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Judgment Day for Israels Ultra Orthodox Community

12 April 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

 

Since the formation of the present government the ultra-orthodox (haredi) parties and the right of center Likud are no longer allies.  The former sit in the opposition trying to coordinate policies with the Labor party and the Arab lists in an effort to save their own budgets.  But (almost) all will be in vain.

The haredi population is the most economically unproductive sector in the economy with an estimated 70 – 80 % of adult males studying in yeshivas. The vast majority refuses to serve in the army.  Over the years they pushed government coalitions to give them everything they wanted and today they are almost totally dependent on government handouts.  For years everyone, heredim included, spoke about the coming of ‘Judgment Day’ but no one considered diversifying haredi society to ensure people learned a profession.

More than anyone haredi society is facing a complete economic collapse, thanks to their political success of previous years.  Their greatest patron Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will be the one to administer the blow, as he simply has no choice.  Worse yet the haredi rabbinical leadership has not planned any alternatives.  Either they are trusting in God or they are helpless. 

Either way, according to the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv, the yeshiva budget is to drop from 1 billion, 27 million to 134 million shekels.  Support for students coming from abroad will be cut as will subsidies for those over the age of 27 with this totaling 267 million shekels.  On the general front, child allowances are being slashed across the boards, especially from the fourth offspring onwards.  For the average haredi family of six siblings this sinks everyone into further poverty.  By 2006 the ultra-orthodox will lose over 90% of the state budget they had in 2002.

The solution is to find a job, have less children and study in one’s free time.  But on the economic level, the haredim are like ingrained welfare families.  A Habad (Lubovitcher) Rabbi from Lakewood N.J. told me last summer, “The grandfathers had money and sent their sons to study.  The sons married and had many children, lived on a bit of inheritance and Israeli state subsidies.  Then the children established their own families and the families continued the same lifestyle.  In the end this will all collapse.”  As is known Habad advocate working and studying.  As we say in Hebrew, man lives by flour (bread) and Torah.

What is going to happen to the ultra-orthodox will be remembered as one of the great socio-economic catastrophes in Israeli and Jewish history.  An entire community will face sudden, humiliating, grinding poverty.  Foremost, the haredi rabbinic leadership is at fault, but the Likud and Labor must be apportioned blame since they knew one day the end would come and the suffering would begin.  But despite their overall responsibilities they preferred coalition agreements.

Someone (an ultra-orthodox rabbi and/or politician?) should explain all this to a hungry haredi child in the supposedly enlightened state of Israel of 2003.

 

 

 

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