According to an article in the Jewish Press - it seems the Charedi wall of opposition to implementing a core curriculum of Limudei Chol (secular studies) into their schools has been breached by its Chasidic faction. Chidushei HaRim, a Yeshiva operated by Ger, has agreed to implement a full curriculum of Limudei Chol into its high school. Thus qualifying it for full government funding on par with government schools. The same thing is true about another school, Nadvorna, located in a city that one can say without fear of contradiction is the epicenter of the Charedi world, Bnei Brak.
Bnei Brak is the home of several Charedi rabbinic leaders, including Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. He is quoted in this article as being in the forefront of opposition to implementing any secular studies at all. He is dedicated to the current and decades long paradigm of pure Torah study to the exclusion of all else. He believes it should remain intact without the ‘contamination’ of secular subjects.
I understand the mentality. But as I have said repeatedly here (far too many times to count) a policy of universal rejection of secular subjects in all of its schools is harmful to the material welfare of its people. Which in turn can easily make it harmful to its spiritual welfare. While the claim is constantly made by their rabbinic leadership, their politicians, and their media - that a core secular curriculum would destroy the Torah world - the fact that the virtually all American Charedi schools have one gives lie to that rhetoric.
As I have also said so many times, it should be obvious to anyone with eyes that will see and ears that will hear that the Israeli government is not Czarist Russia. They do not want to destroy Judaism, Not even Charedi Judaism. They are doing the opposite. They are trying to save it. They are helping it survive into the future by creating a mechanism via education to better itself materially and thus spiritually. The Mishnaic dictum of Ein Kemech Ein Torah is alive and well in Charedi circles as the oppressive poverty one often finds there is the cause of tremendous Shalom Bayis and OTD issues. You’re not going to get much spirituality under conditions like these.
Although it is often posited by the right that the harsh poverty conditions under which the Israeli Charedim live is voluntary in service of God in its purest form, Limud HaTorah, (I’m sure that’s true in many cases) there are plenty of families that are being crushed by it!
But now it seems that at least the Chasidim who attend these two high schools will have a shot at living close to normal middle class Chasidic lives via the preparation they will get in those schools.
Have these schools now capitulated to the devil? Would Rav Steinman feel the battle for authentic Judaism has been lost? I hope not. I hope that this venerable sage will adapt to the new reality and realize that it is not Shmad – but a simple adjustment in their lives for the better. Hopefully he will adapt and then advocate a Limudei Chol curriculum in consonance with Charedi values. Similar to the Charedi high schools in America.
The moderate Charedi world that I often talk about as the future of mainstream American Orthodoxy - is a beneficiary of such a high school curriculum. It has enabled many of them to have the educational tools needed to eventually attend professional schools and training programs. And then get decent jobs as lawyers and accountants; doctors and dentists; or becomes skilled technicians in any given field. And yet they all remain true to their Charedi principles – many of them having learned in Kollel for many years before turning to their professions, trades, and careers.
On the one hand I am a bit surprised that it is the Chasdim who have capitulated first here. They are the most insulated segment of Orthodox Jewry. Higher education is anathema to them in most cases (There are occasional exceptions.) So that their entry into the workforce is done at a mostly uneducated and unskilled level.
On the other hand, unlike their Lithuanian influenced Yeshivishe counterparts Chasidim are not urged en masse to learn in Yeshivos and Kollelim for as long as possible. Although they too have Kollelim – the time spent there is limited. Most young Chasidim are encouraged to eventually go to work and support their families. Although Chasdim are some of the poorest Jews in all of Orthodoxy, that’s mostly because their leaders eschew higher education. In Israel it would take a tremendous act of rebellion, and willingness to overcome their grossly deficient education in Limudei Chol to succeed at the training required for better jobs.
But now - in at least for the graduates of these two schools - that will no longer be the case. Even though I’m sure that higher education will still be discouraged or even banned - it may eventually be honored more in the breach than in adherence. That will produce a two-fold benefit. It will enable better incomes. And it will also break the isolation they live in which in my opinion is one of the biggest problems they have. Isolation breeds the uncivilized behavior that some of them are guilty of when they protest things they don’t like. I suppose there will still be a small core of uncivilized extremists. But the sympathy and quiet support they get from the rest of their populace will surely fade by the greater exposure to the outside world.
So now that the wall of opposition has been broken. So too has the ice been broken. I’m sure there will be plenty of public outrage and opposition to these two schools by Charedi rabbinic leaders, politicians and media. But hopefully these schools will not be deterred.
If they succeed at overcoming that pressure, it won’t be long before other schools follow suit. They will surely see the full funding those thriving schools get from the government – while their schools starve and start closing doors. That will have an impact. Decisions will have to be made between closing down and introducing a core curriculum. When that finally happens and Charedim start bettering their lives, they can turn to Yair Lapid and the two Orthodox members of his party, Rabbis Shai Piron and Dov Lipman and say thank you! Because Hakaras HaTov will surely be in order.