The previous Israeli government introduced a highly controversial law: Haredi schools have to teach math, science and English eleven hours per week. This law, however, only applies to those haredi schools that receive financial support from the government. Haredi groups (e.g. Chassidut Dushinsky, Satmar, Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham Yitzchak or various litvishe movements) that refuse to accept any financial support from the State of Israel are free to teach whatever they want. Moreover, the anti – Zionist umbrella organization Edah HaCharedit doesn’t allow any English lessons at all. And the groups listed above are all members of the Edah.
The current government just canceled this law:
So, why have famous Rabbis been rejecting “secular studies”? This, however, is nothing new but has been taking place for the past two centuries.
The Rabbi’s concern is that young people who busy themselves with secular studies are more vulnerable than those who “only” study Torah and Talmud. As soon as young people begin to study philosophy or science, they may start to question Judaism. That G – d is the sole Creator of the universe and that it is Him running everything. The Rabbis fear that a lot of young Haredim will leave Yiddishkeit and run away.
I think that some Haredim would leave but most of them would actually stay. My personal opinion on the secular study subject is that every human being has a right to study whatever he wants. One should not be limited by others.
When we look back to the times of the Rambam or even Talmudic times, the Jews were studying whatever they wanted. The Ramban, Rambam and mant other famous Rabbis were educated. And so were the Jews of the Middle Ages, as they were able to read and write. Their Christian counterparts living in Europe were mostly illiterate.
Then, about two hundreds years ago, a tremendous change took place and suddenly, frum Yeshiva guys as well as their whole society were told not to get involved with secular studies. This decree also served as a protection against the Reform movement.
Nevertheless, in our modern world, a good education is a great investment into one’s future. Not only Torah and Talmud but also science, English, French, Spanish and math. It cannot be that Israel’s haredi population only learns the very basics and no science or English at all. By the way, quite a few Haredim participate in private English courses because they work in high tech and thus need English. The same applies to export companies and any startup.
Maybe two hundred years ago, the Rabbi’s had a reason to reject secular studies but today, as more and more Haredim join the workforce, everyone has to be educated. Unless someone only wants to sweep streets.
I think that today, too many leading Rabbis reject secular studies because they simply don’t want their community members to be too smart. It is a kind of power issue.
I know that many of you won’t agree but, according to my opinion, some leading Rabbis are afraid of educated people. They fear that people may ask questions and doubt the position of the Rabbi. I don’t think that this would happen but as long as you limit other people’s education, the possibility of a riot will be minimized.
I have spoken with a lot of Haredim who do want a better education and are even willing to pay. In Jerusalem we have a couple of haredi colleges and academies teaching university studies. A lot of Haredim are educated and not everyone is just “stupid”.
However, not only certain Haredim lack an education. A lot of secular Israelis who actually do have all possibilities to study, just don’t do it. They are not interested or unable to learn. But, at least, they have a choice. Many Haredim don’t.