Rabbi Bezalel Cohen is one of a number of rabbis advocating a new solution for youths dropping out of the regular Haredi system. Instead of vocational schools, they hope to create a new category of yeshivot ktanot that combine religious studies with general education. Graduates would have a chance to earn a bagrut certificate that would enable them to attend university. […]

Cohen is the one drawing most of the fire. He has been the most vocal advocate for the mixing of religious and general studies. In interviews, he openly talks about his plans to attract students from the Haredi mainstream to his school, the Chachmei Lev Yeshiva in Jerusalem. And his yeshiva is smack in the heart of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The opposition to Cohen’s yeshiva has stung. For three years it hasn’t been able to move out of its temporary site because the Haredim won’t let the Jerusalem municipality allot it a permanent site in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. It’s still not clear when the yeshiva might be able to move to a permanent building, and if so, where.

“The anger is being directed at me because I’m trying to reach the Haredi mainstream and because I’m right in the middle of the city. But my biggest sin is that I give interviews and write about this. The attack on the yeshiva is therefore to a great extent a personal attack on me,” Cohen says.

“I’ve become a kind of celebrity for my defiance, and you could argue that this hurts the yeshiva, but it’s also beneficial. The interviews I’ve given have put the issue on the Haredi public agenda, and people are listening. I make them mad, but they’re also agreeing more and more that kids who want to study for a bagrut certificate should be given that possibility.”