Religion Magazine

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
This issue has been on my mind, and since it was published in the news yesterday I waited to write anything as I thought about the issue. I am just going to write my thoughts, somewhat conflicting thoughts, but I have no conclusion and I am not sure what the right approach is.
A course had been developed to train members of the Haredi community in public service. When the course was originally designed, it was designed for men only. Efforts were put forth and they added a separate track for women and while initially they wanted the course to have 20% women (again, actual course work would be gender separate, but the overall course had to be 80% men and 20% women), and then the final agreement was on 50-50 - equal tracks for men and for women.
A women's lobby went to court against this program because of the gender segregation. Yesterday morning the courts accepted the argument of the lobby and decided that the course is damaging to women and the ideal of equality in society. The court said that when weighing the damage caused by canceling or freezing such a training program against the constitutional right of equality, the right of equality is more important. The court has given the State 30 days to add at least 10 women to the men's course to allow it to continue, or it would be canceled indefinitely.
source: Kikar
On the one hand, if the State wants to bring Haredi society out of the shtetl and into society, at least a certain amount of it has to be on Haredi terms. Even if just for practical reasons, as if certain red lines are crossed, in the name of equality or any other ideal, that goes against Haredi ideology, the Haredi community simply won't participate. If the State wants Haredim in the workforce, if the State wants to train Haredim, one of the Haredi red lines is no co-ed schooling. Forcing co-ed education at the expense of training Haredim is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
On the other hand, the Haredim want opportunities as well. The Haredi community is largely less educated and trained for the workforce, and programs like this are a big boon to the community as it gives them opportunity for many jobs that are so valuable to them. The Haredi community cannot just expect everyone else to always compromise in favor of the Haredi community and they sometimes must make concessions as well.
Is co-ed education a concession? To whom would they be conceding on this? This would be a concession in the face of an ideal held by the larger society of providing equal opportunities to people of both genders.
Should the Haredi community concede on this? I do not know, but this is not the basic ideal of not having any co-ed education. Keeping that red line makes sense for children in school, but for adults who will soon anyway be working in mixed-gender environments? Is it really such a strong ideal to keep them separate in the classroom when in just a few months they will be working together, shoulder to shoulder (but not touching) in some government office, providing services to both men and women?
I don't know what is right and what is wrong. I do not know which is more important. The Haredi community desperately needs, and seems to want, the State to pull it out of the shtetl, because they won't do it themselves - at least not on a communal level. The State desperately wants to promote increased Haredi involvement in society, and especially in the workforce. The State wants to uphold the ideal of gender equality. Which is more important? I don't know. The court says gender equality and equal opportunity is more important, but it bothers me that such an important opportunity will be lost because of it.
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