The study explored how a group of private Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) Israeli schools legitimized an innovative non-mandatory reform. Specifically, it examined the circumstances that facilitated and hindered a coincidence of wants between the schools and the Israel Ministry of Education, which resulted in signing agreements that changed the status of the schools from private to public. The study drew on interviews and on various documents, including contracts, summaries of meetings, and work plans.
The conclusions portray the correspondence between the top-down and bottom-up processes that facilitated the reform. At their intersection, discursive interactions transpired between the Haredi inspectors at the Ministry of Education and school leaders, reflecting a mutual aspiration toward pragmatic legitimacy. The prominent barriers to the reform derived from the Ministry of Education’s strategic assumption that a quiet, unregulated reform would generate less resistance. However, this assumption led to actions that ultimately reduced the effectiveness of the discursive interactions and their ability to produce pragmatic legitimacy. We argue that to legitimize innovative non-mandatory educational reforms in strict religious groups, the State should speak in several voices: through discursive interactions led by cultural mediators, but also through official publications, regulations, and marketing campaigns that would strengthen the reform’s pragmatic legitimacy.