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Dec 25, 2012

Torah learning and/or Education

I love the synergy.

One day this week it was announced the opening of a new college program to teach engineering for Haredim.

Jpost reports:
The first engineering degree program in Israel designed specifically for haredi students was set to open on Monday at the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering (SCE) in Ashdod.
The college is launching a five-year degree program in civil and software engineering, which has been tailor-made for the lifestyle requirements of its 100 ultra-Orthodox participants.
Three years ago, the college, which also has a campus in Beersheba, began a pilot program for haredi students in Ashdod, including a 15- month pre-college course designed to bring the students up to the required standards in math, physics, English and Hebrew.
The majority of haredi high schools for boys do not teach any core curriculum subjects, so haredi men seeking to enter institutions of higher education often have to complete these kinds of pre-college courses.
The preparatory course started with more than 30 participants, all of them men, but only 17 finished for various reasons. Of those 17, only 11 decided to embark on the engineering course itself, again for different reasons, but partly because the college was not able to create separate classes for the haredi students because of the low number of participants.
But once the pilot program with the remaining students was progressing smoothly, Dr.
Avshalom Danoch, the head of academic administration at the SCE, encouraged the college to roll out a full-fledged program for the haredi students.
He explained that one of the general goals of the college was to broaden access to engineering degrees for sectors of society without such opportunities, and that one of the groups that the college believed would benefit and be interested in engineering was the haredi population.
“We’re helping these members of the haredi community to enter a prestigious profession, and this is good for them and for the Jewish people in general,” Danoch said.
The new degree program, comprising 70 men and 30 women, provides monthly stipends for the participating students totaling NIS 30,000 a year per student, which is paid for by the Halamish NGO, directed by businessman and industrialist Eitan Wertheimer.
The haredi track will be separated by gender, with the classes for the women taking place in the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
time slot, and the classes for men scheduled between 3 and 8 p.m.
According to Danoch, this time frame was agreed upon since it allows any married women students with children to drop them off at school before their classes begin and pick them up afterwards, while men can study in yeshiva in the morning and attend their university classes in the afternoon and evening.
Additionally, no male lecturers will teach the female students, and no female lecturers will teach the men. The haredi program will also be taught in a dedicated building on campus, separate from the college’s other students.
The five-year degree includes the year of preparatory classes taken by the pilotcourse students, and was formally approved by the leading rabbis of the Gur community in Ashdod.
According to Danoch, two-thirds of the haredi students are Ashkenazi, and one-third Sephardi. Of the Ashkenazim, the overwhelming majority are hassidim, as opposed to the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” haredim.
In addition to students from Ashdod, participants in the new course will come from Bnei Brak, Kfar Chabad, Ashkelon, Rehovot and beyond.
Shmuel, 28, is one of the students from the original pilot course. A Gur hassid, married with two children, he served in the civilian service program, an alternative to military service for haredi men, before beginning his studies.
For Shmuel, continuing with the course involved challenges to his strict haredi lifestyle that will not be faced by students beginning today.
Because the size of the pilot group was so small, the college could not hold separate classes for them so they had to study in the regular classes with the rest of the students.
This meant that Shmuel had to share a class with female students, something that one or two of the haredim who started the preparatory course were not prepared to do and that caused them to leave the engineering program.
However, Shmuel was not ready to sit in classes with female teachers, so Danoch helped arrange for him and others a system in which a male student from the general student body would help him learn material from classes taught by women.
Because the new program will be big enough for dedicated classes and schedules, these are not issues that the new haredi students will face.
For Shmuel, who is also an ordained rabbi, studying for an academic degree is something he feels he has to do to support himself and his family, rather than something he’s particularly excited or even proud about doing.
And even once he completes the degree and graduates, he says he would still prefer to work part-time in the morning and study in yeshiva in the afternoon.
I think this, and other programs like it, is great. These are working solutions that help people who want or need to leave the yeshiva world, to become educated, learn a trade and give themselves the ability to support themselves and be productive. We need more such programs, in a variety of fields and industries.

The next day, seemingly unconnected, Bechadrei reports on a group of yeshiva students from Paris France who recently came to Israel for vacation. This group of 18 year olds seems to be divided as to their futures - some are preparing to enter university, while others in the group wish to continue learning Torah.

The organizer of the group decided to take these young men into Rav Shteinman to hear his opinion. Rav Shteinman said that as long as it is possible, one should stay in the tent of Torah and not leave. By doing that they would merit becoming bnei torah and talmidei chachomim.

I would not expect Rav Shteinman, or any haredi rav, to say anything less than that, but at the same time he is clearly not extreme in his opinion - he leaves the door open for other pursuits when they should become necessary, while preferring the pursuit of Torah as long as it is possible.

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  1. Why would the majority of Ashkenazie students be from Chassidic background and not Litvaks?

    In America it is the complete opposite, the Chassidim venture into business while the Litvaks attend the academic programs.

  2. Rav Shteinman has become more extreme as the years go on. He's on record several times saying that poverty and full time learning are to be preferred over part-time learning, working and having money to feed one's kids properly.


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