ahavah mekalkeles es hashurah”, giving up one’s accepted norms out of dedication to a cherished ideal.

    I personally dislike labels, including the term “charedi”. One can be a “chraeid l’dvar Hashem”, a G-d fearing Jew, even if one doesn’t completely identify with what, for practical purposes, is termed the “charedi world”. People can correct me if I’m wrong(my memory is not that great!), but twenty or thirty years ago, I don’t think that the term “chareidi” was used in the Jewish Observer to describe the American Torah world, although the American Agudah certainly identified with, and was subservient to the Daas Torah of the Eretz Yisrael Gedolim. Rabbi Chanaiah Weissman in his recent Jewish Press article recommends not using labels at all, because they don’t capture the essence of a person. However, many people disagree with R. Weissman and think that labels are useful on a practical level. I think, though, that R’ Weissman’s instincts and heart are in the right place.

  14. Teddy Douglas says:

    Are you suggesting that charedi schools add secular education to avoid government intervention? But how absurd – that is precisely the type of intervention the schools want nothing more than to avoid!

    The refusal to accept tests is not because they fear “a wedge for curricular intervention”. The refusal is simply because they do not teach, nor have any intention of teaching, these secular subjects. They see it as bitul torah and a violation of the inherent holiness and purity of the charedi education system as it has always existed.

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