Sunday, July 7, 2013

Truth in Advertising: What is the Yesh Atid Agenda for Educational Reform?

By, Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz, Rosh HaYeshiva, Darchei Torah
(Posted by Rabbi Korobkin, BAYT, 5 July, 2013, pdf version)

The recent visit of Chaver Knesset Rabbi Dov Lipman to Toronto raised a myriad of questions. To many, however, all of these can be reduced to a single question: The positions of Yesh Atid seem so reasonable and so progressive; why is the Chareidi community so blind to its own self-interest? The Chareidi community, rather than vilifying party leader Yair Lapid, should instead embrace him as the leader who will bring the Chareidim to enlightenment, prosperity, and full participation in Israeli society.

This question presumes that the Yesh Atid platform has been correctly presented and that Chaver Knesset Lipman's statements accurately represent the Yesh Atid platform. But is this the case?

Let us examine one small - but extremely important - aspect of the Yesh Atid agenda: educational reform.

In a recorded interview with Rabbi Daniel Korobkin (posted on on June 28, 2013) Chaver Knesset Lipman was asked about the government's plan to introduce secular studies into the Chareidi schools. In his response he affirmed that the government is only interested in introducing basic math and English, nothing more. When asked whether schools which refuse to comply will be forced to close, he replied,

"We've never said any Yeshiva has to close; they'll be funded instead of 55%, they'll be funded at 35%."
Chaver Knesset Lipman goes on to say that the publication of reports to the contrary in the Chareidi press illustrate the erosion of commitment to the Torah ideal of Emes in the Chareidi community.

What are the facts?

The Hebrew Yesh Atid website , which presumably represents the party position accurately, declares,

"The party will work toward the abolition, or at least the reduction, of 'private' and 'recognized but not official' educational institutions. The Israeli taxpayer must only support the public schools that are open to all and educate in accordance with the fundamental principles of the State of Israel." [Emphasis added]
 [המפלגה תפעל לביטולםאו לכל הפחות לצמצומם, של מוסדות חינוך פרטיים ומוכרים שאינם רשמיים. על משלם המסים הישראלי לתמוך רק בבתי ספר ציבוריים הפתוחים לכל ומחנכים על פי עקרונות היסוד של מדינת ישראל.]
The designation "recognized but not official" refers to Chareidi education in which, according to the Ministry of Education website , over 395,000 studentsare educated in 5774 kindergartens, 724 primary schools, 381 secondary schools, and 78 special-education institutions. The abolition of this system is Yesh Atid's declared objective. This may not be the immediate goal of the Ministry of Education under Yesh Atid Minister of Education Shai Piron; in politics and governance there is always a gap between ultimate goals and achievable policies. But the claim that Yesh Atid has "never said any Yeshiva has to close" is just patently false.

This is the platform on which Chaver Knesset Lipman ran for office. He may deny ever having said this - see below - but, given the proportional representation system of the State of Israel in which voters vote for parties and not for individual candidates, this is certainly the platform he was elected to implement.

The claim that schools that refuse to introduce secular studies will retain 35% funding is also contrary to the Yesh Atid platform. As the Yesh Atid website states,
"It is the responsibility of the State of Israel to define the basic core curriculum (ליב"ה, i.e. לימודי יסוד במערכת החינוך) as that which will comprise a portion of the 'educational basket' to be provided for every child...Schools in which the core curriculum (ליב"ה) is not studied will not receive any appropriation from the State." (Emphasis added.)
[על מדינת ישראל להגדיר את לימודי היסוד במערכת החינוך, כחלק מסל החינוך שיוגדר לכל ילד. מקצועות היסוד מבטיחים הכשרה בסיסית ומוביליות חברתית לבוגרי המערכת. לימודי הליב"ה מהווים חלק מהותי ביצירת מרקם חברתי משותף. העדרם של לימודי הליב"ה פוגע בעתידם של הבוגרים ובעתידה של המדינה. בתי ספר בהם לא יילמדו לימודי הליב"ה, לא יזכו לתקציב מהמדינה.]
Chaver Knesset Lipman has affirmed this position and defended it. In an Open Letter to the Baltimore Jewish Community (posted on the Baltimore Jewish Life website, May 8, 2013) , Chaver Knesset Lipman writes,
I was quoted as saying that 'all yeshiva ketanos in Israel should be closed' and then for all intents and purposes I was called a rasha and equated with Amalek and Haman. The following is what I actually have said and what my political party Yesh Atid is working for: "The Israeli government should not fund institutions which don't teach basic math and English. Yeshivos which don't do so will not be closed down but they won't receive government funding. It should be pointed out that there are numerous yeshivos which already take zero government money and continue to flourish... I believe it is a sound decision for a government to make and look forward to seeing the Yeshiva Ketanos flourish and continue producing Gedolei Torah while teaching basic math and English.
In addition, Chaver Knesset Lipman's repeated references to "basic math and English" - both in the recorded interview and in the Open Letter are quite disingenuous. The Ministry of Education core curriculum - ליב"ה- is a State mandated program. It includes civics as a central component in order to promote the State's ideal of good citizenship. Needless to say, from the Chareidi perspective, the promotion of the State - not the Ribbono Shel Olam and not the Torah - as the primary object of a citizen's devotion is far more objectionable than basic math and English.

Minister of Education Piron has repeatedly stated that appropriations will be linked to implementing the civics curriculum  the State cannot be expected to provide funding contrary to its own interests. While the ultimate Ministry of Education policy has not yet been finalized, any compromises will be undoubtedly rooted in considerations of feasibility and political opposition, not goodwill and open-mindedness to Chareidi concerns.

Chaver Knesset Lipman's criticism of the Chareidi community for its lack of commitment to the ideal of Emes in suggesting that Yesh Atid's policies are anti-Charedi has already been noted. Before making such rash accusations, I would suggest that he examine his own public proclamations.