Chavruta Newsletter No. 7
"Where there is no vision the people become unruly" Proverbs 29:18
April 2001
Nissan 5761

An Open Letter to Minister of Education Limor Livnat

28 Adar 5761 - March 23 2001

To the Minister of Education, Limor Livnat

First of all, our best wishes to you and the new Director-General, Ronit Tirosh, in your new positions. We see you as shlichot in the current and future struggle for the character of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist and democratic state.

“Chavruta - Vision for Israel” shares your concern at the erosion of Jewish-Zionist values we see around us. We also share your rejection of the post-Zionist tendency to disparage such concepts as mission (shlichut), particularism (yichud) and Zionism. These terms reflect values lying at the foundation of our national identity. Naturally, we recognize that opinions differ on the ways these values should be realized. There are indeed “many paths to the divine,” and this reflects ongoing dialogue in a democratic society.

 Implementing the Recommendations of the Shenhar and Kremnitzer Committees

In our opinion, one of the keys to promoting the inculcation of Jewish, Zionist and democratic values is to ensure more vigorous and thorough implementation of the recommendations of the Committee to Examine Jewish Studies in the (Secular) State Education System (the “Shenhar Committee”). The committee published its recommendations in 1994 in the booklet People and the World: Jewish Culture in a Changing World. The recommendations of the committee established to examine “education for citizenship for all students in Israel” (the “Kremnitzer Committee”) complement the recommendations of the Shenhar Committee from the perspective of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The recommendations of the Kremnitzer Committee were published in 1996 in a booklet entitled Being Citizens. A unit was established within the Pedagogic Secretariat of the Ministry to promote the recommendations, and a large number of curricula were prepared. We recognize that some positive first steps have been taken, but these are not sufficient.

We believe that problems in four main areas create obstacles to the rapid and efficient implementation of the recommendations of the above-mentioned committees.

1. Most academic faculties (in Israel) have adopted the Central European tradition of teaching according to strict divisions between disciplines: history, Bible, Oral Law, literature, Land of Israel studies, environmental studies. This approach is embodied in the education system through the appointment of a chief inspector for each subject. This particularly impairs the possibility of creating value-based connections between the different subjects. The alternative is the confluent education approach to education and learning developed in the United States.

2. In general, ways have not been found to connect values and existing curricula used by most teachers working and educating in the field. Specifically, in-service training programs have not been developed enabling teachers to connect value education and the curricula currently used in the various subjects.

3. Special programs have been developed for training educational leadership in the Jewish subjects (such as the Revivim program); this is admirable. However, as well as training the “specialist physicians” of the future, the system also needs to ensure that those currently involved in educational work be trained on a mass scale, at least at the level of “medics,” in order to confront the serious situation of Jewish, Zionist and democratic education. Teacher training is not sufficient. Study hours within the regular school day must be devoted to Jewish culture (from a Zionist perspective). Adding these hours as “special study” option at extra cost results in programs that mainly serve the rich, rather than a broad base of young Israelis.

4. One of the important recommendations made by the Shenhar Committee was that teachers from state schools must be trained to teach themes relating to Jewish culture. We oppose the tendency to place religious young women performing their National Service in (secular) state schools instead of teachers from that sector. This approach undermines the status of teachers in the State schools and impairs the possibility of encouraging students to identify with creative Jewish culture that does not accept Halachic authority.

We believe that the Ministry of Education, at the level of the minister and the Director-General, should show leadership in order to facilitate real change. “Chavruta - Vision for Israel” would be pleased to meet with you, the Director-General and/or your advisors in order to offer practical suggestions for ways to implement the principle of “You shall tell your son and daughter” - the inculcation of the Jewish, Zionist and democratic message within the existing system.

Wishing you Chag Sameach,

Dr. Michael Livni

Chairperson, Chavruta - Vision for Israel


The Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Humanities
Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem 91905
Telephone: 02-5883452, 02-5883461. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Revivim Program
A Program Training Outstanding Candidates to Serve as Jewish Studies Teachers in State Schools, in the Spirit of the Recommendations of the Shenhar Committee

Study track: Studies will take place over four years (each academic year is eleven months). During the third year of the program, the students will receive a BA in Jewish Studies. On completing their studies, graduates will receive an MA in Teaching in one of the Jewish studies subjects. High achievements will be required in order to continue in each new year of the studies.
Candidates with high admission credentials, social awareness and leadership abilities, capable of expressing themselves in writing and orally, are invited to submit their candidacy.
Students in the program will be exempt from tuition fees and will receive living stipends. This support is conditioned on full participation in all aspects of the program. Students may not engage in paid work for the entire duration of their studies in the program.

Implementing the Shenhar Committee Report from a Social Perspective
Osnat Elnatan*

The recommendations of the Shenhar Committee (on the subject of Jewish studies in the state education system) and the Kremnitzer Committee (on the subject of civic studies) do not relate directly to the process of privatization in the education system. In principle, the recommendations of these committees could be implemented in a manner that strengthens the public education system, or in a way that weakens this system. In practice, the rapid process of privatization that is currently underway has created a situation where the implementation of these reports has become another element (albeit not a central one) in weakening the public education system and accelerating privatization.

What's Bad about Privatization in Education?
For some two decades, a process of erosion of the welfare state has been underway in Israel. The erosion of social responsibility has been reflected, among other ways, in a reduction of the level of services provided in the fields of education, housing, health and welfare. In recent years, the education system has come to be financed primarily by parents’ contributions. As this trend increases, so a growing gulf emerges between children whose parents can afford to pay for their education and children whose parents cannot afford to do so, and who therefore receive less education. Less education means fewer hours at school or pre-school, fewer years in the education system (some children only enter the system at the age of 5, and thus already suffer from an enormous developmental delay relative to children who entered educational frameworks at the age of 3), more children in the group or class, less capable teachers, and poorer chances of securing a matriculation certificate.

The Self-Fueling Process of Privatization
As the state has reduced resources allocated for education (fewer staff positions and hours, and fewer years in universal compulsory education), so the need and pressure has grown from richer parents to enable them to pay to cover the gaps. Well-off parents finance education through purchasing complementary private services (summer camps, day-care education for young children, afternoon programs, etc.), and through the combination of public and private money. For example, a privatized school receives one teaching position for 41 children from the Ministry of Education, and the parents finance an additional teacher from their own money. The result is that children with “artistic” or “scientific” leanings, or children in Tali [Enhanced Jewish Studies] study in smaller classes than children in “regular” schools. Parents with lower incomes have the same needs, but in the absence of any alternative, they remain within the public sector (in this case, the state secular or state religious schools). Parents from poorer backgrounds are less able to fight the Establishment to secure resources. This further weakens the public system, creating a situation where “services for the poor are poor services,” and so the cycle continues.

What Has Privatization Got to Do with Implementing the Shenhar and Kremnitzer Reports?
Some of the methods used to enhance Jewish studies combine the use of parental payments and private donations, and thus form part of the process of privatization. I shall give three examples:

1. The Shenhar report stated that hours should be allocated for the study of Jewish culture in the state system, but these hours were not added to the entire system on a global basis. Adding hours for the entire system and training educators to teach this field would require an extremely significant financial investment. As a result, the Shenhar and Kremnitzer reports were implemented by allocating resources to organizations committed to these areas. These organizations and associations are external bodies that enter the school and replace the teacher. Rather than adding hours for professional teachers, it is cheaper for the system to bring in all kinds of external “experts” who come in and teach in classes and replace the regular teachers. I am convinced, however, that this undermines the teachers’ status and fails to develop their ability to teach Jewish culture or civics (as per the recommendations of the Shenhar and Kremnitzer reports) or art (in the case of the Karev Program groups).
2. The Tali schools (Conservative and Reform) were established with the declared goal of enhancing Jewish studies for students whose parents were interested in this option. In practice, the option of sending a child to a Tali school exists alongside the option of sending him/her to a special school for the arts, democracy or science. (Many parents admit that their motive in joining Tali is to “give our child a good education,” regardless of any particular commitment to Judaism). Stronger populations concentrate in the “special” schools, using their own money and funds from foundations to provide additional services for their children. The remaining children stay in the “regular” schools and receive less education.
3. The social dimension has also been ignored in the process of allocating resources for training teachers and principals to implement the Shenhar report. If we take the example of a program such as the Revivim Project of the Mandel School and the Hebrew University, we can see that enormous amounts are being invested in training the wrong people to teach in the spirit of the Shenhar Committee. The program ostensibly aims to train outstanding teachers in the field of Jewish culture. However, the fact that the participants are so outstanding will actually reduce the chances that they will work as teachers. The main factor responsible for placing people in the education profession (as in other professions in society) are market forces, rather than the Mandel School or an educational vision, however idealistic this may be.

Students in the Revivim program, with their outstanding matriculation certificates and high psychometric scores, have ample opportunity to work in interesting and lucrative positions. The chance that such candidates will choose to work in education, given the current status of teachers in Israel, is slight. The money devoted to the Revivim Project would have been better spent providing professional training and remuneration for teachers actually working in the field to teach Jewish culture. These teachers (motivated by market forces) have chosen teaching as their profession, and investing in them is the best investment in the actual education of Israeli children.

*Osnat Elnatan directs the justify for Cooperative Learning, a Registered Society under the auspices of Kibbutz Tammuz in Beit Shemesh.

A Last Word from the Editor

In issue 5 (December 2000), we already discussed the central ideological issue facing the Jewish people in its homeland: is the State of Israel a Zionist state, or have we entered the “post-Zionist” phase?

Most of the members of Chavruta are active in Jewish and Zionist education, and accordingly we decided to focus on the implementation of the Shenhar-Kremnitzer reports. This decision predated the appointment of Limor Livnat, who has raised the banner of confronting “post-Zionism,” as Minister of Education.

Although some of our members have reservations regarding the social implications of the Revivim Project (and these reservations are not unfounded), we will encourage young people to consider this option. All our readers are invited to disseminate information about the project to young people (18+) of their acquaintance.

We have opened a furrow, but much work remains. What actually happens in Tali (the Enhanced Jewish Studies track)? How can education to values (and to what values?!) be integrated in the regular curriculum? What professional issues face those striving to promote Jewish and Zionist education?

We will continue to consider these questions. For now - Chag Sameach!

Michael Livni