Israel’s theocratic sex-ed problem

2127302738In an age of religious strife and division, it is truly heart-warming to how organized religions, regardless of their denomination, can share in the wonderful tradition of undermining science and education. As many know, the Christian religious right frequently rears its head to oppose teaching things like evolution, or the Age of Enlightenment, or how not to get pregnant, or how not to get an STI. But did you know Jews do it too? Well, now you do.

The Israeli Ministry of education, in an extremely pro-education move, has asked text book publishers to remove chapters on little not-so-importanty things like human reproduction, safe sex and contraception from science textbooks used in state religious junior high schools. Thank god, students will now be sheltered from inappropriate language like:

“Every month (during the woman’s period of fertility) one of her ova (the egg cells) ripens and is released from the ovary where it was created. This stage is called ovulation … Only if a sperm cell reaches the fallopian tube during those days will fertilization occur.”

Sadly,  students in non-religious schools will still be exposed to this garbage. Because for the first time ever, different textbooks will be used in religious and secular Israeli state schools! Now, that’s progress!

At first, the changes requested by the ministry were fairly minor. But eventually, the alterations became so drastic that publishers who had originally agreed to them are now infuriated and some are backing out of the deal: “The ministry capitulated to one of the most extremist factions of the religious public,” said one publishing executive. They’re not the only people upset that students at Israel’s religious junior high schools won’t be seeing scandalous things like illustrations of sperm or ova or learning about gross things like… I can barely write it out… hold on… OK, I’m back from throwing up… menstruation.

Zahava Gal-On, the Chairwoman of the Israeli left-wing Zionist political party said the ministry’s plan to “to censor ‘damaging’ topics from the curriculum in state-religious schools, such as the human reproductive system or references to the female body, is not only ridiculous, but also worrying. More than 200,000 children today are in the state-religious education system, which is 200,000 future citizens of the State of Israel who will grow up with ignorance and with the sense that the human body, or to be more specific, the body of the woman, is something dirty.”  Gal-On argues that human reproduction and women’s bodies are not shameful, “but that the education system is something very shameful.”

And those of you concerned about others disciplines aren’t being sufficiently stifled by religion, you’ll be happy to know that the Education Ministry has also altered the Hebrew language textbooks: all women represented now wear head coverings, and all the girls wear skirts.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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