Ultra Poverty

9 August 2012

Haredi poverty IS an Israel advocacy issue

Equal service in the IDF is a poverty issue

Have I ever written about the Haredim* (ultra-orthodox) in Israel? Aside from the marginal Neturei Karta of course, but it their abuse of their as-a-Jew status rather than their financial status that annoys me and if you believe their rhetoric they don’t take anything from the state†. It comes in response to Higher education for Haredim by Prof. Yoran Zalicha, in Israel Hayom dating back to July 22. My response to this article has been much delayed but the problem doesn’t go away even if the original has long found its ultimate role, wrapping fish. No disrespect intended. That, or something similar, is the fate of every newspaper.

The professor’s contention can really be summed up in one sentence. Haredim in Ono Academic College Faculty of Business Administration, of which he is dean, do really well. Therefore the failure of the Haredi educational sector to provide adequate education in secular subjects is easily surmountable for adults and the state (that is, essentially the taxpayers who already by definition have jobs) have an obligation to make up for this Haredi failure.

Here is my reply

Insufficient job skills are only one factor in Haredi poverty and university level education is only one path out and not suitable for all.

For discussion I will list some other factors and how they handicap Haredi society.

B&H working Haredim

Haredim working in a New York camera store

  1. No IDF service– That means no security clearance, an absolute necessity for many types of government and military related jobs. The job market is just that much smaller for those who haven’t served.
    • It also means no contacts from army service and reserve duty. One only has to ask at any hi-tech company to see how many came directly from the technical units and how many came in an informal chaver-mvi-chaver (literally a friend brings a friend) arrangement.
    • It has been argued that this also is unfair for women, who are less likely to do their compulsory service in the technical or combat units or to do reserve duty afterward. The solution I contend is, as for the Haredim, not artificial variations of affirmative action, but bring more  into the IDF.
    • However, most importantly. Higher education is not for everybody. Nor is accountancy. As with the secular or the national religious communities, not every one is academically inclined. A bright man may as the professor informs us make up for the lack of maths education at a later stage but he can not make up for lack of innate ability. Those among the Haredi community who would be better suited as motor mechanics or watch repairers or plumbers, also miss out. Many a future electrician or technician gained their start in the army.
  2. The Kollel system – Kollels are institutes for full-time, advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature. Unlike a yeshiva the student body are all married men. Kollels generally pay a regular monthly stipend to their members to allow them to study and support their families.
    • That is, the theory. In practise, many of the kollel students are happy to work off-the-books while collecting government money.
    • The reality is that not everyone really is suited to a life devoted to Torah‡ study and entering the workforce 10-15 years after everyone else is a huge disadvantage. The Israeli Haredim, or at least the octogenarian who make the rules, strenuously object to anything taking their men from study even for a minute, even though they are quite aware that many or even most are less than sincere about the full-time, advanced aspect.The modern orthodox (and many overseas Haredim) have the answer. Torah v Avodah i.e. working in regular jobs and studying in spare time.
  3. Modesty rules – AKA Sniut.  In every secular (hiloni) business men work with sometimes ‘immodestly’ dressed women. This is immodesty  according to Haredi judgement and forbids such things as allowing the knees and elbows to be seen, the mildest amount of cleavage, uncovered hair for married women, mannish clothes, such as trousers and being alone in the same room with a woman. That disqualifies most modern wives and certainly our daughters.
    • Professor Zalicha’s accountants have a unacknowledged advantage. With computers and communications they may be able to spend most of their time out of range of the distraction of the modern woman in the modern office. Many other professions are not that lucky (or perhaps unlucky depending on how you look at it).
  4. Neduniyah–  The family of the bride is supposed support the groom while he studies in return for the prestige of having a Torah scholar as a son-in-law.
    • Apart from encouraging adult, male Haredim to remain out of workforce the dowry system impoverishes the parents by reducing investment capital and leads to frequent fraud. That, as you can imagine, puts a huge strain on the finances of a large family with many girls.
    • I am personally aware of two cases where, after the arranged marriage, the father of the bride announced that he couldn’t and wouldn’t live up to his contractual agreement. What are you going to do if you are the parents of the groom? In theory one could sue, even through the Rabbinical courts but who wants the disgrace?

What about the girls?

I ignored them because the Professor ignored them. They don’t get higher education but are still expected to provide family income, close to home and preferably in an acceptable, low paying position within the narrow segment of their personal Haredi community. Everywhere else in the world very large families are associated with poverty. We are somehow supposed to believe that is not true for Israeli Ultra Orthodox.

Haredi poverty and Israel advocacy

Tel Aviv Demonstrating for draft for everyone

Tel Aviv July 2012
Demonstration Draft for everyone


Why bother?

Isn’t this an internal issue of marginal interest to anyone outside Israel? What’s the hasbara element, anyway?

The enemies of Israel are desperate to find breaches in Israeli unity. As if we are supposed to believe there is no discrimination or disunity in Arab countries. Their constant attempts to show a breach between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews is a case in point. That has failed and will continue to fail because the so-called Oriental Jews were never willing to play along. With the compulsory service argument comes an opportunity to exploit another split and it is far from certain that all the Haredim will put Jewish unity ahead of their privileges. It may well become another opportunity to say ‘real’ Jews oppose Zionism and bring forth previously silent black-hats as-a-Jews as evidence.

Is it inevitable? I don’t think so. More and more Haredim realise that the present situation is unsustainable. Some will take advantage of courses like those at Ono College. Others will join the army. It’s not so difficult. Alternate national service is an issue that needs to be resolved whether or not the currently exempt agree. But it will require serious thought about the connection between Haredi lifestyle and poverty. Not before time.

Worth reading: The best solution for the Tal Law problemJeremy Saltan, The Times of Israel, May 13, 2012

*Haredim is the plural in Hebrew for Haredi – literally one who fears (God), usually translated as Ultra Orthodox which is problematic or Fundamentalists which is just plain mistaken. It makes sense to called them Haredis but I have gone with what I see as most common practice.
† It’s not difficult to argue that, too, is nonsense. Even if they don’t accept social assistance, everything else from the roads they drive on to reach the airports when departing for yet another conference to libel Israel to the water they drink in the departure lounge has the finger prints of the state on it.
‡ Torah (as in Five Books of Moses), Talmud and later commentators is all conjoined in the world of the Yeshiva as Torah.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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