The Israeli government says that Haredi parents and schools — rather than the government itself — are to blame for denying secular education to ultra-Orthodox youth in Israel.
That was the government’s response to a lawsuit filed by 53 ex-Orthodox individuals against the Ministry of Education for failing to teach them basic secular subjects like English, math and history. The suit also targeted the Ministry of Defense for discriminating against the ex-Orthodox by providing a continuing education program for current members of the Haredi community but not those who have left.
“Is it not the role of the state to come and say something is wrong here?” said 28-year-old Haim Rubinstein, a plaintiff who said it was “absurd” that the state wanted to punt the responsibility for a well-rounded education to his parents.
According to the Israeli news site Ynet, the government said that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit should direct their complaints to the parents and the schools that caused them “damage,” rather than the government, claiming it was only named a defendant because of its “deep pockets.”
The dispute in Israel echoes several others in which former and some current members of Haredi communities have accused their school systems, and the governments that regulate them, of shirking their responsibility to their students by not preparing them for the work force through the adequate instruction of secular subjects. In New York City, an organization pushing the yeshiva system to improve its secular curricula induced the Department of Education to open an investigation, but now claims the mayor’s office is obstructing it.
Another advocacy organization has sued New York State on behalf of yeshiva students in Rockland County. In Montreal, the provincial government of Quebec is trying to force a yeshiva to teach secular subjects by instituting a homeschooling program.
But in Israel, the argument between students and parents and the government over who should take responsibility for religious schools’ failings takes on added import because the government has publicly stated its goal of integrating the Haredi population into the wider society through such mechanisms as army service.
A group called Out for Change, which helps ex-Orthodox individuals transition into secular Israeli society, initiated the lawsuit last October. The plaintiffs in the suit claimed that the state failed in its obligation to educate them in basic subjects, leaving them at a disadvantage when they left the Haredi world. The suit also claimed that they were unable to take advantage of government programs that help the ultra-Orthodox get up to speed in secular studies, such as one provided by the army, because they had left ultra-Orthodoxy.
In their response to the lawsuit, state attorneys asked that Haredi parents and schools be named as “third parties” in the lawsuit, which would allow the government to shift the payment of any fine levied against it to them, said the article.
Most Orthodox schools belong to the Chinuch Atzmai, or the Independent Education System. These schools are supposed to teach the core curriculum in exchange for full public funding, but the state rarely enforces those rules.
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.