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
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.
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.
Danoch, the head of academic administration at the SCE, encouraged the college
to roll out a full-fledged program for the haredi students.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
In his Ashdod community, where there are approximately 2,200
families in the Gur hassid community, Shmuel estimates that the overwhelming
number of men in his age group work for a living, but mostly in jobs that do not
require an academic degree.
But the minority who study full-time in
yeshiva are the elite, he says, in terms of what haredi society perceives to be
the ideal vocation for a man, while the rest are second-class, Shmuel says, a
future member of this “lower” social stratum himself.
The number of
haredim attending institutions of higher education is on the rise. According to
the Bank of Israel’s annual report for 2011, the number of haredim who have
acquired a higher education or training oriented toward the labor market has
grown from about 2,000 since the middle of the last decade to about 6,000 in