Rabbi Dov Lipman and I have similar ideas when it comes to education. He and his party, Yesh Atid, are in my opinion, fighting God’s war to ensure that all children in Israel have the ability to get a proper education. As it stands many children from the Haredi sector in Israel only ever get an education in Judaic studies. They learn Bible and Talmud to the exclusion of all else. Yesh Atid together with its rabbinic Knesset Members Rabbis Lipman and Piron are trying to ensure that Haredi children learn core curriculum such as English and math.
The backlash towards this from the Haredi world has been harsh. They see this is an interference with their “holy and pure” education system. Rabbi Lipman himself has been attacked by his own former Rosh Yeshiva the head of Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore, Rabbi Aharon Feldman. Originally Rabbi Feldman called Rabbi Lipman a Rasha (an evil person). But after receiving a letter from Lipman explaining his position he toned that down and said that whilst Lipman was not an evil person, he has made a big mistake and should resign as a Knesset Member of the Yesh Atid Party. I assume Rabbi Lipman will not be following that advice.
In his short talk on the subject Rabbi Aharon Feldman made a few interesting points. First he admitted that in America many Haredi Yeshiva students do learn core subjects such as English and math. But he said Israel is different–although he did not explain why. But then he went on to compare the Israeli Haredi Yeshiva educational system to an Etrog (the citrus fruit that is used as part of the four kinds taken on the Jewish festival of Sukkot). He explained that any type of grafting of another type of fruit plant with a Etrog plant makes the Etrog unfit for use on Sukkot because it ceases to be an Etrog. Similarly, Rabbi Feldman argued, even a small amount of general studies in a Yeshiva in Israel, even for an hour a day, would ruin the entire Yeshiva system in israel.
This argument is typical of the type of argumentation the Haredi community makes. Clearly there is no Talmudic or Halachic foundation for not teaching children the basic skills, such as language and mathematics, that they will need to be able to earn a living later on in life. Much to the contrary the Talmud is clear that parents have an obligation to teach their children skills that will allow them to make an honest living–something that many Haredi schools, especially in Israel, fail to do.
So instead of arguing the point itself, Rabbi Aharon Feldman uses a classic ruse. He tries to bolster his argument by bringing a Jewish law that is itself uncompromising–a species of Etrog must be pure–and then compares it to another point to which is has no relevance whatever. Simply put: what has the law of Etrog got to do with the Yeshiva education system in Israel? Answer: Nothing. Interestingly Rabbi Feldman maintains that Rabbi Lipman is wrong. Yet, that the only argument he can muster to explain why Rabbi Lipman is wrong has to do with an Etrog speaks volumes.
The Haredi community seems not to understand or recognize that the stance they have taken, especially towards education is not only wrong educationally, it is anti-Torah. Kudos to Rabbi Lipman for standing up for what is right. He does not have to revert to deceptive argumentation to make his point. As Jews we believe that in the end the truth will always prevail over falsehoods–this, no doubt, will be the case here as well. I just hope that Rabbi Lipman is in this fight for the long haul and will not be deterred by the arguments and vicious attacks that are coming and will continue to come, his way. To Rabbis Lipman and Piron I say chazak ve’ematz–be brave, be strong!