A Deeper Look at the Realities of Chareidim and Higher Education in Israel

(Tuesday, March 8th, 2016 07:30 PM)

charediYWN-ISRAEL reported that prominent roshei yeshiva have released a letter clearly spelling out the prohibition of chareidim attending institutions of higher education.

Prominent roshei yeshiva including HaGaon Rav David Cohen Shlita (Chevron), HaGaon Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch Shlita (Slobodka), HaGaon Rav Yigal Rosen Shlita (Ohr Yisrael), HaGaon HaRav Aviezer Filch Shlita (Tifrach), and HaGaon HaRav Nosson Zuchovsky Shlita signed a letter expressing adamant opposition to chareidi women entering higher education. The rabbonim explain that in line with guidelines set forth by gedolei yisrael, there is an “Infiltration of unacceptable content and venues” in these programs.

A number of people interviewed with Mordechai Lavi on Kol Chai Radio on Tuesday morning, 28 Adar-I. following is a synopsis of the main points made during their interviews.

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Nati Gamliel is the spokesman of the chareidi student bodies in the Ono Academic College and Bar Ilan University.

Shmuel Chaim Peppenheim, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is often viewed as an unofficial spokesman of the Eida Chareidis. He grew up in Meah Shearim and is somewhat of a renegade. While still a member of this community, he has received a secular education as he indicates in the interview. He is also a journalist and has written a biography of Rabbi Amram Blau of Neturei Karta.

Attorney Rav Dov Halbertal is a university lecturer and was often a spokesman for Maran HaGaon HaRav Sholom Elyashiv ZT”L, having been very close to the late gadol hador during the last years of his life. He attended Netiv Meir High School and learned in Yeshivat Har Tzion in Gush Etzion prior to becoming chareidi. He began studying dayanus and then entered law school.

Kol Chai:

Why are the gedolim speaking out so harshly? Do you understand why now?


There is disagreement in this area. I have been involved for about six years and I have learned there are rabbonim who agree, while others, even prominent gedolim instruct talmidim to continue learning higher education. Correct, this is on an individual level, not the tzibur at large.

Kol Chai:

Being in the heart of the higher education world, can you at least understand the concern of gedolim?


I personally do not understand. I am familiar with a number of institutions of higher education that offer a bachelors and the atmosphere for the chareidi programs are exactly what they should be and not at all compromising conditions regarding the spiritual concerns of these students.

Kol Chai:

Shmuel Chaim, can you explain where the issues are?


The content at times is the issue, which includes how we portray the past including the enlightenment era and so forth. There is no escaping this and there is no denying this is part of every curriculum.

Much of what is taught is apikorsus and this chas v’sholom brings some people to thinking and questioning what they learned in the past in their chareidi world and what they are taught today. Almost everyone attending higher education is subjected to problematic content at some point and this is unavoidable.

Kol Chai:

What do you say about the strong position of gedolei yisrael?


Their words are strong and difficult to hear for those who received or in higher education. It is difficult for them to adhere to the words of the gedolim. However, nothing here is now for this discussion and debate has been taking place for years. I have received higher education but currently, I am not enrolled. Hence, I have to think about your question, which is not a simple one to answer.

This argument took place among gedolei yisrael for years and it is unfortunate that it now appears in absolute terms in chareidi newspapers. Today there are about 10,000 chareidim in higher education today. What will become of them? This matter is not as simple as some believe it to be.

Kol Chai:

Are you going to stop in higher education?


You cannot ask like this. There are many elements involved. The fact that I am from Eida Chareidis roots is irrelevant for this impacts many people from all walks of chareidi life and the matter is far more complicated and demands a broader response.

We must understand the colleges are not built by chareidim but others, and while curriculum and atmosphere is designed to meet the needs of chareidim, there are issues and there are problems. Add this to the fact the gedolim are most concerned over the intrusion of technology into our lives and they fear the widespread impact this will have on Jewish homes and families.


My head is not in the sand and I am aware there are institutions with problems. However, I feel we the chareidim are to blame for as a tzibur we are not acting to create the institution that will meet the standards of gedolim for we need the tools to permit people to make a living.

Kol Chai:

We cannot just say we need to make a living. There are things that are prohibited and having to make a parnasa is not a heter to engage in things that are prohibited. Even regarding parnasa there are limits as to what is permitted. Maran HaGaon HaRav Sholom Elyashiv ZT”L released a letter five years ago that was crystal clear and it is forbidden for all, men and women to enter higher education.


There is still a difference between the tzibur and an individual who has permission as mentioned earlier. There are about 10,000 students today and about 9,000 graduates already, which is divided 50/50 between men and women.

Kol Chai:

Can you tell me honestly if you have changed as a result of higher education?


Yes. As a result, I am closer to the yekke part of the Eida Hashkafa of ‘Torah Im Derech Eretz’ and further from other aspects. The Eida is a mixture of four hashkafos and today I identify more with R’ Shimshon Refael Hirsch ZT”L.

One cannot deny that I have changed as does everyone. One does not leave college the same way one enters, speaking about chareidim and there is a change.

Kol Chai:

For years you are introduced as one who was extremely close to Rav Elyashiv yet you are a product of the university system and a lecturer in universities.


One must differentiate between the individual and the tzibur. In addition, I come from a different background (dati leumi) and for me, I was there, which is different from the present.

Listen to what the rabbonim hear – how we constantly hear “we want to bring the chareidim into the workplace, to integrate them into the nation” which is the opposite of what the rabbonim want and what we need. Then we can address the matter of mixed classes and campuses. One cannot deny there are serious issues that must be addressed pertaining to attending an institute of higher education.

The big picture is that this changes the person and the level of commitment and adherence to Torah and Mitzvos, not just the individual, but the entire household

Take for example one who never had an iPhone or internet. Yesterday he lived without it. In actuality, he was not even aware it existed or what it was and today, he cannot live without it. We cannot deny the impact, long lasting, and the issue is complex and not one that impacts the tzibur at large.

Anyone attending college will change for it is simply a ‘psik reisha’ and this is indisputable. One cannot say there are not exceptions but I am speaking in general terms from my experience and that of many others whom I know.

If the higher education institutions in Israel open their doors to the chareidi tzibur at large, the torah world will collapse. To state there are 10,000 students from the chareidi community in colleges and universities today is also not accurate for they are not all what we would call chareidi.

Kol Chai:

I guess you can compare this to Nachal Chareidi in the IDF where most are no longer what is called a chareidi in Israel either. END

A student who did not wish to be identified told Kol Chai Radio after hearing Halbertal that in addition to everything he said, one must realize you are ‘sucked in’, explaining one must have internet and WhatsApp already you are in another place, one that is foreign and dangerous.

She concluded “I know for I did it and one does not emerge the same person”.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

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