We have previously discussed the investigation of Orthodox Jewish schools in the United States after former students were shown to be barely able to do basic English and math after being schooled primarily on religious texts. Now there is a lawsuit in Israel in which Avihay Marciano and 50 other former Orthodox students suing over their lack of basic education from an ultra-Orthodox school. What is most interesting about the lawsuit is that he is suing the government, which financially supports these schools.
Israel maintains a separate educations system — funded by public money — for the ultra-Orthodox. Critics say that the schools do little but read religious texts and that the lack of real educations is draining the country of both money and potential additions to the workplace and military. Indeed, male students only receive minimal secular studies through the seventh grade. Girls are afforded slightly more secular subjects but not enough to make them fully functional or employable in society.
These ultra Orthodox communities have also been criticized for their high procreation rates and high welfare support for men who refuse to work and simply spend their days in religious study. There has also been protection from military service.
These communities make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens and are expected to represent more than a quarter of the population by 2059 due to their high birth rates. That gives them tremendous political power, particularly in the Israeli system where small religious parties often control the coalition governments. Both the insularity and extreme political positions of the ultra orthodox communities are already clashing with the sizable secular population in Israel — clashes which are likely to increase in the future.
These schools crank out uneducated citizens who only know ultra Orthodox dogma and values. Now Marciano, 26, and other former students are demanding compensation so that they can be educated on basic subjects to function in society. Ultra-Orthodox leaders however have blocked every effort to reform the schools. They have even blocked a modest proposal to facilitate ultra Orthodox men serving in the military in the same way as other Israelis.
While I would prefer no public funding for religious schools, it seems like a basic and reasonable demand that any school receiving state funding should meet all of the criteria on educational standards set by the government. I would think that people who can do math can still follow ultra Orthodox beliefs. The two are not mutually exclusive skills. However, the problem is not logical but political. The lawsuit could help focus the public debate on the expectations or conditions for public funding.