Sex Separation in State Religious Schools a National Issue

The story brewing over the last few months regards the character of the state religious schools, known in Hebrew by the acronym MM”D or mamad (not to be confused with safe rooms that use the same acronym and pronunciation). And like so many previous educational struggles involving mamad, this one takes place right here in Petach Tikva.

Amishav started off as a transit camp for North African immigrants on the outskirts of the city. Like so many other maabarot, it remained depressed. Around 20 years ago the city began to develop the neighborhood, now known as Hadar Ganim. The influx of national-religious parents decided to send their children to the local mamad, called Morasha, and thus strengthen a school with a poor reputation. After several building expansions, Morasha has has now outgrown its campus.

The parent body met many times to ease the transition from one school to two. They preferred not to divide the enrollment area, which would create competition between the two schools as one would always be “better.”

They were left with two main options:

  1. Have one school for boys and one for girls, each with a separate campus.
  2. Separate into two schools by age. In the campus for grades 1-3, classes would be mixed-gender. Classes in grades 4-6 would be single-sex but meet on the same campus.

The parents voted and decided in favor of the second option. Then Avraham Lifshiftz, head of the state religious system in the education ministry, overruled the decision. This was surprising, since Lifshitz has worked to  bring private schools back into the state system and prevent “haredization.”

The alon Matzav Haruach (#147) printed an update on the story last Friday.  Lifshitz has claimed that his decision was pedagogical and not political. I don’t know whether the concern was the mixed grades, having to switch schools in the middle, or something else. In light of the uproar over his decision, Lifshitz appointed a committee of five headed by Rabbi Avi Gisser. The committee’s decision will be binding not only on Morasha, but on several other school districts throughout the country involved in similar conflicts. I don’t understand why the same decision is required for each case.

The head of the school’s parents’ committee, Nir Orbach, supports Lifshitz’s decision. He claims that 75% of parents now support separate campuses for boys and girls, having switched their position in light of the “reality.” The second page of the article explains how the lines of the battle are being drawn.  The “Forum of the Mamadim” is a group of parents who want to strengthen the state religious school system. A new group, known as “Parents in Favor of Mamadim,” is claiming that the “Forum,” despite having the same goals, is too heavily influenced by “Neemanei Torah ve-Avodaah,” a liberal Orthodox Group. In the meantime, parents in the school who want to keep the boys and girls on the same campus have appealed to the Israeli supreme court (Bagatz).

To outsiders, the whole discussion must seem so pointless. How much does it matter whether boys and girls are together for the first three years, when they will study separately for the next nine? Would parents, satisfied with a school in other areas, leave because their fourth graders are or aren’t on the same campus as the opposite sex?

Many feel that completely separating boys and girls will lead to (greater) social and academic inequality and social problems. Some parents believe the opposite. (I’ve written about single-sex education here.) But the implications of the decision are greater.  Presumably the majority of parents will stay in the school, since the private school options require travel outside the neighborhood. The main concern is the potential student body of the coming years. If the first option is chosen, with boys and girls in separate schools, the incoming families are more likely to be on the right of the spectrum. These parents might otherwise have sent to private, more right-wing schools. With the mixed-gender option, more of the “traditional” parents, who might have considered a secular school, will enroll their children. Parents are fickle and perception is everything.

All state religious schools in Petach Tikva currently have boys and girls on the same campus, with some studying in the same classes.  Only the private “chardal” schools have single-sex campuses for elementary school.

School starts on September 1, too soon for the committee to make a decision. At any rate, a second campus has not been prepared. Until the decision has been made, whether by the education ministry’s committee or the Supreme Court, two single-sex schools will operate on the existing campus under separate administrations. I’m not sure what will happen with the lower grades, which are currently mixed.

Whatever happens in the end, the goal of keeping the neighborhood unified seems to have failed. The results of this fight are likely to leave a bitter taste in the community for the next several years.

Mixed-Gender Education in the Religious Schools

Ethiopian Integration in Petach Tikva

Questions to Ask When Choosing an Elementary School


  1. Oy. Our Mamad is integrated 1-8th grades (meaning we do not segregate based on gender). We also outgrew our campus and will soon have a lower school and an upper school.

  2. I’ll be frank and say that most DL parents I know would rather their kids not be with more “traditional” kids and aren’t really bothered by segregation from first grade. My friend said that one of the main reasons she switched her son from the regular mamad to the “torani” when it opened here is that she didn’t like that her son’s best friend went to soccer games on shabbat.

    We are very similar. I’m all for pluralism in the abstract, but I prefer my kids to be in more homogeneous classrooms. That said, there was terrible bullying in my daughter’s single sex class last year. Not sure it would have been different though if the classrooms had been mixed.

  3. Now I understand. Regardless of the many studies on the benefits of separate gender education, it’s about keeping out the more religious families. If Hareidim are willing to send their kids to school with students of different religious and racial backgrounds, shouldn’t we embrace that? Are hareidim considered a bad influence? Why should they have to pay more just to have their kids separated by gender? I think the only parents who should have t opay for the private schools should be the ones who care about the exclusivity. They want to make sure their kids only learn with students they consider to be a good influance or from a good background.

    I’m sending my daughter to a Chabad girls school in Petach Tikva that is part of the Mamad system, but there is no boys equivelant. The learning and influence is Chabad, but all the students are not.

    • Yosefa, that’s an interesting way of reading it. The article I referred to does not mention any kind of deliberate exclusivity. Either choice (or any decision by a school, on anything) will attract some parents and discourage others. This is a factor that has to be considered–there is open enrollment as far as I know.
      I think that those who want the boys and girls together would say that they don’t want to separate the sexes, which they oppose on principle, in order to cater to more right-wing parents who might want to make further changes in the school (haredization). But even if you see the main goal as keeping out “more religious” parents, by doing so they are making the school more welcome to parents who are excluded by some of the other religious schools. It is a positive thing by providing religious education to families who might not feel comfortable in, or be accepted to, a “more religious” school.

  4. I was confused by the title.
    For whatever, maybe charda”l, reasons, the separate sex administration of mam”d schools has been the trend since the very late 1970’s when Neve Etzion, Bayit V’Gan, Jerusalem was split. The k-1 was a third framwork technically under the boys principal.
    Our Shiloh school started with 18 students in 3 mixed classes Sept 1, 1981. Now there are two sep. sex schools, and now there’s more “dating” and marriage among the graduates. Separation causes “curiosity.” The original students were peers and treeted each other as siblings.

    • Hi Batya,
      I also see the trend toward separate schools, but may this is part of a backlash. We are talking here only about elementary school. Mixed religious high schools are very few.

  5. According to the reports the school is separate anyway from 4th grade, and I presume that having a lower school campus and an upper school campus would still mean that from 4th grade up the separation would continue. So the issue here would be separation from 1st to 3rd grade actually

    • Keren, it’s two issues: Mixed or single-sex classes from grades 1-3, and having mixed or separate campuses for all grades, 1-6. Another point is having kids switch schools in 4th grade.


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