Status Quo? Or a Quiet Revolution?

I have always said the Charedi model of full the Torah study for all men as the ideal to be pursued is an unsustainable one. And yet this ideal has been instilled in all Charedi children in Israel since at least the founding of the state.

That has resulted in a society where male education had virtually no secular studies and no preparation at all for the workplace. The Charedi curriculum in Israel  is – and always has been – devoted to full time Torah study. Which has resulted in a community of very bright people most of whom live in poverty or near poverty unable to support themselves or their families.

That poverty should not be taken lightly.  Far too many Charedim in Israel get by by a combination of factors that include reliance on government subsidies, free loan societies, and working but underpaid wives. There is a constant struggle to just make ends meet. Many are forever in debt.

When the last Keneset tried to impose financial sanctions to Yeshivos that did not offer the core curriculum it actually requires for its subsidies – it was mightily and successfully opposed. The current Keneset has basically restored the old status quo. Thus perpetuating the system and the poverty it generates.

As I have said many times in the past, I believe that full time Torah study for everyone is not the ideal for every male. It should only be for the most elite of students. Even they should be better prepared in secular studies. But for purposes of argument – let us leave that out of the equation and grant that they could be exempt from any studies other than Torah. Everyone else should study Torah as the primary focus but not as the only focus at the expense of ignoring their future as breadwinners.

I believe emphatically that their curriculum should mimic the model of Charedi education in America where until recently every top level Charedi Yeshiva high school devoted a good portion of their afternoons to a relatively decent secular education. Which enabled many American Charedim to pursue advanced educations for career purposes when they were ready to leave the Beis HaMedrash. I believe that the Charedim in Amercia that have chosen this path make up the majority of the Charedi world in America. I have called them moderate Charedim.

Israel’s Charedi educational system did not pursue this model. The opposite is happening. The American Charedi educational system is shifting towards the Israeli model by decreasing or completely eliminating secular studies. That is in and of itself a huge problem but beyond the scope of this post.

As I said, the Israeli model is not sustainable despite protestations to the contrary by Charedi politicians. I have also said that at some point there will be a revolt that would change the model. It seems that it is already happening. Significant changes are quietly taking place. There is a moderate Charedi faction in Israel that seeks better opportunities by taking advantage of career programs designed specifically for them.  From the Times of Israel:

(The established Charedi paradigm) is increasingly being challenged by a new generation of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are demanding academic degrees, satisfying professions, a bigger role for women and greater immersion in Israeli society.


She said the ultra-Orthodox leadership’s aversion to progress and integration is mostly about maintaining political power rather than serving their constituents. Until recently, such open criticism was unheard of, but it is gaining traction as people like Karlinsky try to change their world from within…


Gilad Malach, a researcher who specializes in the community, said reform was already underway. He said a majority of haredi men now work, compared to just a third in 2003. Women continue to be the primary breadwinners, and their employment rates of close to 75% are comparable to the general public, he said.

This is welcome news. It’s just too bad that the ‘party line’ of the Charedi politicians is to insist on their status quo. That Torah study is be pursued by all men to the exclusion of everything else. That they may quietly approve of this new trend is to say one thing publicly and another privately. Which to me is dishonest and counterproductive.

Why not just admit that the goals of their spiritual mentor, the Chazon Ish, to rebuild the Torah society lost in Europe because of the Holocaust was long ago achieved. And that full time Torah study for every single male was never intended. That there are other ways to serve God and that not everyone has to be doing exactly the same thing.

Unfortunately the party line has not changed. Form the Times of Israel:

As the senior representative of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel’s government, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is unapologetic about the insular lifestyle he advocates, despite irking mainstream Israel and endangering its long-term economic prospects.


He insists that shirking compulsory military service, rejecting secular education and raising large families on state subsidies all serve the noblest of purposes: a life devoted to the study of scripture that has preserved Jewish traditions over centuries and will ultimately bring about the coming of the Messiah.


“To sit and learn is a mitzvah,” or commandment from God, he told The Associated Press. “It is the most important thing.”


“There is always new ways and new things which we have to get used to and check out if we can live with it, but there is no change in halacha,” or Jewish law, he said. “Until the Messiah will come, it will stay like that.”

What Rabbi Litzman fails to understand – it seems – is that no one is saying Torah study should be abandoned. Nor is anyone saying that there shouldn’t be a cadre of Torah scholars involved in full time Torah study. The only question is whether it should be full time for everyone to the exclusion of everything else.

It seems that the increasing numbers in the Charedi public are beginning to understand this themselves. And doing something about it. It’s just too bad that there is not more positive reinforcement – or even better – a change in their own educational model instead of insisting on – and promoting an unsustainable status quo as the ideal for everyone to pursue.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.