Squeaky clean exam prep books, holistic medicine courses with breaks for prayer, theater free of female characters or actors – these are just a few indicators of national religious Jews moving towards a stricter, more orthodox lifestyle.
The religious national public, offended by references in mainstream books and courses preparing future students for the Psychometric Entrance Test, known as the Psychometry, has come up in recent years with an alternative: Rabbi-approved test prep questions with wholesome, religion-oriented subjects, and classes separated by gender – complete with a same-gender instructor – courtesy of the Hakima Institute. "There is no flirting, no making acquaintances, no distractions," said one of the institute's founders.
Another founder of the 'kosher' Psychometry prep initiative who best illustrates the harsher standards of posed by the religious Zionism movement is Rabbi Chaim Fogel, trustee chairman of the Orot Israel College, located in the Elkana settlement in Samaria. "The existing secular psychometry brings examples that are not taken from the religious way of life," he said. "Moreover, there is research that shows that studying in gender-separated groups improves the students' achievements.
"Modesty was more prevalent in the past, today everything is more extreme. While the religious public is undergoing a process of becoming stronger and deeper, the nonreligious public moves in a more indecent direction. Today everything is allowed on the streets of Israel,
there is less and less modesty, which is less suitable for religious people. It's not 'orthodoxification,' but a reaction to what is happening."
The field of holistic medicine has recently gotten a 'kosher' seal as well, in the form of courses designed specifically for the religious sector, which take place at a new wing of the Givat Washington Education Campus in central Israel. Fitness training, hydrotherapy, Shiatsu, Swedish massage and even fitball are among the courses offered. Here too the classes are gender-separated and there are breaks allotted for prayer.
Another extension of the campus that has opened recently is the Mizmor School – a music institute where students write songs inspired by Judaism, and learn how to make real Jewish music. Needless to say, the men and women sing separately.
The upcoming Hanukkah kids festivals have not been left out; Peter Pan and other popular Israeli musicals and plays might be good enough for the secular crowd, but the national religious public has deemed them a bad influence. Instead, they have created their own festival, "Light in the Hall," which, like secular festivals, travels to culture halls across Israel, and allows religious kids to watch Hanukkah shows without being corrupted. No female characters are represented in these performances; the casts are all-male.
"This is not orhthodoxification," agreed Ester Silam, who works in a public relations office that targets the religious sector. "If a religious mother wants to take her children to an event like the Festigal (a secular music festival), she can't because the messages and the clothing are not suited for the lifestyle and education that she is interested in instilling in her children. Simply, she needs a festival that works for her."
Organizers note that the festival invites the secular public to attend as well, though they are aware that it does not draw crowds of the nonreligious.
"This festival comes to fill a cultural void which has emerged in recent years," said Gilad Alfasi, who organized the festival. "The Jewish theater is not being expressed these days in a clear manner, and we are glad to be the first to fill this void. 'Light in the Hall' proves year after year in its high attendance that a need for a different kind of theater exists."
Events customized especially for the religious public do not end with music festivals. A designer clothing fair was held last Hanukkah, the first of its kind to offer modest clothing only, to be open only to women and to feature a dance performance by students from a new dance division of the Orot Israel College."I understood that I can't continue to dance in front of men," said Michal Parhi, a student at the college. "I sought the suitable environment where I can move forward within a modest atmosphere."
"This is an entirely a socioeconomic phenomenon," said national religious MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi).
"It happens simply because it can. The religious public is growing and becoming a great consumer force, which allows it to have its own institutions and to consume kosher products. When I say kosher I mean suitable for religious people. It's a trend, just like the green and health movements."