John Hartley

Haredi Education as adherence to the Torah

Tel Aviv, symbol of secularism, crossed out on this traffic sign in Jerusalem. By Anthony Baratier - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Haredi philosophy of education acknowledges the sacrosanctity of the individual conscience. Such a view is predicated on an absolute belief that the truth pertaining to the nature of reality contained within the Torah as ontologically definitive. While secularism is predicated on rational materialism, The Haredi epistemological ground zero lies in the self-disclosure of the divine as recorded in the Torah. The presupposition that God exists and has chosen to reveal himself to the Haredi through the Torah is fundamentally irreconcilable with the secular paradigm that cannot accommodate such an absolute claim. For the Haredi refuseniks, the miraculous desire to know and understand the Torah comes from God alone. By obsessively studying the Word of God, and striving to follow the precepts, they testify to a grace that can only come from above.

Those who reject their exemption from the military draft demonstrate an inability to understand the true nature and purpose of Haredi education. Unlike secular education it does not prepare a learner to participate in society and to engage with culture. Neither does it instil a set of values ordered towards social acceptance. Education, for the Haredi, is not concerned with self-expression in order to be understood within a society that does not share the same covenantal foundation. For the Haredi, culture means covenant history as adherence to the will of God.

For culture to develop, the individuals within any given society must systemize and transmit this collective memory in a commonly recognizable form. In this manner all culture changes over time. Yet bonded to the Torah, Haredi education, which propagates discernment of the eternal truth, ipso facto cannot change. The essential classification of subdivisions within culture arises from differences in systematization and transmission of knowledge, themselves resting upon an implicit definition of truth, methodology, and goals that guides that knowledge system. The decisive factor, then, is whether the naturally occurring polyphony of Haredi culture and education can be absorbed, through amplification or compression, into a common prevailing oscillation, representing a unified monophonic knowledge system. In short, can the Haredi be factored into the sum of the Israel nation state as secular commentators suppose?

For the Haredi, truth is predicated upon and prescribed by the Torah: God exists and has entered into a covenant with the Jewish people, whom he has called his own as a witness to the nations of his enduring faithfulness. Such a truth strikes at the heart of secularist pretensions of a way of life that fails to accommodate such an absolute thesis: Either the Jewish people are everything to the world or they are nothing. They are the most blessed among humankind or they are the very worst. They cannot be both, and thus Judaism and secularism cannot indefinitely coexist. The nature of this pre-existent criteria both defines the knowledge system and renders it fundamentally irreconcilable with, and unintelligible to, another. On this basis, knowledge systems can be categorized as either fundamentally affirming or denying the irreplaceability of the Jewish people.

About the Author
School teacher in London. Doctoral researcher focusing on Russian Orthodox Philosophy and Slavic Literature (Dostoevsky). John has served in local government, representing his hometown of Droitwich Spa.
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