Free Program Aims to Prepare ultra-Orthodox Youth for Workforce

Education Ministry initiative offers two years of studies to help young ultra-Orthodox Jews pass matriculation exams and attend college.

Haredi boys at a school in Jerusalem's Meah She'arim neighborhood.
Gil Cohen-Magen

The Education Ministry is offering ultra-Orthodox youth a free abbreviated educational program aimed at preparing them to take matriculation exams, attend college and enter the labor market.

The two-year program is intended for graduates of small religious seminaries between the ages of 17 and 20, as well as for dropouts from regular programs, who likely did not study the standard curriculum taught in Israeli public schools.
“The educational needs of this community have diversified in recent years,” the Education Ministry said in the tender it issued seeking an operator for the new program. “There are increasing demands by parents and communities to offer their young members educational opportunities.”

Focused preparation for matriculation is geared to “ultra-Orthodox seminary graduates with high motivation and learning capacity, who wish to complement their religious studies with a more formal education” that will allow them to matriculate and pursue academic studies, the ministry said.

Critics of the new program say it makes it seem that two years of studies can replace 12 years of schooling, but supporters say the goal of getting more Haredim to enter the labor force outweighs such considerations.

The program will start in March with 500 students, but could be expanded if there is sufficient demand, as well as support from influential rabbis in the community. About 30,000 students currently attend the religious seminaries that could become feeder schools for the program.

Classes will be held three days a week in the afternoons, to avoid conflict with religious studies. Half the students slated to come from the Jerusalem area. If the initiative takes off, it may later be expanded to include students older than 20.
Ultra-Orthodox students are permitted to attend Judaic studies classes instead of literature, and their civics requirements are lower than in public schools.

The company winning the tender will appoint staff and report on student progress to the Education Ministry, and the amount it is paid will be based in part on student achievement.

The ministry says teachers will be sensitive to the needs and lifestyle of Haredi students.

This program is one of several initiatives designed to help ultra-Orthodox youth join the labor market. Education Minister Shay Piron established an ultra-Orthodox division for schools that incorporate core subjects in their curriculum. The Shas school system was also in the process of joining such an initiative.

It is unclear what will happen to these programs when a new government takes office after the March 17 election.