The "Other" People in Jewish Education
in the Bi-National City of Jerusalem
A paper ordered by Brussels university as part of a comparison studies of cities with
bi national population, 1998
Haggith Gor & Rela Mazali
The viewpoints expressed in this paper are rooted in the authors' experience of the Israeli educational system, both as professionals and as clients - as teachers, teachers' trainers, and authors of educational curricula, on the one hand, and as students and mothers of children educated in the system, on the other. In other words, we very much live and work within Israel's educational system. In addition, our specific perception of educational practices in Israel and in Jerusalem stem from a shared background of peace, feminist, and human rights activism. The belief in social and political change motivating this activism includes an ideology of democratic and egalitarian education, stressing the human worth and rights, as well as the moral and civic responsibilities, of individuals. This stance has led each of us, in separate and joint ways, to work for changes that we deem important to the educational system. Therefore, while definitely part of the system, we are at the same time often deeply critical of it. The following analysis focuses on parts of this criticism which do not have frequent occasion to surface or to invite open debate. Rather than recounting a research program the discussion presents a view constructed cumulatively over years of involvement and reflection. It is important to state, however, that this involvement is principally with the secular parts of Israel's educational system, and that our information on its religious sections is more second-hand, based on media reports, reading, and interviews, and only to a marginal degree on our own direct experience.
II Three Systems of Jewish Education
Jerusalem, like the whole of Israel, operates three systems of Jewish education. The majority of Israeli students, about 71.4%, currently attend what is perceived by Israel's secular Jewish majority as a secular, civic school system. A second system, attended by about 20% of Israel's students are the schools operated by religious Zionist groups which are often (though not always) affiliated with the National Religious Party (Mafdal). Such schools are overtly religious, dedicating daily blocs of hours to religious studies, as opposed to subjects such as math or history, which are considered secular. A third school system, titled the Independent Stream, comprises a broad range of ultra-orthodox schools, each affiliated with a specific rabbi's "court" or school of thought, and often with a specific political party. About 8.3% of all Israeli students attend Independent Stream schools. Residing in Jerusalem is considered highly desirable among religious Jews, due to the special holiness of the city and its function as cultural and social center for religious Jewish communities. The percentage of religious students attending both religious streams is accordingly much higher in Jerusalem than in most of Israel, giving the religious streams added weight in the dynamic which forms this bi-national city. For instance, among some 58,700 students attending primary schools in Jerusalem in 1994-95, about 29% (less than a third)  were attending secular schools, as opposed to 68.3% of primary school students nation-wide. In the same school year, about 22% of primary school students were attending Zionist religious schools (both state and private) - almost approximating the nation-wide percentage of 21.4 primary school students. However, about 47% of Jerusalem primary school students - almost half - were studying in the independent ultra-orthodox stream, compared to a nation-wide percentage of 10.3 primary school students. Moreover, a comparison of average class sizes in the primary schools may give some indication of the comparative allocation of resources in the Jerusalem educational system. The most crowded Jerusalem classes were in the secular primary schools, averaging 29.5 students per class; the Zionist religious classes averaged 26.5 students per class and the schools of the independent stream averaged 24.7 students per class, despite servicing the largest portion of the student population.
The present discussion broaches the question of how the "other" people, the Palestinians populating the "other" part of the city of Jerusalem, are reflected and depicted by Jewish education in the city. The overview it offers will cover both the secular school system and the religious Zionist one, which together comprise a majority (though a narrow one) of Jewish schools in Jerusalem. Despite its growing importance and size, however, it does not account for the independent orthodox system, as this system is highly insular and requires more specialized examination. Nevertheless, our assumption is that attitudes to, and perceptions of, "others" in the independent, orthodox school system, perceptions which can be inferred to some degree from the ultra-orthodox media, are fundamentally similary to those of the religious Zionist system, with the difference that they tend to be even less tolerant and more bluntly, blatantly expressed.
II. Secular Jewish Education in Jerusalem and the "Other"
The perception of the "other" instilled through secular education in Israel, is a product of the mainstream/dominating culture, that is of a culture which is Jewish-Zionist, Ashkenazi, male-centered and militaristic. This educational system includes almost no manifestations of any of the dominated cultures of Israeli society: Palestinian culture, Sephardi/Oriental Jewish culture, woman-centered or feminist thinking, etc. Such cultures or schools of thinking are simply absent from the curricula, "non-entities," feeding into the construction of an implied "us" by the educational system. And this implied "us" is embodied in the Sabra-accented, Ashkenazi descended, male Israeli Jew. While, the "other" is accordingly anyone who differs from the "us," either in nationality (such as Palestinians), or language/accent (such as new immigrants), or skin color (such as Ethiopian Jews), or appearance (such as victims of cerebral palsey), or ethnicity, or gender (such as non-warrior and thus second-class women citizens). The educational system works, although often implicitly and to a large extent probably unknowingly, to channel children into the mainstream. The products of its success are those who have adopted the prevalent views of this stream, that is of the dominating culture.
Meanwhile, although this may often be inadvertent, the "other" is depicted as either subaltern or enemy in a broad range of forceful messages conveyed through Israeli secular education. According to a recent study conducted by Daniel Bar-Tal, the great majority of school books in Israel portray Arabs in negative stereotypes. Bar-Tal has found, for instance, that when Arabs appear in primary school readers, the stories are usually about violence, in which the Arabs are invariably the attackers. The readers also tend to represent Arabs as less educated and cultured than Jews.
In pre-school and in the first six grades, children spend large blocks of time studying Jewish holidays and preparing for coming Jewish festivals. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, for example, commemorates the revolt of the Jews against Greek rule in 167 BC. The uprising broke out after decades of Greek control, in response to the coercion of Jews into the Hellenic religion. Pre-school and elementary school children are taught that the Greeks persecuted us, only to be defeated by the heroic Jewish Maccabees. Constructing a clear dichotomy of good guys vs. bad guys, the emphasis is on strong identification with the power of the Maccabees who defeated the evil Greeks. A great deal of dramatic play in kindergarten centers on the sons of the Maccabees who fulfill an important role as brave fighters. Rather than a universal message of freedom of religion, what is stressed is the importance of Jewish freedom and nationalism, of power, of the strength of the Maccabees..
Purim, the Jewish carnival of costumes, commemorates a chain of events occurring in ancient Persia and recounted in the Old Testament Book of Esther. The Persian King Ahasveraus, goaded by his minister, Haman, ordered the elimination of the Jews and was eventually thwarted by the shrewd Jew, Mordechai and his niece, Esther. Here too, schools and kindergartens emphasize the particular persecution of Jews (again, "the good guys") by Haman and his affiliates ("the bad guys"), and omit universal messages such as negating discrimination against ethnic minorities. The cumulative message of this seemingly ‘innocent’ celebration and study of festivals is twofold, then. On the one hand it implies that: "the whole world is against us, one enemy after another have set out to destroy us." On the other hand it states, "we're alive to tell it, we've persevered," thus focusing on heroism, strength, combat as the major means of survival. The lore, rituals and traditions of religious and national holidays studied and observed every year, from pre-school to sixth grade in Israeli schools, thus convey the emotional and cognitive message that Israeli Jews must be strong and united so as to face mortal danger. It is a message of the victimized, constructing a threatened and inter-dependent communal consciousness, rooted in the history of anti-Semitism and particularly in the residual trauma of the holocaust.
The celebration and study of holidays and festivals are powerful socializing agents, working through a broad variety of channels; emotional, sensual, cognitive. They are introduced to children at an early age, prior to the development of independently critical faculties. This sharply decreases the likelihood of subsequent doubts, questions or re-examinations of the assumptions, whether conscious or unconscious, underpinning these holidays.
Another recently created holiday, introduced during the seventies, and observed almost only in kindergartens and schools, specifically honors Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and homeland. The holiday commemorates what many Jews and successive Israeli governments see as the city’s re-unification in 1967, following Israeli conquest of then Jordanian East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Wailing Wall (identified as the remains of one of the outer courtyard walls of the ancient Jewish temple). Pre-school children spend hours cutting out and pasting up images of the Old City and the temple, standardly using gold and silver paper on black backgrounds, to depict the gold and silver domes of Al-Aqsa and Omar mosques alongside the temple. The evocative, exciting images they are guided by teachers to create and internalise, make no distinction at all between the reality of the still existing mosques and that of the temple, destroyed over two thousand years ago. These images iron out the complex historical-political processes and realities, representing the city as an a-historic, timeless entity not unlike the imaginary, gold-and-silver castles of fairy-tales. Notably, as the children grow older and supposedly ‘outgrow’ fairy-tale images, this holiday tends to be stressed less and less, to the point where fifth and sixth graders report that they aren’t quite sure whether or not they’ve observed it this year. However, the import has already been conveyed - an idealized, romanticized perception of the city, its suspension and detachment from concrete reality, its conception through an exclusive prism of Jewishness vs. non-Jewishness. The last opposition is construed as inclusion vs. non-inclusion within a sovereign Jewish entity, where within such an entity the city is said to be “united” or “re-united,” and outside of or without one, it is seen as “divided.”
Other study topics supply numerous complementary and identical messages. The Old Testament is studied consistently in Israeli secular schools, over eleven years of school, from second grade on, for 3 to 4 hours a week. These Bible studies provide occasion to focus on the Jews’ persecution, for instance by Pharaoh. They elaborate at length on the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, and on successive military struggles against a series of enemies. The latter are typically perceived through such Bible studies, as kingdoms native to the area which attempt to block the influx of the Jewish tribes escaped from the terrible oppression of Egypt and now seeking freedom, construed as sovereignty, in their forefathers’ land of Canaan. The implied analogy to the Jews’ flight from Europe and the holocaust, and their conquest of the ancient homeland of Palestine from its native inhabitants is obvious and potent. In addition, the very antiquity of the source, its worldwide recognition as a revered, authoritative text, and of course parts of its contents, are taken to demonstrate that “we” were “really” here first, that the Jewish people has a rightful claim to the land currently comprising the state of Israel and particularly to its capital, “united” Jerusalem.
In the higher grades, history too is taught mainly from an Israeli-Jewish perspective. From this viewpoint, anti-Semitism is the major axis along which the Jewish people relates to other nations. History, by and large, is perceived as two millenia of anti-Semitism, during which various oppressors plotted against the Jews. Thus history studies add rational "facts" to the emotional, experiential world-view, derived at a younger age, of a continuum of plots against Jews in different countries. For the most part, students are directed towards superficial conclusions, drawn from the construct of a continuum of life-threatening events, occurring in contexts as disparate as medieval Spain (the Spanish Inquisition and the 1492 expulsion of Spanish Jews) and the 17th century Ukraine (the Chmielnicki peasant revolt and pogroms). Based on his study of contemporary school books, Daniel Bar-Tal has stated, “In the history books of junior high and high school, social beliefs about the Jewish victim play a central role and in many of the books they are the most dominant topic in the representation of Jewish history.” Moreover, the history taught is largely one of authoritative, monolithic truths. It does not call for questions, such as who wrote it and what were their interests and assumptions. It very rarely offers any clue that there are other, alternative, equally supportable histories. While the specific selection of events it comprises and the mode of their presentation necessarily reflect ideologies and beliefs, these are almost never scrutinized or evaluated. Either by the teachers or by the students. And the resulting view is simplistic, black and white, based on such binary oppositions as just-unjust, right-wrong.
Hebrew literature studies tend to turn into another channel for related messages, illustrating the pitiful state of Jewish communities in the Diaspora through writers such as Mendele Mocher Sefarim or Shalom Aleichem and the trauma of gentile violence against the Jews through Bialik’s poems, “On the Slaughter,” or “In the Valley of the Killing.”
Finally, and obviously, the holocaust is the lynch-pin of this multiple-channeled portrayal of Jews as victims throughout all of history. It represents the epitomy of the Jewish sense of powerlessness, manifested in the myth whereby Jews went "like sheep to the slaughter." While children study of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and topics such as the activities of Jewish partisans, the central messages carried by schools, media, commemorative institutions and rituals, emphasize the victimization of the Jews, with which the children are called upon to identify. During the holocaust they/we were helpless and vanquished. It could occur and be imposed upon them/us because they/we had no independent means of protection, no state or in other words no army and no sovereign territory to escape to. This, it is stated, can never be allowed to happen again. The account usually provides no options outside the victim vs. perpetrator pattern, no alternative strategies for self-protection (such as peace, for example). The internal world-picture conveyed is that of the persecuted, an internal reality characterized by aggressiveness, vulnerability, anger and guilt. As absolute victims, they/we can only be wronged, not wrong. All evil is projected onto the other, our enemy. They are the evil ones who understand nothing but the language of force. And force or strength are the only options that will ensure us lives, physical survival. The strongest survive. The weak are in danger of extinction. The only choice is to be strong and ready for war. The victim psychology provides justification for a war into which we "are forced", a war of which we are - again and always - the victims, as they/we were in the holocaust. It provides full justification for the demonization of the enemy, for a world-view consisting of absolute truths, as required by a group in combat where the good alone are entitled to a place on earth. The holocaust thus comes to be taught in the majority of schools as incisive proof for the thesis of power.
A three-year study of students in high schools and teachers’ colleges, conducted by Nili Keren, Gila Zelikovitz and Yair Oron, has found that many of the students - now three or four generations after the holocaust, did not view it as history but rather as pertaining to their own existence. Keren has found that due to the way in which the topic is handled and taught many students tend to the paranoid attitude that the entire world is against us. While they demonstrate considerable knowledge of anti-Semitism and the holocaust, they show very little knowledge about subjects such as Christianity, Islam, the Jewish-Arab conflict and they understand the concept of racism to pertain mainly to Jews.
The major national memorial to the Jews who perished in the holocaust, Yad Vashem, is intentionally situated in Jerusalem, a fact with clear symbolic significance. School children (from both Jerusalem and the rest of the country) are standardly taken to visit there. The highly stylized building and its grounds have taken on the attributes of an extremely holy and revered site, and visiting children clearly react to the rules of conduct for entering sacred places (either carefully observing them or visibly having trouble doing so). Schools in Jerusalem commonly take students to Yad Vashem more than once, in the course of their student years. This, along with the memorial site’s relative proximity and the fact that all visiting heads of state and dignitaries are taken there (a ritual sometimes made tangible by roads the blocked off in the vicinity), gives a strong sense of the thematic and ideological connection between the national capital and the (commemorated) holocaust.
Jewish secular education in Israel and Jerusalem thus gradually and consistently, if not always consciously or intentionally, constructs a message which is particularistic rather than universal. It portrays the Jews in face of an enemy, not conditions under which the likelihood of persecution might be diminished. Events are related in terms of what they caused the Jews as such, not the Jews as a minority exposed to the artibtrary wills of various majorities. The view that is inculcated stems from a single, exclusive perspective, a single historiography represented as as absolute truth, ruling out other lines of thought, self-criticism or re-appraisal. Accordingly it idolizes national strength and power rather universal humanism. And this mind-set automatically casts the second, "other" national group living in the country and in the mixed city of Jerusalem, into the role of mortal enemy and would-be annihilator. It hardly even needs the history of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict to do so. As the state of Israel is the only answer to the holocaust, the Arabs are equated with the worst and most nightmarish of the successive forces out to destroy the Jews.
Interestingly, the secular school system constructs this portrayal implicitly. It is achieved, by and large, through omission rather than the overt representation of Arabs or Palestinians. Arabs as such are not explicitly present, over most of the early years of secular education. Although it is true that preparations for Independence Day and Memorial Day finger "the Arabs" in general, and rather vaguely - with no further differentiation, as the adversary, students at non-religious schools repeatedly report that they have hardly ever discussed Palestinians in class, as a study topic.
N., an eighth grade student at a West Jerusalem junior high said, "We've learned about how the city is sacred to the three religions. Last year we learned about Christianity and Islam and then we always connect it to the Jews and we learned that Jerusalem is sacred to them too. It's not tied into what the results of this are today..." In studying the city’s diversity and significance, what is stressed is its importance to the three main Western religions. This is taught as totally unrelated to the actual neighbours, the physical, living Palestinians who share the city with the students. It is put into highly abstract, generalized terms - Christianity, Islam, Judaism - obscuring the human embodiment of these terms in congregations and ethnic groups. The image is thus idealized, presenting a fiction of co-existence, pluralistic, tolerant, visible in the churces and mosques and holy Jewish sites side by side. The focus is on the buildings, the stone shells, or at most on the usually peaceful flow of tourists/pilgrims of all religions from all over the world. But the congregations, the people who populate these buildings regularly, and do not co-exist peacefully, are “whited out.”
Speaking of the absence of Palestinians and the Jewish-Palestinian conflict from her education N. explained, "We haven't learned about the War of Independence yet. And we haven't ever talked about the wars here or about the siege of Jerusalem [in 1948]. [...] We don't really learn about it on Independence Day either. They talk to us, they say there was such and such a war in such and such a year, and some other war in some other year and all that, not much. In literature we didn't study any stories about the siege or anything." In the higher grades, when modern history finally enters the curricula directly the historiography of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict is usually taught as a military history, battle after battle. Other facets, such as the cultural, economic or social contexts in which it was taking place are hardly dealt with. Here too, the actual Palestinian Arabs whose homes and lands were in the balance, are effectively erased from the picture, obscured behind the vague and inclusive “Arabs.” And the central motif is kept clear, almost simplistic: the Jews successfully defending themselves against their Arab aggressors.
When Jewish students in Jerusalem study the environs of their schools, they tend to concentrate on the segregation between Jews from different Diaspora communities and its reflection in various Jerusalem neighborhoods. No mention is made of Eastern Jerusalem and its Palestinian population. This entire part of what politicians, media, national and school ceremonies often term the "re-united city" stays shrouded in silence, fully in keeping with the fact, physically known and obvious to most secular Jewish Jerusalemites, that the "other" half of the city is dangerous, out of bounds, never visited. While school pageants often include references to the "united city," in recitations, songs, etc., the children are all the while aware of the clear, divisive boundary lines beyond which neither they nor their parents usually venture. They know for a fact, for instance, that they never set foot in the golden domed Mosque of Omar or the silver domed Al-Aqsa, although these two mosques figure prominently in almost all visual images of the "united city." But this first-hand knowledge of theirs is kept unmentioned, un-named and so discredited, as they are coaxed to overlook the discrepancy between the physical facts they know and the official national image, expressed in official (and school) slogans.
Similarly silenced is the evidence of a previous Palestinian presence in parts of West Jerusalem. N. described a field day they had conducted a year before the interview, when students explored several neighborhoods surrounding the school. "One group went to the old part of Malkha. Looked at the old architecture of the neighbourhood. Houses built by Arabs who lived there and I think in the Six Day War they were evacuated. How it's a different kind of building, structured in a different way. I don't think there was any discussion of the fact that they were evacuated." Here too the people and the complexity of relations with them, whether present or absent, are erased, and the buildings are isolated as a safe study subject.
When some of the students were asked about what they learned under the heading of "Tolerance," a nation-wide study topic in civic studies, it was the secular-orthodox chasm that occurred to them in answer. The present reality of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict was a non-topic, virtually invisible in their accounts, even though some of these students had participated in extended series of meetings with Palestinian contemporaries from nearby Israeli Arab towns. Such programs were described by several children as "nothing much" or "not serious." N. said, "They were with their friends and we were with ours. We did meet and we didn't fight or anything. We got along but it wasn't very... it stayed superficial. It was hard to talk with them. We didn't know Arabic. They only knew a little Hebrew. 'How many brothers do you have? What are your parents' names?' Stuff like that." T. a tenth-grader studying at a Jerusalem high school said, "Mostly we sat in groups and there wasn't any real communication between them."
It is not surprising, of course, that these children couldn't speak each other's language. However, while a majority of Arab children growing up in Israel usually end up learning a great deal of Hebrew, which they need in order to function in the Hebrew-speaking state, most Jewish children get a maximum of an hour or two a week of Arabic, for one to two years during primary school. Many study no Arabic at all and those who do often tend to forget the basics due to disuse. This fact goes hand in hand with what we view as an erasure of the existence, history and even presence of Palestinian Arabs in both the country and the city of Jerusalem. We believe that this erasure is one of the means of maintaining two levels of awareness, vital to the liberal Jewish consciousness embodied in the secular school system. It is an aspect of the split of this consciousness into two detached and uncommunicating realms, a split that keeps at bay the duality, clash and dissonance between these realms.
On one level is the perception of the “other” that we have described above. On another, partitioned from the first by a barrier of silence, is secular Jewish self-perception. On the first level the “other” is - largely - stereotyped, dehumanized, perceived in black-and-white, providing full justification for his or her brutalization. Meanwhile, on the separate, second level, a liberal self-image is carefully preserved through the avoidance of any overt statement of hatred. The liberal secular consciousness cannot afford to see itself as intolerant, hating, dehumanizing, xenophobic. So the image of the “other” almost automatically mapped onto the Arab is constructed, whether intentionally or not, through hidden means built into the secular educational system. The bearers and receivers of this secular, liberal, education can accordingly retain an image of themselves as tolerant, open-minded, humane and consequently right. And the silencing mechanism is established as a central tool, a message in its own right. It is positioned as a vital method, to be acquired by young members of Israel’s secular Jewish society for managing the dissonance between their attitudes towards Palestinian Arabs and their liberal self-image.
An interesting case in point are students’ descriptions of what occurs in class following events such as a bus-bombing. At these times, among the rare ones when the Palestinian-Jewish conflict surfaces for open discussion, teachers are often described as mainly policing expressions of hatred and violent feelings towards the Arabs. T. said, “The teachers responded to [students’] statements that all the Arabs should be killed. They talked about human beings. Regardless of nationality and everyone is a human being. Everyone should be seen as a human being.” But the teachers, she said, “are careful not to expose themselves too much. Eventually we know who and what they are by other stuff - stickers on their cars and stuff like that.” Here again the underlying, and perhaps more important, message is clear, silencing real views is vital.
III. Religious Zionist Education in Jerusalem and the "Other"
During the first decades of Israel’s existence, the leading and prominent parts of its society and government were pronouncedly secular. Religious Jews were largely perceived as preserving central attributes of the Jewish diaspora. They were viewed as the converse of the “new Jew,” the pioneering man of the land, both farmer and soldier, set up as the Zionist ideal. S. says he grew up in a Zionist religious family in Jerusalem, feeling that he was a second-class citizen in Israeli society, with a deep sense of inferiority. Hurtful, offending jokes about religious Jews were commonplace among the secular “Sabras.” The prevalent message he recalls was that religious Jews were unwanted in the Zionist state. Although their presence was suffered, they were made to understand that they were actually a weak, parasitic, burden to the nation struggling to transform and rebuild itself.
A central aspect of this sense of second-class citizenship stemmed from the fact that many religious Jews were exempt from the draft, under an agreement originally forged by the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion and the religious community. Religious boys attending a yeshiva and studying the scriptures, and all religious girls, were exempted from service in the Israeli army. The young religious men who did, nevertheless, enlist during the first decades of Israel’s existence, usually had to face expressions of contempt, jeers and humiliations, and encountered difficulties in observing the rituals of their religion. They were subjected to considerable pressure to abandon these, in the form of both ‘technical’ obstacles and the attitudes of those around them. The military roles they were assigned were commonly desk jobs and unprestigious posts. As participation in its troops of warriors was (and to a large extent still is) a condition of full membership in Israeli Jewish society, all of this firmly entrenched the peripheral status of the practicing religious community. In the eighties, however, under a variation on the previous agreement, some groups of yeshiva boys began to enlist together, for terms of reduced - but combat - duty in the IDF. Gradually, as a result, and in combination with the militant religious Zionist settlement of the Occupied Territories, more and more religious Zionist boys began to enlist for regular (rather than reduced, “arrangement”) service.
Paradoxical though it may seem, as part of this process, many high school yeshivas (all of which are boys’ schools) have become overt pre-military frameworks. The individual’s decision to attend them often rests, at least partly, on the fact of their inclusion among the “arrangement yeshivas” or on the percentages of their students’ who “get into” elite army units. Both students and teachers are very much aware of the students’ pending military service, which they treat as a deeply important value. One of the most prestigious of such schools, the Eli College, is known for its students’ success in reaching the top combat units, where they do full military duty, meanwhile maintaining and expressing their orthodoxy. The school views one of its goals as training its students to practice religion through every aspect of daily life, carefully providing them with tools for retaining their religious identity in what are essentially secular surroundings.
The increased prominence of the religious Zionist community both in national politics (for instance, its spearheading and in fact forcing the more controversial settlements in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip) and in the Israeli military, is radically changing the former secular-religious hierarchy. Religious Zionist society has acquired a sense of full citizenship and “Israeliness,” partly through the fact of more and more boys’ enlisting in the IDF, their growing numbers in combat and elite units and among the officers’ ranks. While, as we explain in greater detail below, much of religious Jewish education is centrally exclusory, following principles basic to classical Judaism, this is now intricately entwined with a military orientation reinforcing the ideology of exclusion and making it applicable in practical terms. The self-esteem of the religious Zionist community is partly achieved through its relatively new identification with the military and with military terms (reflected, for instance, in the para-military activities and displays of force regularly undertaken by religious Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories). From the point of view of students and their teachers, this clearly places Palestinian Arabs, the “others,” all the more firmly in the position of sworn adversaries that have to be overpowered.
Research conducted among students of 27 countries, by a team based at Hamburg University, has found the students of religious Zionist schools in Israel to be the most nationalistic and most racist group of all those studied by the project. Of all the groups in the study, they were the only one to cite military power as the most convincing argument for their right to a territory under dispute. And the importance of their national identity was rated even above that of their religious outlook. It is significant that the leading religious Jewish schools in Israel and Jerusalem, and especially the high schools, are segregated - boys and girls go to different schools. The boys’ schools are clearly and obviously considered the more prestigious and better schools, in effect the “real” schools or, from high school age, the yeshivas. This gendered hierarchy is even more pronounced in the ultra-orthodox “Independent Stream” where, for instance, the population of Jerusalem high school boys is slightly smaller than the population of girls, while the boys’ classes outnumber the girls’ by about 30%. Such attitudes to girls’ education probably result, at least in part, from the fact that Judaism defines and delineates a gendered, male congregation of believers which explicitly excludes women. Women, for instance, cannot make up part of the ten participants (minian) required for public prayer services; they are not acceptable as witnesses before religious Jewish courts; the daily morning prayer includes the passage ‘blessed be he who has not made me a woman.’ Dividing the community of believers into full members and sub-members, Jewish law and tradition constitute an excluded “other” fundamental to their practice. While women are not the “others” referred to when Jerusalem is described as a “mixed (or divided) city,” their exclusion from equal status as believers is nevertheless illuminating, as it is deeply (though only partly) analogous to the exclusion of additional “others” addressed by, and basic to, Judaism.
The school day, in the religious Zionist schools, is divided into two sections. The first part of the day, seen by far as the most important, is allocated to what is known as “religious” (or literally: holy) studies. The second part of the school day is taken up by “secular” (or literally: mundane) studies, including curricula such as history and math, which in some schools are seen as relatively unimportant and imposed by the institutions of the secular state. The contents transmitted through the “religious” studies carry a great deal of weight and authority, overtly recognized and revered by the students of this system. Unlike the secular students, who tend, at least consciously, to assign little importance to the contents of their schooling, religious students view many of their teachers and the religious texts they study as true, meaningful and highly relevant authorities.
In religious Zionist schools, unlike the secular ones, the religious texts and interpretations under discussion are clearly placed within the context of contemporary political events. They are openly looked to and studied as valuable, pertinent ideologies and applicable guides to daily life. Jewish (and most) religious belief is, by definition, belief in a way of living. And religious schools in Israel make no bones about teaching their students how they should live and indeed how they should think. This invests their study with concrete, urgent meaning for the students and gives it a relevance which is very rare in non-religious schools.
Recent years have witnessed a marked rise in the status and influence of religious Zionist schools and especially the boys’ high schools and junior colleges, known as the high school yeshivas or yeshivot tichoniyot. Due to their obvious treatment of major ideological issues and the practical results these entail, they have come to be counted among the most as vital, generative community components, by much of the religious Zionist community. Ongoing debate in this community about the ties between the state of Israel and the attainment of a religiously defined redemption (ge’ula), has assigned these centers increasing importance as formulators of the terms of religious citizenship in the secular state. The Jerusalem high school and junior college yeshivas are among the most well known and influential, due to the city’s centrality to religious Jews and the fact that it is home to many contemporary religious thinkers and leaders. Consequently, specific high school yeshivas often come to be identified as both sources and representatives of given schools of thought. Perhaps the most well known among is the these extremely influential Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It is strongly identified with a school of thought according to which ownership of the land of Israel is of paramount religious and moral value, a principle relative to which almost all others become secondary. The school has been a major recruiting center, as it were, for adherents to the ideology of a “Greater Israel,” of settling the lands taken over from neighboring states in 1967, regardless of the indigenous Palestinian population living there.
Such attitudes are well grounded in the Talmud, studied at length and in detail in yeshiva high schools and colleges, much more so in fact than the Old Testament. This body of learning comprises generations of exegesis and interpretations of the Old Testament, which is only rarely understood in a literal straightforward manner by orthodox Judaism. Consecutive readings of the biblical passages and complex debates among scholars and rabbis are collected towards the authoritative finalization of the precise meaning of every biblical verse. In addition and in the process, the Talmud lays out a detailed legal system; basic rules for every aspect of Jewish life. Accordingly, the Bible being read and learnt in religious schools in Israel is literally not the same book as the original Hebrew one which is studied in Israel’s secular schools. In religious schools the original text is only understood through an overlay of sages’ explanations which depart significantly from the source.
Significant discussions in the Talmud and a considerable portion of the teachings studied in religious schools have to do with the treatment of, and attitudes towards, non-Jews (“goyim”). Orthodox Jewish thinking is substantially preoccupied with carefully constituting its legitimate congregation and clearly defining who is to be excluded from it. In other words, Judaism at its very base, studied at length in religious Zionist schools, deals extensively with alien “others” relative to which it defines itself as an exclusive, special body of believers. For example, “the duty to save the life of a fellow Jew is paramount. It supersedes all other religious obligations and interdictions. [... However,] as for gentiles, the basic talmudic principle is that their lives must not be saved [...] The Talmud itself expresses this in the maxim ‘gentiles are neither to be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down [into it].” According to the classical Judaism still taught in today’s religious schools, then, it is the lives of Jews which are valuable and which Jews are obliged to save. Moreover, in keeping with the above Talmud maxim, indirectly causing the death of a gentile is not a sin for a Jew. Following the prohibition to save the life of a gentile, “a Jewish doctor must not treat a gentile patient.” There is an exception to this rule, however, in cases when such an avoidance or treating a gentile may “antagonize powerful gentiles and so put Jews in danger.” There is no pretense of universal humanism here, under which human beings as such are equal and equally entitled to life. “The famous verse ‘thou shalt love thy fellow as thyself’ (Leviticus, 19:18) is understood by classical (and present-day Orthodox) Judaism as an injunction to love one’s fellow Jew, not any fellow human.” After researching students of high schools and teachers’ colleges, Nili Keren and her team found that those studying in the religious Zionist stream, display extreme responses to racism directed against themselves, and conciliatory, forgiving attitudes towards racism against others. As for Palestinian Arabs, students at most religious schools are not exposed to ideas such as coexistence and dialogue, or frameworks intended to introduce them to their Arab neighbours as equal human beings. On the contrary, as Daniel Bar-Tal says, based on his study of school books in religious Zionist schools, “the ethnocentric tendency of the religious educational system leads [...] to a negative view of other nations in general and particularly of the Arab nations.”
S., who studied at one of the most prestigious religious Zionist high schools in Jerusalem observes, “Even if they aren’t mentioned directly you encounter the existence of Arabs in the immediate vicinity, while you’re studying the laws about distinctions between gentiles and Jews. Because who are the gentiles here? Are there any British around? It’s very clear all the time, in the discourse pertaining to gentiles, that it’s the Arabs who are intended.”
Many of the regularly recited prayers reinforce such attitudes to gentiles. Prayes are studied in detail at all religious schools and the morning prayer, for instance, is recited daily. Mentioned above with regard to women, it also states, “blessed be he who has not made me a gentile.” “The concluding section of the daily prayer (which is also used in the most solemn part of the service on Yom Kippur) opens with the statement: ‘We must praise the Lord of all ... for not making us like the nations of [all] lands.’” Moreover, religious Zionist schools teach a large number of religious rules which bear directly upon political matters. Among these is the particular collection of laws dealing with gentiles who live in the land of Israel, or even those who pass through it. For example, classical Jewish law forbids the sale of real estate in the land of Israel to non-Jews. Maimonedes, one of the foremost Jewish philosophers and interpreters of Jewish law writes that, “When the Jews are more powerful than the gentiles we are forbidden to let an idolator among us; even a temporary resident or itinerant trader shall not be allowed to pass through our land.” In other words, when Jews have sufficient power, they are duty bound by their religion to deny “others” entry, passage, sojourn in their land. The implications are obvious.
Special Jewish laws deal with the ancient indigenous nations who lived in the land, all of which, as well as the Amalekites are to be totally exterminated. Every generation, young religious students are taught, has its specific Amalekites. “Even if it isn’t stated explicitly,” S. explains, “it’s clearly implied that ours are the Arabs.” He also says, “When learning about the injunctions [mitzvot] of settling the land of Israel, we are actually dealing directly with politics.”
Bible studies in religious Zionist schools, though secondary to the study of the Talmud, are important in giving ancient and divine validity to the claims of Judaism. Jewish ownership of the land is strongly anchored in this source of authority, as are attitudes to and treatment of other peoples indigenous to the land. Bible studies are understood to trace the Jewish-Arab conflict back to ancient sources, to the deferential treatment of Isaac and Ishmael, to Jacob’s dispute with Easau. The conflict is consequently placed in an archetypal context which construes it as age-old, inevitable, deterministic and gives the rival sides myth-like roles of good vs. evil. Thus reinforced is a perception of the conflict in terms of unbridgeable dichotomies. The book of Joshua, describing the series of massacres carried out by the Jews in the course of their takeover of the land, is taken to validate the right, the necessities and the options of warring for the conquest of the promised land. The book reiterates, concerning several indigenous peoples, that Joshua and Israel “smote it with the edge of the sword, and the king thereof [...] utterly destroyed, them, and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain.” A young religious soldier, contemplating whether or not he should kill unarmed Palestinians in the early seventies, wrote his rabbi, one of the teachers he had studied with, and asked, “I could not arrive at a clear decision, whether Arabs should be treated like Amalekites, meaning that one is permitted to murder [sic] them until their remembrance is blotted out [...] or perhaps one should do as in a just war, in which one kills only the soldiers?” His Rabbi, Rabbi Shim’on Weiser, answers, among other things, that, “a distinction must be made between wartime and peace, so that although during peace time it is forbidden to kill gentiles, in a case that occurs in wartime it is a mitzvah [imperative, religious duty] to kill them.” This exchange of letters was published in the 1974 yearbook of one of the most prestigious and influential religious schools, Medrashiyyat No’am. One of the well known sages’ sayings used by the rabbi to support his view, was also quoted by S. independently, in the course of his interview, as a salient example of orthodox teachings regarding gentiles, “The best of gentiles - kill him; the best of snakes - dash out its brains.”
The exchange of letters between student and rabbi concerning major moral questions, is also indicative of another aspect of religious education which is absent from secular schools. Teachers enjoy much higher status within the religious community than in secular Israeli society. They are highly regarded by their students and accepted as valid authorities on both theoretical and practical questions. The hierarchical structure through which this status and power is expressed is also one which tends to discourage independent, original thinking, while conserving that of the already established, high-status authorities. This in fact is one of the main goals of religious education in Israel; the preservation of long established views and customs. It accordingly tends to indoctrinate its students and to quench inquisitive skepticism. Therefore, while the influence of secular schools on their students is often diffuse, unrecognized and in some cases limited, religious schools exert a visible and very concentrated influence upon their students.
Predictably, Jewish holidays too exert a much more pronounced influence among religious students than among secular ones. The study of holidays deals mainly with the detailed religious rules for their correct observance, rather than the ‘lore’ and the assorted customs which secular children dwell on in school. These rules are studied carefully as deeply important and unquestionable commands. It is implied that secular Jews have no understanding of them and accordingly lack a real grasp of the holidays’ “true” substance.
However, the specific customs and “lore” attached to holidays by the student community itself, particularly in Jerusalem, play a meaningful role in consolidating and actualizing some of the religious principles studied at school. Many religious students in Jerusalem regularly attend prayers at the Wailing Wall. S. says, “On the way back we always used to bang on the shutters of Arab homes.” This practice acquired the status of a quasi-religious ritual, closely associated with the prayer and with observance of religious laws, with the practices of signalling membership and non-membership in the group. As S. put it, “A constant friction is maintained between the populations.”
A longing for peace is not central to this outlook. Religious Zionist education is, for the most part, uninterested in peace. The peace it conceives of and awaits is, by and large, that of salvation, “ge’ula,” the coming of the messiah. It does not conform to the secular concept of a political peace between warring national groups and entities. Basic to classical Judaism and modern orthodoxy is the teaching that other national groups are outside the community entitled to inalieable rights. The concept of concessions between nations is essentially foreign to such thinking and in any case is not a valued aspiration. The students of religious Zionist schools were found by the Hamburg University study, to be the group ascribing the lowest importance to peace, among all other student groups throughout Europe, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Palestine.
IV Some Concluding Remarks
At the end of 1996, as this article is being concluded, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are still ostensibly committed to making a peace, of which Jerusalem has been cast, by each side, as both the crux and the touchstone. If there is to be a peace, however, it can only exist - in the long run and especially in Jerusalem - if it becomes a peace between people, not just between peoples. And while the education of Jewish children in all of Israel as well as Jerusalem, includes - in its very structure - the mindset of barring and overpowering the “other,” it is unclear how many Israelis can grow up to create such a peace. As demonstrated by the international Hamburg University study - conducted after the Oslo Agreement and very soon after the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty - Israeli students (both secular and religious) ascribe relatively little importance to peace. And nevertheless, the issues addressed by the shifting array of bi-national Israeli and Palestinian committees have yet to include the question of education. There is no education committee among the many bodies appointed to the business of peace making, and no one seems to be asking what fundamental changes are needed in the way Israeli and Palestinian children are schooled, in the material they are taught, if they are to become adults who live with each other in peace.  These and the following, nation-wide statistics were reported by Chinuch Acher, October 8 1996, and pertain to the school year of 1994-95.  As we will explain below, this system too, designates large blocs of time to the study of the Old Testament, of other religious oral traditions and Jewish texts and of Jewish holidays.  These and the following figures for Jerusalem are based on The Israel Statistical Annals 1995, Central Bureau of Statistics, p. 267-268.  These and the following nation-wide figures are reported by: Chinuch Acher, ibid.  Reported on by Or Kashti, Ha’aretz, Nov. 17, 1996.  Reported on by Joseph Algazi, Ha’aretz, Aug. 15, 1996.  Reported on by Arieh Caspi, Ha’aretz, Nov. 11, 1996. The Israel Statistical Annals 1995, ibid, p. 272.  Shahak, Israel (1994) Jewish History, Jewish Religion (London: Pluto Press), p. 80.  Joseph Algazi, Ha’aretz, ibid.  Or Kashti, Ha’aretz, ibid.  Quoted in: Shahak, ibid, p. 92.  That is, the biblical land of Israel, the precise area and borders of which remain a topic of dispute.  Maimonides, Moses, Mishneh Torah, ‘Idolatry’ 10, 6, quoted in Shahak, ibid, p. 91. Joshua 10:28; see also: 10:30, 10:32, etc.  Quoted in: Shahak, ibid, p. 77.  Arieh Caspi, Ha’aretz, ibid.