Jewish studies more important than science & math - Israeli education minister

© Gil Cohen Magen
Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett says that learning about the Jewish faith is more important than studying mathematics and science. He made the statement after the government dropped demands for ultra-Orthodox schools to teach core subjects.

“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,” he added, as cited by the Times of Israel. 

Bennett’s comments come as the Israeli government dropped its demand that ultra-Orthodox schools should teach core subjects like math and science in order to receive extra funding from the state. 

“Even though [Israel] is a high-tech superpower, an exporter of knowledge and innovation to the world, we must [also] be a spiritual superpower and export spiritual knowledge to the world.” 

“This is the next chapter of our Zionist vision,” Bennett said, according to the Times of Israel. “In this way we will return to be a light to the nations. ‘For out of Zion shall go forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem.'” 

Bennett, who is a multi-millionaire after selling a software company, which he created, had previously been against the move to allow ultra-Orthodox schools to drop key subjects, only to make a U-turn.  

“We are Jews,” he said. “It is not enough to be solely the nation of the start-up. We must also be the people of the Bible.” 

The education minister’s comments were widely praised amongst spiritual leaders. 

“At the fringes of Israeli society there are forces of fear, on the left and the right, and due to their own fears they try to paralyze the lives of everyone,” Jerusalem-based spiritual leader and social activist Benny Lau wrote on Facebook. 

“The response to Minister Bennett is part of this syndrome. All he said was the word ‘Bible’ and its importance in creating an Israeli identity, and he was immediately attacked.” 

However, politician Elazar Stern from the Zionist Union said that both traditional subjects and Judaism were important and one should not be put before the other. 

“There’s no preferential order — Jewish studies without math won’t be able to strengthen the Jewish state. And mathematics without Judaism (in its many forms) will send our mathematicians and scientists to Silicon Valley or Berlin,” he wrote, as cited by the Times of Israel. 

The new legislation would have affected around 40,000 of Israel’s 440,000 ultra-Orthodox students, which is just under 2 percent of the total school population according to Bennett. These institutions are currently given 55 percent of the funding given to schools that teach all the core subjects, however, this would have been lowered to 35 percent. 

Bennett added that even had the funding been lowered, this would not have forced ultra-Orthodox schools to teach their pupils subjects like English and Science.

“Not a single Haredi child will start learning [math and English] as a result of this law, and I can tell you that even if this law does go into effect in 2018, not a single Haredi child who doesn’t do so right now will learn math and English, because they [ultra-Orthodox schools] would fund raise more money from abroad and we would [only be] ‘showing them who’s boss,’” he said, according to the Times of Israel.