Critics say amendment of content on human reproduction and contraception is capitulation to ultra-Orthodox extremism
Israeli education authorities have ordered the removal of sex education material from textbooks destined for state religious junior high schools in a move attacked by liberal reformists as a capitulation to ultra-Orthodox extremism.
The publishers of scientific textbooks have been told to revise content related to human reproduction and contraception aimed at pupils under the age of 15.
Such material “does not fit in with the educational outlook for junior high school students in the state religious system”, said a statement from the education ministry.
It had requested “targeted adjustments” to ensure that textbooks “include texts and reading materials in the spirit of the state religious education system”.
State education in Israel is divided into religious and secular sectors for Jewish children, with separate schools for Arab children. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews send their children to segregated private schools, with strict controls on curricula, behaviour and dress. Around a quarter of Israeli children attend ultra-Orthodox schools, according to 2010 data – a figure that is steadily rising.
Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israeli Religious Action Centre, which advocates progressive Judaism, described the education ministry’s move as a “slippery slope”.
“When we start filtering science for modesty reasons, that in the end will hinder our ability to teach science to Israeli children,” she said.
“Teaching children about these subjects in a factual and respectful way is not in any way an affront to religion.”
The move should be seen in the context of the growing influence of rightwing rabbis in Israel. “Modesty considerations are being used as a political tool to keep women ‘in their place’,” she said.
Some elements of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel have campaigned in recent years to remove images of women from advertising hoardings, and impose gender segregation on buses and in other public spheres.
The education ministry said the changes did not cover pictures of women. “The image of women has a place and expression in school textbooks,” it said.
It added: “It should be pointed out that the targeted adjustments are not intended to change the goals of the educational program.”