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Rivka Ravitz

What Haredi mothers want

By law, my son receives 55% of the state funding allocated to Israel's non-ultra-Orthodox students, and we're the 'bloodsuckers'?!
Ultra-Orthodox students seen learning in the classroom of a Haredi 'Talmud Torah' in the settlement of Beitar Illit. (Nati Shohat/ Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox students seen learning in the classroom of a Haredi 'Talmud Torah' in the settlement of Beitar Illit. (Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

Precisely this week, in the Hebrew year 2448, we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and ever since then, the greatest hope of every Haredi mother is that her son will keep the tradition, learn that exact same Torah, and invest all his energies in meditating upon it.

I remain happily devoted to Jewish tradition, even if that adherence means that my son, who attends “exemption” institutions, receives only 55 percent of the funding allocated to any other Israeli student — despite the fact that my husband and I pay all the taxes required by the state (and that’s a lot of taxes).

My 3-year-old son, who started municipal preschool this year, studies in a storeroom that was converted into a kindergarten. Next year, he’ll be upgraded to a “caravan” (a trailer). Two years from now, he’ll be “promoted” to something even better – “The Cave.” This is a windowless basement room carved into the bedrock under a Talmud Torah building that went up in the 1970s and has not been renovated since.

In the community where I live, a third of the boys study in caravans or storerooms that have been converted into classrooms, while the rest learn in a building that was built in the early 1970s — small classrooms, no auxiliary rooms, and a 200-square-meter (some 2,000 square feet) yard for 800 children. The local council head — full disclosure, my husband and our young son’s father — has warned the Ministry of Education countless times that the structure does not meet earthquake resistance standards. Only after continual pleading and tremendous pressure was a renovation budget allocated. Why do we Haredim have to beg for things the general public takes for granted?

My fellow mothers and I have only one modest entreaty: that our children actually receive the 55% they are entitled to by law. So why is the Haredi public, of which I am a proud member, met with such contempt when my Knesset representatives demand that the disparities be addressed by the Ministry of Finance and that years of eroding conditions be remedied? Antisemitic remarks worthy of Goebbels or Strasser? Why are we called bloodsuckers when all I’m asking is that my son be allowed to receive half the funding enjoyed by the son of any non-Haredi mother?

Why is my legitimate demand again bringing demonstrators to the streets? Last month, they denounced the Haredim as part of the protest against the judicial reform; this month, the hate speech is being directed at my child. I don’t see the connection between this behavior and safeguarding democracy. Perhaps you, my protestor siblings, are looking for reasons to hate Haredim? And maybe the whole reason for your hatred is the fear of a community that venerates a supreme value, the eternal Torah. Maybe the great hatred is actually fear of a community that, despite all the opposition and contempt, is not afraid to cling to its empowering, elevating, invigorating values. Do some people fear my community’s growth and the values I represent enough to take to the streets with these shallow and superficial condemnations?

Even if some find my values scary, I am not going to give them up. I see no reason to apologize or to justify my decision to adhere to the Torah of my ancestors and to educate my children in accordance with its light. Even if that causes them to be restricted to a 55% budget. But I do have the right to ask that the law be upheld, that the finance minister fix the dilapidated conditions, and that the state budget give my son the meager funding to which he is legally entitled.

About the Author
Rivka Ravitz is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). The mother of 12 children, she is a member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. Ravitz served as chief-of-staff to the 10th president of the State of Israel, Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin. 
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