Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in a strict sect are no longer allowed to attend universities, thanks to a decree by New York-based rabbis.
The Satmar sect released the declaration in Yiddish, decreeing that higher education enables “secular influences in our holy environment,” and hence is considered “dangerous.”
“It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah,” the Independent translated. “We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.
"We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.”
This isn’t the first time an Orthodox Jewish sect has banned higher education for women. A senior haredi rabbi once compared higher education as a blow worse than the Holocaust.
“The furnaces of this generation are burning more than the furnaces of Auschwitz, more than the cellars of the inquisition with all their tortures, these are spiritual furnaces,” Rabbi Aviezer Peletz was quoted by the Kikar Hashabbat news website last year.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews discourage interactions with people outside of the faith and with the modern world. Jewish activists have previously claimed decisions like these seem to stem from a fear of secularism and materialism. The poverty of the ultra-Orthodox community has actually empowered religious leadership, but now thanks to technology and education, the situation is quickly changing.
It may even be seen as an upset of the perceived gender roles. Many of the boys spend their days immersed in religious texts and if girls go to study and eventually work, it might undermine men’s status as the head of the house.
This latest edict has been condemned by civil rights activists as well.
“The Satmar community chooses to live in an isolationist enclave. They believe that the secular elements of the world would tarnish the lives and beliefs of those who consider themselves to be religious,” said Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
“There are probably other factors at play, but, ultimately, the results are devastating. Because people from similar communities are not provided with a foundational primary education, they cannot pursue higher education nor careers. When one does not have access to education, career opportunities are out of reach. It forces one to stay within the community as everyone's personal lives are tied up with their professional lives as well.”