Education Ministry pushes more Jewish studies in secular schools

Program provides additional funding for extra lessons

Israeli high school students (illustrative photo credit: Moshe Shai/flash90)
Israeli high school students (illustrative photo credit: Moshe Shai/flash90)

The Education Ministry is reportedly planning to stick to a plan expanding Jewish studies in Israeli secular secondary schools this upcoming academic year, despite a lack of interest from school administrators.

The NIS 7 million (approx $1.8 million) annual program allocates extra funding to schools that add hours of Jewish studies instruction. It has been in place for several years.

The ministry is currently headed by Naftali Bennett, leader of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party.

The initiative has suffered from a lack of popularity, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

Sources from within the education system assessed that there is not a great demand for such an intensive program, which requires Jewish studies courses to be taught on the majority of schooldays in order to make institutions eligible for funding, the report said.

Schools must also plan yearly activities outside the classroom designed to enrich learning, in order to receive funding.

The program means that students in grades 7-8 may participate in up to 8.5 hours per week in Jewish studies courses, and up to 7.5 hours in grades 10-12.

Students in grades 7-12 are required to study only 3 hours per week each of English and math.

Currently, the government requires secondary schools to teach two hours per week of Bible, with an additional two hours of Jewish culture and heritage required in grades 7-8.

Schools must add at least one and a half hours of classes per week to receive extra funding, and schools that add four and a half hours of classes per week — in addition to current Jewish studies classes– will receive maximum funding.

“The ministry is encouraging the program for strengthening of Jewish studies for grades 7-12 in order to allow each school that desires to do so to provide Jewish content to its students according to its choice,” the Education Ministry said.

The budget increases can be used for purposes of classes that enrich students’ Jewish experience, including Bible, Talmud, Jewish thought, Diaspora Judaism and Jewish culture and heritage.

The program was believed to have been implemented in 650 secular secondary schools last year.

The additional Jewish studies courses can only be taught once other requirements have been fulfilled or in place of elective courses.

The program also allocates money to the buying of Jewish studies-related books.

The Education Ministry announced that it is searching for an external contractor to evaluate the implementation of the program and to award the funding according to “equal criteria.”

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