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Shai Piron’s giant step toward mixed education

The education minister has gone public with his hopes that mixed religious and secular schools will one day be the norm

Four years ago I had the privilege of passing the Law for Inclusive Education through its third and final reading in the Knesset. It is a law for which I worked hard for years, and that holds great potential to change the face of our Jewish Zionist society. Despite broad opposition at the start of the process, in the end, the legislation passed with wall to wall support.

After the vote took place, a public proclamation of support was made that made waves in many circles. This proclamation was written by two partners who were part of the process from the beginning and who are both greatly missed – Rabbi Menachem Fruman and Dr. Arie Geiger may their memories be for a blessing.

It was signed by exceptional public figures from all ends of the political spectrum and included these words:

The old will be renewed and the new will be sanctified. We hope to establish a new educational home in which both sides will be able to study together as one and each will be able to learn from the other and to grant the other permission and the freedom to deepen their roots and benefit from the fruits of their study. We hope that the passing of this legislation and its implementation will serve as the basis for new hope, an opening for the future of all of Israeli society.

Among the signatories were: Koby Oz; Yoske Ahituv z”l; Tova Ilan; Lova Eliav z”l; Uri Elitzur; Rabbi David Bigman; Rabbi Yoel Bin-nun; A.B. Yehoshua; Udi Leon; Rabbi Meir Lichtenstein; Aharon Meged; Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; Amos Oz; Rabbi Yehuda Amital z”l; Rabbi Chanan Porat z”l; Dr. Ariel Picard; Muki Tzur; Rabbi Shlomo Riskin; Rabbi Yuval Sherlow; and many others.

Since then, Meitarim has been operating more than 50 inclusive educational institutions (schools, kindergartens and institutions for higher Jewish learning), in the center of the country and in the periphery, and in partnership with an entire coalition of important organizations such as the Tali Network, Morasha and Be’eri. We have promoted the implementation of the legislation in the Ministry of Education with the aim of turning the sliver of hope into a breakthrough, a national strategy for Israeli society in which we will stop being afraid of knocking down the walls of separatism and we will understand that we have so much to challenge, nurture, create and think as well as learn by actually living together – complete heretics and those who fear G-d — the entire gamut of religious identities under the roof of one educational system.

Finally the moment we have been yearning for has arrived. The Minister of Education, who not only in private conversations, and not only in a very convincing speech before the principals of our schools, but in a newspaper of the religious sector – in ‘Makor Rishon’, this last Friday, said things with no fear. I have only to quote from the article by Avital Indig, and anything I add will only detract:

After years of running religious educational institutions, Piron has quite a bit of criticism regarding the way the national religious education system is run:


“The national religious ‘bon ton’ is to continue talking about ‘those others’ – the traditional, those from the neighborhoods, the secular, the Ethiopians. It’s not right and not worthy in my eyes. Children do not go bad from an encounter with the other. They are empowered by it. They don’t become less religious, rather more so.


“Research that examined mixed settlements (pluralistic national schools (M.M.)) such as Kfar Adumim and Teko’a actually show that the percentage of those who become secular was no higher than in other places. Contrary to that, when one examines settlements with the most segregation and with the strictest education and the greatest separation, and one sees the percentage of secularization, you can’t but ask yourself questions that aren’t asked enough in our society – maybe we’ve gone wrong? Maybe our fear of the other has turned into too influential a factor


The solution, according to Piron, is in the blurring of the familiar borders. His great vision is in promoting inclusive education in which secular and religious children share a joint study bench. He defines it as a strategic goal of the state of Israel:


Segregating between religious and non-religious in the school system is one of the gravest mistakes in Israeli society. I think that the greatest national goal is to create a Jewish Israeli public realm. This is what is most important. We cannot continue living as tribes. It’s a greater threat than Iran. The best possible way to define anew this ‘togetherness’ is through the school system. The message of inclusive education must be widely spread and my job as the Minister of Education is to turn it from an esoteric and marginal niche into the main stream of the Israeli educational system.”

On February 24 we will be having a huge ‘Bat Mitzvah” celebration for the Meitarim Network in honor of 12 years of inclusive educational achievements. How fitting this early gift to the festivities is!

You are all invited to join the celebration with the participation of Ministers Piron and Livni and the Chairman of the opposition MK Isaac Herzog.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Melchior is a leading advocate for social justice in Israel, education for all, Jewish-Arab reconciliation and co-existence, protection of the environment, and Israel-Diaspora relations. Through his work, Rabbi Melchior seeks to strengthen Israeli civil society so it may catalyze significant social change in the State of Israel. He was a member of Knesset for the Meimad Party. Rabbi Melchior continues to hold the title of Chief Rabbi of Norway.
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