English and the Ultra-Orthodox

A Very Foreign Language

Policy Paper 194

  • Written By:
  • Publication Date:
  • Number Of Pages: 10 Pages
  • Center: The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for Shared Society

The study of what are often referred to as “core” subjects such as math, English, and science in the curriculum of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) schools is an issue which is prominent on the public and political agenda. For the most part, the discussion relates to Haredi education in these subjects as a whole. The current research takes a different path and focuses specifically on the study of English, analyzing its unique characteristics in Haredi society.

One of the most controversial issues on the public agenda in Israel and which has profound implications for the integration of the Haredi community is the opposition of the Haredi mainstream to including core subjects—such as science, math, science, and English—in the curriculum of Haredi schools, especially schools for boys. These subjects, and essential to ensure that graduates of Haredi schools are equipped with those tools that are vital tools for their functioning as informed and involved citizens and for finding employment in today’s job market. Core curriculum studies in Haredi society are usually discussed as one package. This study takes a different path, focusing only on English—and pointing out its unique status in Haredi society. The importance of this subject is not in question: English is currently the international language, and proficiency in English is a prerequisite for studying in institutions of higher education and for integration into the job market. Moreover, language study differs fundamentally from studies based mainly on imparting knowledge (science, history) or logical skills (math), making it more difficult to catch up and fill gaps later in life.