Thursday, May 06, 2010

Is Ron Huldai Wrong?

Former Shas Leader R’ Aryeh Deri warns against the growing alarming anti-religious trend in Israel in an interview in the weekly Sha’ah Tovah Magazine.

So begins an article on YWN today. I agree. It is alarming. The question must be asked as to why that is. I think the answer is obvious. It is fear. Fear based on what the future holds if current trends continue. A fear expressed recently by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. Of course the Charedi establishment did not see it that way. They saw Huldai's words as yet another attack against Charedim.

I do not see it that way.

It would be one thing if those who attacked the Charedi educational system were pointing to Torah study as the problem. Then the Charedi establishment would be right. Learning Torah is the most important thing a Jewish student can do. But that is not what critics like Huldai did. He simply stated the obvious. The Charedi system is responsible for masses of its people to remain ignorant of basic secular studies:

He stressed that mathematics and other subjects are not taught in chareidi schools, only Torah, resulting in a system which “promotes ignorance” which must compel the state to cease all funding of schools and intervene.

How do Charedi politicians respond? Not by acknowledging the validity of his complaint. They respond by characterizing his complaint as an attack against Charedim and retorting with their own inflammatory statements - like the following:

The students are “taught about Rabbi Yehuda Halevy and not about Chaim Nachman Bialik”. Gafne warned that the remarks are particularly serious coming from an elected official, who is “promoting rebellion and anarchy” in his battle against a chareidi lifestyle.

I would suggest that Charedi leaders stop obfuscating and deal with the real problem that exists in their circles. This isn’t about Bialik. It is about algebra and geometry. It is about the English language and learning the basic skills needed to lead a productive life in the future.

Instead of dealing with the criticism - outraged Charedi advocates of their own form of education attack the secular educational system by saying they do not teach any Jewish values and traditions.

I’m not sure that is entirely true. But let’s say it is. So what? No one denies that that the secular system is woefully short in the spirituality department. But two wrongs don’t make a right. If the secular system needs a spiritual fix so too does the Charedi sector need a secular studies fix. It should be a clear to fair minded people that responding to a criticism by ignoring it and attacking the other side does nothing to answer the critique.

Professor Amnon Rubenstein a former minister of education said the following:

(He) acknowledged that those who study gemara in chareidi schools do indeed develop their minds, but called it “a major waste of their abilities and time” since they do not undertake studies in the core subjects as well.

Just to be clear, I am obviously not opposed to Torah study nor do I consider it a waste of time. That should be the primary focus of these young male Charedi students. Aside from the need to know Torah there are also intellectual advantages to Torah study at high levels. But it should definitely not be the only focus.

To top it all off, there is the following:

Deputy Minister of Education R’ Meir Porush followed Rubinstein, speaking with Israel Radio, stating that there are core subjects that are taught and other subjects are not taught. He explained there is a difference between the males and females, a system of study in line with the instructions of rabbonim.

Let us analyze the logic of this statement. Female Charedi students are taught these core subjects. That means that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them on a Hashkafic level even according to Charedi standards. But male Charedi students are not taught any of it. Why? Because the Rabbis have said so. End of discussion.

There is no attempt at any rational explanation of why the Rabbonim have ordered this type of education for Charedi males. No explanation of why core secular subjects are OK for Charedi males in the US but not in Israel. No explanation of why this system is good for the State of Israel or Klal Yisroel in general. Just – the rabbis said so. Frankly I don't think they have one!

The Charedi parties see Huldai’s rant as yet another attack against Charedim. I don’t know. Perhaps it is. But on the surface one has to ask why Ron Huldai’s specific complaint is not a valid one.

Whenever I see an article about the state of Charedi education it gets my dander up. It makes no sense to be raising generations of ignoramuses – people who are ingnorant of the basic skills necessary to live in the modern world… the basic skills needed to be a productive citizen who can provide for a family in the future.

There may be criticism by Chiloni leaders against Charedim or their institutions that is not valid and even pejorative. But this one isn’t. It is a valid complaint and things ought to be changed precisely along the lines he suggests - insisting a basic core curriculum in the Charedi schools and making their funding dependant on compliance.

I am with Huldai on this one.

Instead of trying to characterize this criticism as another anti Charedi attack, I wish that just once! ...the Charedi establishment would listen to it on its own merit.

The Charedi establishment has to realize that this is not about trying to lead the Jewish people astray. This is why Yeshiva of Volozhin in Czarist Russia closed rather than agreeing to any secular subjects being taught. There the anti-Semitic government had as a goal leading the Jewish people astray. That made any change a non starter. This is not about that. It is about making a better world for the Jewish people.