Ex-haredim to sue State for damages

Dozens of men and women seek compensation for years spent catching up on core subjects excluded from ultra-Orthodox schools' curricula

Ynet News, Israel/February 3, 2012

Will the State of Israel be forced to pay for missing core studies? Dozens of former ultra-Orthodox men and women are seeking to sue the State for damages they allegedly suffered by not studying basic subjects like math or English in the schools they were educated in.

According to the plaintiffs, ever since leaving the religious world they have spent many years and a lot of money in order to catch up on the crucial material – and should therefore be compensated.

The lawsuit was initiated by the Maavar association, which usually works to bridge between former religious people and their families. In a post on its Facebook page, the association invites anyone who feels they were harmed by the lack of basic education in the core subjects to join the legal proceedings, promising that they would be funded by voluntary elements.

"Whoever studied in haredi schools without core issues (including those who are still haredi) and has been forced to complete matriculation or psychometric exams, losing years of work or suffering any other financial damage, is invited to send us his personal details," the post reads.

It ends with a cynical remark at the ultra-Orthodox sector's expense: "This ad is directed at women and men as one and is phrased in the male form for modesty reasons only."

'Hundreds to join'

Udi, a former haredi and one of the move's initiators, told Ynet he had been contacted by dozens of people interested in joining the lawsuit since the ad was published on Facebook.

He estimated that the number of plaintiffs would reach 200 and that they would appeal to the court within two weeks. He noted that until the association found a funding source, the case would be handled voluntarily by the office of Attorney Shlomo Leker, which has already started preparing the statement of claim.

"People studied in Yiddish only until the age of 20 – Talmud, Mishna and perhaps one hour of arithmetic a week, and only till the age of 10, without any basic education," Udi claimed. "No Hebrew, no English, no math, no computers…

"They were damaged because of that, and many are afraid to leave religion or even go to work – just because they can't. They remain stuck in the system, and this method perpetuates ignorance and its control of the haredi society.

"Those who do leave – suffer. We are talking about people who are mostly talented, but suddenly they find themselves completing matriculation exams for two years while they have a family to care for – children they raise themselves or alimony they must pay the family they started as haredim.

"If they didn't have to deal with this, they could have succeeded in life. This is serious damage. It's true that there are institutions which don't demand a matriculation certificate, but it blocks many fields of study."

According to the initiator, the plaintiffs will claim that "the State should have ensured that they receive basic education, which should in fact be part of the Compulsory Education Law."

'We've suffered injustice'

Since the ad was published, the association's Facebook page has been buzzing with activity, including a lively dialogue on whether such a lawsuit stands a chance in court.

A reader named Kobi Haroosh complimented the initiators, saying: "Even if this is something that won't get us any money, it could raise awareness to the real problem. It's unthinkable that haredi politicians tell the State not to intervene, while we pay the price.

"I am inside the haredi public and I am the first to stand up and say that we have suffered unprecedented injustice. If my parents had an acceptable haredi option in their neighborhood for math and English studies, they would have been happy to give it to me, but they didn't.

"The State is clearly responsible here. I am 26 years old, I have two daughters and a mortgage to pay, I work hard, and at the end of the day I study fractions like a sixth grader and feel inferior."

Another reader was not as supportive, presenting the alleged secular side: "And I would like to sue the State for not providing me with Torah studies, which is why I cannot work as a gravedigger in Chevra Kadisha. What do you have to say about that?"

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