Teaching English and Math Means “Imposing Western culture on Jewish culture”

Here’s an article that reads like a parody, but isn’t. A former education minister of Israel, Yitzhak Levy, objects to the imposition of a core curriculum on state-funded Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools. This core curriculum, apparently, consists of English and Mathematics, neither of which, to my knowledge, are in tension with any known version of Judaism. Indeed, there seem to be tens of thousands of English-speaking Haredim in the U.S. But among Levy’s arguments is that many Haredim may rather “earn a living modestly in manual labor, religious teaching, agriculture and small trade”.

My libertarian instincts tell me that Haredim shouldn’t be forced to learn anything they don’t want to learn, though the issue presents more difficulties when you’re dealing with children whose parents are preventing them from having the means of earning a decent living. Beyond that, much of Haredi culture in Israel relies on government subsidies and preferences of various sorts to sustain it. Families with an average of eight children simply couldn’t exist with a father who studies Talmud all day without government welfare payments, child credits, and so forth.

So my preference would be to wipe out the subsidies (and the exemption from national service), and the Haredim will start to learn English and math on their own accord. Indeed, many Haredim, tired of the poverty imposed on them by their rabbis’ demands that they remain perpetual yeshiva students, are already learning computer science and other useful subjects. But the idea that somehow forcing Haredi kids to learn English and Math is a declaration of war against Jewish culture is absurd.

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