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Ultra-Orthodox women fight for their right to higher education

The religious ruling of Rabbi Shalom Cohen against higher education for women shook the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party Shas, at a moment when its political leaders are trying to regain traditional constituents and secular support.
A woman prays on one side of a partition at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City February 11, 2013. Israeli police detained 10 women at one of Judaism's most sacred sites on Monday for wearing prayer shawls, which Orthodox tradition sees as solely for men, a spokesman said.The incident at the Western Wall highlighted the divisions between the more liberal streams of Judaism and politically powerful Orthodox groups that traditionally limit the role of women in prayer. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM - Tags
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Since the emergence of Shas in the early 1980s, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party has always attempted to walk between the raindrops. On the one hand, it adopted ultra-Orthodox lifestyle values in an attempt to become part of the ultra-Orthodox world in Israel. On the other hand, since most of its leaders are “reborn,” or newly religious, Jews, the party always kept an open window to the outside, non-ultra-Orthodox world.

Things reached a peak when Adina Bar Shalom, daughter of the party’s founder late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founded an academic college for ultra-Orthodox women. This track contradicted the general orientation of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox world, but the unswerving support of the esteemed rabbi for his daughter’s educational enterprise caused thousands of the movement’s members and supporters to integrate the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle with academic studies.

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