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Jan 20, 2008

Bais Yaakov schools bucking the system

In this week's local rag, there was an article about a call from the Rabbonim, from local all the way up to Rabbis Elyashiv and Shteinman, regarding Bais Yaakov schools for girls that have begun to introduce more secular education into the curriculum and some that prepare the students to take the Bagrut exams from the Ministry of Education.

The Rabbis are decrying the situation as Bais Yaakov schools are part of the haredi school system which rejects participation in the Bagrut exams, along with rejecting any supervision of the curriculum by the Ministry of Education. An excerpt from the letter published in the name of Rav Elyashiv says, "There is no place for studies in Bais Yaakov that lead to the exams of the bagrut,as there is an inherent contradiction in the education of Bais Yaakov that aspires to yiras shamayaim (fear of heaven) and the educational system that leads to the bagrut exams."

The contradiction uses a nuance of the difference between the Hebrew words "chinuch" and "haskalah". They both mean "education", but the nuances of each are different. "Chinuch" refers to education in the sense of upbringing and nurturing, while "haskala" refers to education in the sense of scholarliness, learnedness, enlightenment, etc.

Bais Yaakov, the Rabbis say, educates in the form of training and upbringing, while the general education system is educating using the "haskala" system. The bagrut which is based on the haskala system, is inappropriate, nay - contradictory, for the Bais Yaakov system to be teaching.

The Rabbonim expressed wonder that any school bearing the name "Bais Yaakov" can offer studies towards bagrut exams. They said "Bais Yaakov it isn't! Either have a Bais Yaakov or have studies for bagrut, but don't call it a Bais Yaakov if you have studies for bagrut".

Clearly the Israeli system of Bais Yaakov schools is more "Haredi" or more conservative and old-style than in other places. But this statement that it is either Bais Yaakov or bagrut is extremely bombastic. There are Bais Yaakov schools all around the world, including in Israel, that offer more modern forms of education, more secular studies in their curriculum, that cater to more "modern" communities that still want to have the Bais Yaakov education but need it adjusted to their realities.

Bais Yaakov schools have never been is rigid in their classification. They have been controlled by local administration wherever they are opened. I assume there must be some criteria by which one can determine whether hsi school should be called Bais Yaakov or whether there is absolutely no connection between Bais Yaakov and his school. Also there must be some criteria by which the organization accepts a school within its fold and allows it to use the Bais Yaakov name. The fact that there is such a wide range of styles within the Bais Yaakov system proves to me that the above statement is simply not true, though they may wish it to be.

Maybe they are simply attempting to change policy within the Bais Yaakov system, but until now policy has clearly been to allow a certain amount of liberty to the local administration to decide curriculum.

The background, at least in bet Shemesh, for the recent outcry by the Rabbis, seems to be a local Bais Yaakov high school. The school is called Ko Tomar and has been very successful. They started off a number of years ago catering to the community that wanted a good secular education as well as a Bais Yaakov style education for the religious studies. The school developed a very good reputation over time and has attracted girls from all over Bet Shemesh, along with from other cities who were attracted by the schools style. Ko Tomar prepared girls for the Bagrut exams and people who wanted Bais Yaakov but more liberal, more modern more secular education, would send there.

Ko Tomar also had the distinction that they were the only Bais Yaakov style high school for girls in Ramat Bet Shemesh. There is a Bais Yaakov in old Bet Shemesh that is considered extremely haredi and they have always been reluctant to accept girls from RBS claiming that RBS girls, even the most haredi of them, are too modern for their school overall. It took a lot of protexia for a parent to be able to get his daughter in there. So it was either Ko Tomar, the Haredi school in BS if you could get your daughter in, or having your daughter travel to Jerusalem every day for school. A couple of years ago a local Bais Yaakov high school was started by Mrs. Perlstein (the wife of Rabbi Perlstein).

Within the past couple of years there has been a phenomenon of Ko Tomar becoming more and more Haredi. The reason for this seems to be that more and more Bais Yaakov graduates are going there than were previously. Now that the Perlstein school is open, it has been even harder to get in to the BS school, as they do not want to step on Perlsteins toes and take girls from her domain. On the other hand, parents overwhelmingly seem unwilling to send their daughters to Perlstein's school. There are various theories why this is true, ranging from some who consider the school to be very poorly run and a weak education to those who want nothing to do with the Perlsteins.

The problem is that locally that leaves them only with the choice of Ko Tomar. So many Bais Yaakov families have been sending their daughters to Ko Tomar, when previously it likely would have been considered too modern. A result of this is naturally with all the Bais Yaakov graduates attending Ko Tomar, Ko Tomar has "frummed out" moving much more toward the general Haredi style, though they have not changed their curriculum from what I hear.

A result of this is that a new modern high school has been started this past year to cater to all the girls that Ko Tomar used to cater to. Those families now consider Ko Tomar too "black" and wanted a more modern education so they started a new high school, more in the fashion of the original Ko Tomar.

This background is all fine and dandy, but now that means that a Bais Yaakov school (Ko Tomar) that is taking a lot of Bais Yaakov school graduates is teaching a more modern curriculum and preparing for the Bagrut exams. So even though they flew under the radar previously, they have now been targeted as bucking the Bais Yaakov system.

What is the problem with bagrut exams anyway? Why is it such a big deal?

One reason given is the contradiction mentioned above in styles of education. Another, more serious reason the Rabbonim are disturbed about, is that any girl preparing to take the bagrut exams will desire to further her education at a later time, and may also desire to use her certification at a later time. She will then continue her education or look fro employment at places that are considered off limits to a Haredi girl. The gedolim look at this certification as a key to eventually attending university or seeking employment in the general workplace. If they would not offer bagrut, but only Bais Yaakov certification, the girls would be limited later to nly staying within the Bais Yaakov system, because no other system recognizes the certificates of Bais Yaakov.

So instead of educating the girls and letting the great education stand on its own, they are concerned that some girls might choose to go other ways. Is that how confident they are in the quality of their own system that they need to be so concerned? Instead of letting people choose for themselves how to live in the future, they prefer to limit the people because "they might make the wrong choice" which would be to choose a different system..

The Haredi system is a good system (with flaws like every system has flaws). They have nothing to be afraid of. Someone who wants to educate their children in the best Torah education available will choose Bais Yaakov. Adults should be considered mature enough to choose and be allowed to choose the daily nuances in their lives without being limited by such restrictions. A parent who does not the child to be exposed to this, will send to a different school. But why impose your way on parents who chose to send to a school that does offer the future options? Why do you not trust people to make the right choice? Why do you take away free will and impose only your will? Why are you so afraid of people comparing your system to other systems?

11 comments:

  1. There is an obvious issue with the decree from the gedolim against bagriot.

    On one hand all haredi girls are indoctrinated to marry someone learning full time (and for a long time). This means that the wide will have to work in order to support the family.

    On the other hand girls are discouraged from taking bagriot which would allow them to receive a degree and give them far greater earning potential in the workforce.

    I think that the gedolim should consider the far reaching effects of limiting earning potential.

    By the way...Ko Tomar is a wonderful school run by Dr. and Mrs Sultan who are amazing yirei shomayim and fully dedicated to chinuch habanos.
    Kol haKavod to them!

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  2. I meant to add in the post, but forgot to, that all my information about Ko Tomar is second hand and if it is inaccurate, feel free to correct me in the comments

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  3. Rafi-
    Reading this post ticked me off beyond belief. I am so tired of these ridiculous restrictions that are being imposed on our communities out of fear that the outside world is "gonna get us".
    What's the next step, forbidding girls from attending school at all?
    As you can see, I agree with you that this is an important issue, and instead of going on and on in your comments, I decided to link to your article at supperraizy and to add some thoughts of my own.

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  4. Another reason why the rabbis are opposed to bagrut is because if you enable the girls to pursue higher studies, they might delay the age of marriage and bearing children. Some years ago they were talking about adding another year to the two years of studies after 12th grade. There was strong opposition to this, one of teh reasons being that girls might postpone the age of marriage till the end of the studies.

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  5. RAFI,

    Don't you see the pattern in all your and others posts on these types of issues?

    It's a control issue. If we assume people are mature enough to make deciscions on their own, those in charge think they lose power over them.

    I am not saying that R' Elyashiv needs the control, but the shamashim feeding him their version of the info do. They are afraid that people will be able to reconcile a chareidi lifestyle with the outside world. They are afraid they have lost the control the rabbonim used to have in the shtetls. They are hanging on to a yesteryear style of rabbanut and don't see the change that has happened.

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  6. I'm certain that if Ko Tomar continues to grow and Perlstein's continues to lose that an even uglier campaign will insue.

    Perhaps the "Mora D'asra" will lump Ko Tomar with his other "treif" organizations like Lema'an Achai, Simchat Yechiel, etc.

    I like to think that an organization that he pasuls is actually the best haskama.

    It never ceases to amaze me how our wonderful schuna continues to support this man (even calling him "mora d'asra) and the organizations that place him on a pedestal.

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  7. first of all, I meant to include this point in the post but forgot to, so I am mentioning it here. This post was not intended to knock Mrs. Perlstein's school. There are parents who send their daughters to learn in this school and they are very happy. As a matter of fact I am told that Mrs. Perlstein never intended to open a school. She did it as a chessed. At the time there were no options in RBS for a girl who did not want to go to Ko Tomar because it was too modern.

    My point was simply that there are others who prefer to not send to the Perlstein school, for a variety of reasons, and now the other school is being attacked.

    Some (cynically perhaps?) say this campaign is happening now because Mrs. Perlstein's schyool is suffering from low registration and a majority of girls are choosing to go to ko Tomar or Yerushalayim rather than Perlstein.

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  8. littlemissmuffetJanuary 21, 2008 9:54 PM

    I have to agree with Shaya- it all comes down to control- if the gedolim were truly interested in the welfare of the community, they wouldn't purposefully keep women from advancing their education in order to make a better living for their families while their husbands learn.

    It's a very sad situation.

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  9. I posted about this as well No Bagrut for Beis Yaakov girls? including a copy of R' Elyashiv's statement on the issue.

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  10. Is this just a reiteration of the decree from last year to cut off women's education, or is this something new?

    The Wolf

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  11. it is based on the same "takana" but is independent as far as it being a new, separate incident...

    ReplyDelete

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