Monday, May 3, 2010

Tel Aviv Mayor wants Haredim to get Educated


Tel Aviv's mayor Ron Chulda'i made a statement about haredi education and today he is making headlines all over the country. The haredi press criticizes him, the secular press is applauding.

According to the mayor haredi education is so bad that a whole generation of welfare recipients is being raised, as those Haredim "only" know Gemara, Halachot and Torah. Such jobseeker (if they seek) are totally unfit for the Israeli job market with its high education demands.

It was interesting reading the haredi comments to Chulda'i's statement because many Haredim agree with him. A lot of them would like to get a higher eduaction but are limited to all the rabbinic restrictions / regulations in each haredi direction. University is out of place and if you are a more modern Litvak, you may be allowed to go to a haredi college.

Abroad this may be different but haredi education in Israel is on a low standard when you look at science, math, literature, history or even learning languages such as English. Haredi girls learn English in order to have a chance on the job market. Countless litvishe women work and thus support their husband studying. The same in different chassidic groups such as Dushinsky, for instance. Many haredi women work. In hightech or within the haredi community.

The hightech industry stands for a reasonable salary but the employee has to know English. Those jobs have become extremely popular among haredi women. Haredi men usually don't learn English but rather the usual standard: Torah, Gemara and Halachot.

Whereas famous Rabbis in the past were also scientists, astronomers, philosophers, statesman (Abarbanel) or doctors, today's haredi society is raising generations without any higher education. I am not playing down Torah - and Talmudic knowledge but regarding independent thinking let alone Jewish philosophy, the youth doesn't learn anything. Some history from the Talmud; but even if, then all the ancient Jews were holy and the Goim were evil.

The Rambam would faint if he entered a haredi Talmud Torah in Israel. Repeating Mishnayiot but not being able to solve a mathematical problem let alone defining the Rambam's quotes of Aristotle. Who was Crescas, who was ibn Daud and who was Donna Gracie ? What was the political situation in Israel during the Crusades ?

Am I asking for too much ?
Definitely because secular schools don't teach too much either. There it probably depends on the school level but Israel's education system as a whole seems to suffer from a crisis. Ben Gurion is identified as an airport but who knows about the statesman ? Different governments and thus various ministers of education (left and right - wing) have done their utmost do destroy certain education subjects. For instance, the left destroyed classes in Tanach.

Many Rabbis argue that a Yeshiva Bachur who has studied Gemara is able to learn English and math within a very short period of time, as his mind just works logical. I don't believe that this is always the case but rather sounds to me like an excuse. The explanation for limited haredi education may lay in the different communities, as some Rabbis seem to prefer their followers more or less uneducated. The less education, the more they follow the Rabbi who then can be a true leader because he knows.

What I have noticed is that many chassidic members have no clue about the life beyond their community borders. Everything beyond turn into treife (impure) and thus worldly sciences are impure and against the Torah. But what about the historical fact that Judaism has changed ? Especially in the Middle Ages when our religion was very much influenced by Greek or Islamic philosophy. On the other hand, the Rebbe knows the outiside world, as he travels to different countries.

There are all kinds of pros and cons but fact is that the present haredi society in Israel (especially in certain strict haredi neighbourhoods) does suffer from a complete lack of education.


  1. One of the online papers carried an article about the Israeli census and it looks like we are heading for a society that there will be more non-workers (on the dole) than workers (paying into the dole). It also said that Israels' education is of a very low level all across the board. Whatever happened to sending all kids to learn the basics? If we don't deal with this problem soon it will explode. I think it is time for the rabbis to wake up to reality.

  2. B"H

    Maybe yes, maybe no.
    Subjects such as English, mathematics, history or science should definitely be taught. I don't see a problem with appreciating G - d's creation.

    On the other hand, many Haredim do work and they are not stupid but make it just as their secular colleagues.