Roy Weintraub & Eyal Naveh. Journal of Curriculum Studies. Volume 52, Issue 1. 2020.
‘The purpose of the books is to show the hand of God in historical processes and the world’s progress toward the Redemption’ — Har Bracha Institute
The tension between knowledge produced through the academic discipline of history and the way education systems teach the subject has been widely discussed in recent decades. Naturally, mass education systems, tasked with disseminating historical knowledge among the public at large, are lax in meeting strict academic standards. This claim is valid a fortiori among education systems that are traditionally asked and motivated to instil a monolithic collective national identity and struggle to accommodate historiographic developments that typify the last third of the twentieth century. The self-liberation of historiography from the limits imposed by the political elite, the emphasis on the imagined character of the nation, the contingent dimension of national history, as well as the challenge towards the pretension of representing past events objectively subvert traditional national historical canons relentlessly. The disciplinary and ideological gulf between historians in academia and those in charge of the subject in education systems has been widening over the years, sometimes escalating to mutual estrangement if not severance of relations (Ahonen, 2017; Carretero, 2011; Guyver, 2012; Nakou & Barca, 2010; Samuelson, 2017).
The discipline of history is even more challenging in religious education. The working assumptions and research tools of history are outgrowths of rebellion against religious belief in the existence of a supreme power as an active player in history. If so, the historian’s work has the potential to subvert the faith-based historical consciousness that relies on superhuman causal explanations (Gottlieb & Wineburg, 2012). However, whether we characterize the religious presence in the contemporary public and social arena as a post-secular phenomenon (Habermas, 2008) or an integral element of the secular era (Taylor, 2007), it is clear that religious faith is an immensely powerful phenomenon even in the ostensibly progressive world of the twenty-first century. The test of time appears to be refuting the hypothesis that modernization and scientific progress are poised to banish religion from the world. Instead, this hypothesis itself appears to be dissipating. Peter Seixas (2017, p. 69) points to this phenomenon in the field of history teaching:
In 1969, J.H. Plumb celebrated ‘the death of the past’ (Plumb, 1969). He was confident that academic history, with its avowed political disinterest, methodological rigor and ideological neutrality had successfully displaced parochial, provincial and faith-driven collective memory. He spoke too soon.
This article focuses on the education system of Religious Zionism in Israel—the State-Religious education system (SRE)—and examines a series of history textbooks produced for SRE in the past decade. It investigates the historiosophical approach through which these textbooks cope with the tension between scientific enquiry and religious faith.
SRE is one of three Jewish public education systems that enjoy administrative and ideological independence in Israel, along with State (secular) and Recognized Non-Official (ultra-Orthodox). The Religious Zionist public has total control over the management of SRE as well as in designing the process and the contents of study (Gross, 2011). Today, the system’s post-primary schools have an enrolment of more than 100,000, 13 percent of post-primary enrolment countrywide (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Like other subjects, history studies in SRE differ from those in the other systems by using specific curriculum and separate textbooks.
Unlike its marginality in the initial stages of the Zionist Movement, Religious Zionism (RZ) has been one of the most important and influential ideological elements on the Israeli scene in recent decades. For several generations, RZ was a player of secondary public importance, sidelined in the Zionist world on the one hand and spurned by the Orthodox rabbinical leadership on the other. Yet less than two decades after the establishment of the State of Israel and particularly after the 1967 and 1973 wars, RZ has pushed its way to the forefront of Zionist action and has spearheaded the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories since then. In recent decades, amid the accelerating erosion of the classic Zionist narrative and the dissipation of the Ashkenazi secular hegemony, the RZ public aspires to become the standard-bearer of all of Zionism, offering a governing and cultural alternative to the prevailing secular-liberal value system (Kimmerling, 2004; Mautner, 2011; Peri et al., 2012; Walzer, 2015).
RZ emerged in the early twentieth century as an ideological and theological response to the secular revolution brought on by the Zionist Movement. Secular Zionism, which led and controlled the movement, appropriated traditional Jewish scriptures from their religious contexts and replaced the religious Jewish identity with a modern national one. Instead of the passive waiting for divine redemption that characterized religious Jewish communities in exile, Zionism propelled Jews to become a socially and politically active force that aspired to establish a modern nation-state (Halpern & Reinharz, 1998; Zerubavel, 1995).
Unlike secular Zionist attitudes that rebelled against Jewish theology by embracing modern ideologies, RZ wished to create a synthesis between modernity and the religious Jewish outlook. While believing in the essential spiritual nexus of the Land of Israel, the People of Israel, and the Torah of Israel, RZ, in a revolutionary theological demarche, claims that Zionist activity in fact promotes God’s programme of redemption by reflecting His will and fulfiling the vision of the Biblical prophets. This radical theological upheaval found its viability in a transition among the thinkers of Religious Zionism from a divine transcendental outlook to an immanent one. According to this view, God does not influence the world from afar—from His celestial abode—but is present in the here-and-now and drives His program from its midst. Namely, RZ accepts the modern principle of man as an active agent who turns the wheels of history, but interprets it as an expression of a divine involvement that directs the individual psychologically and practically (Schwartz, 2002).
In the RZ view, the occupation of the territories in the 1967 war, the West Bank in particular, marked the de facto fulfilment of the Jewish people’s historical right to return to the heart of the ‘Promised Land’—Judea and Samaria. Beyond this historical entitlement, however, RZ perceived the Jews’ return to these territories as an act of quintessential messianic-religious significance, proof that the redemption process was in full swing (Feige, 2009; Inbari, 2012).
The rise of RZ in Israeli society, however, was accompanied by the emergence of significant internal ideological and social tensions. Beyond natural processes of expansion, in recent decades the RZ public has had to cope with the massive influence of cultural practices and conceptual stances from the developed Western world as well as a series of socio-political shocks led by the Gaza disengagement. These changes have made the RZ population a multicoloured mosaic. At one extreme, in the Torani (lit. Torah-oriented) faction, redemptionist outlooks have gathered strength and emphasis has gravitated to religiosity at the expense of secular outlooks. At the other pole, research has characterized a tendency towards cultural pluralism and liberal values, as large groups within the RZ population have distanced themselves from the comprehensive theological structure (Caplan, 2017; Schwartz, 2018). Despite this increasing diversity, RZ continues to lead the settlement project and sets the ideological right-hand boundary of the Israel-Palestine conflict (Feige, 2009; Fischer, 2007; Hellinger, Hershkowitz, & Susser, 2016; Inbari, 2012).
Consequently, SRE history teaching reflects the specific circumstances of a modern national movement that sustains an inherent theological and ideological tension. On the one hand, RZ wishes to instil in its pupils a faith-based outlook predicated on God’s immanence in powering the historical process from beginning to end. On the other hand, as a modern movement, it wishes to adhere to scientific historicity and meet the standards of the academic discipline. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s core thesis in his seminal book Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory casts the paradox of these RZ aspirations into sharper relief:
To the degree that this historiography is indeed ‘modern’ and demands to be taken seriously, it must at least functionally repudiate premises that were basic to all Jewish conceptions of history in the past. In effect, it must stand in sharp opposition to its own subject matter, not on this or that detail, but concerning the vital core: the belief that divine providence is not only an ultimate but an active causal factor in Jewish history, and the related belief in the uniqueness of Jewish history itself (Yerushalmi, 1982, p. 89).
In this article, we will illuminate the historiosophical novelty of the new generation of SRE history textbooks and analyse how it proposes to surmount the theological and ideological contradiction noted above. The analysis focuses on the system’s main set of textbooks—the ‘Crises and Resurrection’ series, a three-book set for senior high. The series, recommended by the SRE Central Inspector for History, covers all topics in the new SRE history curriculum. More importantly, these are the only approved textbooks for the pivotal subjects of study: the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. They were written and produced by an institute at the Har Bracha Yeshiva, the very core of a staunchly religious settlement of the same name on the outskirts of Nablus.
In order to place our findings in a broader perspective, we will analyse first the international and historical context by looking at the global arena and specify two main models of faith-based history teaching that exist in countries that tolerate critical discourse. Next, we will survey the approaches that the former SRE history textbooks articulate in order to emphasize the novelty of the Har Bracha textbooks. Only then, we will analyse the significance and uniqueness of these textbooks and set them within the international discourse.
Faith-Based History Teaching in Countries that Tolerate Critical Discourse
History education that combines theological and national elements has attracted scanty research attention thus far. Today, public education systems that teach faith-based historical narratives exist mainly under regimes that place significant limits on the values of humanism and Western democracy (see, for example, Zadeh, 2012). Since most countries that allow critical discourse about history teaching separate religion from state, they actually exclude faith-based narratives from official history studies. Accordingly, most research on the relationship of history education and aspects of faith focuses on the representation of religion in the learning process and not on analysing the kind of history teaching that originates in a religious point of view (ISHD, 2013; McAndrew, Triki-Yamani, & Pingel, 2011).
Our cross-country analysis of faith-based history teaching yields two main historiosophical models, which we shall call the national-religious model and the divine model. The national-religious model of faith-based history teaching perceives the religious aspect foremost as an important instrument for the construction of national identity. At the other end of the spectrum is the divine model, typified by history studies that centre on instilling religious faith in pupils. Here religious identity serves not merely as a means to the enhancement of a national purpose but rather as an end in and of itself.
A quintessential example of the national-religious model is the teaching of history in Ukraine. Shevchenko (2015) demonstrates the centrality of the religious discourse in Ukrainian history textbooks in constructing the Ukrainian national identity. Religious faith is seen exclusively as that of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which the textbook authors present as a separate organic entity that reflects Ukrainian nationhood. Despite the pronouncedly regional nature of the events of the period taught, the teaching of history presents a narrow narrative that isolates Ukrainian national life and binds the Ukrainian people to the identity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Artificially isolating religious life and the activities of the Church, the textbooks disregard a broad historiography that offers meaningful accounts of ways that were influenced by global religious and socioeconomic developments.
In pursuit of the goal of forging national identity, in the few places where the textbooks do refer to other religious denominations, they do so in a critical tenor and by negation. Not content with extolling the correct ways of the Church, they invoke a discourse of national repression, finding the Church in the throes of recurrent offensives by other religious elements. These attacks on the Ukrainian Church are not limited to Catholic or Protestant denominations only; they are also attributed to a sibling Orthodox Church, the Russian. For example, the subjugation of the Ukrainian Church to the Russian Patriarch is described as a Russian imperial measure meant to thwart the consolidation of Ukrainian nationalism and harm the country’s culture (Shevchenko, 2015; Korostelina, 2011, p. 6).
History teaching in Ireland until the 1970s is another example of this model. After receiving its independence in the early 1920s, Ireland issued a new curriculum under the influence of the Catholic Church’s perceptions and goals. Although the Irish education system saw the imparting of religious faith as an immensely important goal, history teaching aimed to engage in a nation-building project. While history studies had a perceptible theological aspect, it was not redemptionist-religious but rather Gaelic-national. The curriculum tells the story of a people that has coped with difficulties and persecution throughout history via its exceptional essentialist spiritual resilience while developing all qualities and indicators of free nationhood (Doherty, 1996; McCully & Waldron, 2015; O’Callaghan, 2011; Tormey, 2006).
Much like the characteristics of history teaching in Ukraine, at the heart of the Irish curriculum stood a national ideology that fused national and religious identity. Whereas in Ukraine this was done by means of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in Ireland it was promoted under the auspices of the Catholic Church. The Catholic faith was taught as an essential characteristic of the Irish nation, one that remained cohesive despite many challenges, all of which on the basis of allegories and collective memory and in disregard of the principles of scientific research (McCully & Waldron, 2015; O’Callaghan, 2011; Tormey, 2006). Through this prism, learning activity sought to bolster the spirit of the Irish nation, which at the time had to contend with economic and social futility. Thus the Irish nation, which indeed had sustained economic failure, appeared as a world power in its religious might, through which it could send a religious and cultural message to the entire world (Doherty, 1996). Alongside the positive content that it poured into the definition of the Irish nation, the Catholic identity stressed its separation from the ‘other’—the Protestant British nation. The learning process conveyed a pronouncedly anti-Protestant narrative that stressed the Irish-Catholic nation’s religious sufferings and persecutions at British hands (Tormey, 2006; O’Callaghan, 2011).
Importantly, in contrast to history teaching in Ukraine, where the national-religious model still prevails, the Irish education system began to put aside this model in the middle of the 1960s. Prompted by economic, social, and educational developments, it distanced itself from the monolithic attitude towards history teaching as a tool with which to construct the Gaelic state. The transition of history teaching in Ireland from a faith-based approach towards a more scientific-academic one began as early as the 1971 curriculum and became fully visible in the 1999 curriculum. In view of developments in Meaningful Learning and postmodern historiographic trends, the latter curriculum reflected a turn towards pluralism and inspired to develop thinking ability and conceptual understanding (McCully & Waldron, 2015).
Despite the centrality of religious principles in the Ukrainian and, until the 1970s, the Irish education systems, history teaching à la the national-religious model does not invoke theological explanations to elucidate historical events. That is, the curriculum neither refers to active divine involvement in history nor promotes a historical narrative that depicts the course of history as the fulfilment of a divine plan. Instead, it limits religious faith mainly to discussion of the correctness of the ways of the church and the believers and offers faith as a component of identity that distinguishes the nation from its peers. In many aspects, the curriculum could replace religion with some other marker of identity without having a major effect on its understanding of the course and rules of history.
The other model of faith-based history teaching, the divine model, appears in Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a private system of fundamentalist Protestant schools in the U.S. and Europe. Here, Scaramanga and Reiss (2017) show that the overarching goal in teaching history is to demonstrate the continual presence and involvement of God in the historical process. ‘[W]e cannot study history without acknowledging that God is the Author and Finisher of all history’ emphasized the introduction to social studies textbook ‘it is His-story’ (CEE, 2011, p. 3, quoted in Scaramanga and Reiss, 2017, p. 10).
Thus, in crucial events, the learning process attributes no importance whatsoever to the human-mundane dimension of the past, instead depicting the history of humankind as shaped by divine power only. Within this frame, Biblical stories perform as truths that attest to the dawn of human historical development. To impart the precepts of the faith, ACE history studies promote the understanding that historical events reflect a divine calculus of reward and punishment: ‘History involves the plan of God and Man’s reaction to that plan. Man can either yield to God’s plan or rebel against it’ (CEE, 2010a, p. 1).
In history studies from antiquity to the twentieth century, compliance with God’s word is offered as the only precipitant of greatness and prosperity in human civilization while troubles and evils are seen as consequences of disregarding the deity’s will (Scaramanga, 2017, pp. 115-116). In blatant disregard of the abuses of colonialism, for example, ACE teaches students that the British Empire attained its success due to its Christian foundations and moral adherence. The growing influence of heretical approaches such as Darwinism and communism, however, eventually dealt traditional faith a lethal blow, causing the Empire’s grandeur to subside (Scaramanga & Reiss, 2017, p. 11). God’s involvement is not limited to macro processes; sometimes it appears as a meaningful factor in specific events as well. Analysing the feats of the American pioneers, for example, ACE textbooks liken the pioneers’ story to the Biblical account of Abraham’s and Sarah’s departure from Haran towards the Promised Land (Costa, 1996, pp. 102-103) and explain the American Civil War as an event that God initiated in order ‘to bring many to Christ’ (Costa, 1996, p. 102).
Given the centrality of the Jews in ACE’s theology, it is no wonder that the State of Israel has a crucial place in study of the twentieth century. Here again, historical events are portrayed as consequences of direct divine involvement. Much space is devoted to the Six-Day War, it being argued that the Jews’ takeover of Jerusalem foreshadows the fulfilment of the Biblical prophecy of the Antichrist’s abomination of desolation at the Temple. Thus, the author of the textbook asks the students rhetorically, ‘Can we doubt that God had His hand in the outcome of this war?’ (CEE, 2010a, p. 8). Farther along, the book reviews the many wars and struggles that Israel has endured in its years of struggle for security. The reason for these vicissitudes, the author finds, has nothing to do with the complex conditions and circumstances of the actual Israeli-Arab conflict. Instead, it expresses an essential theological fundamental: ‘Biblical prophecy states that there will be no real peace in the Middle East or in Israel until Jesus Christ returns to Earth to set up His Kingdom’ (CEE, 2010b, p. 47).
Notwithstanding the racist characteristics of the ACE system (Scaramanga et al., 2017), it is evident that history studies in this setting do not strive to construct a specific national identity. The prime goal, instead, is to instil in pupils the realization that God’s constant presence is absolute and independent of time and place. Therefore, history is essential in the learning process as a way of proving the validity of the divine system of reward and punishment from a universal perspective, from Alexander and the Roman Empire in antiquity to Zambia’s recent economic success (Costa, 1996, pp. 106-107; Scaramanga et al., 2017, p. 11). Within this framework, much space is devoted to Christian missionaries around the world and their praiseworthy doings (Costa, 1996, pp. 97-102). To wit: in the divine model of the faith-based teaching of history, the aim of instilling religious faith and its value system does not include national cohesion among the program’s goals.
The divine model recurs in the teaching of Muslim history in Sweden’s independent Muslim schools. In her fieldwork, Jenny Berglund (2014) showed how history studies in these institutions is based on Muslim scripture. Here, as with the ACE system, historical narratives aim not to impart a national identity but to instil the Muslim faith as a universal and perfect comportment. Thus, in total dissociation from the academic research dimension, they include miracles and divine interventions that demonstrate the truth of the Muslim faith. Studies show, for example, that Allah rewards those who give alms to the poor and damages the property of those who do not.
To sum up the international review, we point out the key characteristics that define both models. On one side of the continuum, in the national-religious model, history teaching rests on the principles of the historical discipline and its primary goal is to establish congruence between religion and nationality. Religion is therefore presented as the essential and singular characteristic of the nation and is given a disproportionate place in the learning process. In many cases, this is done in a way that idealizes believers and ignores the historical-contingency dimension of the religion and its institutions. Another important characteristic is the emphasis on the superiority and righteousness of the religion compared with various traditions and other religions.
On the other side of the continuum, we characterized the divine model, which does not seek to construct a particularistic national identity. According to this model, history teaching promotes a set of metaphysical, superhuman, and divine concepts and arguments that shape human reality and drive the wheels of history. However, in line with Gottlieb and Wineburg’s (2012) findings regarding the epistemic switching of religious historians, it should be emphasized that history teaching in this model does not imply a total disconnection from the disciplinary dimension. In many places, the process of study indeed presents a rational-empirical explanation but, in crucial events for establishing faith, it switches to an eschatological, divine causal explanation.
These two models do not constitute a dichotomous system; rather, they define two groups of analytical categories that enable us to analyse the aims of faith-based history teaching and its relation with the historical disciplinary research. Namely, the models are not necessarily used in a binary, all-or-nothing form, in which aspects of textbooks can be explained by applying different analytical categories from both groups. Instead, distinct categories in the national-religious model, such as the focus on religious institutions or on idealizing believers, may be intertwined—to one degree or another—with the teachings about divine intervention that stand at the centre of the divine model. The new SRE textbooks, as we will argue, are an example of a unique and dynamic integration of the models.
The Previous Generation of SRE History Textbooks
Until the past decade, two main series of textbooks dominated SRE history teaching. The first and the older series, dating to the early 1980s, is the four-volume Israel and the Nations by the late Professor Jacob Katz, a distinguished historian from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This was the third edition of textbooks originally written in the 1940s at the initiative of the inspectors of the Mizrachi system, the forerunner of SRE (Katz, 1949), and updated in accordance with the 1979 curriculum (Katz & Bacharach, 1983a). The second important series, the three-volume ‘Generation to Generation’, was published in the 1990s on the basis of booklets that the Curriculum Division of the Ministry of Education produced from the mid-1970s onward, atop which many revisions and updates were introduced. The two series covered the entirety of the junior-high scholastic process as well as most topics in senior high. In certain cases, junior-high teachers had to augment them with sectorial textbooks that had a RZ emphasis or materials meant to prepare students for the matriculation exam. Similarly, some teachers availed themselves of State-secular books to teach several matters, such as the Holocaust (Bartal, 2002; Michman, 1998; Muskovitz, 2001).
Testing these series against the international analytical categories set forth in the previous part of this study, we find that both of them embodied the national-religious model of faith-based history teaching. Foremost, they intended to impart a unique national identity based on Jewish symbols, values, texts, and language. They reported the annals of a nation that first enjoyed sovereignty in the Land of Israel during the ancient Biblical era, followed by a lengthy exile that included cultural and social developments coupled with humiliations and persecutions, and concluding with the nation’s repatriation and attainment of statehood. Within this frame, the religious dimension was significant as the essence of the national identity, distinguishing the Jewish nation from all others and demonstrating its unbroken historical continuity since antiquity. The importance of religion in creating the national identity is not limited to its role in defining the nation’s cultural and social identity. It also played an important national function by linking the Jewish nation to its specific territory. Above all, the centrality of the Land of Israel in the Jewish faith constituted everlasting proof of the Jewish people’s right to the land and legitimized the existence and conduct of the State of Israel (Porat, 2003; Katz & Bacharach, 1983a; Doron, 1991, 1994, 1998).
Unlike the clear guidelines in the SRE curriculum (Ministry of Education and Culture, 1979), it is evident that these textbooks refrained from portraying divine power as the motive force behind historical events. In only a few places, mainly in reference to Biblical periods, did the textbooks offer divine power as a historical explanation (Doron, 1991, pp. 16-21). Thus, instead of crediting divine intervention in history, the teacher’s guide to the Israel and the Nations series explains that
Religious education will be aided by the study of history via underscoring the religious motives within the historical account wherever they constitute a background for the reality of a period or served as precipitants of, and motives for, a personal struggle, an aspiration, an ideal, the formation of a movement, and the like (Katz & Bachrach, 1983b, p. 8).
This approach is evident, for example, in the way the textbooks glorify martyrdom in teaching about the Maccabean revolt. Thus, the authors describe those who followed the commandment of Kiddush Hashem (lit. sanctification of God’s name), namely sacrificing life in order not to transgress any of God’s three cardinal laws:
The God-fearing disdained the command of the flesh-and-blood king who sought to make them transgress the command of the King, King of kings. They willingly chose to die under the hands of their tormentors and not to transgress the command of the Torah. They were the first who sanctified [God’s] name in their death, from whom the martyrs of all generations learned to die the death of the pure and not to desecrate the Name of Heaven and live the lives of scoundrels (Katz & Bacharach, 1983a, p. 85).
Thus, this martyrdom is portrayed as one of the focal principles of the Jewish people’s entire chain of generations. The sacrifice that was made to avoid transgressing God’s commandments, the authors emphasize, was a praiseworthy and admirable act—one that itself confers the status of sanctity.
In addition to glorifying historical protagonists who kept the faith, religious education approached Judaism a-historically in certain cases. Invoking the traditional Jewish memory structures that shift back and forth in time and space (Bartal, 2002), the books linked historical religious issues to students’ personal religious experiences. Furthermore, in their treatment of several topics in Jewish history, the authors ignored methods of historical enquiry and relied on traditional religious sources uncritically. For example, in their reference to the Biblical era—the time when the national identity and legitimacy of the State of Israel found their basis—they disregarded widespread scholarly criticism of the reliability of Biblical accounts. Instead, they presented these accounts as the starting line of the nation’s historical continuum, treating them as they would treat events accepted in the discipline as historical (Doron, 1991, pp. 8-69). Thus, while still adhering to scholarship as a goal, the textbooks introduced major historiographic distortions based on the religious Jewish outlook in order to instil national identity.
Since the beginning of this century, the need to write a new senior-high curriculum that would replace the antiquated 1979 curriculum became increasingly evident. Political, socioeconomic, and ideological developments had transformed the features of the international scene, of Israel, and, particularly, of RZ. Concurrently, the nature of the discipline of history and perceptions about the creation of a meaningful learning process underwent major development. All these factors underscored the deficiencies of the old 1979 curriculum, the difficulty in implementing it, and the incomplete intellectual response that it offered SRE students.
The presence of many academics on the curriculum committee reflected SRE’s goal of assimilating developments in the discipline of history into the curriculum. The writers sought to broaden the topics of study and included many important goals in developing proficiency in historical thinking, such as analysis of sources, critical reading, and argumentation. The attempt to meet disciplinary standards led to the deletion of religious elocutions such as those that had been central in the old curriculum. The new curriculum, for example, avoided the explicit use of concepts such as ‘the master of history’ and ‘God’s providence for His people’. Even the term ‘redemption’, so fundamental in the Religious Zionist worldview, is conspicuous in its absence (Ministry of Education, 2010).
The new curriculum was written after a tumultuous decade in which history teaching in Israel had become an arena of furious controversy among sectors of society. The acrid polemics that surrounded the way the education process should represent the past mirrored the erosion of the traditional secular Zionist narrative and its inability to continue serving the young generation as an epistemological anchor of personal and social identity (Goldberg & Gerwin, 2013; Naveh, 2017). Especially after a textbook brawl in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the RZ public expressed vehement resistance to new historiographic approaches that challenged the Jewish people’s essential and distinct foundations and inveighed against historiography that presented the injustices attending to the fulfilment of the Zionist project (Naveh, 2018). Furthermore, important Religious Zionist rabbis, politicians, and educators felt threatened by the growing influence of postmodern outlooks, which they perceived as a dangerous ideological rival to RZ in Israeli society’s ongoing kulturkampf (Weintraub, in press-a).
The deterioration of the Zionist narrative, the menace of postmodern and post-Zionist approaches, and the publication of a new curriculum—these were the conditions and the circumstances under which a fundamentalist yeshiva on the outskirts of Nablus decided to step out from the Torah world of content. Ultimately, it aspired to bring a new message to history studies in the SRE system and in Israel at large.
The Har Bracha Textbooks
The Har Bracha (lit. the Mount of Blessing) settlement was founded in the early 1980s and underwent major consolidation in 1991 with the establishment of an eponymous yeshiva that serves the inhabitants as a spiritual and social centre. Located on the outskirts of Nablus, the settlement derives its name from a Biblical event that ostensibly took place there: the Israelites’ marking their entrance to the Promised Land by concluding a covenant with their God. The most important personality in Har Bracha is Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, rabbi of the settlement and founder and first head of the yeshiva. A member of the staunchly fundamentalist camp in RZ, he lent the locality a Torani complexion in the spirit of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s ‘redemptionist Torah’. His stances on religion-and-state issues were so vehement that the IDF senior command and the Minister of Defence suspended their cooperation with the yeshiva for several years (Greenberg, 2009). Over time, he has become one of the most influential rabbis in the Torani sector of the RZ public—an important adjudicator of matters of religious law and a central personality in the sector’s media.
The Har Bracha textbook project was born against the backdrop of the centrality of history in the yeshiva’s religious beliefs and concern over what those at the yeshiva considered the ‘anti-Zionist’ tendencies of academia and the secular-State history textbooks. The yeshiva’s theological stance, drawing on ‘redemptionist Torah’, construes historical events as expressions of the Creator’s actions through which one may understand His will and, by extension, the role of the Jewish people today (Sagi & Schwartz, 2017). Namely, members of the Har Bracha yeshiva perceive history as an inherent part of religious studies. This is why, from the yeshiva’s very first years; it treated history teaching as an integral part of the process of studying Jewish faith. The classes that viewed human history as an inherent part of Jewish faith initiated the historiosophical foundations of the new textbooks (Har Bracha, 2018).
The production of these textbooks was an impressive project. Its three volumes, more than 1,000 pages altogether, set out to teach a new history based neither on the previous textbooks nor on conventional ‘axioms’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2018). A team of history teachers and junior academics, with significant involvement by the yeshiva’s important rabbis, wrote the textbooks. Tailored to the new 2010 curriculum and intended for the three highest secondary grades, the books were approved by the Ministry of Education and published in 2014-2016. To date, this is the only approved series of books that addresses comprehensively the process of history studies and matriculation tests in the upper grades. Therefore, the professionals in charge of history in SRE rely on it and refer history teachers to it (Glicksberg, 2017).
In view of the yeshiva’s faith-based outlook, predicated on the understanding of God’s immanence in human reality, one might surmise that the textbooks are epitomic paragons of the divine model of history teaching. It is indeed in this spirit that the Har Bracha Institute emphasizes:
The Torah commands [us] to acknowledge and remember the processes under way among humankind and to examine, contemplate, and probe them, not only to understand their meaning and progression well but also to encounter the history-guiding hand of God. [An apostrophe is inserted in the Hebrew spelling of ‘history’, causing this word to allude to the second half of the Tetragrammaton, the name of God] (Har Bracha, 2016b).
Thus, much like the new curriculum (Weintraub, in press-a), the Har Bracha Institute considers studying history no less than a divine imperative. This commandment, the Institute stresses, views learning history neither as a path to general erudition nor as a medium that connects students with their roots but as a way to encounter God. The Institute, therefore, considers it insufficient to set its books within the national-religious approach towards teaching history and to emphasize their opposition to post-Zionist trends. Instead, it sees its books as part of religious studies and therefore emphasizes the redemptionist religious message that they embody.
Despite this rhetoric, an analysis of the textbooks reveals a complex picture that does not share historiosophical characteristics such as those of the ACE system. Although both Har Bracha and ACE stress God’s active involvement in the historical process, the former, in contrast to the characteristics of teaching at ACE, not only continue to cling to rational-empirical explanations, but even track developments in the discipline of history and propose up-to-date educational approaches. Across the full range of study topics, the books eschew metaphysical explanations of historical occurrences; in general, they predicate the study of historical events on an academic knowledge structure, often interpreting the state of research in relatively up-to-date terms (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, 2015a, 2016a).
Following developments in the normative boundaries of the discipline—namely, accepted and appropriate knowledge—the textbooks embodied a significant expansion in the historiographical subjects. The topics of study included, for example, new references to Jewish communities in the Islamic countries and North Africa, that traditionally were absent from the classical Zionist narrative and thus received poor representation in previous curricula. The textbooks added material about the influence of the Haskalah movement (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, pp. 211-213) and their responses to modernization processes (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, pp. 238-240). Likewise, the immigration of the Yemenite Jews was integrated into the study of the Second Aliyah, (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, pp. 58-55). In accordance with the historiographical developments in recent decades, the authors dedicated a whole section to the discussion of the status of women during the Yishuv period (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, pp. 97-94) and after the establishment of the State of Israel, they devoted an extensive section to the cultural oppression and discrimination that accompanied the Israeli melting-pot policy (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, pp. 351-340) and the social struggles that followed it (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, pp. 403-409).
The chapter that teaches about the patterns of the Holocaust remembrance in Israel and abroad is another example of the relatively disciplinary up-to-date status of the textbooks—this time in the epistemic sense. In this chapter, the textbook exposes the students to the fact that historical knowledge is not unitary and unchanging. Instead, through a broad diachronic survey of various Realms of Memory—such as official curriculums, monuments, literature, and films—the book calls students’ attention to the dynamic, contingent nature of historical events and their representation and interpretation (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, pp. 279-296).
The authors of the books adhere to the disciplinary dimension not only by using the scientific method, in accordance with central goals of the new curriculum (Weintraub, in press-b), but seek to leverage history teaching into the development of high-order thinking strategies, capabilities, and skill in students. They invest much room in imparting concepts of historical thought such as critical thinking, textual analysis, development of empathy towards historical protagonists, and inference. Numerous historical documents enrich the topics of study; most are textual but some include pictures, leaflets, objects, and works of art (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, 2014b, 2015a, 2015b, 2016a). Plainly, then, from a visual standpoint, much thought was invested in tailoring the books to the needs of today’s young generation. The books are attractive, user-friendly, clearly laid out, and embellished with a variety of photos, graphic elements, and organizing tables.
Nevertheless, despite the wish to stay within the contours of the discipline of history, the textbooks stray from historical research in their attention to two core issues: religion and the Zionist process. One of the authors’ declared goals is to counter the prevailing historical approach, which, they say, is based on an ‘anti-religiosity’ that ‘attempts to create an identity of consciousness between enlightenment and progress and between secularization and the abandonment of faith’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2016b). They assault this historical approach foremost by emphasizing the crises of modernity—the Holocaust, the great totalitarian regimes, and the world wars—which prove that ‘the death of God’ and the ascendancy of secular values have produced huge atrocities.
In their efforts to prove that modernity does not rule out religious faith, the books commit several historical distortions. For example, they obscure the Enlightenment philosophers’ criticism of the risks inhering to faith and disregard these thinkers’ sweeping demand for religious tolerance. Farther into their treatment of secularization and scepticism, the authors claim emphatically that most philosophers were in fact believers, underscoring Isaac Newton’s studies on the Jerusalem Temple (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, pp. 35-37).
The Jerusalem Temple—a focal point for religious and ethnonational yearnings today (Persico, 2017)—is also present in the study about the seminal book by the founder of the Zionist Organization, Theodor Herzl—Altneuland. While overlooking significant aspects of religious tolerance and brotherhood among peoples, the textbook chose to emphasize Herzl’s vision of the construction of the Jerusalem Temple. In doing so, the textbook ignored crucial facts: the Temple in Herzl’s writings was not built to replace the mosques on the Temple Mount and operated not as defined in the halakha but as a modern synagogue (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, pp. 271-272).
Elsewhere, in a significant display of historiosophical reductionism, the authors credit the success of the American Revolution to its respect for religious tradition. They counterpose this event to the French Revolution, which, according to their view, failed because it based itself on ultra-secular principles (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, p. 42).
The chapter on the Jews’ struggle with the everyday reality of the Holocaust is another example of how the authors seek to glorify religious faith in the eyes of the students. They idealize and attribute centrality to religious life and, especially, the doings of rabbis in the ghettos and labour camps. The textbook paints a picture of religious aspects standing at the heart of Jewish life in the ghettos by repeatedly presenting visual sources and testimonies that display observance of the commandments and Jewish tradition, ignoring the fact that the many Jews experienced a profound crisis of faith under these circumstances. At the same time, the book describes the rabbis’ activity as flawless (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 162-187), the clerics continuing ‘to lead the Jews by providing encouragement and confidence, words of reinforcement and faith, and instructions on how to act’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 168). The books, therefore, completely disregard allegations against important rabbis of abandonment and even betrayal of their communities, e.g., Rabbi Aharon Rokeach of the Belz Hasidic dynasty and Chief Rabbi of Rome Israel Zolli. Moreover, in a significant historical distortion, the writers even portray rabbis as leading players in the Warsaw ghetto uprising (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, 194-195, 207-208).
The distance from the findings of the historical discipline is greatest in reference to Zionism. Here, the authors of the textbooks depart from the research consensus and narrow the role of secular players in the Zionist project in an attempt to lend the project a religious complexion that links it to messianic expectations. Salient here is their freighted decision to deviate from the curricular guidelines by not dating the onset of the Zionist process to the era of the ‘precursors of Zionism’. Contrary to academic research findings (Etkes, 2015) and the contents of the previous textbooks, Har Bracha defines the Zionist process as having begun several decades earlier, when the disciples of the religious leader Vilna Gaon, settled in the Land of Israel. By emphasizing this immigration wave, which was motivated by the wish and expectation of paving the way for the Messiah’s imminent advent, the authors obscure the secular nature of the Zionist enterprise. Thus they understate the rebellion of Zionism against the traditional Jewish religious world (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, pp. 263-264, 2014b, pp. 71-72). The authors also paint the pre-statehood era in religious colours by lavishing space on matters of halakha (rabbinical law) and the religious establishment, which were actually of negligible importance in the Zionist process. The pattern recurs in the treatment of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, which receives disproportionately extensive coverage despite its relative marginality among the array of kibbutz movements (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, pp. 11-275).
Furthermore, the books appear to disregard developments in research that threaten to challenge the correctness of the Zionist way. The treatment of the so-central topic of the War of Independence and its implications is a case in point. Much like the previous generation of textbooks, the book that deals with the topic addresses it with a one-sided narrative that emphasizes and describes in great detail only the Arab crimes and brutality, such as the events surrounding ‘the Thirty-Five’ and the Hadassah medical convoy (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, pp. 287-290).
On the other hand, the book describes the conquests of the Jewish forces in a sterile manner that overlooks Arab suffering. The conquest of Arab settlements and places of strategic control are presented briefly, ignoring the killing and brutality that accompany them. Thus, the authors describe the occupation of the large Palestinian cities of Ramle and Lod in a sole single sentence: ‘On the eastern front, Ramle and Lod were conquered, and thus the threats to Tel Aviv were lifted’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 306). In this context, the authors ignore various allegations of atrocities by Israeli forces in several Arab villages, such as Eilabun, Al-Dawayima, and Safaf (Gelber, 2006; Morris, 2008).
Moreover, in explaining the war and the establishment of the State of Israel—unlike other historical events—the authors make an epistemic switch towards the dimension of sacred history (Gottlieb & Wineburg, 2012) by integrating God into the historical account as an active player. At the end of the part of the book that concerns the war, the authors add a section about ‘faith through looking at historical events’ with an excerpt from Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s seminal article, ‘Listen, My Beloved Knocks’ (Kol dodi dofek):
Israel’s small defensive force defeated the Arab armies’ mighty hosts. A miracle of ‘the many in favor of the few’ took place before our eyes. But something even more wondrous happened at that time! The Holy One hardened Ishmael’s heart and ordered him to set out to war against the State of Israel. Had the Arabs not declared war on Israel and accepted the partition plan, the State of Israel would have been left without Jerusalem (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 316).
Today we know from research that the balance of forces was much more even than Rabbi Soloveitchik describes it. Given the theological importance of the establishment of the State of Israel, however, the Har Bracha Institute chooses to ignore the historical distortion and to present a narrative that breaks away from the rational academic dimension of the issue. Another paragraph in Soloveitchik’s seminal article is quoted in the study of the UN resolution about the establishment of the State of Israel, in which Soloveitchik states that he is:
inclined to believe that the United Nations was especially created for this end—for the sake of fulfilling the mission that Divine Providence had placed upon it […] I do not know who the representatives of the press, with their human eyes, saw to be the chairman in that fateful session of the General Assembly in which the creation of the State of Israel was decided, but he who looked carefully with his spiritual eye saw the true Chairman who conducted the proceedings—the Beloved (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 273).
This text is also not treated as a primary source, as a means with which to develop historical thinking skills among the students. Instead, the textbook asks the students to try to ‘find other events during the resurrection of the Jewish people in their land, in which the hand of God was revealed’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 274).
From the above analysis we learn that the textbooks demonstrate an underlying intention of justifying the Zionist way from a divine perspective, thereby reinforcing students’ religious identity. It is an immensely important tendency that entails further research, especially in relation to the state-secular curriculum. For the purpose of our discussion, however, it suffices to note its culpability for the historical inaccuracies and distortions that stain the textbooks. Seemingly, however, apart from the isolated case of the claim of divine involvement in the War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel, thorough examination shows that the Har Bracha books impart a totally different meaning to the entire metahistorical process.
Although many chapters and sections of the textbooks largely adhere to rational research explanations, the Introduction and the Conclusion bracket these contents in the Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s historiosophical infrastructure, thereby encompassing the entire historical process in a redemptionist-religious perspective. This stance subordinates a human historical process to divine providence. Namely, God’s watchfulness extricated the Jewish people from exile and guided it back to the Promised Land as part of the fulfilment of the prophets’ vision and the bringing of redemption to the world. ‘The Jewish people’, the authors explain almost mystically, ‘is special, mysterious and different from anything recognized and known in human history’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 302).
Within this construct, which concludes the teaching of nineteenth-century Jewish responses to modernity, the authors unequivocally state that ‘Jewish existence in the diaspora is doomed to extinction’, explaining:
Judaism cannot be satisfied with the observance of commandments in the exile, while ignoring the divine mission and the vision of generations of national revival; and it cannot accept integration because it means betrayal of the destiny of the Jewish people (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, p. 241).
In other words, the reason for the authors’ deterministic statement on Jewish existence in exile is based not on the social or cultural characteristics of the Jewish people but on its divine mission. Later, the authors explain that the Holocaust ‘signalled the end of the exile’s role’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 9). That is, the exile ended not because certain historical circumstances brought this about but because it has finished its role in the divine historical process, as the Holocaust proves.
The agonizing and difficult topic of the Holocaust, which may pose a special challenge to one’s faith in God’s watchfulness over the Jewish people, is totally subjugated to the faith-based metahistorical structure of the books. The Har Bracha authors wish to prove that the benighted years of the Holocaust represent not a disruption of the divine plan but a very painful but evidently essential stage on the road to the resurrection of the Jewish people in its land. To clarify the divine dimension of the historical narrative, each section comes with an epigram: a verse of Scripture that describes the section in almost prophetic terms. In the conclusion, too, the Holocaust demonstrates unequivocally the fulfilment of the prophets’ vision and a state of preparation towards the Jewish national resurrection. ‘Our people’s unique journey in history’, the authors stress, ‘was already described in words of prophecy that were stated thousands of years before the Holocaust and the resurrection in our generation’. They continue by quoting the prophet Amos:
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning […] The city that went forth a thousand strong will have a hundred left and that which sent forth a hundred shall have ten left of the House of Israel […] The end has come upon My people Israel—I shall not pardon them anymore.
Saving that, I will not utterly destroy the House of Jacob, says the Lord!
On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen […] and I will turn the captivity of My people Israel […] and I will plant them upon their land and they shall no more be plucked up from their land (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 302).
Thus, the textbooks double down on the Holocaust, characterizing it not only as something other than an oversight on the part of divine providence but even as a stage in the divine plan that proves ‘the need to return to the Land of Israel, to national independence’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 9). Concluding their teaching of the immense suffering that the Holocaust embodies, the authors turn to students in beckoning up-to-date language: ‘And now, the path to the Redemption is to adhere to Zion once again; and by [Zion’s] merit will we be redeemed’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2015a, p. 298). ‘Only one solution allows [us] to be open to general schooling and progress amid loyalty to the Torah and the eternal vision’, the authors also state firmly in their conclusion to the tenth-grade textbook: ‘Israel’s return to its land and [its] response to the awakening Redemption’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2014a, p. 289). Subsequently, the authors describe the mass immigration of Jews to Israel after the establishment of the state as ‘the Gathering of Israel that was promised by the prophets’ and quoted the vision of the prophet Isaiah
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the God shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people […] And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 339).
‘The prayer of the generations,’ the authors concludes in their account of the process, ‘is coming true in these years’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 339).
This historiosophical outlook offers the Jews’ great crises and the establishment of statehood as proof of the onset of the redemption process, the authors explain. The previous generation of SRE textbooks relied on the Biblical era to construct the students’ historical identity. By contrast, the Har Bracha textbooks illuminate precisely the modern historical process, as a way to show students that they are living in miraculous times and to advise them of their role in the Jewish people’s course of redemption. Such a learning process is very different from the revelation of a specific historical identity or a common past that Jews share. It orients and steers students to the future and proposes to prepare them for their eventual calling.
‘The next volume’, the authors intone, ‘will describe your future doings. May God crown you with success on your path to His return of the Jewish exiles’ (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 10). The vision for this imagined future volume is indeed described at the end of the series, on the basis of the writings of Rabbi Kook: the creation of a state and society in which:
The ultimate Godly ideal governs and sustains the people and the land with its light of life. So that all should know that not only individual outstanding geniuses, pious monks, and holy beings live in the light of the Godly ideal, but even entire nations do so (Har Bracha Institute, 2016a, p. 511).
Thus, aside from lending the teaching of historical events a national-religious orientation, the Har Bracha textbooks have a more important goal in mind: to impart an overarching perspective that bases the analysis of the entire process on faith. Although the concrete dimension of the sequence of sections is set within a disciplinary frame, the meta-dimension applies Har Bracha’s theological interpretation, which plainly crowds out real empirical discussion. Thus, the Har Bracha Institute managed to create a learning process that appears to adhere largely to academic research and intellectual reasoning, for which reason the Ministry of Education approved it. Concurrently, however, it manages to remain loyal to its theological faith, by exposing students to God’s immanence and involvement in historical events leading towards Jewish and universal redemption.
Conclusion: From the National-Religious Model to a National-Divine Approach
In many senses, Religious Zionism is not a parochial phenomenon. It is now understood that religious communities and faith-based worldviews are inseparable parts of modern twenty-first-century societies. Beyond the need to teach religious history, many populations in the democratic world wish to continue basing history teaching on a religious principle. This demand challenges history education and its relationship with the eponymous academic discipline. If historical research often challenges secular history teaching, a fortiori it presents much more difficult conceptual and educational challenges to the faith-based history teaching.
Our essay identified two main models of faith-based teaching of history. The first, the national-religious model, places the main emphasis in the teaching process on building national identity and creating social cohesion. Thus, it includes characteristics that strongly resemble those of the traditional mode of history teaching practiced in Europe and North America until the last third of the twentieth century. However, whereas textbooks in secular education systems relied on a romantic national concept of ethno-cultural nationhood, the national-religious model rests mainly on religious faith. This model adheres to an essentially disciplinary approach but disregards important research findings when they threaten to subvert the religious or national identity. This model, as we showed, characterized the previous generations of SRE textbooks. Despite God’s immanence in the RZ worldview, most textbooks refrained from presenting divine intervention as a motive force in the historical process. Instead, they sought to cement students’ identity by faith-based mobilization of the Biblical account as a valid source for the history of the Jewish people as a sovereign entity in the ancient Land of Israel.
Notwithstanding the tendency of the national-religious model to eclipse research, the divine model carries out a much more significant disengagement from the modalities of academic research. Its faith-based narrative rests on eschatological explanations that credit divine power with responsibility for historical events and for understanding their meaning. In this model, it is not enough to inculcate a specific historical identity or establish social cohesion among members of the community. Instead, the intention is to prove specific theological principles that the model regards as universal, i.e., relevant to everyone. Be it the Queen of England or an African tribe, the aim in teaching is to show that all ways of life and the situation of all peoples are determined solely by God’s plan, fury, and kindness.
The primary aspiration of the textbooks produced at the Har Bracha settlement is to express Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s ‘redemptionist Torah’, which sees the historical process as an expression of divine will. Thus, on the face of it, one would expect the books to reflect the quintessence of the divine model in teaching history. Plainly, however, alongside the goal of teaching students about God’s involvement in the historical process, the Har Bracha textbooks aim unequivocally to abide by the disciplinary dimension of history teaching. Furthermore, to accord with the SRE curriculum, the books must refer to world developments in history education and include advanced didactic characteristics of historical thinking and students’ skills.
The way the textbooks choose to overcome the gap between rational-empirical research and faith in divine intervention, it transpires, is by powering a hybrid learning process that features two parallel interpretive dimensions. One embraces the topics of study themselves; it presents a historical process that remains true to the principles of reason and academic research methods, even though at sensitive junctions it departs from this path into tendentious territory. In the focal event of the establishment of the State of Israel, it even carries out a temporal epistemic switching by integrating divine intervention into the topic of study.
This dimension is bracketed by the second one, the metahistorical dimension, which finds interpretive expression mainly at the beginning and the end of the textbooks. Here, the theological, metaphysical interpretation of the historical process subjugates research principles and methodologies to the redemptionist divine dimension. By means of this dimension, the authors of the books wish to show how the hand of God guides Jewish history. It is His hand that propelled the Jewish people out of exile and back to the Land of Israel by the awesome means of the Holocaust and antisemitism, that restored Jewish sovereignty against all difficulties and enemies, and that will dictate the Jewish future.
By adopting this bi-dimensional method of study, the Har Bracha textbooks attempt to avoid the tension, noted by Yerushalmi, between the traditional Jewish structure of memory and the discipline of history. Instead of predicating Jewish identity on Scripture and halakha, the books formulate and cement this identity as part of a protracted process of redemption. This is not meant to argue that the Har Bracha textbooks repudiate the traditional Jewish structures of memory. Students imbibe these structures in previous grades and other school subjects, as well as their social surroundings and their halakhic way of life. This series of history texts, however, has a different goal in mind: to teach students about the wondrous process in which they are participating, the responsibility that is theirs and their task for the future—making it a prospective way of teaching history.
In conclusion, this article analysed the significant changes that took place in SRE history textbooks in recent decades against the background of RZ’s growing influence in key positions in Israel and its aspiration to become the leading elite of the country’s society. The article revealed the strengthening of SRE’s redemptionist approach and the far-reaching implications of this development for the aspired nature of the State of Israel and its social and geopolitical objectives. The Har Bracha historiography plainly subverts the secular worldview and basic values of the State of Israel. As the classical secular Zionist narrative has eroded in recent years, trenchant public uproars have erupted in Israel in view of the secular public’s concern about an attempt by RZ elements to instil their faith-based narrative into the secular public as a whole (Kashti, 2017; Peled & Herman Peled, 2019).
It is important to emphasize, however, that not only the secular public has expressed resistance to and criticism of the approach taken in the Har Bracha textbooks. The RZ public itself has branched in diverse directions over the years. In the field of teaching history, too, one can find important religious players, particularly senior academic scholars, who for years have strongly disapproved of the view of history as a tool for religious education and have been demanding fealty to the principles of the discipline (Michman, 1998; Stampfer in Geiger, 2011). Will the Har Bracha textbooks settle in as the centrepieces of history education in the State-Religious education system? Will elements of the redemptionist interpretive historiography of these books penetrate secular education? These questions, among others, will plunge into the maelstrom that surrounds the collective memory and identity of the State of Israel as it embarks on its eighth decade.
From an international perspective, the Har Bracha textbooks provide a unique case study for exploration of the tension between religious faith and the discipline of history, intertwining features from both models, the divine and the national-religious. Despite its clear worldwide redemptionist vision, the historiosophical outlook of these textbooks—unlike an ideal divine modal, such as the ACE or the Muslims schools in Sweden—do not try to promote a universal perspective or to ignore disciplinary developments. On the contrary, by creating a bi-dimensional method of teaching, the SRE textbooks even seek to accommodate disciplinary developments and integrate them into the teaching process. They do so, however, by subordinating the disciplinary dimension to an eschatological context that significantly limits the scope of critical historical thinking and ultimately cultivates a particular Jewish-national identity. Therefore, by discerning the two central international models and applying them to analyse the unique SRE approach, the findings of this article are not limited to the Israeli discussion; instead, they establish grounds for further international research into the way various faith-based education systems cope with changes in the field of history education and in other identity-shaping school subjects.