Israel's Education Ministry announced on Sunday that for the first time ever evolution will be taught in the middle school core curriculum, which up until now offered only the biblical account of the origins of humanity. Ultra-orthodox groups have responded with mixed feelings on the matter, however, with some calling it a "mistake."
"Until now, there has been no discussion on the topic and students were not taught that the multitude of species is the result of processes of development among plants and animals," Professional Committee Chairwoman Professor Nava Ben-Zvi told Israel Hayom.
"The entire evolutionary perspective had not been written down [for them], as with the topics of ecology and the behavior of animals. It is important to explain how so many species came to be."
Ben-Zvi stressed that the material that will be taught in middle schools is not aimed at offending religious people.
"In the section about the formation of species, they discuss the development of different species, and species that became extinct," Ben-Zvi explained. Students learn about evolution throughout the Western world, and our students will learn about it, too -- but without offending religious people."
Opposing the new curriculum, the president of the Hemdat Hadarom College, an institute of higher education in the national-religious sector, said, "It's a mistake to teach evolution in the current format in grades eight and nine because of the complexity of the subject and the lack of consensus between scientists in Israel and around the world on the validity of many different aspects of evolution," national- religious news website Srugim reported him as saying.
Ben-Zvi clarified that the decision is based on years of deliberation and discussion of how to include and incorporate evolution in the study material.
Up until now, Darwin's theory had not been incorporated in the curriculum, and was only available to high school students pursuing a matriculation certificate in biology.
According to Jerusalem Post, the moderate Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah national-religious organization said educators have the responsibility to expose students to different perspectives.
"General studies are a fertile ground for enriching our spiritual world. Sometimes you can contend with them and reject their conclusions, and sometimes it is possible to adopt certain points and join them to the holy Torah as some of the great rabbinic leaders of the Jewish people have done in the past," the group said.