Friday, April 21, 2006

Leaving Yeshiva for College

They still wear yeshiva black, but the students of Ono Academic College have put their religious texts aside to study a different world. They are among thousands of haredim, Orthodox Jews who in recent years have abandoned their seminaries to study law, business, accountancy, social work and computer programming, and to function better in the secular world. This quiet breakout from behind the walls of the yeshiva, or seminary, is part of a wider trend of assimilating into mainstream Israel. It could help chip away at the resentment many secular Israelis feel toward the haredim, who are mostly exempt from army service and survive on government handouts. It could also help ease poverty in a community that makes up about 10 percent, or 500,000, of Israel's 5.3 million Jews. Menachem Friedman, a sociology professor at the religious Bar-Ilan University, said the new work force isn't large enough yet to end the community's dependence on welfare. But he said the number is growing - and taking a risk by embracing modernity. "It will happen probably more and more as the (religious) society opens the gates to the mainstream. It's impossible to stop it," he said. For now, studying religion remains the top choice for male haredim. According to the Education Ministry, nearly 85,000 are enrolled full-time in seminaries, relying on government stipends or working wives to support them. The arrangement has plunged about half the haredi families into poverty, and alienated them from secular Israelis who see them as welfare freeloaders and don't buy their argument that studying the Bible is as vital a national need as being taxpayers and serving in the military. Acknowledging the tensions, some rabbis have permitted followers to leave the seminaries and learn a profession. Finance Ministry officials estimate that some 1,000 haredi men begin technical or academic training each year. Ono, the largest of several colleges catering to them, has about 1,400 students, half of them men..........
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