During a conference of the TALI Education Fund, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett stressed the importance of Jewish education over secular subjects such as math and science.
The comments were made only months after the government’s controversial decision to stop pushing ultra-Orthodox schools to teach science, math, and other core subjects in an effort to increase state funding.
“Learning about Judaism and excellence in the subject is more important in my eyes than mathematics and the sciences,” said Bennett, “and it is hard for me to say that.”
While Bennett initially fought against dropping the core subjects, he later agreed after being put under pressure by the coalition.
Bennett said that although Israel is a “high-tech superpower” in addition to offering knowledge and innovation across the globe, the country must also be a “spiritual superpower” for the world. He said that doing so is the next chapter of the country’s Zionist vision, and that it is through this that the Jewish people will be able to be a light to the nations once again. He concluded by stating, “For out of Zion shall go forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem.”
In response to the announcement, the Education Ministry looked to Bennett’s efforts to improve math and science learning in schools, saying there was nothing more to be said about his recent statement.
However, MK Elazar Stern took to Facebook to speak out against Bennett, saying that all subjects are important and adding that one could not be placed before the other. He went on to say that there was no preferential order, and that each needed the other in order to make scholars successful in life.
Meanwhile, others agreed with Bennett’s statement. Former minister Michael Melchior said that Bennett had not meant that he wanted students to fail in the areas of math or science, but that Jewish students must praise the Jewish spirit.
“Why should a Jewish child not know what kiddush is or Shema Israel and know what his grandfather and grandfather’s father sang and prayed?” Bennett asked. “We are Jews and we should be proud of being Jews. Every child must know our tradition and Bible.”
Jerusalem spiritual leader and social activist Benny Lau also spoke out in support of Bennett. Lau noted instead of pushing away from what Bennett spoke of, the country needs to “embrace the spiritual heritage of the nation.”
Last month, the Knesset put an end to a law which hoped to push an increase to education by taking away funding for schools that did not teach core subjects. Bennett originally supported the law, which would have cut funding for ultra-Orthodox schools that do not maintain a certain number of hours of instruction per week on core secular subjects such as math, English, and science.
However, coalition agreements that came out after the 2015 election required the curriculum law to be dropped. As an amendment to the law, Bennett can use his discretionary power to fund institutions rather than requiring schools to teach 10 to 11 hours of secular studies per week.