According to Ha’aretz, the new curriculum will include lessons on Jewish culture, the Hebrew calendar and the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Additionally, students in the sixth grade will be required to learn the weekly Torah portion; students in seventh grade will be taught the order of prayers in the Jewish liturgy; eighth graders will learn Pirkei Avot (Wisom of the Fathers ); and ninth graders will delve into Theodor Herzl’s novel Altneuland. Students will also learn about holidays that are not mentioned by the Torah, but that are significant for the Jewish people, such as Hanukkah, Independence Day, and Jerusalem Day.
Professor Sagi claims that the new curriculum lays the ground for the indoctrination of Israeli students, and cites what he believes to be the utter irrelevance of this information to students who identify as secular. Â “Being secular does not mean being a little less religious,” he says.
From Sagi’s criticism, an outsider might deduce that there are two categories of people in Israel today: religious people and secular people. Religious people need to learn religious texts and Jewish history, and secular people need to focus on other, more relevant subjects. Â It seems that Professor Sagi needs to be reminded of a fact that should be plainly obvious to all: Â We are one people. Â Some of us keep mitzvot, some of us believe in G-d, some of us believe that the Torah is holy, some of us believe that it is but a mere storybook – but we are all a part of the narrative of the Jewish people and we all come from the same place. Â Israeli society is fractured on many levels, and the religious and secular divide is amongst the most problematic. Â Professor Sagi proposes that secular students learn secular subjects, religious students learn religious subjects — and then what? Â How will we ever begin to understand one another and live without constant internal strife if we don’t eliminate ignorance?
Just as Charedi students should be obligated to learn secular subjects – which are equally relevant to the Jewish people and Israeli society in general – students who are not religious should be obligated to learn that which isn’t necessarily taught in their homes. Â I fail to see the problem with the new curriculum, and I fail to understand the fear.
Not providing access to the texts that, like it or not, are the very roots of the Jewish people, does not encourage students to think for themselves. Students who are not religiously observant are surrounded by secular, Israeli culture – they have plenty of access to information that is sometimes in opposition to Jewish and Zionist texts. This new educational initiative does the opposite of indoctrinating students – it presents students with a complete picture, so that they can think for themselves. Â Do we really want to live in a nation that actively shields students from knowledge? Â A nation of forward-thinking young people can only be solidified by presenting as much knowledge as possible, and by encouraging our youth to explore every crevice of the story of the Jewish people. It’s dishonest, manipulative, and downright disgraceful to keep a large portion of our story out of our classrooms.
This new educational initiative is long overdue and frankly, it should feed us a well-deserved taste of optimism – if our youth learn more about who we are and why we are here, they will be better equipped to contend with the challenges that the future holds for the State of Israel and thus, for the Jewish people.