Funding of ultra-Orthodox schools sparks debate in Israel

Jerusalem, Nov 25 (EFE).- With the Torah in one hand and an algebra book in the other, rabbi Menachem Bombach embodies a heated debate in Israel over the state financing of an ultra-Orthodox education, a discussion that has resurfaced with the arrival of the Jewish nation’s most religious government yet.

When asked whether he teaches science or dogma, the Haredi rabbi is quick to answer:

“Both!” the 46-year-old exclaims.

According to Bombach, “there is not any contradiction between those two choices.”

“When I teach English and math, it’s (not) just that I am changing the community but preserving it in a new way, because once they will know English and math they will have the life skills, communication skills and they can be a part of the world and at the same time you preserve the Jewish law,” he tells Efe from one of the 12 Netzach schools he launched to teach both a Hasidic and secular curriculum.

His progressive vision is at odds with the most radical faction of the ultra-Orthodox community, which speaks Yiddish, rejects modernity and brings up the men to spend their lives reciting the Talmud and the Torah, devoid of secular distractions.

Bombach’s philosophy also clashes with the incoming ultra-conservative coalition government, most likely headed by right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the Religious Zionism movement and ultra-Orthodox parties.


During the electoral campaign, Netanyahu pledged to fund the Haredi school system by raising the budget of institutions teaching non-core subjects in a deal he struck with United Torah Judaism (JUT).

The increased budget will see grants for ultra-Orthodox students double to about $870 million a year, even if they don’t study secular subjects.

“Netanyahu is ready to sell out these kids and the future of the country for his political interests,” outgoing education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, of the National Unity Party, recently said.

Bombach, who taught himself English, Hebrew and mathematics at the age of 20 when he realized he was illiterate, agrees that Netanyahu is making “a grave mistake.”


The halls of the Hasidic Seminary, one of Bombach’s boarding schools for boys south of Jerusalem, are flooded with crowds of young men wearing kippahs and side curls poking out from under the traditional brimless caps.

They rush from one classroom to another. Some carry sacred texts, others calculators, one is strumming a guitar while another is pointing at Israel’s location on a world map.

Some 22,000 ultra-Orthodox boys and girls study in the Netzach network of schools.

The rabbi’s goal is for the schools to forge Israel’s future Haredi doctors, computer scientists, engineers and teachers.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population is growing at a frenetic rate, 4% annually, and with its 1.2 million-strong population it represents 13% of Israelis.

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