On the Partial Awareness of 'Judaism' in the Curriculum of Secular State Education in Israel


Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), 2013 (5-6),119 -144


The Israeli educational system makes a clear distinction between State religious education and State general education. Over time, “general education” has become unofficially identified with, and labeled as, “State secular education." This switch has consequences far beyond a semantic level; it highlights a complex, vague, and confused set of concepts and symbols revolving around the fundamental question of Jewish Identity. However, the main argument in this paper is that the curriculum in the Israeli State schools, attended by 70% of Israeli’s Jewish children, is neither ‘completely’ nor ‘partially’ secular. Rather, it is first and foremost a Jewish curriculum, even though, on the declarative and conscious level, it does not operate as such.


This argument is supported by qualitative-interpretive research on seventeen schools (six elementary, four middle, and seven high schools) in the Tel Aviv-Yafo region. The schools were in the process of designing a syllabus concerned with Jewish identity and culture, as part of the schools' involvement in the Tel Aviv – Los Angeles Partnership. Content analysis of main themes in curricula, in addition to written materials of school principals, together with reflective writings of students with regard to their Partnership experiences, enable the investigation of several aspects and characteristics of the “Jewish curriculum” as it is embedded in the explicit and implicit school curriculum. The Partnership curricula crystalize different Jewish components in the State secular school curriculum, although they are dominant in any event. In this sense, one can say that the curriculum has a Jewish genome. Indicating some of the sources feeding the implicit curriculum in State secular schools, the paper aims to point out how they give rise to a weak definition of Jewish identity that is only partially aware of its depth. What happens, therefore, in the junctions where the explicit and implicit curricula meet?

Updated: Mar. 19, 2014