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March 7, 2014 7:53 am

New Program Increases Options for Yeshiva Students Seeking to Earn a BA in Israel

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Yeshiva students learn at Baltimore-based Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, which has a program linked with Johns Hopkins University that allows students to simultaneously study Torah and earn a college degree. In Israel, such options have grown for English-speaking male students who are seeking to earn a bachelor's degree and study Torah at the same time in an accredited yeshiva of their choice. Photo: Rippeym3 via Wikimedia Commons. – For Anglo university students who are spending a semester abroad in Israel, or those who have recently made aliyah, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website provides a comprehensive list of institutions of higher learning that offer courses geared towards students whose mother tongue is English.

But while an abundant number of courses are offered in the English language, the foreign ministry’s list gets smaller when searching for institutions that offer the opportunity to earn enough credits to complete a full bachelor’s degree in their native language.

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The options shrink even more for a particular group of English-speaking male students—those who are seeking to earn their bachelor’s degree while at the same time studying Torah in an accredited yeshiva of their choice. Those options, however, have grown by at least one program.

The Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) recently announced that it is launching a new International Program in English at the college’s Machon Lev Academic Center for Men. The program will allow students to earn a fully accredited business degree while studying at the yeshiva of their choice. Beginning this fall, the three-year program will operate on a condensed schedule that will require students to spend only two afternoons a week on campus.

Though it was created for students interested in extending and enhancing their “gap year” experience (referring to the year often spent in Israel by students in between the end of high school and their first year of college), the international program is also designed for young men who are considering aliyah or have recently moved to Israel and require a more gradual transition into academic Hebrew.

The program’s curriculum, which incorporates lectures and practical research projects, is modelled after courses developed in leading international universities and combines studies in marketing, management, accounting, finance, and technology.

Stuart Hershkowitz, the senior advisor to the president of JCT, tells that there is “no other program like this in Israel, which offers kids the incentive to stay here to complete their studies instead of going back to the United States, while at the same time solving the dilemma for students who want to stay in yeshiva.”

Hershkowitz adds that the JCT BA program is not only a “demanding” top-level program within a “leading institution,” but at a cost of $3,650 per year, it is “much more affordable than getting a degree in America.” Hershkowitz envisions that the international program will be the catalyst in a chain reaction, in which foreign students “come to Israel to learn in yeshiva while getting their degrees, join the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), make aliyah, and integrate into society.”

Another viable option for a student seeking to simultaneously earn a bachelor’s degree and study in an Israeli yeshiva is Bar-Ilan University’s three-year International Bachelor of Arts program. The program enables English-speaking students the chance to pursue an internationally recognized degree in a Torah environment, which includes an on-campus men’s kolel (Torah institute with stipend), offering fully accredited serious learning programs for students of all levels.

Alongside the numerous Torah-study options, the Bar-Ilan BA program offers a wide range of undergraduate degrees in interdisciplinary studies. Rabbi Ari Yablok, the rabbi for the American and other Anglo student communities at Bar-Ilan, tells that the program “offers classes only three days a week and in the afternoons, so students can learn [Torah] every day in the morning either in the kolel or in their various yeshivot.”

Yablok says that as part of the program, students are also required to take at least seven Judaic studies courses offered through the university. He adds that a major focus of the program is student life on campus.

“What I’ve tried to do is to make religious life [on campus] as conducive to spiritual growth as possible,” Yablok says, citing weekly Torah lectures and classes, as well as religious programming every night of the week and special Shabbat retreats. He says the program helps students “integrate into Israeli society, help them with their aliyah process, and deal with the bureaucracy.”

Yablock is proud that the university has such a strong network of Anglo students that the aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh “has reached out to the student population to find out how they can offer resources to better serve that growing community of young student olim (immigrants).”

Rabbi Adi Isaacs, the director of JCT’s new International Program in English, says, “We’re telling these kids, don’t run back to America, you don’t have to leave Israel, or leave yeshiva; you now have the option of taking this leap and joining our program.”

Isaacs explains to that should a foreign student decide to return to the U.S. after completing only part of the program, that student’s credits would be fully accepted at major universities throughout the country.

Yet Isaacs is confident that students will in fact remain in Israel to obtain their full degrees, and he even believes that in year two or three of the program, students from abroad will specifically come to Israel to pursue their BA degrees in the JCT program, “since ultimately with this new avenue opening up of combining yeshiva learning and college, at an affordable price, why [choose] America?”

“Why not Israel?” he asks.

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