The power of the keyboard is mighty—sometimes for what writers write, and often, for what we omit. Such was the case with Ronn Torossian’s blog piece, Even Without Kars For Kids, Charity is a Way of Life for Israelis, of May 23. Torossian says something nice about Israelis, namely that 77% of adult Israelis give charity.
All well and good. But the study in question, The State, Volunteers And Non Profit Organizations: The Nature Of The Relationship makes a much more important point about Israeli society, which Torossian doesn’t mention: that more Haredim give charity than the National Religious, traditional, or secular sectors of Israeli society, and that they give a larger percentage of their income to charity, too. It seems to me that these omissions do not do justice to Prof. Jaffe’s work, not to mention to Haredim and Israeli society in general.
Here’s the breakdown: In 1996, 89% of ultra orthodox adults gave charity compared to 85% of the orthodox, 71% of those termed “traditional,” and 68% of the secular population. The terminology is Professor Jaffe’s and the layman could easily translate the first two categories as “Haredi” and National Religious or in Hebrew, “Dati Leumi.”
As mentioned above, not only do more Haredim give charity than other sectors of Israeli society, they also give a larger proportion of their money to charity so that you have more Haredim giving more than any other sector. That breakdown is as follows: 61% of Haredim give 1% or more of their income to charity, compared to just 3% of secular donors. According to the metadata cited, the average Haredi adult in Israel gives $285 to charity each year while Dati Leumi Israelis give $144 per year, and secular Israelis just $38 annually.
These statistics cited by Prof. Jaffe are unfortunately not current. Prof. Jaffe is citing two studies from Ben Gurion University’s Israeli Center for Third Sector Research: one by Gidron and Katz from 1998 and another by Gordis and Fenton from 1999. Still, the omission of these details in Torossian’s piece is telling. Why the omission of these statistics?
Perhaps it’s just not a popular idea to say something nice about Haredim, not a draw to the reading public, so why make mention of it and scare away your readership? As a writer, I have more than once held my hands above the keyboard, poised to type, yet hesitant. The Jewish Sages said, “Siyag l’chochma, shtika,” rough translation: “The protection of wisdom’s image:silence.”
Or perhaps the real reason behind the omission is found in what these statistics imply: that the more religious the sector, the more that sector gives to charity. The breakdown of the groups suggests that the National Religious are “less religious” than the Haredim. This is an idea that is anathema to National Religious society.
National Religious society prefers to think of its way of life as every bit as religious as Haredi, perhaps even more so, albeit with a different focus. It may even be said that to call the National Religious “less religious” than the Haredim is vulgar, or at the very least, in bad taste. It’s just not said or expressed in mainstream Israeli society or in particular, among the National Religious, this idea of one group being more religious than the other.
Statistics Don’t Lie
Still, statistics don’t lie. There is something here that deserves examination. Torossian says of Jaffe’s paper: “This work sets out to do some serious myth-busting about the nature of Israeli philanthropy.” But most myth-busting of all is what Torossian left out.
The Haredi community is often subject to censure for its way of life in which men shun work and military service for the sake of Torah scholarship. There is a pervasive stereotype of the ultra orthodox as living on the dole while not contributing to the nation’s defense or economy. Yet these figures cited in the Jaffe paper have them not only giving to charity in larger numbers, but in greater percentages than other sectors of society.
Have we become so jaded as a society that it’s just not done to say something nice about Haredim? Shouldn’t we have the opportunity to at least examine these statistics and learn from them? Is it possible that there is something worth emulating here, a teachable moment?