It’s a twisted tale that could only happen in a country as twisted and confused as Israel often is. Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School, a small one-year-old haredi yeshiva that combines regular yeshiva study with secular studies in a way meant to allow its students to earn a high school diploma and pass national exams, has been evicted from its location by the City of Jerusalem – not because of late rent payments or bad behavior on the part of its students, but because haredim want the yeshiva to be shut down.
Above: Jerusalem's secular mayor, Nir Barkat
Haredi Yeshiva Evicted By Secular Mayor For Teaching, Get This, Secular Subjects
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
It’s a twisted tale that could only happen in a country as twisted and confused as Israel often is.
Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School, a small one-year-old haredi yeshiva that combines regular yeshiva study with secular studies in a way meant to allow its students to earn a high school diploma and pass national exams, has been evicted from its location by the City of Jerusalem – not because of late rent payments or bad behavior on the part of its students, but because haredim want the yeshiva to be shut down, Ha’aretz reported.
Haredi rabbinic leaders vehemently oppose having any secular studies in haredi yeshivas, despite the fact that Israeli law mandates it.
The Education Ministry is supposed to cut the funding of haredi high school and middle school yeshivas that do not teach all or most of the country’s core curriculum, but in practice does not do so and tens of thousands of haredi children get no or very deficient secular education as a result.
Posters and flyers against the Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School, newspaper articles condemning it in the haredi press, and what Ha’aretz calls “an array of other verbal threats” from haredim caused Mayor Nir Barkat to send a letter to the school Thursday evicting it – even though he had just given the school use of the property several months before.
The property Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School was planning on using and had just spent 100,000 NIS (about $29,000) to remodel is located in the mixed haredi and non-haredi Ramot Aleph neighborhood and was previously used by a right-wing haredi-Zionist Orthodox (harda”l) yeshiva. The new school year was set to begin in nine days and the school’s 55 students and all of its staff are now in limbo, even though the city says it will find a solution to the yeshiva’s sudden homelessness soon.
During its first year, the yeshiva operated from a closed compound within the grounds of a secular high school located on the edge of the heavily haredi Bayit Vegan neighborhood.
Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School is the first haredi yeshiva of its type in Jerusalem, causing haredi rabbis and their political leaders to exert massive pressure to keep it far away from haredi neighborhoods or, if possible, out of the city entirely or simply out of business.
Haaretz has learned that haredi opponents have been considering publishing a letter in the name of supreme haredi spiritual leader leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman against Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School’s rosh yeshiva Rabbi Bezalel Cohen. That letter would likely destroy Cohen’s yeshiva and could cause secular Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition to fall.
Cohen’s opponents have already published an article against him the largest haredi daily newspaper in the world, Yated Ne’eman, which is controlled by Steinman. They also published a special pamphlet attacking Cohen personally and plastered the city with posters against him. And they also moved to prevent Cohen’s own children from being accepted into any haredi yeshivas.
The letter from haredi rabbis of Ramot published two weeks ago accuses Cohen and his staff of cooperating with heresy.
“[Hochmei Lev Yeshiva High School] an institution whose leaders publicly defy the great sages, who scorn our heritage and, we were aghast to hear, also work in cooperation with and with funding from Reform organizations,” the letter reportedly reads in part.
Cohen reportedly denies he or his yeshiva work with or receive funding from any reform organizations, and says the rabbis’ claim to the contrary is just another in a long series of lies haredim are spreading to discredit him and Hochmei Lev.
The mayor’s office claims the reason it chose to evict Hochmei Lev is that the mayor made a previous promise several years ago to close the buildings. Of course, this in no way explains why the mayor gave the property to Hochmei Lev a few months ago and allowed it to spend tens of thousands of dollars upgrading it.
“We will not abandon Hochmei Lev. [Mayor] Nir [Barkat] has made it clear that he will take care of them, and give them priority,” a city source told Ha’aretz.
Hochmei Lev was offered a building in the Neveh Yaakov neighborhood, but Cohen had to turn it down because there is no way to build a dormitory there.
Cohen lashed out at the city and at haredi politicians.
“Our school is ultra-Orthodox by every criterion, and it is the duty of the ultra-Orthodox representatives in Jerusalem to find a suitable answer for the students who are entitled by law to an appropriate education. The Jerusalem municipality cannot disregard and abandon the yeshiva without a suitable answer. If no solution is found, heaven forbid, it means not only that there will a problem for the 55 students who registered for Hochmei Lev and might be facing the closure of the yeshiva, but it also sends a terrible message for the many people who wanted and need to follow in the path of the yeshiva,” Cohen reportedly said.
Of course, that disastrous result is exactly what those haredi leaders are likely hoping for.