If there's one thing Rav Ovadiah Yosef is known for, it's beeing a straight shooter. Unlike many rabbinical leaders who smile in public and speak of the brotherhood of all Jews but then tell their followers in Yiddish that only they are legitimate inheritors of the Convenant of Sinai, Rav Yosef tells it like it is. If he doesn't like a particular group, he won't mince words on where he stands. If he's unhappy with a certain political initiative, he will tell his followers what he thinks, no matter whose microphone is sitting in front of his face.
And all this is on top of being a leading posek and genius in halacha.
So when he calls secular Israeli teachers a bunch of donkeys, one must not instinctively condemn but first ask: is there some substance to what he says?
In his sermon, the rabbi said that the teachers in the secular education system know nothing, "neither Shabath, nor holiday", and teach only "nonsense", and added that people whose parents placed them in the secular education system are unfortunate.
"What do they teach? They teach history and all sorts of nonsense about world nations, that's all," he said.
Now, this outtake requires one to take a deep breath and remember a couple of things. One, the word "asses" in the English translation is "chamor" in the Hebrew original. Chamor means donkey in modern English but in more traditional literary usage, a donkey is called an ass. That part of the body we label as "ass" is more properly termed an "arse" So Haaretz, through creative translating, has given a meaning to Rav Yosef''s statements that he never intended.
The second thing to remember, as we learned a couple of weaks ago during the story of the Akeidah in parshas Vayera is that the term "donkey" does not mean simply calling one an animal.
During the story of the Akeidah, we are told:
"And Avraham said unto his young men: 'Abide ye here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and come back to you." (Ber. 22:5)
To which Chazal comment that Avraham Avinu and Yiztchak Avinu both saw a spiritual cloud covering Har HaMoriah while the two escorts, Yishmael and Eliezer by tradition, saw nothing. Since they saw nothing, Avraham concluded, they were as spiritually aware as the donkey, therefore they could stay behind with it. Not that they were like donkeys, just that they lacked the higher spiritual awareness of Avraham and his son.
Thus Rav Yosef calling the teachers donkeys clearly indicates his opinion that secular Israeli teachers lack any spiritual affection for Judaism or a desire to transmit it to their students, seeing their job rather as teaching secular subjects in as non-Jewish a way as possible. (I am not indicating my agreement with this opinion, just my belief that this is what he mean)
The predictable response has been one of strident criticism. People are understandly offended by his analysis. But is he wrong? Consider: Israeli schools rank poorly when compared with European and North American ones. Levels of viole frequent strikes nce are rising leading to frequent concerns about teacher intimidation. Add to a poorly performing educational system in which teaching children about the so-called Palestinian view of history takes priority over teaching true Israeli history and you have to wonder: does the Rav have a point?
The ideal educational system in Israel would teach high levels of secular subjects such as math, Hebrew, world and Israeli history along with a basic knowledge of Judaism and the Bible. Furthermore, expecting this is not so radical. After all, until Shulamit Aloni and her self-hating apostles came along, that's exactly what the secular Israeli education system did!
Yes, there are enough problems within the Chareidi school system that Rav Yosef could be asked to worry about before commenting on the problems the secular one. But outrage doesn't change the fact that there are problems needing to be addressed and that it is time for Israel to start addressing them.