Public school principals and superintendents received instructions this week not to throw out any textbooks containing the Hebrew name for God, considered sacred by observant Jews.
Yehudit Kadosh, a primary school education director at the Education Ministry, sent out a memo this week to superintendents and principals of public schools, asking them to inform students that under Jewish law, unwanted textbooks containing the explicit name for God must be put in a genizah, a storehouse for holy books that are no longer in use, and must not be thrown out.
"As is known, there are textbooks containing passages from the Bible and other [holy] sources, in which the name of God appears explicitly," Kadosh wrote. "It has been brought to our attention that sometimes, when these textbooks are no longer needed, they are casually discarded. This kind of book should be put in a genizah, so as not to offend the sector of public to whom this issue is important and dear to heart. Students should be informed that this type of book must be put in a genizah, and not simply thrown away."
Several principals expressed surprised by the request.
"This is the first time that I have received a request like this," one principal said. "This is coercion to adopt a religious Jewish perspective. We don't teach these texts from a religious perspective, so it is not clear to me why the ministry is asking that we treat them as such. What do they expect from us? Are we supposed to go over all the books to check if God's name is written in them? And which name is it that makes the text holy? If the text is holy, where will this end -- maybe next they will request that boys wear yarmulkes and girls dress modestly during Bible lessons?"
Oren Yehi Shalom, director of the non-profit Center for Israeli Education, said: "The memo sent to school principals speaks to the lack of content and educational character in public school education, which was once humanistic. More and more, Orthodox content and approaches are becoming the educational norm in public schools. Over the long term, this explains the alienation of secular students from Israeli heritage. The Education Ministry should encourage public schools to develop a secular humanistic cultural identity, and not enforce religious norms for the sake of respecting others. If an autonomous public education board is not formed, this trend will continue, and it won't be long before topics that offend the sensitivities of the religious public will be off-limits for study."
The Education Ministry was unavailable for comment.