United Torah Judaism Factions Set to Settle Dispute, Unite for Election

Under emerging agreement, party list will condition its joining the coalition on raising state budget for the ‘recognized but unofficial’ and ‘exempt’ schools

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni at a Channel 13 conference in Jerusalem, in July.
United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni at a Channel 13 conference in Jerusalem, in July.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

The factions comprising the United Torah Judaism party, Agudat Israel and Degel Hatorah, agreed on Monday to continue their joint electoral run. The factions had disagreed on demands for education budgets in future coalition negotiations, and have reached an accord, three days before the parties submit their rosters for the election.

According to the agreement between the non-Hasidic "Lithuanian" faction of Degel Hatorah, headed by Moshe Gafni, and the Hasidic Agudat Israel, headed by Yitzhak Goldenkopf – who replaced Yaakov Litzman at the helm – the list will condition its joining the next coalition on increasing budgets for particular Haredi schools and kindergartens. These institutions are "exempt" – that is, from teaching the core curriculum – or "recognized unofficial" – those that do not belong to any school system.

The agreement has not yet been signed. Agudat Israel Knesset members are scheduled to meet to approve it on Monday night, and the parties expect to sign it on Tuesday. Sources in United Torah Judaism told Haaretz that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to the condition, so long as the attorney general approves it, if he is tasked with forming a coalition after the November 1 election.

The dispute stems from the Belz Hasidic sect's demand that its schools be fully funded by the government. They also demanded that its boys' schools join the Degel Hatorah-controlled network of independent schools, but that request was denied for a number of reasons. The Hasidic sect's institutions currently run as exempt or recognized unofficial schools, which are only partially funded by the Education Ministry, because they are obliged to only teach a part of the core curriculum.

Other than these institutions, Haredi elementary-age education includes state-Haredi schools, which teach the core curriculum and are fully funded; the major Haredi education networks – Degel Hatorah’s independent education network and Shas’ Ma’ayan Torani network – which are fully funded by the Education Ministry and are supposed to partially teach the core curriculum; and exempt institutions, half of whose budget is covered and are supposed to teach a small part of the core curriculum.

After failing to join the independent education network, the Belz Hasidic movement contacted the Education Ministry, which suggested that they join a new study track, in which English, Hebrew and math would be taught, and schools would be budgeted according to the students’ achievements. The Belz rebbe agreed to the proposal, and the Lithuanian stream saw this as a reason to run separately in the election.

The Lithuanian leadership fears that if this new “basic studies” track opens, the ministry will start conditioning full funding for the two main ultra-Orthodox school systems on tight supervision to make sure they are really teaching the required core curriculum – a requirement that currently is not enforced in boys’ schools, which mainly teach religious subjects. Haredi girls’ schools generally do teach the core curriculum.

According to the agreement now taking shape, the parties will demand that the budget of the exempt institutions be set at 55 percent of all Education Ministry payments – and not just out of its base budget, as it is now. The Lithuanian stream agreed that if the matter remains unsettled, they would allow one Belz school that is not in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak to join Degel Hatorah’s independent education network.

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