We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations

When “education” consists of nothing but studying one book, then not much is learned.

For thousands of years the way that ultra-orthodox Jewish children are taught has changed little and is based almost entirely on study of the Torah – the Jewish Bible.

But now a group of leading secular Israelis wants to force the ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, education system to modernise and adopt standard subjects like maths, science and English.

The reason, they say, is that thousands of Haredi students are unable or unwilling to participate in wider Israeli society and are becoming an increasing economic burden.

“Participate in wider Israeli society” looks a lot like “get a paying job.” The BBC is apparently reluctant to spell that out (why?) but it seems pretty clear that if all you have ever “studied” is the Torah, then nobody is going to hire you except someone who wants Torah-knowledge and has the money to pay you to provide it, which once again implies a job or some other source of income in the background. In short if everyone in a given society learns nothing but the Torah or the Koran or Harry Potter, then no one will be doing anything that produces material wealth, and all the Torah scholars or Potter scholars will sooner or later starve to death. In short there is something just a tad self-indulgent about infinite Torah-frotting unless one is already, like Mr Bingley, in possession of a large fortune.

The rabbi acknowledges that most of the boys he teaches will never work or participate in “wider” Israeli society – dedicating themselves instead to a life of religious study.

“We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations – for hundreds, even thousands of years,” he says. “It’s the same idea of studying the Talmud, an explanation of the Torah. We see the success, the great success and don’t want to change a thing.”

What success? At whose expense? Who provides the meals and the roof over the head? Who pays for all this success?

10 Responses to “We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations”