Understanding the Education System in Israel

This is in response to those of you who have been asking me via Facebook and e-mail about the education system in Israel. If I’ve missed something, please feel free to ask questions in the comment section below and I’ll attempt to get you answers.

Quality of Education in Israel

The quality of education in Israel varies based upon the community’s dedication to education (via tax allocations and programming), individual school’s focus, and parental involvement in the system. Unfortunately, Israeli schools are not ranked well among other countries in the developed world. But that can change, and you can play a role in improving the quality by making Aliyah and getting involved.

A problematic issue you should be aware of is violence and lack of respect among the students from various countries and cultures. If you live in a large North American city, you most likely have already been exposed to this issue. Please be aware of the problem and ask your children about “bullying”. Keeping open communications with your children and encouraging them to discuss their anxiety, fears and experiences with you and their teacher will empower them to play an active role in effecting change.

It is very important here, as in other countries, to support the teachers by participating in the education of your child and communicating with the teacher on a regular basis.

Compulsory Education

Compulsory education in Israel requires children from the age of 5 through age 16 to be educated (via school attendance or home schooling). State schools are supposed to be “free” but are not without cost – refer to the Cost of Free Education section below. Education is not compulsory for those over the age of 16.

Cost of Free Education

School is supposed to be “free,” but there are many expenses that add up to a considerable sum such as: books, study materials, school trips, cultural activities, enrichment programs (during and after school hours), school supplies (those you purchase plus those the teacher purchases and requests payment for), transportation, required clothing, class and ulpan parties, teacher gifts (participation is expected and gifts are selected by a parent’s committee), etc. When evaluating schools, be sure to take this into consideration because a private school may actually cost less and provide your child with an education closer to what you desire. Always be sure to ask if financial assistance or discounts are available to new immigrant students, they often are.

Note: back packs are very expensive in Israel ($50+ for the cartoon character type), so you might consider buying and packing enough for several years in your lift.

Hebrew Tutoring/Ulpan

New immigrant students are eligible for Hebrew tutoring for one and a half years from their date of Aliyah. Communities with large Anglo populations often provide special ulpan classes prior to new immigrants entry into the regular classroom, while others are of the mindset that immersion works best and provide tutoring during and after regular school hours. Parents must advocate for their children to insure that a suitable program is implemented for their child’s needs.

Meals and Snacks

Government (and many private) schools do not have cafeterias so parents are expected to send a morning meal (usually eaten during a recess sometime between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.), as well as an afternoon snack or lunch on days when the child will be in school beyond 1:00 p.m. Depending on the level of religious observance of the school, and preference of the main classroom teacher, you will receive instructions as to the level of kashrut required, and whether or not meat is permitted in the classroom. You will also be advised if another student has food allergies that require the teacher to forbid certain food types (e.g., nuts or foods containing/processed with nuts) from being brought to school by your child.

Note: American style school lunch boxes are not available in Israel. Children use grocery store bags and/or plastic multi-compartment lunch containers. If your child is accustomed to using a lunch box, you might consider packing a few years worth in your lift – along with freezer packs that fit in them, and lots of ZipLoc bags.

School Systems to Choose From

Choices include government-run, semi-private schools that receive partial government funding and are required to adhere to certain curricular standards for secular studies, and privately funded tuition-based schools in Israel. Understanding the standard Israeli terms that define one’s hashkafa (philosophy) will provide you with the knowledge you will need when selecting the right school system for your child.

  • Chiloni: Non-religious, secular government-run schools.
  • Masorati: Traditional (similar to Conservative in North America), may be government-run, semi-private or completely tuition-based.
  • Dati-Leumi (aka Mamlachti-Dati or Mamad): National Religious, government-run schools. There is a commitment, with varying levels of intensity (based upon the community) to a Torah observant lifestyle. Judaic courses, taught from an Orthodox perspective are offered daily. Classes may or may not cease being coed anywhere from 3 to 6th grade.
  • Dati Leumi Torani: Usually private (tuition-based) or semi-private (partially government funded + tuition). Dati Leumi Torani schools are appropriate for families for whom Torah learning and mitzvah observance play a critical role in their lives. Schools have separate boys and girls classes from early on. The day includes more Torah studies than a traditional Dati Leumi school, and provides a longer school day (usually dismissing from regular studies between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m.).
  • Chardal: An abbreviation standing for: Chareidi Dati Leumi. These schools are privately funded (tuition-based). This term has widely been used to define the Anglo Orthodox religious sector that follow a Charedi lifestyle, yet may also serve in the army in religious units, attend a Hesder yeshiva, and pursue a work career.
  • Chareidi: Right wing- Orthodox (boys are not expected to pursue a career outside of Torah or serve in the military). In the boy’s division there is a strong focus on Torah learning with a minimalist approach to secular studies. Girl’s schools offer strong Torah education, with secular studies continuing through high school.

In addition to these options, some communities offer theme-based schools (e.g., arts, animals, trades, mathematics, engineering, experimental social development, etc.), as well as those for children with special needs.

School Divisions

Day Care – Trom Trom (ages 3 months – 3 years)

Day Care begins as early as 3 months and is up to 3 years. The institutions offering day care are governmental, institutional, or municipality-run. For example: Wizo, Emunah, Naamat, and community centers offer this program. They may be subsidized or have a sliding fee, depending on parents’ work and/or financial situation.

Hours generally run from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm, with meals included. While day care is usually of good quality, parents must use their good sense to judge.

Pre-Compulsory Kindergarten – Trom Chova (ages 3 – 5 years)

Pre-compulsory kindergarten in Israel, called “Trom Chova” (although some refer to it as “Gan”) is for children aged 3-5 years old. Generally, the municipality runs these preschools, although the religious groups also have their own private preschools. The hours are usually from 7:30 a.m. to 1:20 p.m., with an option for afternoon care until 4:00 p.m. (in some, but not all, preschools). If transportation is needed, private driving companies are generally available, for an extra cost. The monthly cost of preschool varies from place to place. Check your rights as new immigrants for additional discounts.

Compulsory Kindergarten – Gan Chova (ages 5 – 6 years)

Kindergarten or “Gan Chova” (required preschool) is “free” to children ages 5-6. As mentioned above, there are additional fees for music teachers, reading instructions, cultural programs and many other “required” activities. The hours are generally 8 a.m. to 12 or 1 p.m.

Elementary School – Beit Sefer Yesodi (1st – 6th grade, ages 6 – 12 years)

Curriculum varies based on the type of school you select. Schools operate 6 days per week and hours are comparatively short in Israel with government schools beginning at 8:00 a.m. and dismissing anywhere from 11:30 to 2:00 p.m. (depending upon the day of the week). After standard school hours there are fee-based courses known as “chugim” that can keep the children busy as late as 6 p.m. Chugim vary from cooking, chess, computers, music, electronics, arts, etc. to a variety of sports. Be aware that many communities dismiss early on Tuesdays in order for children to participate in youth movements such as Bnei Akiva, Beitar, Scouts, etc., and on Fridays for Shabbat preparations.

With new laws and reforms taking place, some government schools offer longer hours with regular classes dismissing between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m., and some communities have switched to a 5-day week (Sunday through Thursday), with optional Friday morning extra-curricular activities.

Hours for private schools vary, so you need to contact the particular school for this information.

One final note on school hours – your child’s schedule is considered to be in a “flexible” state between the first day of school and their return from Sukkot vacation. During that time the home room teacher experiments with what works best for a particular mix of students and the other teachers involved in their education. And chugim may not be available (to fill the void between school dismissal and working parents schedules) until after Sukkot.

Middle and High School (ages 12 – 18 years)

These schools have a variety of names depending upon the organization and religious makeup of a community’s schools:

  • Middle School: Chativat Beynayim; lower school division (7th-9th grade, ages 12 – 15): Chativat Tachtona
  • High School: Tichon; upper school division (10th-12th grade, ages 15 – 18): Chativat Elyona
    • Girls’ Religious Junior/Senior High School: Ulpana
    • Chareidi Girls’ Religious School System: Beit Yaakov
    • Yeshiva High School with No Secular Studies: Yeshiva Ketanah
    • Boys’ Yeshiva High School: Yeshiva Tichoni

Again, there are several options to choose from, depending upon your religious, political, and cultural orientation. Many students go to boarding high schools where they live on-campus. These consist of yeshivot for religious people as well as youth villages, agricultural schools, those for children at risk and those for students with special needs.

It pays to ask other parents where they are sending their children. Gather and evaluate as much information as possible before choosing a school. Most high schools have orientation meetings during the registration period to enable parents and students to gain a better feel for their school.

High school students in Israel must take the “Bagrut” (matriculation) exams to gain entrance to higher education institutions. These begin in the 10th grade and continue until the 12th grade. They are quite intense, and again, changes are being made in the system all the time, so check with each individual school for their requirements and whether there are exceptions and concessions for immigrant students.

Tuition amount varies based upon whether the high school is private or public.

Studies usually begin at 8 a.m. and last until 12:45 to 3 p.m.

Immigrant students are generally admitted to the same grade as they were abroad and parents should request meetings with school educational advisors to discuss their children’s strengths, weaknesses and difficulties.

Higher Education

Israel has many different options to choose from to obtain an academic degree, including eight universities and numerous colleges. The primary universities are:

Additionally, there are many private and specialized institutions.

Presently a “psychometric” exam is required for acceptance (but the rules are changing). Be sure to inquire at each institution about their individual requirements.

Additional Resources

If you are still abroad, planning Aliyah, the best way to find out about education in Israel is to talk to olim you know, or make new contacts (via the numerous online groups), who have come already and have children the age of your children and ask questions.

If you have difficulty connecting with someone, ask your shaliach/shlicha for names of families who have made Aliyah to the area where you’re planning to live.

Expect differences and changes from what you and your children are used to. Be prepared to hire tutors if necessary. Do not hesitate to take advantage of school counselors, principals, and other community service agencies if your child needs special attention or additional assistance.


Note: Atty. Tzvi Szajnbrum of the Voleh Organization contributed to the writing of this article.

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