Interior Ministry gives academic standing to religious studies

Interior Ministry gives academic standing to religious studies

Men who hold rabbinic ordination or who studied Talmud will qualify for municipal jobs that demand college degrees

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem, July 17, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem, July 17, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

New government regulations will enable Israelis with only a religious education to be considered for jobs offered by municipal governments even if the job requirements demand an academic degree.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri spearheaded the change, calling it a “revolution” in employment prospects for ultra-Orthodox men that would allow them to better integrate into key positions in local authorities, Haaretz reported Monday.

However, critics reportedly said the move diminished the value of an academic education and the range of skills that it endows, and would create an opening for inappropriate appointments.

Many ultra-Orthodox men spend years studying traditional Jewish texts, such as Talmud and commentaries, in religious colleges called yeshivas. Studies generally include little to no secular topics.

The new guidelines would apply to anyone who holds rabbinical ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, or a certificate testifying that he studied for at least six years starting from age 18 in a yeshiva and has passed three tests set by the Chief Rabbinate. In effect, the change applies only to men.

“This is good news for the ultra-Orthodox community,” said Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Under the guidelines, which were formulated by the Interior Ministry in coordination with the Civil Service Commission, job offers issued by municipalities will have to note the alternative acceptable religious qualifications alongside any academic requirements.

“I am glad to carry out the announced revolution of recognizing Torah education as an academic degree,” Deri said, using a colloquial term for religious studies. “It can’t be that a young person who completes a degree in humanities can compete to be chosen and be preferred over a Torah student who studied and trained in Jewish studies.”

Last week the government voted to roll back a law that would have required ultra-Orthodox state-funded schools to include a minimum number hours of devoted to secular studies, such as English and math.

In their coalition agreements following the 2015 elections, the ultra-Orthodox parties demanded the core curriculum law be dropped. Those backing the original law claim that without a minimum secular education Haredi adults have great difficulty in finding employment.

“We will act so that the process begun today in the municipalites will continue in government offices,” Deri said. “I’m certain that it will create an opening for many in the Haredi public who have a Torah education to integrate into key positions in the municipalities and in general public service.”

Experts at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think-tank, lamented the development.

Gilad Malach, head of the institute’s Haredi program and developer of a master plan for ultra-Orthodox employment, criticized the move for not taking into consideration the breadth of skills that academic education provides but that do not feature in religious studies, the report said.

“Rabbinical ordination or study… for six years doesn’t include the writing of academic papers, knowledge of English, or the study of statistics,” Malach noted. “If there are specific positions in local authorities that don’t require these skills, then an academic degree wouldn’t have been required for them” in the first place.

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