Shas spiritual leader: Women shouldn’t go to college

Rabbi Shalom Cohen opposes academic study because material contradicts tradition, teachers pose bad influence

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

The enrollment of ultra-Orthodox women in institutions of higher learning — including Haredi-run programs — constitutes a flagrant violation of Jewish law, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party said.

In an open letter published on the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabat website Tuesday, Rabbi Shalom Cohen of the Sephardic Porat Yosef Yeshiva, now president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, decried the rising numbers of Haredi women seeking academic degrees for what he said was material that contradicts Jewish tradition.

“We are witness today to [the phenomenon] where female graduates of [ultra-Orthodox] seminaries are applying to and seeking to learn academic studies,” he wrote.

“Our rabbis, the sages of Israel, unconditionally opposed academic study,” Cohen wrote, “and even in the Haredi colleges, since a significant number of professors are university graduates and do not uphold the pure religious worldview on which the girls were raised.

“In addition, the material in the colleges is based on research and scientific methods that contravene the Torah! Therefore, students should not even consider going to learn academic studies in any framework, since this is not the way of the Torah.”

Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of the late Shas spirtual leader, chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (photo credot: Flash90)
Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of the late Shas spirtual leader, chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (photo credot: Flash90)

The statement by the newly inaugurated spiritual figure was his first public ruling since his appointment. His ruling, which does not address male students, appears to contradict the opinion of his predecessor, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on the matter. Yosef’s daughter Adina Bar-Shalom founded the Haredi College of Jerusalem in 2001, in a move backed by her father.

The condemnation follows the recent expansion of BA programs tailored to ultra-Orthodox religious norms, including the establishment of a Haredi track at the Hebrew University and the Technion, and a planned ultra-Orthodox track at Bar-Ilan University, as increased numbers of ultra-Orthodox students seek institutions of higher learning.

In 2012, the Council for Higher Education agreed to invest NIS 180 million ($52 million) over the course of five years toward increased Haredi college education initiatives.

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