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Israel's education policies leave ultra-Orthodox students behind

By giving preference to Yiddish over English and math, ultra-Orthodox schools prevent their graduates from seeking a future in the high-tech industry.
An ultra Orthodox Jewish man uses his cellular phone along a street in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv May 3, 2011. Hundreds of thousands of cellphones, popularly dubbed kosher because they block access to services frowned upon by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, have been operating in the Jewish state for more than five years. Last month, Israel's second largest mobile provider, Partner introduced what it hailed as the world's first Yiddish cellphone, manufactured by Alcatel-Lucent. Picture taken May 3, 2011. To match Reut
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is particularly fond of cyberspace issues and even has a social-cyber vision. At a 2014 meeting with the heads of IBM on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, for example, he said the Israeli cyberindustry could be a catalyst for harnessing the potential of ultra-Orthodox society and integrating it into the high-tech industry and cyberindustry. Yet only a few days before Netanyahu and his wife set off last month for the 2018 summit in Davos, his government took another step toward perpetuating the ignorance and insularity of ultra-Orthodox society. This was when Education Minister Naftali Bennett signed a regulation enabling the state to fund unregulated ultra-Orthodox schools that teach Yiddish as a foreign language rather than English. Some 51,000 children attend those schools.

Yiddish, which was the lingua franca of millions of Jews in Eastern Europe for centuries, is a wonderful language well worth preserving. However, it is not particularly useful in the high-tech sector or in any other industry for that matter. Indeed, the hidden potential of Jewish ultra-Orthodox society cannot be overstated, but nor can the severity of the blow inflicted by policies such as Yiddish instruction on this potential and its damage to Israel’s strategic interests.

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