Northern Arab village of Fureidis jumps 73 places to third, with a pass rate of 75%; TA in 23rd spot.
By MATTHEW WAGNER
Bnei Brak received the dubious distinction of having the lowest percentage of high school graduates who completed their matriculation exams last school year - just 14.94 percent - while Kochav Yair was ranked with the highest at 82.3%, three percentage points lower than the previous year, according to data released Monday by the Education Ministry.
Bnei Brak's low score was due to the fact that two-thirds of high school-age graduates in the haredi-dominated city - both girls and boys - do not even attempt to matriculate.
In Bnei Brak girls are tested in English, math and other subjects not considered spiritually threatening - such as evolution theory or secular literature - at the Szold Testing Institute, according to Avraham Tannenbaum, a Bnei Brak municipality spokesman.
"Over 90% of our girls successfully pass the tests and are at a higher academic level than the national average," said Tannenbaum.
A source at the Bnei Brak Haredi College, which provides professional training for haredim, said that after a long period during which haredi girls took matriculation exams, a ban on the practice was issued several years ago by haredi rabbinic leadership.
The source said that haredi spiritual leaders were concerned with the rising number of haredi girls pursuing university degrees.
"The rabbis do not want haredi girls to receive higher education in fields which are considered unacceptable," said the source.
On the same day the Education Ministry released its data, the haredi daily Hamodia published an ad on the front page of its paper for an institute that helps haredi women prepare for a modified form of matriculation in conjunction with Haifa University.
The ad was placed by the Bnei Brak Haredi College.
Haredi spiritual leaders are struggling to regulate the integration of their growing flock into the secular work market.
A sharp decline in donations to haredi educational institutions in the wake of the US financial crisis coupled with a series of cuts in welfare benefits have pushed more haredim to search for gainful employment.
However, without a high school diploma and lacking a strong background in math and English skills, these haredim have had difficulty integrating into the job market.
Numerous colleges catering to the haredi public have sprung up over the past decade, which offer various types of degrees in subjects considered by the rabbinical leadership to be compatible with a haredi lifestyle.
Dozens of employers offer haredi graduates of these colleges gender-segregated workplaces and coordinate work hours for female employees with child care.
In addition, there are still many haredi high schools for girls that prepare their students for matriculation exams.
For instance, in younger haredi towns such as Beitar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit, where the vast majority of high school-age students travel outside their towns to complete their education, there is a higher percentage of students who take high school matriculation exams.
Many of these students, mostly females, attend schools that offer preparation for state matriculation exams.
In Modi'in Ilit, for instance, 38.7% passed high school matriculation exams out of the 59% who were tested.
In Beitar Ilit, 23.7% passed out of the 64.75% who were tested.
Haredi sources estimated that most of those tested were girls. There are no haredi yeshivot for high school-age boys that prepare them for matriculation exams.
A senior editor for Hamodia justified the haredi educational policy for boys. "We want our boys to devote themselves totally to Torah," said the source.
"When a young man reaches the conclusion that he needs to get a job, he can pass matriculation exams after about a year of studying. Within a year, a serious guy can become proficient in English and math."
The source said that medicine was the only field still closed to haredim, but that perhaps one day a haredi medical school would be established in compliance with the community's sensibilities and norms.
According to a study entitled "Haredim in the Marketplace," by Nir Fogel and Yisraela Friedman, which was presented to the Van Leer Institute at the end of 2007, about half of the haredi population was either employed or actively seeking employment compared to about 80% for the non-haredi public.
According to a study by Dr. Daniel Gottlieb of the Bank of Israel, the vast majority of the approximately 700,000 Israeli haredim are poorer than the general population.
Gottlieb found that in 2004, 37% of haredi men were either working or actively looking for a job, compared to 67.7% of all Jewish Israeli men, including haredim.
Some 59.4% of the haredi population were living under the poverty line in 2004, compared to 23% of the general population.
Gottlieb said that haredi poverty had only gotten worse in the wake of deep cuts in the National Insurance Institute's child allowances.
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