Ultra-Orthodox school that teaches secular studies ostracized by community

A haredi high-school in Jerusalem currently has no premises at which to teach for the coming academic year.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews are taught in school. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews are taught in school.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A haredi high-school in Jerusalem teaching both religious studies and a general education to its pupils currently has no premises at which to teach for the coming academic year.
A campaign led by haredi activists against the school, and assisted by haredi representatives in the Jerusalem Municipal Council, led to a decision by the council last week to remove the temporary classrooms and facilities from the site in the haredi neighborhood of Ramot Aleph.
A spokesperson for the Jerusalem Municipal Council said it was helping the school and its principal, and that efforts were being made to help find new premises.
The Hachmei Lev school was established by Rabbi Betzalel Cohen, 39, last year with 15 pupils and used premises in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood in Jerusalem.
But Hachmei Lev has 55 pupils registered for the coming academic year and needed larger premises with an option for dormitories as well, since 30 of the pupils live outside Jerusalem.
According to Cohen, a site in the haredi neighborhood of Ramot Aleph with six prefabricated structures previously used by a haredi girls Beit Yaakov school were made available by the Jerusalem Municipality to Hachmei Lev.
But a campaign has been conducted by haredi representatives on the Jerusalem Municipal Council to prevent the school being located in the Ramot neighborhood.
Cohen says opponents to the school objected on religious and ideological grounds to the teaching of secular studies in a religious institution.
The campaigners however said their opposition was based on the broader claims of the haredi community in Ramot, that the municipality and the local neighborhood administration ignores their communal requirements and that there are insufficient buildings and structures for the needs of the community.
But Cohen said the campaigners made numerous unfounded claims against him and his school, saying he was anti-haredi, disobeyed the senior haredi rabbinic leadership, which is stridently against teaching general education studies in a yeshiva, and even of receiving money from the Reform movement, which he firmly denies.
“This is a haredi institute,” Cohen told The Jerusalem Post. “The yeshiva high schools are not suitable for everyone,” he continued, in reference to the exclusive focus on religious studies of almost all haredi yeshivas for high-school aged children.
“We are specialized for haredim who don’t want the normal yeshiva high school but which does promote Talmud study, religious devotion and a general education, as well. There is a lack of such institutions but there are a lot of people who want this kind of thing,” said Cohen.
“This would strengthen the regular yeshiva high schools since it would allow the pupils not suited to study there to leave, which would be to the advantage of the children who do study there, while enabling those who are suited to our system to also succeed.”
Naftali Lorentz, chairman of the haredi Community Administration of Ramot, said, however, that Ramot is suffering from a severe lack of infrastructure for public institutions like schools, and it was opposed for that reason.
The pre-fabs are being completely removed however and the property where they stood has not been designated for any purpose.
Lorentz added that the Hachmei Lev yeshiva was a private institution that did not serve the needs of the Ramot community, although he acknowledged that rabbis from the neighborhood had joined the campaign because they believed the school was advancing a certain agenda to promote general studies.
The Jerusalem Municipality said the original proposal to house the school in the prefabs was not fitting because of the municipality’s promise to remove these structures due to an agreement made several years ago when they were first placed there.
The municipality said however it is helping and supporting Hachmei Lev, and “appreciates its ground-breaking, positive activities for the needs of haredi pupils.”
“Mayor Nir Barkat knows and is supporting the principals of the yeshiva and has even met with the administration to find an appropriate solution,” the municipality said in response to the issue.