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Ultra-Orthodox Jews go high-tech
02:21 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Ultra-Orthodox men, many in need of work, getting high-tech education

Skills from studying scripture help them with analysis of programming problems

Tel Aviv, Israel CNN  — 

The third-floor room in a suburb of Tel Aviv looks like any other high-tech company in the “Start-Up Nation.” Rows of programmers type away at computers, hammering out computer code for mobile applications. One room over, they work on web development in this small tech hub in Bnei Brak.

But the programmers come from a very different background. They are ultra-Orthodox Jews, known for their strict traditions and private lifestyle. They are called Haredim, which means “those who tremble in awe of God,” and they are Israel’s next wave of high-tech programmers.

By day, they adhere to their devout lifestyle, studying religious scripture on the first floor of the building. They huddle in groups, reading and rereading passages from religious texts such as the Talmud and the Torah, arguing about the meaning of individual words and phrases.

In the afternoon, they move up to the second floor and study something different.

Very different.

Instead of studying ancient texts, they learn modern computer languages and computer programming. The students begin by learning mathematics and English, subjects they never learned in their strict traditional lifestyle, which focuses on religious study. Then they start learning to program.

After one of year of study, they begin working in the high-tech fields.

“People who didn’t know anything about computers a year ago, you’ll see them developing web applications, mobile applications,” says Vered Mor, general manager of RavTech, the religious high-tech school where these students study Judaism and technology.

An eye and heart for analysis

New classes start each year with about 30 students. The students are required to pass tests in math, English and web development.

“They’re really curious,” says Noam Elfenbaum, one of the teachers. “They just want to know, to really understand what’s going on, and they’re not satisfied with shallow answers.”

The religious high-tech school is a way of finding work for Haredi men. Unemployment and poverty are major problems in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Among ultra-Orthodox men, 55% are unemployed. In most ultra-Orthodox families, only the woman works, often at low-income jobs, while supporting large families. On average, Haredi families have six children.

The ultra-Orthodox Haredi community makes up 10% of Israel’s population, but it is the fastest-growing segment of the population.

Most of the students at RavTech are in their 20s and 30s. They already have families. Now they are looking for work. Student Ariel Braun says years of strict religious study make for excellent programmers.

“A lot of times you have to think outside the box, and that’s very, very important, especially in studying the scriptures,” says Braun. “To think beyond the simple understanding of what’s in front of you, look into different levels and try and get deeper into the problem.”

High-tech programming jobs allow the ultra-Orthodox to maintain their strict lifestyle. In between programming classes, they break for afternoon prayers. One Haredi man reads the prayer service from his cell phone. For these ultra-Orthodox men working in today’s modern economy, technology is always close at hand.