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  • Tova Hartman (a1) and Chaim Zicherman (a2)


Over the past two decades a number of Israeli institutions of higher education have opened gender-segregated programs for the ultra-Orthodox, or haredim. The growth of these programs has generated an intense debate in Israel, reflected throughout Israeli media and in several appeals to Israel's Supreme Court. The issues raised concerning gender-segregated higher education reflect an overarching inquiry that is of great interest to multicultural theoreticians: the relationship of liberal democracies to their illiberal minorities. Multicultural theoreticians agree that healthy democracies must tolerate some illiberal practices while acknowledging that not every illiberal practice can be tolerated. In the case at hand, the essay addresses the question: can a liberal democracy tolerate gender-segregated higher education? Using work by Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, John Inazu, and others, the essay reviews the arguments for and against gender segregation in higher education for Israeli haredim. The essay explores the limits of toleration of illiberal cultures within liberal democratic societies and finds crucial the right to exit such a culture—a right whose viability is dependent upon adequate education. The essay concludes by discussing the multiculturalism organization development model and what has been termed the manyness and messiness of multiculturalism.

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1 The issue of whether or not the State ought to sanction gender segregation in higher education affects both private and public academic institutions, as all Israeli institutions of higher education are regulated and accredited by Israel's Board of Higher Education. The difference between public and private institutions of higher education is that only the former receive government funding.

2 Okin, Susan M., “Feminism and Multiculturalism: Some Tensions,” Ethics 108, no. 4 (1998): 661–84; Okin, Susan M., “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?,” in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?, ed. Cohen, Joshua, Howard, Matthew, and Nussbaum, Martha C. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 724; Okin, Susan M., “Multiculturalism and Feminism: No Simple Questions, No Simple Answers,” in Minorities within Minorities: Equality, Rights and Diversity, ed. Eisenberg, Avigail and Spinner-Halev, Jeff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 6789; Baehr, Amy R., ed., Varieties of Feminist Liberalism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

3 Murphy, Michael, Multiculturalism: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2012), 6.

4 In the latter case, New York State has decided that it is in fact within its purview to monitor the secular education of ultra-Orthodox schools; it is in the process of on-site inspection of these schools, a process that is estimated to conclude by December 2020.

5 See Burtonwood, Neil, Cultural Diversity, Liberal Pluralism and Schools: Isaiah Berlin and Education (London: Routledge, 2012).

6 Making higher education accessible to a broad Israeli public is crucial to the institution at which we serve, Ono Academic College. Gender-segregated academic programs have thus long been offered by the college, and for this reason the school has been targeted by the Supreme Court petitioners.

7 Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that the haredi public is not considered a “minority group,” even though the size of the group is only 13 percent of the total Israeli population. This is because in the opinion of the Court, the definition of a minority is not tied to numerical issues but rather to political power. Due to the great rise in political power of the haredim over the past few decades, the Court believes that the haredim do not need protection as a minority group. See, for example, the opinion of Justice Amit in HCJ 1877/14, paragraph 2 of the judgment.

8 Not one major haredi posek (rabbinic legal decisor) permits coeducation. The two greatest Ashkenazic and Sephardic poskim of the twentieth century, respectively, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895–1986) and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920–2013) ruled that observance of halakha mandates complete gender segregation in education. No haredi posek of this generation has challenged this ruling.

9 Avishai Margalit and Moshe Halbertal, “Liberalism and the Right to Culture,” Social Research 61, no 3 (1994): 491–510, at 506.

10 Margalit and Halbertal, “Liberalism and the Right to Culture,” 506, emphasis added.

11 Appiah, Kwame Anthony, “Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction,” in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Gutmann, Amy (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 149–63, at 150.

12 Appiah, “Identity, Authenticity, Survival,” 151.

13 Emer Smyth, “Single-Sex Education: What Does Research Tell Us?” Revue Française de Pédagogie 171 (April–June 2010): 47–55, at 53.

14 See Pahlke, Erin, Hyde, Janet Shibley, and Allison, Carlie M., “The Effects of Single-Sex Compared with Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis,” Psychological Bulletin 140, no. 4 (2014): 10421072; Yalcinkaya, M. Talha and Ulu, Ayse, “Differences between Single-Sex Schools and Co-Education Schools,” Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences, no. 46 (2012): 1316.

15 Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” in Gutmann, Multiculturalism, 25–73, at 72–73.

16 This is part of the status quo arrangement of religion and state in Israel that was established in 1947. See Barak-Erez, Daphne, “Law and Religion under the Status Quo Model: Between Past Compromises and Constant Change,” Cardozo Law Review 30, no. 6 (2009): 24952507.

17 Gilligan, Carol, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); Gilligan, Carol, Joining the Resistance (New York: Vintage, 2011); Miller, Jean Baker, Toward a New Psychology of Women (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976).

18 Interestingly, it has been argued that feminism has failed to attract large numbers of men because it has promulgated the message that all men have power rather than that all power lies with men. See Kimmel, Michael S.Men's Responses to Feminism at the Turn of the Century,” Gender & Society 1, no. 3 (1987): 261–83; Kimmel, Michael S., Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (New York: Nation Books, 2017).

19 Gender segregation does have the potential to discriminate against women faculty. This is because according to the haredi reading of Jewish law, men may serve as teachers to either sex, whereas women may only teach women. To avoid such discrimination, institutions of higher education are free to adopt the following policy (and, in fact, this is the policy of Ono Academic College): there shall be only women faculty for women students and only men faculty for men students.

20 Margalit and Halbertal, “Liberalism and the Right to Culture,” 508.

21 Burtonwood, Cultural Diversity, Liberal Pluralism and Schools, 94.

22 Kraybill, Donald B., The Riddle of Amish Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 186.

23 Young Advocates for Fair Education, “About Us,”, accessed May 8, 2019.

24 Bhagavan Das, The Essential Unity of All Religions (1932; repr, Wheaton: Quest Books Theosophical Publishing, n.d.), 5.

25 Inazu, John D., Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 6.

26 Hartman, Tova, “I Think I'm of Two Minds,” in Kolot: Celebrating the Plurality of Jewish Voices, vol. 2, ed. Yanklowitz, Shmuly (Phoenix: Valley Beit Midrash, 2017): 8996.

27 Abner Greene, quoted in Inazu, Confident Pluralism, 7.

28 Inazu, Confident Pluralism, 8; Walzer, Michael, On Toleration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 96.

29 Inazu, Confident Pluralism, 6.

30 See Miller, Frederick A. and Katz, Judith H., Inclusion Breakthrough: Unleashing the Real Power of Diversity (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2002), 28.

31 Pope, Raechele L., Reynolds, Amy L., and Mueller, John A., Creating Multicultural Change on Campus (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014), 25.

32 This inclusion also applies to other groups in Israel that have traditionally been excluded from higher education, such as people with disabilities, Ethiopian Israelis, Arab citizens of Israel, and people from poor areas known as “the peripheries.”

33 If one takes into account the fact that among Israel's Arab citizens there are sizeable numbers of students for whom coeducation is also “a barrier to inclusion,” the portion of Israel's population that prefers gender segregation may be over 30 percent (with Israeli Arabs constituting approximately 20 percent of the population).

34 See Alison Doyle, “How Much Is a College Degree Worth?” The Balance Careers, June 25, 2019,; and see “Higher Education, Less Employment Inequality,” Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, January 30, 2011,



  • Tova Hartman (a1) and Chaim Zicherman (a2)


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