Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ultra-orthodox Israeli Women Earn Biotechnology Degrees

The Jerusalem Post has an interesting column about a science degree program designed especially for religious Jewish women.

Picture the graduates: 28 young, very religious women with mortar boards fitted snugly over head scarves and wigs, marching to the stage of the Hadassah College Jerusalem auditorium on Rehov Hanevi'im to receive their bachelor of science degrees. A stunning delegation of government representatives - the National Infrastructures minister who is also Deputy Prime Minister, the Religious Affairs minister, the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee - as well as prominent rabbis - sat in the front row to applaud the graduates. Supportive families filled the back rows, sitting in separate men's and women's sections. Baby carriages lined the aisles.
The three-year course is designed to provide the theoretical and technical background for entering the biological and medical research industry. What is unique is the special accommodations for the young women who grew up in strictly religious households and attended gender-segregated elementary and high schools. Most who want to pursue a higher education attend religious seminaries and become teachers, a less lucrative career than laboratory research. Designing a program for them required gender-segregated classrooms and labs, instructors willing to dress and speak "modestly", and childcare for the many women students who had infant children. And, not surprisingly, the students found some of the classroom material challenged their religious beliefs.
The students consulted their rabbi when evolution, a previously avoided subject, appeared on the curriculum. The class material wasn't altered, but he filled in the religious approach to the origins of species.
What is unclear to me - and not addressed in the article - is what happens when these women enter the workforce. The organizer of the program, Adina Bar-Shalom, was "determined to preserve the sheltered environment that was prized in the haredi world while providing higher education that wasn't watered down in any way." Will the new graduates expect that same "sheltered environment" at the biotech companies where they presumably wish to be employed? And will the more secular employees of those companies be required to adhere to their social rules? I imagine it will be difficult for these women, who are apparently the "breadwinners" of their families, to navigate what is a secular industry, at least here in the US. I'd be interested in learning more about Israeli biotech - leave a comment if you know more.

Photos of the graduation ceremony.

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2 comments:

Le cinq blog said...

I think this program is a clever attempt at getting these women out of their environments while still conforming to impractical moral codes.I figure that they are trying to somehow make a start to get these women out and going ...They probably assume that once more and more women get out..it will be a lot more easier to further the social change.

Le cinq blog said...

btw.i also felt when i read the sentence ,"Baby carriages lined the aisles", that they were trying to somehow put the whole responsibility of child rearing on the women.
It was almost like they were sending a subliminal message to the women in general that no matter what they do , they better be equipped to take the whole responsibility of child rearing all on their own.
I have seen that in many societies, this kind of indirect discouragement by still making them take full responsibility of the children even if they work oustide , eventually makes the women chose to stay home out of sheer resentment that they have to do double the work even if they work outside and make money anyways, so why not sit home and make the men make money since the men wont help them raise the children.ya know.reverse psychology is some way.family feuds in another way.hmmmmm.