Vocational training for ultra-orthodox men

Yohai Hakak

Research output: Working paper

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This research examines the interaction between young ultra orthodox men who come from a yeshiva background, and a technological vocational training program – The Haredi Center for Technological Studies. The characteristics of the student group were examined, their initial dilemmas, their decisions and explanations for choosing a new direction in life. The research finds that the new students at the center are mainly ex students from Lithuanian yeshivas, which are part of the Haredi hegemonic center. Others are part of the social margins of the Haredi community, whether because of their family background, or their own unsuccessful yeshiva career. Entering the Haredi Center for technological studies is paving their way back closer to the social center – both the Haredi and the general Israeli. The transition into vocational training appears to stem from two main reasons: the reluctance to spend daily long hours studying the holy scriptures, and the refusal to come to terms with a reality of poverty. Some of the interviewees interpreted the difficulties of adjusting to the strict demands of the Torah world as implying less on their individual limitations rather than on the shortcomings of this particular male model, and its inability to embrace every Haredi man. They also claimed that the rabbis are shutting their eyes to the distress of many young men, and, guided by their own narrow personal interests, prefer to cling to the cultural hegemonic model of the religious scholar as the only alternative for all young Haredi men. Several aspects in the structure and activity of the Haredi Center were examined. It was found that the power relationships characterizing the three main Haredi groups (Lithuanian, Hassidic and Sephardim groups) are reconstructed and maintained also within the Haredi Center. The Lithuanian hegemony is manifested in the central role which the Lithuanian Hallahic leaders play in shaping the center’s character and root. Within the rabbinical committee, which is subordinated to the Lithuanian Halachic leaders, there is a majority of Hassidic rabbis and no Sephardic rabbis at all. The center’s administration is also composed of a majority of Ashkenazi-Lithuanians. Identification with one of the three Haredi main groups is also clearly expressed through the staff and student body of other Haredi institutions for vocational training. In stark contrast to this tendency, rabbi Fogel, the head of the Haredi Center tried to introduce meritocratic and egalitarian norms, by which the Haredi Center is meant to serve equally students from all Haredi streams. Under these new egalitarian norms, the process of selection does not take into consideration elements such as ethnicity, or belonging to a specific religious group, but only the candidates’ abilities and qualifications, thus conforming with a modern labor market and Western higher education systems. Examining the interaction between the hegemonic cultural model of the Haredi community and the cultural model of a modern labor market exposed the disparity in attitudes towards the concept of time, its organization and management. In a modern labor market, a businessman will examine rationally the options he is facing, and will prepare himself in advance, using his autonomy, initiative and assertiveness, and will avoid irrational dependence on factors such as chance. Several official Haredi spokesmen further entrenched any disapproval of such an approach. They all saw in the individual’s attempts to plan his, his group’s or the state’s future a presumptuousness, which ignores the fact that God is the first and last ruler. The deep disparity between the two cultural models is also expressed in the activities of the directors of the Haredi Center. For example, one of the heads of administration decided to completely give up on his salary, and devote himself and his work to his community, rejecting material gain and ambition, so very central to the modern labor market. Surprisingly, this loyalty to community values proved worthwhile to many of the Center’s graduates, who, because of these qualities, did not lose their jobs in the wave of cutbacks in the Hi-Tech market during 2000-2001. The willingness to suspend present joys in favor of the future, which is central in both the labor market and the religious Jewish cultural models, was found to be another relative advantage of the Haredi students. It strengthened the student’s resolve and perseverance, and their ability to invest long hours in their studies. Several other components of the Haredi cultural model were found to be especially close to the capitalist cultural model. Among them is the belief in the individual’s ability to aim and accomplish high – whether in capital accumulation or in Torah studies, regardless of social status and background, ethnicity or religious group, relying only on personal commitment and efforts. As to the tension between the Haredi cultural model and the higher education cultural model it was found that the individual in the Haredi educational system is perceived as an incomplete unit, a contributing factor for the centrality of studying in pairs (Hevruta) in the yeshivas. By contrast, the higher education model emphasizes the unique talents of every individual, and attempts to develop a variety of talents in him, but has no pretensions to shape his entire identity. The studies are meant to achieve concrete goals, whether internal or external, but are not in any way a means of worship. These differences between the two systems force the students to go through a long process of adjustment. They have to make up for gaps in secular studies, especially in Arithmetic and English. Between 20 to 30 percent of the students drop out during the initial period, in which pursuing these gaps carries the main emphasis. The huge gap between the two cultural models is expressed in the students’ remarks, censure and rejection of some of the materials they are studying. They do not, however, reject the new cultural model of a modern labor market. A major reason for this is the fact that this new model emphasizes the centrality and importance of the individual and his actions as directed toward his own personal and private interest, and is not perceived as part of an alternative ideological system that might threaten the ultra orthodox community. By sharp contrast, the perception of labor as a ‘religion’ or other socialist perceptions evoke sharp ideological resistance within the ultra orthodox community.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationJerusalem
PublisherFloersheimer Institute
Number of pages140
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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