As the country is embroiled in a debate about turning haredi scholars into soldiers, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design have launched a different venture: a haredi track at Bezalel’s prestigious art institute.

The degrees in art and architecture will be offered at a separate campus, currently in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Romema near the entrance to Jerusalem.

But Prof. Yaarah Bar-On, the deputy president for academic affairs at Bezalel, said the curriculum will be exactly the same for haredi students as non-haredi students.

Haredi art students will not be required to draw nude models, as the course is offered as an elective, but some aspects that haredim might find controversial will be unavoidable, she said.

For example, required first-year course the Birth of Western Art contains a large section on church artwork and architecture, something that cannot be removed from the curriculum.

“The idea is that we will honor their code of behavior, but with our fundamentals,” she said.

Bar-On noted that the desire for high-level arts programs in the ultra-Orthodox sector is already apparent in the plethora of haredi certification programs for graphic design, interior design, fashion design and art.

Sixty female students will start a year of preparation, or “mechina,” in the fall, focusing on art history and technique, to ensure that they meet the same standards as other students who apply to Bezalel. The school’s notoriously selective admissions accept less than 15 percent of the students who apply, Bar-On said.

Due to the smaller nature of the haredi program, approximately 50 women are expected to continue. In the fall of 2013, the women who pass the preparation year and are accepted will begin their first year.

In the future, Bezalel hopes to expand the program to other subjects as well as open separate courses for haredi men.

Bar-On said the school saw their separate haredi track as a contribution to the state to help haredim enter the workforce.

“We don’t think haredim are less intelligent or less talented, they’re asking for separate things, and we’re honoring that,” she said.

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