What’s in it for Charedim?

Now that all the bluster about the elections in Israel seems to be subsiding a bit, there is one area dear to me that has been under-discussed.  What will be the fate of Charedi world now?

It is no secret that the Charedi world in Israel is in deep crisis with respect to its financial future. The poverty level is at an all time high. As is its exponentially growing population. If the trend continues. This crisis may be their breaking point.

They will deny that of course. While admitting that extent of their poverty, they will deny that they will ever be threatened by it since they truly believe that full time Torah study for men – even at the expense of supporting their families – is what God expects of them. But the poverty is real and they know it. That is made obvious by new Kollel financing programs like Adopt-a-Kollel. The literal cries to support it from rabbinic leadership in both Israel and America is proof of that knowledge.

To an extent I suppose that it has been helpful.  The American Orthodox Jew – already overtaxed by tuitions is somehow finding the monthly dollars to send overseas to Kollels in Israel. But that is a drop in the bucket in the face of an ever growing population that is increasingly unable to feed their very large families.

The reason they are in such dire financial straits is because the vast majority of them do not work –and study Torah full time instead. Those that end up working are in most cases unprepared. So they do not generally get the kind of jobs that will not improve their financial lot all that much. Yeshivas and Kollels in Israel admittedly are not in the job preparation business and do not offer any kind of core curriculum that would help prepare them that way.

There are outside programs that are designed to help Charedim catch up with their secular counterparts and get training for good jobs. But I suspect that a lot of Charedim are simply not able to do it. They have big families to feed too – and they are stuck in low paying menial jobs.

The Charedi leadership does not see their poverty that way.They blame the last Israeli government for it. Subsidies to large families were severely reduced. Israel could no longer afford to increase budget deficits by subsidizing an exploding demographic. But the Charedi leadership saw government subsides given to large families as an entitlement. One that their very survival depended on – yanked out from under them.

They characterized the people behind this as an evil cabal taking food from the mouths of babies! That their exploding demographic caused Israel to reconsider paying them increasing amounts of money that it doesn’t have – didn’t seem to occur to them. Decades of handouts was the unquestioned norm that was suddenly taken away be a government consisting of philosophical Amalekites!

I suppose they justified this to themselves by saying that their singular Limud HaTorah (Torah study) and Avodas Hashem (devotion to God) was deserving of that money. The anti Torah Jews in government who drastically reduced funding to large families purposefully did it to hurt Charedim.

But the government didn’t just take away their entitlements and walk away. They tried to replace it with a program designed to enable them to help themselves.  It was a 2 pronged approach designed to kill 2 birds with one stone.

The need for security in Israel is beyond obvious. The most important cog in that wheel is the Israeli Defense Forces. Everyone in Israel must serve in some capacity. Many young people have died doing so. Many more have been permanently injured.  But Israelis who decide to study full time have been exempt from any service to country. That means all Charedim. That is what they are indoctrinated to do practically from the day they are born.

Part of that policy was that one could not go to work unless he served in the army in some capacity. Which contributed to their inability to support their families. The last government did something about that. First they passed a law that all Charedim must serve except for the elitist of students. About 1800 would be fully exempt and supported. The rest must serve in some capacity, failure to do so would be considered draft evasion’ and would suffer the prevailing penalty for such:  Jail. They also now required a core secular curriculum be established in any Charedi school that wanted financial support from the government.

These new laws were completely unacceptable to Charedi who still felt they had a right to educate their people any way they saw fit. They characterized the new draft law as putting people in jail for studying Torah! A ridiculous spin! But one which they still use. They considered it a ‘Gezeiras Shmad’!  A government law tantamount to forcing their people to convert to another religion! But they had faith that the ‘evil decree’ would be rescinded from heaven. That God would eventually see to it that the government who did this to them is destroyed.

Last Tuesday, that happened. Although the religious parties lost seats, they will gain power. That’s because the new governing coalition will almost certainly contain the religious parties. And they will demand an end to the laws they saw as being against them. They will demand that the draft laws be rescinded. They will demand a restoration of the child support entitlement, They will demand removing the requirement for a core secular curriculum.

In short they will demand all the hard work and progress made by the last government be eliminated and that the status qou ante be restored. Netanyahu needs them in his coalition. They will basically support his polices that do not involve them directly. So he will give in to at least some or most of their demands. The only question is how many. Will Charedim get everything they demand? Will they refuse to otherwise join? Or will they compromise?

I hate to see all the progress made in this regard destroyed. That Charedim do not approve does not mean it won’t help them.  In my view the only way they can survive is if their financial situation improves. And that requires at least some of what the government did to remain in place.

For me it is all about education. My hope is that the government sticks to its guns in at least one area:  requiring a core secular curriculum in their elementary and high schools in order to get funding. The same type of curriculum found in most Charedi schools in America. If the Charedi parties can agree to at least that one thing, then the entire enterprise of the last governing coalition will have not been in vain. And the Charedi world will flourish as never before.

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.