Earlier this summer the Belgian government issued regulations that would compel both state-funded and privately-funded Jewish schools to teach the country’s mandatory curriculum in its entirety. That curriculum includes evolutionary biology, human reproduction and other taboo subjects for haredim.
Belgian Gov’t Mandates Secular Education In Haredi Schools, Prompting Some Haredim To Consider Fleeing The Country
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
New government regulations are threatening the autonomy of haredi schools and prompting haredi angst and fear that the only solution to this interference might be to leave the country altogether.
This new threat to haredi separateness is not taking place in Israel, where the government is in the process of imposing similar (but far less strict) requirements on haredi schools.
Instead, it is taking place in Belgium, where earlier this summer the government issued regulations that would compel both state-funded and privately-funded Jewish schools to teach the country’s mandatory curriculum in its entirety, the JTA reported. That curriculum includes evolutionary biology, human reproduction and other taboo subjects for haredim.
State-funded schools that fail to comply will lose hundreds of thousands of euros in annual subsidies. Privately-funded Jewish schools will now see their students tested on the country’s mandatory subjects. Two failures would lead to a school’s students being enrolled in a state-recognized school.
“For us, the new regulations could mean exile. I will send my children to England. It’s tough, but it’s better than having their minds polluted,” a Satmar hasid named Menachem told the JTA.
Antwerp’s haredi community, operated its schools with little interference from the government for decades.
But the disproportionately high haredi poverty rate – 25% of Antwerp’s haredim reportedly live below the poverty line, compared to less than 10% of the Belgian population as a whole – has helped spark a government crackdown on an educational system that critics say does not prepare its graduates to properly function in the modern workforce.
Recent data shows that only 8.6% of haredi high school graduates pursue higher education. The national average among all citizens is reportedly about 50%.
“Young haredim find it harder to find work at a time when the economy is declining and as haredi diamond traders face stronger competition from Indian traders on Antwerp’s diamond exchange. Thus we see more poverty among haredim,” Claude Marinower, Antwerp’s deputy mayor and its alderman for education reportedly said.
Many diamond-related jobs have been outsourced abroad, and non-Jewish foreign businessmen now play a major role in what once was an on a largely Jewish industry.
Even though the writing has been on the wall for years, Antwerp’s haredi schools – like most haredi schools in Israel and New York – have allegedly done little to prepare students for non-menial jobs outside the industry.
Hilde Wynen taught at Antwerp’s oldest and largest haredi school, the state-funded Jesode Hatorah, which has 800 students, for 11 years. She told the JTA that was ordered by the school’s administrators not to mention HIV, prehistory, and ancient Egypt. She said she was also ordered to censor words like “love” and “boyfriend” from textbooks, some of which lost as much as 25% of their content after she censored them as ordered with a black marker.
“[That censorship] meant my graduates were simply not prepared to integrate into the Belgian society,” she said.
Wynen left Jesode Hatorah in 2011 and now works for the Flemish education ministry.
In 2012, government auditors found Jesode Hatorah did not meet minimum educational standards. The school was repeatedly ordered to correct its deficiencies, but it failed to do so. So the government has started proceedings to strip it of its state subsidies.
Across Europe, which has been flooded with immigrants, fears that parochial school systems are failing to prepare students to integrate into their host societies are growing, as is the fear that these private religious schools are promoting radicalism.
For example, The Netherlands now plans to forbid home tutoring because it is favored by radical religious groups.
Haredi proponents of including secular subjects and ending (or drastically reducing) censorship in haredi schools are in the clear minority. But even they do not support what some call the government’s heavy handed methods which would see 12-year-old haredi children taught about reproduction and sex – subjects most haredim learn about only days before their wedding in special one-on-one classes with haredi advisors who teach them the basics of sex and, sometimes, of human reproduction, as well.