Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More about the Tefillin Scandle

First of all, a big shout-out to all the visitors who got here from Life in Israel or DovBear, welcome to the club, feel free to stop by or leave a comment any time.

Before the Chagim I wrote about the high school student in Modi'in who was not allowed to bring his tefillin to school.

I said that I would follow up on the story, so here are further details as posted by a parent on the Modi'in list (as posted at the time):
1. The city spokeswoman said that a student IS allowed to bring his tefillin to school and use it privately (in a quiet corner of the library or empty classroom). However, a student is not allowed to *recruit* others. If other students want to join together, in a small group, they ARE allowed to do so. The emphasis is on not allowing an individual student to *recruit* others. The spokeswoman told me to also speak with the Education Minhal for further information.

2. I spoke with Tziona, secretary to the head of the Education Minhal. She was not aware of the article, or what had happened at the school. She said that she will check into the matter and provide us with an answer by Sunday.
Disregarding the rights and wrongs of the case, I think that the story points to a bigger problem within the Israeli Educational system. I think that the problem was best expressed by another secular parent on the Modi'in list who supported the school's move to ban Tefillin:
I can see where this "concern" comes from... parents who send their kids to secular schools do so as they do not want any extra religious curriculum or activities for their kids. Even though we respect the religious and what goes on in the religious schools we do no want religious activities to become part of a ritual in the secular school. Another example of this is when parents of kids in a secular school object to class run activities or birthday parties being held on a Friday night or a Saturday - unacceptable if the school is secular. Again this is not out of disrespect but rather a choice some of us made by not sending our kids to a religious school.
I think that there is a fundamental problem with her argument: There are no "Secular" schools in Israel; there are "State" (Mamlachti) schools. These schools cater to students from a wide variety of backgrounds who for one reason or another don't want to send their kids to "religious-state" (Mamlachti-Dati) schools (or private schools).

I think that the problem is that most Israelis don't fit neatly into one of 2 categories: "Dati" or "Chiloni"; a large majority of Israelis find themselves somewhere in the middle often categorized as "Traditional".

Almost all Israelis respect and observe at least some of the Jewish traditions for example have a Mezuah on their door, eat Matzah on Pessach, Make a Brit for their sons etc. Many many Israelis (particularly Sfardim) light Shabbat candles, keep some level of Kashrut, daven on a regular or semi-regular basis, keep Taharat Mishpacha, or accept many other mitzvot, even though they may not define themselves as "Religious/Dati".

Unfortunately when it comes to education, at least in Modi'in they have only two options at High School level: The Bnei Akiva Yeshiva, or State-High School. Neither of these options meet the requirements of these families.

This has two undesired effects:
  • Some kids go to a state high school where they are ridiculed or made to feel uncomfortable for any Jewish practices that they observe. This attitude is unfortunately not only from the students, but as we can see is also from the senior administration.
  • Other kids go to a Yeshiva, yet aren't comfortable with the structure of the yeshiva schedule. The yeshiva in Modi'in is doing the best to accommodate these students by providing different learning programs (long day, short day, shorter day), but the result is that the atmosphere on the yeshiva is more like a high school than a yeshiva, including many kids who don't regularly wear kippot or tzitzit.
What Modi'in needs is a religious high school that is not a yeshiva, possibly even co-ed. Or a school that follows the Tali model . This would help fill the gap for those people who appreciate Jewish tradition, but don't want to be confined to a Yeshiva environment. And most importantly, would help break down the artificial division between "Dati" and "Chiloni".

BTW - I am aware that Yachad is developing a high school program that would partially meet this need, and look forward to seeing that model grow and influence the city and the entire country.

PS - Two further points:
  • When my son heard about the Tefilin story he laughed as he said the exact opposite thing happened in his school. Yehoshua told me that one of the "traditional" kids in his class was being picked up by his older brother from Ironi Bet High School, when the Av Bayit (custodian) saw a kid show up with no Kipa and sporting an earring, he invited the kid into his office where he helped the young man put on Tefillin, possibly for the first time since his Bar Mitzva.

  • This story was similar to a case in Ramat Gan where the school forbade the students from Davening Mincha on school grounds. I believe in that case the official resolution was to allow the kids to leave school during a break to daven at a nearby Beit Knesst, however as there was no escort able to take them, they were in practice not allowed to go. From what I heard, the case almost went to court before the judge recommended to the principal that she should back down, as the judge was worried that he would be forced to make a precedent that the "secular" schools would not be happy with.

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