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Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Opening of the Haredi Educational System to the Secular and Its Transformation from a Peripheral Factor to a Central Factor in Israeli Society

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 21:3-4 (Fall 2009)

This article analyzes the metamorphosis that occurred within Haredi education, transforming it from a single stream, limited both in scope and its affinity to the state, into two dominant streams that seek to influence the Israeli state and society. Within this framework the long march that the veteran Independent educational stream has made will be presented. From a policy of selectivity and “isolation” in the admission of Ashkenazi Haredim during the 1950s, it moved initially toward a “combined” policy during the 1980s, characterized by relaxing admission criteria for Haredi pupils from the Oriental communities and returnees to the religious fold. By the turn of the century and the start of the twenty-first century it proceeded to establish the Maayan network. Both Maayan and the Independent educational stream adopted a policy that approached even the secular – both new immigrants and veteran Israelis (the “expansionist” policy) – alongside the continued use of the isolationist and combined approaches. As emerges from enrollment figures in the new frameworks of Haredi education, the absorption of pupils with a varied background to these educational institutions has helped Haredi education to grow by tens of percentage points in recent decades, paralleling a relative decline in the State and the State-Religious streams. This educational reality has far-reaching repercussions for the intra-Haredi world as well as for the general Israeli public. It has drawn the Haredi public closer to the political “center,” and in practice facilitates the growing strength of the Haredi parties.


In 1953 the Independent Ultra-Orthodox (hereafter Haredi) educational system identified with the Haredi non-Zionist Agudat Yisrael Party (hereafter Agudat Yisrael) was established, headed by Haredi functionaries representing both the Lithuanian and Hassidic wings of the party. The term “Independent” was used in its title to signify that the system was “untainted” by the influence of Zionism, something that could not be said of the State-Religious stream. Its leaders were all exclusively Ashkenazi, and some of them even served in the Knesset on behalf of Agudat Yisrael. One of the practical results of this homogeneous management of the Independent educational stream was that very few children from Oriental Jewish communities, even those who were Haredi, studied in its framework, since many of them were refused admission on the basis of their ethnic origin or their Zionist and modern lifestyles.[1] At the time, this stream represented exclusively Haredi education, which was characterized by self-isolation and a uniform makeup.[2]

However, in the past two decades a far-reaching reform has taken place in Haredi education. Springing up during the 1990s, a new Haredi educational stream, identified with the SHAS party, Maayan Hahinukh Hatorani (literally, Torah Education Spring; hereafter, Maayan), joined the veteran Independent educational stream. Additionally, as opposed to previous experience, when primarily Ashkenazi Haredi and a few Sephardi children studied within the framework of Haredi education, today one encounters in educational systems defined by the Ministry of Education as “Haredi” an additional three groups: those “returning to the orthodox religious fold” (from all ethnic communities); “Oriental” religiously observant Jews who joined Haredi society by their thousands with the establishment of the movement “to bring back the bygone [Sephardi] glory” by the SHAS party; and veteran Israelis and new immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States who lead a secular lifestyle at home but choose to send their children to Haredi educational institutions.

Widening the circle of eligible pupils has led in the last decades to a dramatic increase in the number of those studying in the kindergartens and schools of Haredi education (the Independent system and Maayan), and at the same time to a decline in the relative enrollment in educational institutions of the State and State-Religious streams. From official statistics, it emerges that the number of children enrolled in Haredi education in its various sub-currents tripled during the last decade of the twentieth century. This trend has continued in the current century,[3] with the increase in the number of pupils far exceeding the natural increase of 2 percent per annum.[4] If it maintains this stable growth trend, in the next few years, Haredi education is likely to become the second largest educational framework in Israel, after the State educational stream.[5]

This article will attempt to analyze the changes that occurred within Haredi education and resulted in its transformation from a single current, limited in size and in its connection to the state, to two dominant currents that aim to influence state and society in Israel. In this framework, the major odyssey that the veteran Independent educational stream has made will be demonstrated. The stream progressed from a selective and isolationist policy of admitting primarily Ashkenazi Haredi pupils during the 1950s, to a combined approach during the 1980s, characterized by liberalizing the criteria for admitting pupils from Haredi Oriental communities and those returning to the fold. By the turn of the century, with the establishment of the Maayan network, both Maayan and the Independent educational stream embraced a policy that approaches even secular immigrants and veteran secular Israelis (an expansionist policy), while at the same time continuing the isolationist and combined approaches.

The expansionist course of action derived from a strategic decision by Rabbi Elazar Schach, the leader of the Ashkenazi-Lithuanian Haredi faction. He resigned from his post as titular leader of the Haredi Agudat Yisrael with the objective of forming a new political camp under his leadership, in whose framework he could turn to new target populations that were not classically Haredi. Rabbi Schach’s policy had far-reaching implications both for intra-Haredi and general Israeli affairs. It drew the Haredi public closer to the political center and permitted the establishment of two new Haredi parties: Degel Hatorah (Torah Flag) and SHAS, both of which were established at his initiative.[6] Likewise, as will be demonstrated below, this policy led to the absorption of pupils of varied backgrounds into Haredi educational institutions.

In this connection, and for the purpose of the discussion concerning changes occurring in Israeli society, two conceptual terms must be clarified: center and periphery. In any social structure there must be a repository of authority, beliefs, values, and symbols that constitutes the center. At the center one encounters society’s elites and ruling institutions; this center determines the social agenda and social status of individuals that it influences. Bodies surrounding the center that lack real influence on the policy of the center are termed periphery.[7] The central authority that is the elected ruling institutions and political parties, the media, the army, academic institutions, and so forth, represents ascendant society. Haredi Ashkenazi society, as was mentioned above, views itself as rejected from the standpoints of culture, communications, and politics, and represents the periphery. Oriental Haredi society, dependent on Ashkenazi Haredi society from cultural, ethical, and social standpoints, is considered to be a periphery of a periphery.[8]

The policy of self-isolation that typified Haredi education led, as will be shown below, to a static and fixed total of pupils in the Independent educational stream, and enhanced the rejected peripheral aspects of Haredi society. At the same time, it reinforced the Haredi rejection of demands by the center to identify with and participate in the collective effort. Now, following Haredi education’s expansion of the ranks of its pupils and the accelerated absorption of pupils with varied backgrounds in general, and new immigrants in particular, it can without doubt be termed a sub-center that functions as a broker between center and periphery, sharing power with the center.[9]

The Initial Period: The Haredi “Independent Educational System” in Self-imposed Isolation

For over two decades, from the mid 1950s until the 1980s, the Independent educational framework functioned on an extremely centralized basis. Great power rested in the hands of Rabbi Schach, the leader of the Lithuanian-Haredi wing, and Rabbi Yisrael Alter, the grand rabbi of the Gur Hassidic dynasty, an outstanding Hassidic Ashkenazi leader. The two were fully and actively involved in all the bodies of the Independent educational stream: its directory, supreme spiritual committee, and management. For that reason, it would not be stretching the truth to conclude that Rabbi Schach and the grand rabbi of Gur were the ones who saw to it that not a single representative of the Oriental communities was appointed to the executive bodies of the Independent educational stream.[10]

Due to their origin, many pupils from Oriental communities were denied admission to yeshivot (higher educational religious institutes) or teaching seminaries for girls controlled by Ashkenazi bodies. The Ashkenazi Haredim even ridiculed Oriental educational traditions and did not try to prevent the discrimination toward the Oriental Haredim.[11]

The policy of isolation that separated the Ashkenazi Haredim was not targeted exclusively at the Oriental communities, who were close to them in terms of religious lifestyle. Broad public strata whose stringency in observing the religious commandments did not resemble the distinctly Haredi Ashkenazi public, such as the returnees to the religious fold, did not constitute a target population for the Independent educational stream during the first decade following the establishment of the State of Israel.[12] Friedman, one of the dominant researchers of the Haredi society, calls this phenomenon “selective communities,” communities who select their public on the basis of an affinity to intra-communal tradition.[13]

In this context, it is worth noting that there are a number of reasons for the empowerment of the selective leadership in the form of the Torah sages and the Hassidic grand rabbis. First of all, concentration in self-enclosed groups makes matters easier for the rabbinic leadership because it means that overtures to the general public in advance are unnecessary. Second, the structure and makeup of the selective leadership is not determined by the political leadership, as opposed to the institutional authority, such as the Chief Rabbinate. This factor accounts for the strengthening of selective authority among its adherents.

Nevertheless foregoing approaches to the general public in the educational sphere exacted a severe price. From official statistics it emerges that from the 1960s to the 1980s the number of pupils enrolled in Haredi education stagnated and its share remained at 6 percent during those decades, despite natural increase.[14]

A similar situation characterized the solitary Haredi political party, Agudat Yisrael. This party experienced, largely from the opposition benches, the electoral stagnation of winning four Knesset seats in elections held in the years immediately following the establishment of the state and for the four decades following (save for the brief periods when it joined with other religious factions).[15]

The Second Period, 1980: The Controlled Opening as Epitomized by the Combined Stage

In 1977, for the first time in twenty-seven years, Agudat Yisrael joined — the Likud-led — government coalition. However, already during the elections of 1981, tensions began to emerge between the Lithuanian and Hassidic wings of Agudat Yisrael, resulting in the division of the Independent educational stream into Hassidic and Lithuanian institutions. In the process Rabbi Schach, the leader of the Lithuanian wing and formerly head of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, launched an unprecedented public campaign to raise the status of the Oriental community and that of returnees to the religious fold within the Haredi collective. Concomitantly, this would raise his standing as the leader of the Haredi public. For this purpose, Rabbi Schach at first approached his Ashkenazi followers to ensure that a policy of bolstering the weak Orientals would be backed by their cooperation and that the Ashkenazi Haredi public and its institutions would assume more flexible positions.

Near the end of 1981, Rabbi Schach, upon his own initiative, sent a letter to the school principals of the Independent educational stream in which he expressed his opposition to the discrimination implicit in denying admission to candidates from the Oriental communities:

and I hereby request that your most learned worthiness inform the principals, without any excuses and equivocations, that they must admit pupils from the Oriental communities…and I am writing this as an expression of Jewish religious law and as a religious ruling that admits no digression and thanks to this, blessings will be conferred on all.[16]

From an inferior position of what appeared to be a hopeless struggle to minimize discrimination against Orientals, Rabbi Schach could not allow people to dispute with him. Therefore he explicitly instructed that his stance should be regarded as the true position of the Torah. In this exceptional measure, Rabbi Schach demanded submission to his position as a display of fealty to the sages. Yet for Rabbi Schach this did not suffice. Two months later he addressed the principal of the “Beit Yaakov” girls’ schools network in a personal letter:

I would therefore like to point out the obligation incumbent on admitting pupils to the school, without discrimination in terms of any ethnic affiliation and especially when we are dealing with pupils whose parents are returning to the religious fold…in my opinion it is impermissible to reject her and she must be accepted to the school…and it is in fulfillment of an important religious commandment that must not be ignored by any excuse or argument.[17]

In this missive, as in the previous one, Rabbi Schach noted his public and religious judicial opinion prohibiting discrimination on an ethnic basis as an “obligation” and a cardinal religious commandment. These are oblique expressions, yet they are fundamental aspects of dependence upon the sages, both in the eyes of Rabbi Schach and of the female school principals. At the heart of this is the need to combat valorously the phenomenon of discrimination, no matter whether this is done on the basis of Jewish law itself – as a religious “commandment” – or as an expression of heeding the voice of Torah – a public “obligation.”[18]

In this letter, Rabbi Schach took things one step further and dealt with a far more problematic and delicate issue – Oriental pupils whose parents were returning to the religious fold. Haredi society relates to the returnees with mixed feelings. On the one hand, a great deal of money and vast efforts are invested in order to draw them closer to Judaism. Haredi society even reveres those returning to the fold as figures who have abandoned their previous status in favor of the limitations of a Torah-observant life. On the other hand, as a society with sensitive antennae, testimony about the problematic conduct of returnees is not something to be taken lightly.[19] This factor constitutes one of the obstacles to the integration of the returnees into Haredi society.[20]

It appears that the public efforts made by Rabbi Schach bore fruit. From the statistics regarding those studying in the Independent Haredi educational stream – the exclusive Haredi educational stream in the decade between 1980 and 1990 – it emerges that a recovery took place both on the elementary school and high school levels in institutions under its supervision. Whereas during the two decades that preceded Rabbi Schach’s public campaign the percentage of those studying in Haredi elementary education remained stable at about 6 percent of the total number of pupils while in high school it hovered around at 4 percent, in the 1980s an increase of about 30-40 percent took place in the total number of pupils studying in Haredi education, both in elementary and high schools.

One should note that this increase occurred in tandem with an increase in the percentage studying in State-Religious educational frameworks. The rise in the number of pupils in the State-Religious stream demonstrates that the increase in Haredi education during the 1980s did not derive from an abandonment of the former and a drift toward the Haredi approach by Religious Zionism.[21] The significant increase in Haredi education can therefore be attributed to an intra-Haredi relaxation of admissions policies toward pupils from marginal groups in Haredi society. In Tables 1 and 2[22] the change that took place in the total number of those studying in Haredi education during the years of Rabbi Schach’s efforts, as opposed to the years preceding them, can be discerned.



Table 1. Percentage of Total Number of Elementary Pupils in the State, State-Religious, and Haredi Streams, 1959-1990




State-Religious %



Total Number of Pupils























Table 2. Percentage of Total Number of High School Pupils in the State, State-Religious, and Haredi Streams, 1959-1990






Number of Pupils

















Rabbi Schach intervened on behalf of the Orientals and returnees to the fold in an attempt to expand the circle of those studying within the Independent educational stream. Despite the fact that discrimination against Oriental pupils, according to Rabbi Schach himself, had existed for many years, he resolved to combat it only at the start of the 1980s.[23] Therefore, great importance may be attached to the time at which the letters quoted above were written.

An examination of all Rabbi Schach’s writings and speeches reveals that these are the first sources in which he publicly addressed the issue of discrimination against the Oriental communities practiced by Ashkenazi-Haredi society. Also, from an interview conducted with Rabbi Joseph Melamed, one of the leaders of the Oriental communities who was also a member of Agudat Yisrael and was expected to serve as a Knesset member on its behalf in the framework of a rotation agreement, it emerges that before his public intervention in the 1980s on behalf of the Oriental communities, Rabbi Schach intervened on a private level.[24]. (The rotation agreement in the end was not implemented, and presumably Rabbi Schach resigned from Agudat Yisrael as a result.) Only during the 1980s did his intervention become public and proactive. These facts dovetail with Rabbi Schach’s activity during the period: his formation of a new political camp under his leadership. In this framework, as previously mentioned, Rabbi Schach established two new political parties that were subordinate to him: SHAS, a Haredi party for the Oriental communities (1984), and Degel Hatorah, a Lithuanian Haredi party (1988). In this manner, Rabbi Schach began the process of empowering the peripheral Haredi camp subordinate to him on both the educational and political levels, while buttressing the hegemony of the Lithuanian wing that he headed.

The Third Period, 1991: Maayan Expands Further and Makes Overtures to the Secular

Despite the increase in the Independent educational stream, one must take into consideration that the independent educational status of the Orientals was not at the top of Rabbi Schach’s agenda. From his point of view the Orientals could, and perhaps should, integrate into the Ashkenazi- Lithuanian Haredi frameworks.

Rabbi Schach was not prepared to grant legitimacy to an independent Oriental educational stream conducted outside the watchful supervision of the Lithuanian rabbinic leaders for two main reasons. First of all, in their countries of origin they had studied in the schools of the Alliance Israelite network that did not exclusively focus on religious studies. Thus, in his opinion the educational background of the Orientals was questionable, and Rabbi Schach believed that they should continue their tutelage under the Ashkenazi leadership that he headed.[25] Second, as opposed to the past when the Lithuanians focused primarily on the struggle against those who deviated from the religious commandments, beginning with the 1970s there were attempts to preserve a unique status of their own within the Haredi collective. Within the framework of these efforts they began to ostensibly relax positions toward the Orientals. They established many Talmud Torahs intended for pupils of Oriental origin — learning institutions in the Lithuanian spirit and under Ashkenazi-Lithuanian direction — such as the Talmud Torah network Darkei Ish and Ohel Moshe.[26] In this manner the Lithuanian camp could flaunt its superiority and at the same time expand its ranks.

The Lithuanian Haredi population was involved both in the day-to-day management and the spiritual guidance of the Oriental institutions that they established for this purpose. From the commanding heights of their management positions they could, and they were even entitled to, accept or reject Oriental pupils “who were enticed by new outlooks,” and abandoned the Lithuanian-style education. According to this approach, an Oriental affiliated to other camps aside from the Lithuanian was the equivalent of a deviant from pure and kosher education, and he invalidated himself from studying in the Oriental institutions that were conducted in the Lithuanian spirit.

In other words, in order to qualify for education in the institutions of the “God-fearing” Lithuanian camp, the Orientals had to be Lithuanian in their outlook and sectarian affiliation (although they could maintain their Oriental religious practices). They were also required to forgo their aspiration for educational independence in the spirit of Oriental tradition.

In a paradoxical fashion, the combined approach of the Independent educational stream that set limits on the independence of the Orientals and returnees to the fold is, amongst other factors, what empowered the SHAS party (which increased its number of Knesset seats from four in 1984, the first elections in which it contended, to six in 1988). It also impelled the Oriental Haredi community, led by SHAS, to establish an Independent educational stream of its own; the Maayan network, formally recognized at the end of 1991 as a separate educational stream, equal in status to the Ashkenazi Independent educational stream, was born.[27]

SHAS-controlled Maayan institutions began to demonstrate independence and freedom from Ashkenazi influence in general, and Lithuanian in particular. They were willing to accept into their ranks pupils of varied backgrounds. This attempt by Maayan personnel to shake off the Ashkenazi image aroused fierce antagonism amongst the Oriental Haredi public that supported Rabbi Schach. The personal story cited below exemplifies the inferior image of the Oriental Haredi education in the eyes of the Orientals themselves, as well as the vast influence exerted by Rabbi Schach on the Oriental rabbis. In the words of Rabbi Yaakov Ades speaking in 1992:

Without the Independent education stream, without Beit Yaakov, where would we be today?…one of my brothers who lives in Bnei Brak wanted to enroll his son in a heder, and thirty years ago we did not have heders. So he enrolled him in a heder where they study with a Yiddish accent. A delegation of people from Tel Aviv came [to my father]: “honored Rabbi you are our leader how could you send your grandson to study in a place where they study with a Yiddish accent?” Now listen to what my father of blessed memory answered them, I’m talking in his name: “It is preferable that my grandsons should study Torah in Yiddish than that they should curse in a Sephardi Hebrew accent.”[28]

In his comments, Rabbi Ades was totally oblivious to the sea of changes that had occurred in education for Oriental Haredim – he seems to be talking from the 1950s, when a few Oriental pupils were compelled to make their way to Ashkenazi Talmud Torahs. From his point of view, the activity of the Maayan network, with its thousands of pupils, was totally unworthy of consideration. It is apparent that Rabbi Ades, one of the leaders of the Oriental Marbitzei Torah (Inculcators of Torah) movement, and an intimate of Rabbi Schach, was not impressed with the SHAS institutions. In his opinion, a personal story going back forty years still accurately reflected the Torah situation of the Orientals: Only Ashkenazi education could constitute a guarantee for the survival of Oriental Jewry. New educational institutions that accept pupils from non-Haredi backgrounds, such as the Maayan network, could offer no substitute for the veteran institutions.

Words in a similar vein, assailing the expansionist policy of SHAS, were published by the Marbitzim organization in Petah Tikva:

To our dear Sephardic and Yemenite brothers, long may they live…. Let it be recalled that Sinai Gilboa…and the leaders of SHAS in Petah Tikva enrolled their children in schools of the Independent educational stream and in the Ashkenazi heders, how can they now delude themselves and deceive their supporters in demanding that the SHAS voting public send their children to the schools of the Torah Educational Maayan? […a]re their children grade A and your children grade B who need to “be saved”?…We turn to you as flesh of our flesh and demand that you adhere to the instruction of our teacher and Rabbi the dean of the yeshiva the illustrious Rabbi E. M. Schach, may he live for long and good years, who recently established the Foundation for Sephardic and Yemenite Jewry in Israel within the Independent educational stream…and therefore we must all vote for the party list of the Torah Judaism Party.[29] (my emphasis)

The reference to the party list is to the united party established following the rapprochement with Agudat Yisrael that permitted Rabbi Schach’s followers in Degel Hatorah to return to the party.

From this it may be concluded that “pure” Oriental education, in other words education without Ashkenazi influence or supervision, carried a stigma in the eyes of parts of the Haredi public (both Oriental and Ashkenazi) as second class education. This was due in part to its expansionist policy, as well as its positive attitude toward pupils with a lifestyle not strict about the observance of the Torah and its commandments, and because pupils who required “spiritual salvation” were studying there. On the other hand, the Ashkenazi-Lithuanian education inspired by Rabbi Schach had a positive image, as education intended for excellent pupils with a solid Haredi background. It is therefore clear why precisely the Lithuanian Rabbi Schach, rather than Rabbi Ovadiah Yoseph, who headed the Torah Maayan institutions, was considered by Orientals to be “steeped in Torah,” and the one who restored Sephardic Jewry’s bygone glory. After all, argued the writers, the SHAS leaders themselves sent their children to Ashkenazi educational institutions; thus they themselves attested to the reliability of institutions that followed the path dictated by Rabbi Schach. Confirmation of this was provided by an interview with attorney Sinai Gilboa, the SHAS chairman in Petah Tikva, and the city’s deputy mayor (mentioned in the circular):

Question: By the way you don’t send your children to be educated in the SHAS institutions but to the “Beit Yaakov” institutions from the Ashkenazi stream.

Answer: I didn’t establish or assist in the establishment of schools in order to solve the problem of my children. I secured the establishment of schools in order to solve a problem. I didn’t establish schools for secular families to enroll my child there. My children were already set….[30]

From this answer the poor image of the Haredi Oriental education established by SHAS, even in the eyes of its founders, emerges. According to Gilboa, the institutions of Maayan were intended for children of secular families and not for children of religious families, such as his own children. This created a paradox: an Oriental Haredi interested in restoring the bygone glory of Oriental Jewry but who met the admissions criteria of the Ashkenazi education institutions would prefer to send his children to Ashkenazi institutions. For those who were “worth less,” who could not be admitted to Ashkenazi institutions, a solution was found in the form of the SHAS institutions that provided Oriental education. From Table 3 below it is apparent that the positive image of the Independent educational stream also found expression in the number of pupils entering its gates in the last three years, a number three times the size of the number of pupils in the Maayan network.[31]


Table 3. The Independent Educational Stream Preserves Its Image and Status as the Leading Haredi Educational Stream: A Comparison of Numbers of Pupils in the Independent and Maayan Streams

5766 (2005-6)

5767 (2006-7)

5768 (2007-8)

Independent educational stream




Maayan educational stream





The Twenty-first Century: Wooing the Secular via Educational Excellence

As opposed to the State-Religious educational stream, in the Independent educational stream there are difficulties in absorbing children of returnees to the fold alongside children from Haredi Ashkenazi households. This reality vexes Haredi donors in the Diaspora. The many complaints that are voiced about the way the Independent educational stream is managed and its refusal to admit pupils with “different values” and “disciplinary problems” have provoked feelings of reserve and criticism by the donors. They claim that the Independent educational stream is turning its back on its historic objective by providing Haredi education only to those with a high spiritual level, while denying it to the general Israeli public. This poses the question of why, given the high demand for Torah education in Israel, the Independent educational stream is so far behind the Maayan network of SHAS, which successfully manages to recruit new pupils to its ranks.[32]

This positive approach to wider target populations constituted the basis for the formulation of the new educational policy of the Independent educational stream, side by side with its existing tracks (the isolationist and combined).[33] New educational networks such as Shuvu and Netivot Moshe that are affiliated with the Independent educational stream of the Lithuanians began absorbing secular immigrant children from the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as veteran secular Israeli children.[34] A similar policy was adopted by Maayan, and indeed in the first decade since the adoption of the expansionist approach (the nineties of the previous century and the beginning of the current century) the percentage of those studying in Haredi frameworks (Independent and Maayan) climbed from 7.6 percent to 20.4 percent.

By the year 2006, the number of those studying in Haredi education had shot up to 25.9 percent of the total number of pupils within supervised educational frameworks. Simultaneous with the rise in the Haredi sector, there has been a consistent decline of a few percentage points in the number of pupils in State and State-Religious education. This trend is expected to continue: between the years 2006 and 2011, numbers in Haredi education are predicted to increase by an additional 20 percent. In the State and State-Religious streams the current trend toward decline can also be expected to continue. Table 4 below demonstrates the reversal of trends between Haredi and State-Religious education over the years.[35]


Table 4. The Reversal of Trends: The Percentage of Pupils in State Streams Decline While Those in Haredi Education Grow



























Below, the difference between the expansionist policy on the one hand and the isolationist and combined policies on the other will be demonstrated through the example of the Shuvu network.[36] Shuvu, one of the school education networks of the Independent educational stream, is credited with making a major contribution to the increase that occurred in Haredi education. The network was established about fifteen years ago during the wave of immigration from countries of the Former Soviet Union.

The Haredi heads of Shuvu define it as a secular education system, and indeed the profile of Shuvu pupils does not resemble the pupils of the Haredi sector: (amongst other factors) about 80 percent received matriculation certificates and the majority is drafted into the army. Likewise, most of the pupils are not defined as religiously observant. The network operates formal and informal education (without special education), and is intended primarily for children of immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, provided that they are Jews according to the Orthodox religious definition. The curriculum in the Shuvu network is on a high level, over and beyond what is accepted in state education in Israel. Emphasis is placed on English, the sciences, mathematics, and computers-subjects close to the hearts of the immigrant public.[37] At the same time, the schools of the network try to connect the immigrant population with its Jewish roots. From a perusal of the curriculum (Table 5 below shows the plan for the first grade curriculum), it emerges that the core curriculum of the network for grades 1-8 is broader than the Ministry of Education’s core program.[38] This data can explain the impressive achievements of the network’s pupils in various science projects.[39]


Table 5. A Comparison of Core Demands for First Grade (Weekly Hours)

Stream State stream State-Religious Recognized but unofficial (the Independent educational stream and Maayan, moderate anti-Zionist) Exempt institutions (Talmud Torahs, Independent and Maayan streams, radical anti-Zionist) Independent on the “expansionist” model(Shuvu)
Level of Compliance with Core Curriculum (%)






Languages cluster

6 Hebrew

6 Hebrew

4 Hebrew

3 Hebrew

11 Hebrew

4 English

Math and sciences cluster

5 math

2 sciences

5 math

2 sciences

4 math

2 sciences

3 math

6 math

2 sciences

Arts cluster






Levels of Ministry of Education funding

100 %


Networks 100%, outside the networks 65%-75%


100% (under the sponsorship of the Independent educational stream)


From the table, it emerges that the expansionist schools within the Independent stream provide more classroom hours than required, and more than any other educational stream under the supervision of the Education Ministry, for all clusters of study of the core curriculum. Meeting the core curriculum has both social and ethical repercussions: Its objectives are to provide a basic common denominator to all pupils in the various educational frameworks in Israel, and to promote and reinforce values and understanding on issues that are common to Israeli society.[40] Thus it defines the areas of knowledge that should be taught and, likewise, the learning skills and values that the pupils must obtain (such as the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state). This core curriculum is expected to constitute between 40 and 60 percent of the general curriculum.

Official education (State, State-Religious, and Arab) must meet 100 percent of the demands of the core curriculum. Non-official education (Haredi), whether affiliated in a network or not, must meet 75 percent of these demands (there are many such institutions in the Independent and Maayan networks). Other institutions with a distinctly lower pro-state approach, and that belong to the Maayan or Independent educational networks, are considered exempt and are under minimal supervision. They are required to meet 55 percent of the demands of the core curriculum. An examination of the curriculum for the first grade of the Shuvu network reveals that this network, which is part of the Independent educational stream, has an advantage over State educational institutions in terms of the amount of hours devoted to the various clusters of the core curriculum.[41] This fact can be credited to the policy of the expansionist approach.

Therefore, the adoption of the expansionist approach, embracing the demands of the core curriculum and beyond, and absorbing pupils from a secular background in general and immigrants in particular, turns the Independent educational stream into an expert on the absorption of immigration and sciences instruction, and draws it closer to the center of Israeli society.[42] From the deliberations of the Knesset Education Committee on the Shuvu network, it emerges that many pupils are leaving State and State-Religious institutions in favor of Shuvu institutions.[43] According to a representative of one municipal government, the Shuvu network is depleting many State schools of their finest pupils, both veterans and immigrants. In fact, in some Shuvu schools a third of the pupils are children of veteran Israelis, a fact viewed unfavorably by municipal authorities including Kfar Saba, Ashkelon, and Upper Nazareth.[44]

Furthermore, the “expansionist” approach has intra-Haredi implications that should not be taken lightly: it effects a rapprochement between the Haredi teaching body and the center of the Israeli experience. In interviews conducted for this research a few Haredi principals (both male and female) of schools in the Shuvu network noted that the modern scientific character of the school and the secular-liberal lifestyle of its pupils and secular teachers are totally different from the isolationist cultural codes to which they are accustomed.[45] While in the past they were spared exposure to the full force of the secular world and the confrontations that it poses in the areas of the individual, state, and society, today, due to the demand by the institution to make frequent house calls, Haredi educators are exposed to the secular lifestyle in all its details. The teachers and the Haredi management also find themselves coming into daily contact with secular science teachers who are part of the school staff. The result, according to those interviewees, is an appreciable increase in the demand by Haredi teachers for upgrading courses that deal with addressing the challenges posed by modern values, together with an aspiration for scientific education in order to fill teaching posts in science instruction. These twin repercussions have, without warning and in a brief time span, erupted full force into the consciousness of the Haredi world. This process will continue to accelerate given the increased demand for Haredi education.

From this it emerges that the approach to the general public by definition not religiously observant constitutes a sharp turn in the isolationist Ashkenazi Haredi educational approach. This approach hitherto believed that non-Haredi pupils have a disability stemming from their lack of spiritual readiness. As long as they are infected by cultural outlooks with an inclination toward modernity, they could not be admitted to the institutions of the Independent educational stream that sought to avoid exposing those entering their gates to current values. Now, in a paradoxical fashion, by establishing educational institutions that consider the educational pedagogical demands of a public that is not Haredi, the Haredi educators have by their own hands exposed themselves to modernity. By establishing educational institutions for the general public, it appears that the leaders of Haredi society are themselves awarding an imprimatur to the educational institutions that they once derided. The task of imparting Torah and sciences at a high educational level evokes the modern religious schools championed by religious Zionism.[46] This holds true for the Haredi colleges as well.

This situation has vast implications regarding the confrontation of Haredi society with the Israeli state and society. It is true that there is no adverse impact on the continued religious life of Haredi pupils studying in the institutions of the original Independent educational stream, for both the isolationist and combined approaches of this stream continue to function alongside the expansionist approach. Yet at the same time, a blurring of differences and boundaries is taking place between the Haredi teachers who teach religious studies exclusively and are identified with the traditional Haredi subjects and those teachers exposed to modernity. This “expansionist” approach also exists on the political level. Recalling Rabbi Schach’s previous attempt to recruit the peripheral Oriental group in their current attempt to absorb the secular, the Ashkenazi Haredim openly attempt to win their votes in the elections. In this fashion they hope to control the centers of influence in Israel.[47] This process constitutes one of the turning points for Haredi society’s fortress mentality: the boundaries of the society are no longer as clear as they were in the past, and it is now drawing closer to modern secular Israeli society.


For decades Haredi education operated under the aegis of its own unique stream – the Independent educational stream, typified by structure, modes of operation, and its criteria for admitting pupils by a policy that one could term isolationist. In the framework of this policy, primarily Ashkenazi pupils who observed a strict and conservative Haredi lifestyle were admitted to educational institutions. Following a fierce dispute that erupted in the veteran Agudat Yisrael Haredi party between the Lithuanian wing and the Hassidic wing, triggering the departure of the Lithuanians, a change began to take place.

In the 1980s, Rabbi Schach began to work publicly to involve the Oriental communities and the returnees to the religious fold in the Independent educational stream, in what has been described here as the combined approach. The purpose of this policy was to weld together a new Haredi political camp headed by Rabbi Schach, who for that purpose founded two new Haredi parties, SHAS and Degel Hatorah. During the first decade of Rabbi Schach’s activity the number of those studying in the Independent educational stream rose by 30-40 percent, as opposed to the total stagnation in this educational stream in the preceding decades. Nevertheless, Rabbi Schach had no intention of exalting the reputation of Oriental Jewry or the community of returnees to the religious fold in the educational sphere. Rabbi Schach was uncomfortable with excessive independence for the Orientals; the hegemony of the Lithuanian wing was his principal concern. Thus, at his insistence, many new yeshivot and Torah institutions were established that were intended for Orientals but managed by Lithuanians.

Given severe internal criticism toward the stern policy that did not allow the admission of pupils from a non-Haredi background, during the 1990s the Independent educational stream adopted for the first time an expansionist policy for pupil admissions. This approach was originally adopted by the Maayan educational stream of the Oriental Haredim affiliated with the SHAS movement, which viewed the admission of pupils positively, even if they came from a secular background. From official data it emerges that the adoption of this expansionist policy led to a turnabout in the status of the Independent educational stream in Israel; it became a central educational stream. The Independent educational stream was transformed into one that adopted the core curriculum of the Ministry of Education and the values of modernity in the schools under its sponsorship, while continuing to maintain educational tracks employing the isolationist and combined approaches. In this manner Haredi education operates with two parallel approaches: isolation and expansion.

This step, together with a high educational level, significantly enhanced the suitability of the Independent educational stream to target populations that are not Haredi. The repercussions of the strategic change implicit in the expansionist approach of Haredi Ashkenazi society are vast and bidirectional. The plight of municipal authorities who are forced to contend with mass defections by pupils from the state institutions in favor of the institutions run by the Independent educational stream may be observed in the protocols of the Knesset committees and the data of the Ministry of Education. Outreach to the secular will enhance Haredi influence on secular society but simultaneously exposes Haredi society to secular influences. To paraphrase the Latin saying, secular society changes but Haredi society will change with it.

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* The author would like to express his gratitude to Ashkelon Academic College for its support.

[1]. Documents and Protocols from the Meetings of the Independent Educational System in M. Porush, The Generational Chain in Turbulent Times Jerusalem, 2001), 307-370. [Hebrew] Regarding the subdivision into various social groups based on attitudes toward religion and modernity, see A. Bar Lev, “Tools for Measuring Religious Thought amongst Jews in Israel,” Megamot XLIII, 2 (2004): 308-328. [Hebrew]

[2]. Porush, The Generational Chain in Turbulent Times, 385-387. [Hebrew]

[3]. The Central Bureau of Statistics, Table 8.14, “School Pupils Subdivided by Supervision and Education Levels (Jewish education),” [Hebrew]

[4]. Natural increase is defined as the total of deaths relative to the number of births in that year. For data on the subject see: [Hebrew]

[5]. “The Ministry of Education’s Five Year Plan for 2006-2011 to Build 8,000 Classrooms,” 18 March 2007, [Hebrew]

[6]. On developments on the Haredi political level see N. Horowitz, Jews the Town is Burning: Torah Judaism between the 1999 and 2001 Elections (Jerusalem: The Floersheimer Institute For Policy Studies, 2002). [Hebrew]

[7]. E. Shils, Center and Periphery, Essays in Macrosociology (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1975), 3-16. For the perfection of the dichotomy model for a continuum running from the center to a sub-center and periphery see D. Horowitz and M. Lissak, From Jewish Community to State: The Jews of the Land of Israel in the Mandatory Era as a Political Community (Tel Aviv: Am-Oved, 1977), 47-52. [Hebrew]

[8]. For an analysis of the SHAS movement utilizing the center-periphery model see E. Feldman, Factors in the Growth of a New Party: The Union Of Torah Observant Sephardim (The SHAS Movement) (unpublished PhD dissertation, Bar-Ilan University, 2001), 11-12. [Hebrew] Likewise see B. Kimerling, Between State and Society I, (Tel Aviv: The Open University, 1995), 49. [Hebrew]

[9]. Horowitz and Lissak, From Jewish Community to State, 47-51.

[10]. Porush, The Generational Chain in Turbulent Times, 385-387. For the background to the deprivation of the Orientals in the Independent educational stream, see N. Horowitz, “SHAS and Zionism: A Historical Analysis,” Kivunim Hadashim 2 (Nissan 2000): 30-60 [Hebrew] and likewise B. Toledano, “MK Rabbi Yaakov Yoseph: We Have Raised the Status of Oriental Jewry and We Were Loyal Representatives,” Shorashim (1988): 24. [Hebrew]

[11]. S. Deshen, “The Religiosity of the Orientals: Public, Rabbis and Belief,” Alpayim 9 (1994): 44-58. [Hebrew]

[12]. B. Mashkovski, “Haredi Youth at Risk,” Minituk Leshiluv10 (The Ministry of Education, 2000): 94-104. [Hebrew]

[13]. M. Friedman, “Fundamental Problems in the Structure of the Rabbinate,” in Spiritual Leadership in Israel a Legacy and an Objective, ed. E. Belfer (Jerusalem: Ministry Of Education, 1982), 145-148. [Hebrew]

[14]. The Central Bureau of Statistics, Table 8.14, “School Pupils Subdivided by Supervision and Education Levels (Jewish education),” [Hebrew]

[15]. The Political Lexicon, Politics Now, [Hebrew]

[16]. E. M. M. Schach, Letters and Articles, Vol. 3 (Bnei Brak: Private Publication, 1988), 43. [Hebrew] All translations from Hebrew are by Dr. Amiel Unger.

[17]. Schach, Letters and Articles, Vol. 1 (Bnei Brak: Private Publication, 1980), 135.

[18]. Haredi society views obedience to a Torah authority as tantamount to the observance of the religious commandments: You shall not stray from everything that they instruct you. However, in this context Rabbi Schach is addressing a public that obeys various rabbis and their Torah authority; there is no need to ask them to obey a “Torah authority” because they can be relied upon to do so. One can therefore say that Rabbi Schach is asking them to subordinate themselves to him as a form of public obligation, on behalf of those returning to the religious fold, especially since it is a commandment to draw them closer.

[19]. See S. Barzilai, To Break out of Meah Shearim: A Journey to the World of Those Questioning Their Religious Upbringing (Tel Aviv: Yediot Acharonot, 2004). [Hebrew]

[20]. B. Mashkovski, “Haredi Youth at Risk,” Minituk Leshiluv 10 (The Ministry of Education 2000): 94-104. [Hebrew]

[21]. There are those who attempt to explain the rise in the share of the population in Haredi education by, inter alia, the abandonment of the State-Religious stream by Religious Zionism in favor of Haredi education with “soft” supervision. See the introduction to Yair Sheleg, The New Religious: A Contemporary View on Religious Society in Israel (Jerusalem: Keter, 2000). [Hebrew] The data, however, indicates the very opposite. The major abandonment of the State-Religious stream occurred during the 1970s, at which time there was no increase at all in Haredi education but rather in State secular education. On the other hand, during the 1980s, when a rise in Haredi education occurred, a simultaneous rise was recorded in the State-Religious stream.

[22]. The Central Bureau of Statistics, Table 8.14, “School Pupils Subdivided by Supervision and Education Levels (Jewish education),” [Hebrew]

[23]. Schach, Letters and Articles, Vol. 3, 43.

[24]. An interview with Rabbi Y. Melamed at his home in Rosh Haayin, 12 Av 5762.

[25]. Horowitz, “SHAS and Zionism: An Historical Analysis.” See also Schach, Letters and Articles, Vol. 4, 41 and Vol. 1 (Bnei Brak: Private Publication, 1980), 106-109. One gets the impression that Rabbi Schach condemned any attempt to teach secular studies in the yeshivot.

[26]. C. Goldberg, “A Marathon of Successful Examinations by ‘Ohel Moshe’ Talmud Torah Pupils Administered by the Torah Sages,” Kol Hair Bnei Brak, 17 October 2001, 5 [Hebrew]; Y. Wiener, “The New Talmud Torah Will Be Called ‘Darchei Ish’,” Kol Hair Bnei Brak, 13 June 2001, 2. [Hebrew] The purpose of these institutions was defined as educating the Orientals “who follow the guiding light of the Torah sages and the luminaries of the generation, according to the approach handed down from generation to generation emphasizing total purity without deviation.” See T. Zilber, “The Sage Rabbi Haim Kanyevsky: A Totally Sanctified Talmud Torah,” Kol Hair Bnei Brak, 13 June 2001, 5. [Hebrew]

[27]. S. Ilan, The Haredim Inc. (Jerusalem: Keter, 2000), 248. [Hebrew]

[28]. Election speech given prior to the 1992 Knesset elections by Rabbi Yehuda Ades (transcribed from a recording by the author). [Hebrew]

[29]. “The Truth Must Be Told,” signed by Torah Pupils in the Yemenite and Sephardi Communities from Our City Petah Tikva. [Hebrew]

[30]. M. Navon and Y. Neemani, “Fifteen More Years Until the Abolition of the Movement,” Mah Bapetah, 18 September 1998, 36-40. [Hebrew] One should note that many SHAS leaders, amongst them the movement’s chairman Eli Yishai, the former chairman of the movement, Aryeh Deri, and others send their children to the Independent educational stream.

[31]. Y. Vargan, The Educational System in the Haredi Sector: A Status Report (Jerusalem: the Knesset Research and Information Center, 2007), 3. [Hebrew]

[32]. S. Ilan, “The ‘Netivot Moshe network’-18 schools and 2,500 pupils within three years,” Haaretz, 11 July 2001. [Hebrew]

[33]. In practice, discrimination in the “isolationist” track of the Independent stream persists to this very day and has even occasioned judicial intervention. See the verdict of petition 241/06, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel v. The Ministry of Education et al., 26 April 2006. [Hebrew]

[34]. The percentage of pupils of Ethiopian origin who study in Haredi education is negligible by any standard. Y. Vargan, The Integration of Ethiopian Origin Pupils in The Educational System (Jerusalem: The Knesset Research and Information Center, 2006). [Hebrew]

[35]. The Central Bureau of Statistics, Table 8.14, “School Pupils Subdivided by Supervision and Education Levels (Jewish education),” [Hebrew]

[36]. Meeting of The Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sport, 11 December 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 99. On the agenda was an urgent motion by Knesset member Abraham Michaeli on the issue: “The Shuvu educational network for immigrant children is suffering from a lack of school buildings.” [Hebrew]

[37]. Meeting of the Subcommittee of the Knesset Committee for Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on the Absorption of Children Adolescents and Young Olim in the Educational System, 30 October 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 17. [Hebrew]

[38]. See the hourly schedule for Grade 1, Also see The Pedagogical Secretariat, Basic Plan (Core) for Elementary Education In Israel (The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, April 2003), [Hebrew]

[39]. See and commendations for young scientists at the Weizmann Institute,

[40]. The Pedagogical Secretariat, Basic Plan (Core) for Elementary Education In Israel, [Hebrew]


[42]. Meeting of the Subcommittee of the Knesset Committee for Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on the Absorption of Children Adolescents and Young Olim in the Educational System, 30 October 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 17. [Hebrew]

[43]. Meeting of The Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sport, 11 December 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 99. [Hebrew]

[44]. Likewise see the deliberations of the Meeting of the Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sport, 11 December 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 99. [Hebrew]

[45]. During the months of July and August 2007 the author had telephone conversations with a number of male and female principals in the Shuvu educational network who preferred to remain anonymous.

[46]. Meeting of the Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sport, 11 December 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 99. [Hebrew]

[47]. Ibid. See also the statement by Knesset Member Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, a confidant of Rabbi Schach until the latter’s death in 2002 (Meeting of the Knesset Committee on Education, Culture and Sport, 11 December 2006, 17th Knesset, Second Session, Protocol Number 99. [Hebrew])

Indeed, from an electoral standpoint there has been a marked recovery. See Horowitz, Jews, the Town is Burning. Likewise, in all the surveys conducted in 2007, United Torah Judaism for the first time in its history was expected to win 6-7 seats in an election. Survey by the Dahaf Institute for Yediot Acharonot,,7340,L-3477463,00.html.

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DR. ELIAV TAUB is a member of the Department of Political Science at Ashkelon Academic College and a lecturer in the Combined Social Science Department at Bar-Ilan University. His research focuses on the status of various social groups including new immigrants and Haredim. He also analyzes how religion (and its representatives in the political system) both currently and in the past contends within the political system.