Q. Israel is buzzing* with controversy about “core subjects” being taught at charedi schools. What is your view?
A. There are arguments on both sides. There must be a segment of the education system that is dedicated to the highest standards in Torah learning. The aim is not necessarily to produce rabbis but solidly committed Jews who know the tradition well, enhance and promote it.
At the same time there are charedim (women as well as men) who are aware that without a modicum of “secular” studies their employment prospects will always be limited. But it isn’t just for the sake of entering a trade or profession that I am in favour of all schools teaching “core” subjects.
There are ample precedents for religious leaders combining Torah with other disciplines: Maimonides was a doctor, Rashi had a vineyard, and some yeshivah heads have been mathematicians, lawyers, accountants. One of the great success stories of recent decades is the number of orthodox Jewish scientists. There is at least one yeshivah teacher who is a novelist. The members of the ancient Sanhedrin were experts in many sciences.
The synthesis of Torah with other disciplines is good for Torah itself. Actually, it is impossible to be an Orthodox Jew of any kind without a knowledge of other subjects – how can you, for instance, construct a sukkah or an eruv or work out the time of Shabbat without a basic knowledge of mathematics? How can you be a shochet or mohel without knowing anatomy and physiology? How can you assess whether food is kosher without a grasp of chemistry?
But more than this, every academic discipline helps you to be a believer. Geography and astronomy teach you the grandeur of the Creator. Every branch of culture shows you the potential of the human mind created by God. Physics teaches you precision, language shows you the value of words, ethics involves you in decisions about right and wrong…
I am so convinced that religion is enhanced by “core” subjects that I would even go further than the current plan. I would like the so-called “core” subjects not only to be compulsory but to be even broader than currently envisaged by the Israeli educational system.
* May 2013.