"'EUCLID - Not, it's not the name of a medicine. It's the Greek mathematics that (the Zionists want) your son to learn instead of learning Mishnayos.' It proceeds to detail how it is important for your children to learn good character, yiras Shamayim and Torah, rather than the foreign wisdom that the government wants them to study, etc."
The above poster is a campaign ad for Untied Torah Judaism, the mainstream Ashkenazi haredi political party. Its spiritual leader is haredi leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman. Rabbi Natan Slifkin explains what it says:
For those who can't make out the Hebrew words in the poster [above], the ad says "EUCLID - Not, it's not the name of a medicine. It's the Greek mathematics that (the Zionists want) your son to learn instead of learning Mishnayos." It proceeds to detail how it is important for your children to learn good character, yiras Shamayim and Torah, rather than the foreign wisdom that the government wants them to study, etc.
Now, one question that immediately springs to mind is why Mishnayos and mathematics are presented as an either/or. Nobody is saying that charedim should not learn Mishnayos at all; rather, they are saying that charedim should learn mathematics as well as Mishnayos. Which many Orthodox Jews, in Israel and abroad, manage perfectly well. And they seem to do pretty well at achieving good character and yiras Shamayim, too.
But there's more.
A colleague of Slifkin's, Leor Jacobi, noted that the very mathematics haredim now want banned was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Baruch of Shklov who was a disciple of the GRA, the Gaon of Vilna. According to Baruch of Shklov, the translation was made at personal request of the GRA. Here's the title page:
Slifkin notes that in the book's introduction, Baruch of Shklov writes that the Gra told him that “according to the measure of what a person lacks in general wisdom, he will lack a hundredfold when it comes to Torah wisdom, because the Torah and general wisdom are closely linked together.”
In the GRA's day, keeping a person ignorant was not necessary to keep them fervently Orthodox, but that, I think, is much less true today. That is not because today's secular knowledge is bad – it isn't, and it's much more accurate and true than the secular knowledge the GRA was talking about.
And that is what the trouble is for haredim.
Sane, honest, open people who study the scientific evidence rapidly conclude that much of the Torah's account of creation and history (at least from Genesis through the book of Joshua) is false or unsupported by the scientific evidence we have, from DNA anaylsis, geology, astronomy, physics and many other areas of science.
In other words, math, science and other secular knowledge was not a real threat to the cult of fervent Orthodoxy in the late 18th century, but it is now.
And therefore haredi rabbis ban that secular knowledge today, making the judgement that an ignorant hasid or haredi is much more likely to remain in the haredi-hasidic camp than a secularly educated hasid or haredi would.
The problem – besides the impact of the ban of haredi job prospects, etc. – is that the ban is in place to enforce beliefs that are, when taken literally, false.
In other words, what haredi leaders have done is turned the Torah from what could be viewed as allegory to a fundamentalist lie, and then they banned the tools haredim need to uncover it. They opted to run a cult rather than risk confrinting the truth.
And if today's High Court ban on haredi benefits is extended to haredi yeshivas and schools that continue to refuse to teach math, science and other core subjects (and if that ban is enforced and sticks), haredi leaders will have little choice. They will either have to try to move their communites outside Israel, or they will have to learn to adapt to actual reality.
And that is why they are so very afraid.
[Hat Tip: Yochanan Lavie.]