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Ultra-Orthodox returning to higher education

Over the past few years, young ultra-Orthodox Jews have been entering academia in large numbers, a phenomenon that is transforming the ultra-Orthodox community and its relations with Israeli society at large.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men study at Jerusalem's Mir Yeshiva, the largest Jewish seminary in Israel July 4, 2012. The ultra-Orthodox Jews have gone from being a tiny minority in Israel's mostly secular society to its fastest-growing sector, now about 10 percent of the 7.8 million population. They are exempt from military duty in Israel but draft deferments and state subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox have become a divisive political issue in Israel, where the government must decide a new law by August to ensure
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The past few years have seen a dramatic change in ultra-Orthodox society. At one point, it was a society that shut itself off behind the ghetto’s walls, keeping a safe distance from everything the Western world had to offer and reacting with suspicion at the slightest hint of innovation and openness. In that vein, it was especially wary of the academic world, which it considered untouchable. Today, however, increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews are obtaining academic degrees and joining the workforce. That is one reason why the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut HaTorah party included, for the first time, a demand in its coalition agreement with the Likud that the government take steps to prevent discrimination against the ultra-Orthodox in the public sector.

Until 2000, there were almost no ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel with an academic degree, and there were no academic institutions in the country geared toward their community. Fifteen years later, however, there are dozens of ultra-Orthodox colleges. In other words, thousands of ultra-Orthodox students now attend institutions of higher learning specifically intended for them.

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