In a recent blog post by Dr. Lee Cahaner, we are presented with what most consider to be good news for the ultra-Orthodox community and the State of Israel overall. Ultra-Orthodox women are getting more advanced training in more lucrative fields, and they are earning more to support their families and sustain the Israeli economy.
And best of all–their are doing it on their own terms without compromising on their deeply religious values or modifying their ultra-Orthodox way of life.
However, there is currently a whole series of processes promoting change…
This process of change is the result of a shortage of teaching jobs, but also the result of the establishment of an alternative training program in the ultra-Orthodox seminaries for girls that includes computers, economics, graphics, and other fields of study. This plan was the result of the initiative and combined efforts of third sector organizations, the government, and the ultra-Orthodox community itself.
And this is the key to the subtle change. In the coming years, it is reasonable to expect an increase in the average salary and the access of ultra-Orthodox women to resources that until a few years ago were considered to be only for men as well as a narrowing of the gap between them and non-ultra-Orthodox women in Israel.
But then Dr. Cahaner suggests developing “the right academic platform” for the advancement of ultra-Orthodox women, and “invest resources in relevant tools such as academic tracks…”
I’m not sure what these things are exactly and what they would achieve. Why would ultra-Orthodox women benefit from academic platforms and academic tracks, if they just want get their families out of poverty and preserve their way of life?
One gets the distinct impression that Dr. Cahaner is not only anticipating a better standard of living through these changes. She is hoping for an additional side-effect: more meaningful interaction between ultra-Orthodox women and mainstream Israeli society.
She virtually says so explicitly in the concluding sentence of her post:
This adaptation to changing realities through cooperation between government ministries, the business sector, the third sector, and ultra-Orthodox women themselves will benefit us all on three levels: it will increase social cohesion, reduce social gaps, and improve the Israeli economy.
This is why the ultra-Orthodox should be very mistrusting of government and academic intervention in the economic development of the Haredi sector.
Because they aren’t in this to help Ultra-Orthodox society simply perpetuate itself with dignity and self-dependence. They are also in this to slowly and gradually erode the social barriers that the ultra-Orthodox have consciously erected between themselves and the mainstream.
So Dr. Cahaner and others see the rise in ultra-Orthodox women’s education and employment as a golden opportunity. It now enables them to encourage Haredi women to integrate culturally and socially into the fabric of mainstream Israeli society– while claiming all the while that they really only have the best interests of the community at heart.
So while I appreciate the sensitivity that Dr. Cahaner and her academic colleagues are displaying for the way of life of ultra-Orthodox women, and their willingness to accommodate their need for appropriate employment spaces etc., I can’t help but wonder if this is all just a facade to allow the Trojan horse of government-sponsored social integration sneak through the defenses of the ultra-Orthodox community.
Like the title says,