Israel Alters Science Textbooks For Religious State Schools, Deleting All the Icky Female Bits

Until this year, all state schools in Israel used the same science books. Heading into the new school year, however, that will no longer be the case, as the government has decided that religious schools deserve their own science books, which will be dumbed down for students’ spiritual protection.

In the United States, the state censorship of textbooks has focused mostly on suppressing political ideas and boosting the unintelligent notion of Intelligent Design. In Israel, it’s predominantly the human body — the female human body, in particular — that has caused a case of cooties at the highest levels, such that a chapter on reproduction will be deleted, along with references to menstruation.

Via Haaretz:

The Education Ministry has asked textbook publishers to eliminate chapters on human reproduction, pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted diseases from science textbooks used in state religious junior high schools as well as from their teacher manuals. … Publishing sources said that, after they had agreed in principle, the ministry began requesting additional changes, such as eliminating any reference to the female body throughout the book, softening any text or image liable to offend religious sensibilities and using examples more suitable to a religious lifestyle. As a result, one publishing executive said, some publishers who originally agreed to make the revisions changed their minds after realizing their scope. …

The ministry requested the changes at the urging of officials in the state religious school system. “The ministry capitulated to one of the most extremist factions of the religious public,” one publishing executive charged. Another said the changes resembled those demanded by ultra-Orthodox schools. … Removing the chapter on reproduction means that at no point during their schooling will religious students learn about reproduction from a scientific standpoint, unless they take biology in high school.

It should be noted that the non-censored textbooks are already fairly sparse on information and context. For example, illustrations of reproductive organs like the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the uterus are shown by themselves, without clear visual pointers how they connect to the rest of the body.

But wait, there’s more.

Science textbooks aren’t the only ones being altered for use in state religious schools, which have long had different history and literature curricula than the secular schools. About 18 months ago, the ministry decided to alter their Hebrew language textbooks as well. For instance, all women pictured in these texts now wear head coverings, and all the girls wear skirts.

Not everyone is taking the changes lying down. Zahava Gal-On, the chairwoman of Meretz, the social-democratic political party, fulminated that

“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.”

It’s a big loss for these students, considering that they’ll miss out on learning basic facts about the human body — all on account of religious ultra-modesty that has no place in the classroom.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • cipher

    The really sad thing is that the Orthodox people demanding these changes are neither the most fanatic nor the most regressive in Israel.

  • duke_of_omnium

    A useful reminder that religious Judaism can be at least as pernicious and silly as Islam and Christianity.

  • busterggi

    I can hardly wait until they rewrite the Torah to substitute Steve foEve.

  • matt

    So, confession koala, I definitely jerked off to some science books when I was a kid. But I had a 28k modem. I strongly doubt kids today are being morally compromised by science textbooks after they’ve watched their 1,000th hour on pornhub.

  • Joshua Zelinsky

    Funny you should say that. The ultra-orthodox really try to make sure their kids are not at all exposed to the internet. This is partially out of concern of porn, but also because they think that the internet has a lot of ideas which will undermine their beliefs.

  • Matthew Baker

    Its always disheartening to be remind that a good portion of the world is body and sex negative as many parts of this country (USA). I hope Israel is ready for more teen pregnancy and STDs that will be the likely fall out from this.

  • Christian Kemp

    How does any government think that stopping children learning about their bodies is a good thing? Then again I suppose a dumb nation is a nation that will also support dumb policies. Go Israel and join the rest of the middle east with iron age laws….actually make that stone age.

  • Christian Kemp

    The internet creating atheists since its inception :)

  • Richard Wade

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein looking at pictures of women’s reproductive organs.

  • cary_w

    Education has always been seen as a threat to the religious. I’ve always though it implies a lack of self control and conviction on the part of the religious. Around here they seem to think that if their followers know about things that go against church teachings, then they won’t be able to resist using them, so they pass laws that force their church teachings on everyone. They seem to think that if teens see alcohol or know that contraceptives exist, then they will ignore all their religious education and use them. it seems like they have very little faith in their own church teachings and in the ability of their members to follow their rules, if the church was doing its job, then its member should be able to follow all their rules even if they know there are other ways to live.

    When I took AP biology in the mid-80s the school district ripped a page out of the textbook we were using. Apparently they couldn’t let us use a textbook that described how contraceptives worked. So,of course, we all trekked up to the university library one Saturday and found the book so we could read that enticing missing page. As I remember it was a huge disappointment, all it had was some very brief descriptions of various types of contraceptives.

  • DougI

    Your tax dollars at work.

  • L.Long

    I don’t think this can be directly placed at religions door. Yes religion is now used as the main excuse but in Antro 101 we learn that many cultures have this anti-woman thing going based on the menstruation. Many primitive tribes feared it as it involved blood lose and then where certain religions got foot holds they adapted the religion to the cultural ‘hate/fear women’ thing. This does not excuse anything, but understanding this helps to show the STUPID comes from deeper holes of ignorance and superstition.

  • randomfactor

    Actually, I doubt that one can be hung around Klein’s neck.

  • randomfactor

    Actually, Israel has a deep and continuing government problem which can be laid directly at the Orthodox synagogue door.

  • Librepensadora

    This reminds me of the birth control mandate here in the US. You cave in to the unreasonable demands of a religious group and then they demand something even more unreasonable and you almost give into that but you know that if you do you will be giving in until they have everything they want to the detriment of everyone else. If Israel could draft those ultra-conservative Hebrew scholars, maybe they would have less time to harass those Israelis living in the 21st Century.

  • islandbrewer

    Well, Israelis tax dollars at work.

    Yes, yes, I know – my tax dollars get fucking funneled to Israel because religious nutjobs in my government make it so.

  • Mick

    This whole damn teaching lark has really messed up our return to the Dark Ages. Luckily none of the parents are complaining too loudly, so the various Governments should be able to get everybody properly dumbed-down and compliant before too long.

  • anon 101

    have to look at this issue from a different prospective. When Israel
    was founded the Ultra-Orthodox Jews (for whom these textbooks are
    for) made up one percent of the population now it’s 10 to 15 %. In 60
    years they will be the majority in Israel. This issue over textbook
    content is just one skirmish
    in the larger fight of our secular societies against religious
    fundamentalists. The religious fundamentalist will also outbreed you
    in the US if you don’t take proper action.

  • Michael

    Actually not. First of all, the ultraorthodox barely have any secular studies and the ones that do are private schools and have their own books which already are “kosher”. This change applies to state religious schools which are supposed to be more modern and open minded. In other words it’s really much more onerous that even you suggested!

  • 3lemenope

    Why not? You don’t see him doing it, so we might as well assume that he doesn’t…

  • DavidMHart

    “they think that the internet has a lot of ideas which will undermine their beliefs.”

    I think we can by this point go right ahead and say that they know the internet has a lot of ideas which undermine their beliefs. They are not wrong to be wary of it :-)

  • baal

    But the religion has armored up and supports the
    ‘deeper hole of ignorance and superstition’.

  • ZeldasCrown

    The thing that really gets to me (besides all the other obvious things mentioned here) is that the junior high girls won’t have any information about what’s happening with their body. I would think that going through puberty (particularly the first menstrual cycle) would be pretty frightening if one didn’t know what was happening, and unless a particular family doesn’t subscribe to the same reasoning which lead to the removal of information from the text book (and takes upon themselves to educate their daughter), I just don’t see where a girl would get the information she needs.

  • Bitter Lizard

    Religious sex ed in a nutshell.

  • Anat

    Yes, but here we are talking about state religious schools, not the independent haredi schools. These kids do not live in secluded communities.

  • Chris Harmon

    Keeping women in a state of uneducated fear is a good part of the point here I do believe.

  • Oranje

    I’m rather thankful I don’t see him doing it, honestly. Lunch is in an hour.

  • Spuddie

    Well them and the people who like to sell high volumes of US manufactured military equipment.

  • busterggi

    Could always watch ‘Carrie’. Sissy Spacek is great.

  • islandbrewer


    *Pity I can’t make it into a meme like “Freeze Peach.”

  • allein

    Insert link to “The Loophole” by Garfunkel & Oates here. (I’m at work or I’d do it myself.)

  • Tom

    “Examples more suitable to a religious lifestyle.” Because a religious lifestyle apparently doesn’t involve human beings?

  • Cyndi

    Doesn’t involve FEMALE human beings, you mean. Apparently male bodies are OK.

  • Mark

    I hope these people do not have to operate on a female? Like Islam with their head condom it is religion pushing their control and laws on to women. All these fairy stories treat women as second class.

  • Mark W.

    You forget that Judiasm was the original pernicious and silly religion and that Christianity and Islam are its bastard children.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    All they’ll have is rumours passed around in gym class and in the washrooms. Things like, you can’t get pregnant if you don’t kiss.

    Don’t forget the part where a woman is ritually unclean during her period and must not touch a man or he will have to go through a rigamarole cleansing before he can worship again.

    Thus the ‘women must ride at the back of the bus’ business. Since a man cannot know if any woman who is a stranger is not menstruating, he must assume that she is and cannot allow her to sit where she might contaminate him.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Islam takes the male doctor – female patient ‘problem’ very seriously. Things like having the doctor sit behind a curtain and having female nurses poking, prodding and observing the patient for him and reporting verbally. How they manage actual surgery I couldn’t guess.

  • HorrorChan

    It can be. My grandmother was raised in an orphanage. No one, not even the nuns, talked to her about puberty so went she finally started menstruating she thought she was dying and freaked out until an older kid, she considered her brother, heard her and had to explain what was happening to her.

  • Hail Eros

    All religion is mental illness.