Monday, June 29, 2009

Charedi School Funding - I’m with the Chilonim

The evil Israeli government is at it again. They are going to provide 100% funding for private Charedi schools. Will there be any Hakaras HaTov for that? Of course not. They are after all not doing it L’Shmah. They would just as soon shut down the Charedi schools as fund them at all.So this community will continue to curse the government hand that feeds them all the while taking their money.

The question is what exactly do those kids learn in these schools. Girls have a somewhat decent education in some of the moderate Charedi schools. But what do the boys learn besides Gemarah? What are the Hashkafos? How are they prepared for the world? What are they taught about non Jews? Or secular Jews? Or about the state? Or its founders? Secular education? The work ethic? Or Baalei Baatim?

What exactly is the Israeli government funding?

They are funding anti government sentiment and an education that does not prepare them adequately for the future. Yes these schools do teach an exorbitant amount of Torah. That is a good thing. But it is the only good thing. They teach little else leaving many students out in the cold – disadvantaged- with little prospect of decent employment.

And the attitude they teach about the outside world is so negative that it is also counter-productive to their future welfare.

What about all that Torah they teach? Isn’t that worth a lot? Of course it is - to those who actually learn it. Just because they teach so much Torah doesn’t mean every one of their students learns it.

Perhaps one can make an argument for the few brilliant students who love to learn and will spend their future contributing in some way as Poskim, Rabbanim Rabbeim etc. - or even Gedolim ... this is their best training for the future.

I would not agree to that proposition. I think anyone no matter how brilliant in their Torah studies - no matter how motivated and dedicated they are - would benefit from a more well rounded education.

But even if I concede that learning Torah only and nothing else is the best way to produce a Gadol and the other religious leaders I mentioned - it woud only be a small portion of them that will end up having careers in it. Most will not be able to have such careers. They would do far better in other fields for a variety of reasons if given the opportunity.

What about them?

Please do not misunderstand. I think all children – no less Charedim - deserve equal treatment with respect to funding for their education. But as many people know it is a pet peeve of mine – a big one – that these schools currently have no secular education – ZERO - for boys beyond 8th grade. And until 8th grade it is at best only rudimentary education in Hebrew grammar and arithmetic. That’s it!

Attempts in the past by previous governments in Israel to inject the most basic elements of secular studies have been rebuffed by Charedi religious leaders in Israel. They characterize it as a near heretical interference by an anti Torah government establishment whose goal it is to strip Jews of their Judaism. They will cite the European model of Volozhin – a Yeshiva that closed its doors rather than submit to a seemingly innocuous secular curriculum. They correctly believed that this was an insidious attempt by non Jewish government and their secular Jewish collaborators to ultimately assimilate their students. And it is true that some Chiloni leaders feel that way too.

But to suggest that this is their goal in trying to inject a basic secular curriculum is so laughable that it isn’t funny. The goal of the Israeli government is to educate its populace to be productive citizens and not a burden on society. Those who say it is are either very naïve or are just using that as justification for opposing it. But that is a red herring.

The real reason is that the Charedi leaders insist that Yeshivos are supposed to be about one thing. Learning Torah! Since there is so much of it to be learned that even a lifetime of devotion won’t begin to cover it all – the rationale is that they have no time for anything else – which is at best secondary in their view. Parnassa then becomes the individual responsibility of the students when they get older – should the leave the walls of the Beis HaMedrsahNebech – and go to work. Let them learn a trade then.

This results in an attitude in the yeshiva world that work is a four letter word. Work is reserved for the lowly Baal Habos – the family man who does not learn full time! Not for the exalted student of Torah.

Besides, since Charedim don’t go to the army they are not allowed to work anyway.

(That has always been the argument. But things seem to be changing g in that respect as Nachal Charedi seems to be catching on somewhat. I don‘t know to what extent. But at least there is no longer the excuse that one may not serve in the Israeli defense forces because the environment is detrimental to one’s spiritual health.)

This brings me back to Charedi school funding. I am fully in support of it provided that they have a curriculum designed to address the reasonable concerns of a government worried about its citizens ability to be productive in the future. There needs to be a curriculum that gives them enough education to eventually find a decent job or continue their education toward a career that will provide for their families. There is no reason that we have to continue to produce generations of young people who will end up living in impoverished conditions because of an inadequate education.

And I would add another requirement. An attitude adjustment needs to be made. These kids need to appreciate the people who help them and not curse them. Instead of taking the money and teaching the students to hate them in response, Mechanchim need to teach their students to appreciate them. Additionally there needs to be a restructuring of attitudes about secular Jews in general as well as non Jews.

You have kids learning that it’s OK to cheat Goyim - that they must hate them. You have some teaching that it is better for young woman to die than serve in Sherut Leumi - or that Israeli soldiers that are spilling blood are not on ‘our level’ because they are not religious. This is what the government is funding in some of the more extreme cases.

So yes by all means let us give equal opportunity to all children for a decent education. Funding the schools should be done across the board. But in my view, if the above mentioned problems aren’t dealt with – I’m with the Chilonim!