Friday, May 11, 2007

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

On the surface it sounds like a fair bill. The battle for funding Charedi schools seems to have been won. The Knesset in Israel has approved a proposed bill whereby local authorities will fund state schools and non-state schools equally. This will include Charedi schools. As Minister Meshulam Nahari (Shas) said: ‘The government's decision is a breakthrough in making conditions of all recognized but unofficial educational institutions level, especially the haredi institutions.’

This should certainly be true in a country like Israel that champions equality and fairness which is indeed one of the hallmarks of a modern democracy.

All well and good. Charedim certainly do not deserve to be discrimated against at any level. Many of them live hard lives of poverty and deprivation. They are amongst the poorest segments in Israel. If anyone should be helped, they should be. But is this a victory we should really celebrate?

I’m not so sure. This ‘victory’ does not really solve the core problem which is the one of the prime contributors that poverty: that of preparing their people for their future well being. One of the goals of any decent mass educational should e educating them to live and work in the society in which they live. It should educate them enough so they can eventually be prepared to compete with the rest of society on a level playing field in the work force. But The Charedi system does not do that. They practically ignore it. And in fact they perpetuate the problem, nuch of it of their own making.

I am of course talking about the fact that Charedim have done their level best to prevent its members from obtaining decent jobs that pay livable wages. Not directly of course. But in effect that is what happens.

The Charedi school system knows only one thing. It teaches only Torah… and more Torah. Any secular education a Charedi gets at all in his life in school ends at 8th grade for its male students. And the quality of that education is very basic, and limited to a very small portion of their day. It is probably taught by ‘in-house’ teachers who have no formal education themselves, not in the subject matter they teach, and not in how to teach it. Standards for secular education in their elementary schools are nearly non-existent. And the attitude by Charedim in general about secular education is mostly one of disparagement.

This makes the level of secular education is so low that it hardly prepares one for the workforce at all. It in fact basically leaves its students to their own devices when it comes to Parnassa.

Charedim in Israel will of course argue that the goal of Charedi institutions are to teach Torah. And there is so much Torah to learn that there isn’t enough time to teach it with any quality or quantity… even if there were no secular studies at all! That they teach it at all is a concession to the reality that even a Charedi Jew needs to know how to add and subtract, multiply and divide. But is is a grudging concession that is barely tolerated. And the children pick up that message and are likely treat their secular studies accordingly.

By the time they realize what they have lost, they are married, with many mouths to feed. They have no training and no knowledge other than Torah. Knowledge.

I am not going to talk about the importance of Torah knowledge, except to say that it is primary and important for every Jew to have and learn to the best of his ability. But that should not be the sum and substance of his education.

Yet that is basically what it is in the Charedi sector in Israel. And the existence of Kupat Ha-ir and similar charities testify the failure of Charedi education in transmiting to their stuents any value to working for a living. Instead of treating like a necessary fact of life at some point for most people, they treat it as though it were a B’dieved… a necessary evil… for those who don’t make it in learning. An ideal which they indoctrinate every Jewish soul from their earliest ages.

These young people are indoctrinated to stay in learning as long as they can and only after exhausting their efforts at learning full time, should they consider going to work. Problem is, going to work with a family of 10 or 12 children with absolutely no training or education at age 40 (or so) is an exercise in futility. Hence we have charity organizations like Kupat Ha’ir, to help relieve their plight.

Now, I do not want to imply that there aren’t successful Charedim in the workforce. I would even go so far as to say that most of them eventually find a decent job. In many cases they get training in various fields and find jobs in them. But this is usually done via their own individual resourcefulness and determination. For a very large portion of these Charedim the jobs are few and far between. 40 year old men are competing with much younger and far better trained men for the same entry level jobs in an economy where the job market is very thin.

And this is the victory we are talking about: Funding a system that perpetuates this problem. Forgive me if I cannot be so overjoyed by this ‘victory’.