Israeli ultra-Orthodox textbooks promote insularity, study finds

New report says Haredi schools teach peaceful conduct and coexistence, but try to instill opposition to modernity

Ultra-Orthodox girls go to school in Beit Shemesh on September 1, 2014 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox girls go to school in Beit Shemesh on September 1, 2014 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Textbooks used in ultra-Orthodox schools in Israel promote the community’s insularity as well as peaceful conduct and coexistence, according to a study by an education watchdog.

The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT-se, studied 93 textbooks used in grades 1 through 12 in the two major educational frameworks for Haredi schools.

The curricula of the Haredi Orthodox schools oppose modernity, and promote limited and unequal acceptance of others, according to the study.

Hatred of the Jewish people by the rest of the world is taught as a permanent historical reality, seen especially in how the Holocaust is taught. In addition, there is no extensive coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which tends to be included in lessons about how Jews are hated by the world at large. On the other hand, “Commitment to peaceful conduct which forms the foundation of rabbinical Judaism is evident throughout the curricula.”

The textbooks also have almost no reference to culture among Mizrachi, or Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Jews, focusing instead on the Ashkenazi Haredi experience associated with Eastern Europe.

“The textbooks generate a nostalgic consciousness that seeks to preserve and re-create traditional Eastern European Jewry — defining Haredi identity, shaping its goals and boundaries, and distinguishing itself from other forms of Israeli public,” the study found.

The textbooks also depict women as remaining in the background and not being empowered, while also being required to earn the family’s livelihood.

They either negate or are contemptuous of modern secular society, and hold out Reform Jewry for the most contempt, believing the movement is attempting to create an alternative religion.

The textbooks also promote what the study authors call “pragmatic coexistence,” encouraging students to work within Israeli society as long as it doesn’t oppose community norms.

IMPACT-se is a Jerusalem-based organization that monitors and analyzes schoolbooks and curricula across the Middle East according to standards of peace and tolerance derived from UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization.

According to the study, the “textbooks themselves, treated here as the researched corpus, do not satisfactorily meet all of UNESCO standards and beg for a serious reevaluation.”

Haredi schools in Israel include “exempt institutions” and “recognized but unofficial” schools.

Recognized but unofficial schools receive 75 percent of their budget and are subject to partial supervision by the Education Ministry’s Haredi Department. Exempt institutions are not subject to supervision. There are a small number of state Haredi schools that receive 100% of their budget from the state and are subject to full supervision by the Haredi Department.

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