Israel’s economy grew by a meager 2.5% in 2015 and in the first week of 2016, the government is looking to spread that wealth to the Haredi sector. The proposal, a demand by coalition members of the United Torah Judaism faction (UTJ), will add an additional 36 million shekels to the subsidies given to yeshiva students, enabling them to purchase life insurance. To say this is preposterous would be to understate the absurdity of the demand, and yet the government of Bibi Netanyahu is all for it, as it will keep his coalition together.
As it stands, the government’s generous subsidies to the Haredi minority encourage many of them to remain outside the workforce, and thus remain outside the realm of being productive members of society. The proposed bill will grant the family of a happily unemployed yeshiva student a benefit of 500,000 shekels in the event of the student’s death. There is a lot that is troubling with this bill, the least of which is the fact that it is a special subsidy granted only to a specific sector of Israeli society that has a history of strong-arming the government to maintain its status quo.
Life insurance is a necessity for families to protect themselves in the event that the one who is responsible for their financial upkeep passes away. Traditionally, it was meant to cover the breadwinner so that the family would not be thrown into immediate poverty upon that person’s death. It is one thing if a person who willingly decides not to work chooses to spend the money they do have on this benefit; it is another thing to demand that the government pay the premiums for them. Life insurance is a necessity; however, in today’s world, it is a luxury, and many hard working productive individuals cannot afford it themselves. For a coalition member to demand this luxury for their constituency simply highlights this sector’s lack of consideration for the rest of the country.
If the estimates of a 2.5% growth in GDP are correct, then the Israeli economy actually contracted in fiscal year 2015. The world as a whole is teetering on the brink and many countries have not recovered from the global recession that began in 2008. Israel’s economy relies heavily on international trade and the global economy is still sputtering. With the financial markets in flux, now is certainly not the time to increase entitlements, and certainly not to a segment that has nothing but contempt and lack of respect for the society in which it lives.
Historically, the pursuit of Torah knowledge as a profession was reserved for an elite few from each community. Even the greatest rabbinical minds of history had professions; Rambam and Ramban were physicians, Rashi was a vintner. While the Code of Jewish Law does state that Torah should be the center of a person’s life, it quantifies this by saying that a person “should go to work, for all Torah which is not accompanied by work is destined to be nullified and in danger of causing transgression, because excessive poverty may cause him to deviate from the will of his Maker.” Simply stated, people need to work or they are more susceptible to sin. The yeshiva world that exists today was not possible 100 years ago and most scholars who adhered to the code would have frowned upon an entire society of people who chose to not work to support their families.
The fact that the Israeli citizenry supports this culture through subsidies is in itself a tragedy. The rabbis who encourage their followers to take the path of student instead of preaching a more balanced approach do their communities a disservice and, in fact, violate the very laws they hold so dear. However, the rabbis cannot be blamed fully, as it is the government that continues to encourage this behavior, by acquiescing to the demands of this community.
Much of the Haredi community does not support the State of Israel — there is disdain for the laws and for the majority of the citizens, who they do not consider to be their Jewish brethren. They often riot and destroy public property for reasons large and small. They openly call the soldiers and police who protect them Nazis; they spit on them and attack them and do so without shame in front of the cameras. They do not adhere to the rules of the state that are required of all citizens, and therefore should not be entitled to anything from the state. However, in exchange for their political support, they demand payment from the government and Prime Minister Netanyahu has been all too willing to oblige.
This must stop, because if it does not, there will no longer be a viable state left to support the Haredim. Or, perhaps, that is exactly what they want.