Some 5,000 haredim study at higher education institutions in Israel. Some are doing so instead of yeshiva studies, while others enrolled in university after many years of religious studies.
Amid controversy over a bill that aims to fund the education of yeshiva students who are not employed and have over three children, haredi students urge their fellow haredi friends to go out and work.
"Those who yell that the haredi public must go out and work are rightfully doing so. Earning a profession and working is possible, and should be encouraged. We must give the haredim tools to take care of themselves, and not be a burden on society," said Avraham Bitkin, a social work student and father of four.
Bitkin did not assign blame on the government or the haredi sector, but rather pointed the finger at the heads of haredi yeshivot.
"The problem is not (Prime Minister) Bibi or even the yeshiva students themselves. The study program at the yeshivot is not directed at anything. You enter a yeshiva and have no idea what you'll come out with," he said.
"I did the whole haredi course of studies, and after I finished I realized that if I don't learn a profession, the poverty in Bnei Brak can reach me too," added Bitkin.
"I didn't want to live off of donations. It's not my style, or the style of many of my friends," he explained.
According to Bitkin, some of the yeshiva students do nothing while attending the yeshiva. "You can spot a lot of guys who are just hanging around all day with a cup of coffee or tea, and just passing the time. Giving these people stipends is destructive, and will only widen the gaps," he asserted.
'No choice in life'Matti Feldman, a haredi father of five and a master's degree student, thinks amending the existing law should be "done wisely and gradually."
According to Feldman, "You cannot let people wake up into a new reality. They must be taken out of their stagnation in an educated manner, and not throw people into the job market without giving them the necessary skills."
The haredim, said Feldman, did not reach this situation out of their own free will. "Take into account that some of these people didn't have much choice in life. They reached the age of 18 and were married off before attending yeshiva," he said.
"Even if they wanted to do something differently – what could they do? They don’t have an education or a matriculation certificate. They're stuck – it's a nightmare. People give them a hard time, but they don't understand how sad it can be; they are very restricted," Feldman added.
According to Feldman, shelving the law won't bring to a solution. "Everything must be reformed from the root, from primary education. In addition to Torah, they must learn normal subjects even without supervision," he said.
"People reach the age of 18 without having a clue. A third of them would like to continue and study something else without leaving religion, but the world is not waiting for them," he concluded.
'Our voice is not heard'Bitkin and his friends attend colleges that offer special study tracks for haredim. The degrees are issued by recognized universities such as Bar-Ilan or Haifa University, but men and women study separately, and the classrooms observe halachic rules and are under rabbinical supervision.
Despite the opportunity, Bitkin believes many haredim will find it hard to alter their lifestyles, because it is not only up to them.
"When a father of 10 wants to change his life and study an academic profession, what is he supposed to do? There is nothing more difficult than being a father, a student, and also earn a living. Our voice is not heard. Haredi students must be encouraged by being given more opportunities and scholarships," he noted.
Bitkin also criticized the prime minister and haredi members of Knesset. "Maybe it's more convenient for Netanyahu to release funds with no end, and for the haredi politicians to say they are doing their part, instead of developing real programs. Not everyone can wash dishes or work in bars at night like secular students," he concludes.
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