The Education Ministry has announced that it has revoked its decision to exclude students at ultra-Orthodox educational institutions from postwar rehabilitation funds for the north.
For a little background, it is already known that “ultra-Orthodox” schools are “not officially part of the state system”. For that matter, neither are “Church schools” in the “Arab sector.” However, we are not talking about the implementation of an improvement in the educational experience, as the long school-day program would have been — which was drafted with the omission of haredi schools in mind. Such a thing is not only an ongoing expense, as it entails a curriculum change to be implemented indefinitely, but it also includes that which is “not part of the educational system” in the budget of allocations for the educational system for that particular school year.
This, however, is legislation regarding postwar rehabilitation funds. A one-time expense to fix up the results of a lamentable turn of events. War affects all equally — Katyushas did not perform an Exodus-esque skipping of houses with mezuzot attached. All children in Israel deserve structurally sound schools and the return of some degree of normalcy to their adolescence. Citizens of a country affected by war look to that country to provide them with at least some of the necessary tools to rebuild their lives.
The decision follows severe criticism leveled at the ministry by the Knesset Education Committee on Wednesday.
Approximately NIS 170 million out of a planned NIS 700 million have already been invested in the program to strengthen the education system in the north.
The program is being jointly financed by the Education Ministry and various funds.
48 percent of the funds already invested in the program have been allotted to the Jewish sector. The rest will go towards the Arab sector.
At today’s exchange rate, the allocation comes to $165.15M USD. Of that, $79.27M will go to Jewish schools. Not even one cent of $79.27 million dollars can be allotted to rebuild a yeshiva? Are chutz la’aretz communities really the only people to whom Torah observant Jews of war-torn villages in the North of Israel can turn?
In fact, the Education Ministry, even in allotting money equally to the inhabitants of its most devastated region, gave a caveat:
“We have reached an understanding with the ultra-Orthodox institutions, according to which they will teach our core curriculum for the first time and we will finance the purchase of computers and science and technology equipment for them,” an Education Ministry spokesperson said.
So even to get the money, they have to “teach their core curriculum.” While this will surely be lauded as a move in the right direction of giving Charedi people job skills, let’s make no mistake: a school day is a finite resource. More time for limudei chol like science and algebra means axiomatically that there is less time for limudei kodesh like Talmud and Torah and this constitutes a fundamental departure from the way that the yeshivot were teaching before. So, in order to be able to rebuild the holes in their wall, many schools will have had to revamp their way of doing things.
This, in many Western environments, would be called infringement upon freedom of religion.
Regardless, however, barring institutionalized anti-Haredi prejudice, it behooves one to wonder precisely what took the Israeli Education Ministry so long to “come to its senses”:
“The ministry came to its senses and realized that ultra-Orthodox students in the north are also in need of aid,” said the chairman of the Movement for Quality Education, Attorney Ruth Dayan-Madar. “The decision to exclude ultra-Orthodox schools and kindergartens from the rehabilitation plan was illegal and in violation of the right to equal education.”