Israel: Jewish Groups Use State Funds to Preach Judaism in Schools

Israel Jewish Group Teach Judaism

Israel’s education ministry spends hundreds of millions of shekels each year to teach Judaism in both religious and nonreligious schools that are owned by the state. The programs, authorized by the education ministry and looked over by a number of Jewish organizations in the country, were recently listed on a new website that offers detailed information on the academic curricula used by state schools. The ministry, which is headed by education minister Naftali Bennett, ensures that these religious programs are offered to students free of cost as opposed to additional enrichment programs in other educational fields.

“It happens so quietly you don’t realize it,” is the way a woman from north Tel Aviv, who did not want to be identified, described the involvement of Orthodox Jewish groups in her children’s preschool. “Six years ago the teacher said women in sherut leumi (alternative national service) had come to talk to the children about the Jewish holidays. Even then it didn’t sound so great, but I accepted it.”

After some time, she said that the women were frequenting the school very often and preaching “all kinds of things.”

“There are things we all accept, but then one father said the children were instructed to make a crown for the king of the universe. That is unacceptable to us. If the preschool teacher can’t teach the children about the holidays, then maybe she shouldn’t be a preschool teacher,” the woman said.

Of the 400-plus programs that are listed on the website’s “green track” record, as many as 49 are overseen by the education ministry’s Torah culture division and 14 more are supervised by the Religious Education Administration. A careful observation of the database reveals, for the first time, the number of state schools in which such religious programs operate, the communities involved and the groups that organize them. Atheist Republic cross-referenced this database with another that focuses on nongovernmental organizations in Israel to understand which of them receives state funding.

The results revealed that in 2014 alone, of the millions of shekels allotted by the education ministry to various programs, over 19 million shekels were given to organizations that support “schools for the study of the Land of Israel and Judaism.” The same amount was also given to organizations heading “centers for the deepening of Jewish education” while other organizations looking over “lessons in Jewish culture and Torah not in the framework of formal studies” received 29.5 million shekels.

Similar organizations that conduct religious workshops in state schools are also known to offer after-school activities and programs via day camps, which have been subsidized by the country’s education ministry. Apart from the direct support that these organizations receive from the education ministry, some of them also receive adequate help from local governments, whether it is in the form of cost-free venues or in the form of direct sponsorship for the different religious programs.

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