“This is all under the condition that all lecturers will be eligible to teach according to the ways of our forefathers, and that all the studies and content [taught to students] will be based on the words of our [rabbinic] masters.”
Above: Rabbi Shalom Cohen
Women Can Go To College After All, New Shas Rabbi Says, But Only If It Teaches Every Subject In Conformity To Haredi Law
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Sefardi haredi Shas Party’s controversial new spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen issued a blanket ban earlier this week forbidding women from attending college, university or technical schools.
Cohen – whose earlier statements equating Modern Orthodox Jews with Amalek, the biblical arch enemy of the Jewish people Jews are commanded to kill, enraged many Israelis – wrote that women may not even attend gender-segregated haredi colleges and other similar haredi schools because he believes the curriculum contradicts the Torah.
After Cohen’s ruling was made public, haredi supporters of higher education leaked letters from from the late Sefardi haredi supreme rabbinic leader, Cohen’s predecessor as Shas’s spiritual head, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The letters show that Yosef encouraged women to attend college, Ynet reported.
After that, Cohen reportedly issued an amended ruling allowing women to get higher education – but only under certain conditions.
But in his first ruling, Cohen wrote that attending college and other institutions of higher learning was completely forbidden.
“Our masters, the greatest sages of Israel, were completely against academic studies, even in haredi colleges, as a significant number of the lecturers are university graduates and do not hold the pure religious outlook we were educated on.…[curriculum in these institutions is based on] research and scientific methods which contradict the views of the Torah…female students should not even think about studying in any academic framework, as this is not the way of the Torah,” Cohen wrote.
Yaffa Deri, the wife of Shas’s chairman, Aryeh Deri, reportedly runs an academic institution.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's daughter, Adina Bar-Shalom, founded the Haredi College of Jerusalem won the Israel Prize last year for doing it – and Yosef wrote letters calling on haredi women to study in his daughter's college.
In 2001, Yosef wrote that Bar-Shalom should be "blessed above all women” and supported for her "blessed initiative to establish a haredi college for girls, in which they will undertake academic studies in different subjects in pursuit of a suitable degree, so that they will be able to integrate into the public market and governmental institutions which the haredi public has had no access to until now." Yosef also wrote that Bar-Shalom's college was being run "in the spirit of the Jewish people, in a holy manner.”
In a 2004 letter, Yosef called on the "dear women teachers of the education network to undertake BA studies in education" at his daughter’s college.
In 2005, Yosef reportedly wrote that it is forbidden to study in "foreign institutions which the sages' spirit is not contented with," but then went on to insist that it is permitted and encouraged for women who want to "let their husbands work on our holy Torah [“i.e., let their husbands study full time in yeshiva] to study for a career at a haredi college in order to support the family while their husband studies in yeshiva.
Faced with clear evidence that he didn’t know what he was talking about, Cohen did an about face – sort of.
His associates released a kol koreh (public pronouncement) Cohen signed with other rabbis in 2009. It says that haredi women are permitted to study in a "kosher" higher academic institution under very specific conditions only.
They also claimed that Cohen and Yosef actually agreed on this.
In his amended ruling issued later week, Cohen wrote that married women who are already working as teachers can complete their bachelor's degrees.
But, Cohen insisted, single women who are not yet teaching must be interviewed by an "exemption committee" made up of haredi rabbis, who will allow them to enroll in an approved institution of higher learning only if they are "convinced that it is for a purely spiritual purpose."
Cohen then went on to rule that the only institutions of high education these women can attend must be completely religiously controlled and censored.
“This is all under the condition that all lecturers will be eligible to teach according to the ways of our forefathers, and that all the studies and content [taught to students] will be based on the words of our [rabbinic] masters,” Cohen wrote.
Three haredi colleges, including Bar-Shalom’s, are reportedly currently in extreme financial distress on the edge of closing.