We think of the Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox Jewish) community as a cohesive unit, it can not be further from the truth. There is a wide range of sects within the Charedi umbrella. The main division in the Charedi society is between Ashkenaz and Sephardi and within the Ashkenazi section, Chasidic and Litvak (yeshivish), each section can be split into more shards each having their own unique hashkofa (outlook on life). The Charedi communities generally share opinions on major issues, like education, separating themselves from general society and exposing themselves to western thought and knowledge.
One of the biggest concerns of the Charedi community is a fear of assimilation, they are concerned community members may stray from their belief system and community, this limits the community to stay insular and be afraid of outside ideas and concepts.
A very high percentage of the Charedi community is reliant on government funding to survive. with the projected demographics showing the Charedi community will be a sixteen percent of the country’s population in 2030 and forty percent by 2065, according to the Jerusalem Post. The problem is Israel’s economy can not support a high rate of poverty in it’s population.
“Forty five percent of Charedi households are under the poverty line.” According to the Jerusalem Post. And according to the Israel Finance Ministry fifty one percent of Charedi men and almost eighty percent of Charedi women are working.
Without a proper education it is hard for the Charedi population to enter the Israeli work force and become self-supporting. This is problem affects both the Charedim as well as the general Israeli economy.
When the state was born, there were multiple government supported educational systems, including the Charedi system. At the time the Charedi system was very small, and it was felt would not affect the general Israeli economy. Between natural growth through a high birth rate and growth through the Baal Teshuva movement (Secular Jews becoming Charedi).
“Study of the core curriculum subjects is greatly limited in the haredi school system. Today, in most Charedi schools, study of secular subjects such as mathematics, science and English, ceases for boys after the eighth grade.” According to the Jerusalem Post. By not educating children in secular subjects the community is subjecting itself to live in poverty.
In today’s Israeli economy, where high tech jobs tend to be the highest paying jobs. To get a job that pays a living wage, one needs to have an education that includes English, sciences and math, and most higher paying jobs require a university degree.
The challenge is to find a way to educate the Charedi community without relaxing the group’s morals and laws.
The simple solution is to teach secular subjects in the Charedi education system. The question becomes how do we introduce secular subjects without relaxing the Charedi community’s morals and laws?
Some politicians have tried to force the issue with laws. In 2013 a law was passed that required all educational institutions to offer 10-11 hours of instruction in math, English and science per week. If an institution did not follow the law, the institution would lose a significant portion of it’s government funding. This law has been repealed before it took effect, under a new Charedi friendly government coalition.
Others are trying to change the Charedi system from within. Some examples are the Nahal Charedi army unit, various programs teaching Charedi women computer programming skills, Rabbi Menachem Bombach’s new Torah Academy Midrasha Chasidit high school for Chasidic boys, and various higher education options.
Rabbi Menachem Bombach, is the founder and executive director of Torah Academy-Midrasha Chasidit in Betar Illit. He has a BA in Education from Moreshet Yaakov and a MA in public policy from the Hebrew University. Bombach grew up in the Satmar Chasidic (Charedi) community in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, he went to various Charedi schools. At age 20 he married and started working as a counselor in a yeshiva in Migdal Haemek. Working with the boys at the yeshiva gave him a vision of starting his own school for his Charedi community. He quickly picked up Hebrew and English while studying for his Bachelors and Masters degrees.
The Torah Academy Midrasha Chasidit high school was started to give its students a Chasidic and secular education, preparing their students for college while still being part of the Charedi community.
“There needs to be a haredi workforce,” he insisted. “It is the most important issue facing Israel today, more dangerous from Iranian threat. Israel knows how to defend itself but cannot defend itself from poverty and no educated people.” Menachem Bombach quoted on the JNS website.
It’s hard to change people’s minds overnight. Change takes time. My grandmother was one of the first students of the first Bais Yaakov in Jerusalem in 1934. At that time educating girls was not considered appropriate in the Charedi community. Now almost all Charedi girls are educated in schools.
Rabbi Bombach is a trailblazer, but is the target of wrath from some members of his Charedi community.
““Because we have a combination of secular subjects and religious subjects, of course it inspires objections in the community,” said Bombach. He said he expected the posters denouncing the school, but the protest in front of his house was a new level of hostility.” Rabbi Bombach quoted in The Times of Israel. Rabbi Bombach feels if ten percent of the Charedi community get educated and work within the Israeli community, it will be great for Israel as a whole.