30% of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Are Ready for Coed College Classes, Study Shows

Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services study shows Haredim also willing to have lecturers of either gender and see little importance in gender segregation on university campuses

Or Kashti
Or Kashti
Ultra-Orthodox workers at a high-tech company in Israel.
Ultra-Orthodox workers are seen at a high-tech company in Israel in an undated photo.Credit: Emil Salman
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Some 30 percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews are willing to study together with the general public and with no gender segregation, a study released by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services finds. The findings contradict the conventional approach that without gender and sectorial segregation, Haredim won’t take part in academic studies.

The study shows Haredim are also willing to have lecturers of either gender and see little importance in gender segregation on college and university campuses.

The study finds that about half of the Haredim expressed some interest in training or studying engineering as a means to find employment. Thirty-nine percent said they would consider studies in which the seating arrangement would be gender segregated but without a partition, 66 percent would consider sitting in mixed classrooms with a partition between the genders, 68 would agree to lecturers of both sexes and 81 percent would b willing to study in gender segregated classrooms but on the same campus.

The prevalent approach among the government’s policy makers maintains that Haredi participation in academic study programs and courses for civil service, correctional driving and vocational training – requires some extent of gender and sectorial segregation.

In recent years the Council for Higher Education has been leading a policy of both gender and sectorial segregation of ultra-Orthodox students in academic programs. The council assumed – as the High Court of Justice was told in petitions against segregation – that without such segregation most Haredim would refuse to study in general academic programs.

Ultra Orthodox Yeshiva students in Jerusalem Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The Labor Ministry operates a number of programs to integrate Haredim in the labor market, such as placement centers, workshops, vocational training courses and practical engineering. Some ultra-Orthodox take part in non gender-segregated programs, others study in partial segregation, such as a separate classroom in a mixed college. But many of them study in wholly ultra-Orthodox and gender-segregated classes.

In recent years the ministry invested some 70 million shekels a year to encourage ultra-Orthodox people to study. In 2019 some 1,600 Haredim – two thirds of them men – received money for vocational training.

Labor courts disqualified the segregated classrooms the state offered ultra-Orthodox students in recent years or suggested changes.

The study obtained by Haaretz maps for the first time the ultra-Orthodox public’s positions regarding gender and sectorial segregation in studies. It was conducted by Dr. Hagit Sofer Furman and Dr. Nitza Kasir and is based on a nationwide telephone survey held last year among a representative sample of 1,500 ultra-Orthodox men and women aged 18-45.

Yulia Eitan, head of the Employment Administration for Special Populations in the ministry, said the decision to conduct the study stemmed from wanting to help the ministry draft a policy about segregation. “Every policy must be based on data,” she said. “This is the first time that we get a diverse picture of the desires of the relevant population – not by proxy but directly.”

Eitan said the findings will serve to “draft a more accurate policy and the means to implement it.”

The study shows that a significant part of the ultra-Orthodox public is willing to study in mixed classes or with partial segregation. Unlike previous studies that made do with stances in principle that demanded segregation, people were asked this time what their approach would be if there were only one training course, in various conditions of segregation. They were also asked about their interest area and place of residence.

These questions required them to choose from different possibilities “rather than looking at a single consideration each time” the researchers said.

The study also found differences among groups within the ultra-Orthodox community regarding their positions on sectorial and gender segregation. Habad members, people from Western countries and newly religious were more open compared to people from Arab countries, Lithuanians and Hasidim.

These data are also significant to segregation in academia, where the council expanded the possibility for newly religious Jews or new immigrants to study in gender segregated groups.

Another finding is that ultra-Orthodox people who live or work in a heterogeneous environment are more willing to support studies without gender and sectorial segregation.

Some of the surveyed people said the discourse on segregation was influenced by the most conservative groups like the Gerer and Vizhnitz hasidic courts, which “don’t reflect the prevalent approach in the ultra-Orthodox community, which is more moderate.”

Also, some of the interviewees said they had intended to study in a mixed classroom, but after they were offered the option of studying in a segregated group they took the latter.

Ultimately, interviewees who studied in mixed classes because they had no choice in their field of study or place of residence “got a lot out of it both in learning and employment, and grew closer to other parts of society.”

The findings shed a new, problematic light on the Council for Higher Education, whose approach is the reverse – harsh gender segregation in the teaching staff and in the classrooms that is spreading throughout the campuses and expanding the trend to study separately.

Last week Haaretz published reports indicating there was no grounds for the claim – that the council made to the High Court of Justice – that the segregation in academic studies was minimal and controlled.

The study strengthens the understanding that gender segregation is only one of several considerations that influence ultra-Orthodox people’s choice of learning institution.

Dr. Netta Barak-Corren from Hebrew University reached similar conclusions in a study she conducted two years ago. The council’s policy was not only devoid of a research basis, but was strengthening the radical ultra-Orthodox groups, which were sweeping the moderate ones into a world of separation, she found.

The council responded that the study shows most of the ultra-Orthodox population would not take part in vocational training without gender segregation. “The report’s recommendations were passed to the steering committee on ultra-Orthodox affairs, which concluded that overall there’s a growing need for an adjusted program that would make higher education accessible to all parts of the ultra-Orthodox population, therefore the council’s policy should not be changed,” the council said.

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