A new haredi yeshiva that provides a comprehensive secular education alongside religious studies has aroused consternation and bitter criticism from the haredi establishment.
Yeshiva Darkei Torah was founded by Rabbi Yisrael Cohen-Rozovski one year ago and is poised to begin its second academic year when the Israeli academic year begins in a few weeks.
Despite having been up and running for a year and having had 25 enrolled students, Darkei Torah has only this week caught the attention of the haredi establishment, and was bitterly denounced on Tuesday and Wednesday for combining religious and secular studies in the same institution by Yated Ne’eman, the largest selling haredi daily newspaper and mouth piece for the Degel Hatorah non-hassidic haredi political movement.
Cohen-Rozovski has been an activist for education and employment within the haredi sector for close to 20 years but said that in recent years it was becoming clearer to him that change needed to be made at an earlier stage in the educational career of haredi youth.
He said, in particular, that the intense, detailed study of Talmudic minutiae was not appropriate for everyone and that this method of study was frustrating for many students and does not provide a sense of satisfaction or achievement.
“In recent years the haredi sector has begun to integrate more into Israeli society and to understand that it needs to be part of everyday reality,” Cohen-Rozovski told The Jerusalem Post.
“The haredi community is in some ways like a group of new immigrants which must integrate but is finding it hard to do so,” he observed.
The process is under way however, Cohen-Rozovski asserted, and pointed to the growing exposure of haredim to the Internet, and the new sources of information and horizons that it provides.
“The children of the revolution are requesting to make something of themselves. The haredi world is being exposed to the idea that they can be haredi Jews who are faithful to the Torah and the commandments and at the same time support themselves financially as well.
“This is the model for haredi Jewry in the Diaspora, where haredim are lawyers, accountants, businessmen and outside of their work hours study Torah,” Cohen-Rozovski continued.
“Right now, a young haredi man will start his yeshiva studies but sees no horizon where he can gain an education and an income but nevertheless wants to make something of himself and realizes he needs and education to do this.”
To this end, Cohen-Rozovski established Yeshiva Darkei Haim in Jerusalem for young haredi men. The institution is styled as a yeshiva gevoha or “advanced yeshiva,” for ages 17 and up, which the overwhelming majority of young haredi men attend after their secondary education that is generally comprised only of religious studies.
The yeshiva provides a daily schedule of three hours of religious studies in the morning, followed by five-and-a-half hours of studies either for a high-school diploma or for professional, vocational courses in hi-tech.
The yeshiva offers 21 different academic units for the Israeli high-school diploma that is taught in an intensive one-year program.
In addition, a vocational course in website building and design is on offer as well as an Open University in Computer Science in which Open University lecturers come to the yeshiva to teach.
In the last academic year, 25 students joined Darkei Hayim, and Cohen-Rozovski said that the yeshiva will grow in size this year to between 50 to 60 students.
He said that parents from a variety of different backgrounds in the haredi community had decided to send their children to the yeshiva, and that those from the mainstream were well represented.
It is the success in gaining significant numbers of students that Cohen-Rozovski said has led to this week’s bitter attacks against this yeshiva.
In an article on the yeshiva in Yated Ne’eman on Tuesday, the newspaper branded the initiative as “dangerous,” “illegitimate,” and cited the words of two former leaders of the haredi world on the issue who called the combination of religious and academic studies “the wielding of an axe towards the haredi world.”
And in the paper’s editorial on Wednesday, it wrote that “even if those behind such initiatives have good intentions they are still sinning and causing the masses to sin.”
It wrote that if people wanted to leave yeshiva altogether and find a job then that is their own personal choice but that the attempt to teach religious and secular studies at a yeshiva was “the first time that an initiative has been started to adorn a pig with a golden ring, to dress the head of a non-Jew with a Jerusalemite yarmulke, to erect a cross in the sanctuary of the king and to turn a sin into a religious commandment.”
Cohen-Rozovski rejected the criticism on ideological grounds and also intimated that it was politically motivated.
He noted that in the past two days, since the exposure in the haredi press, he had received eight new applications to the yeshiva and had not received any cancellations from students already enrolled.
Currently, the yeshiva is supported by private donations and the backing of charitable foundations, although it is also seeking support from the Education Ministry for its study program.