What do you call a secular person in Yiddish? Freier (sucker ), the yeshiva students answer, and burst out laughing. For really, it's so easy to pull a fast one on the secular public and extract boundless government funding and special benefits from it - and all while complaining of discrimination.
A commander in the Air Force's Shahar program, where a few hundred Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) soldiers are learning technical skills, told me of a conversation he had recently with one of the soldiers in his course. "You get a salary of NIS 4,000 a month from the army, so you're surely now among the wealthy" in your community, the commander began.
"Are you kidding?" the soldier replied. "In yeshiva, I got more."
"How is that possible?" the commander asked. "After all, you [Haredim] claim you live in poverty and have nothing."
"Well, that's because we want to extract as much as possible from you," the soldier replied. "You know the 'Lithuanians' [non-Hasidic Ashkenazi Haredim] view the government as a tyrant from whom it's a mitzvah to wring money."
And then he showed the commander his bank statements as a yeshiva student.
"From the Education Ministry, I got the guaranteed income allowance for yeshiva students of NIS 1,040 a month," he continued. "From the yeshiva, I got a stipend of NIS 1,500 [from the Religious Services Ministry's budget]. In addition, I got a child allowance of NIS 750 [from the National Insurance Institute]. And I also got a donation of NIS 500 a month from Jewish philanthropists overseas. In addition, I did a little under-the-table work - writing mezuzahs and escorting [school children] on buses, and that gave me another NIS 1,300. My family also got discounts and benefits as a yeshiva student, like the 80 percent discount on arnona [municipal taxes], which is worth NIS 250 a month, and day-care subsidies worth NIS 800 a month per child. So what's this NIS 4,000 that you're giving us? It's nothing."
That's why it was so sad to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz this week as they tried to depict yet another capitulation to the Haredim as a kind of reform. Another reform like this and we're goners.
They tell us that the cabinet's decision to continue paying yeshiva students a stipend of NIS 1,040 a month and exempt them completely from army service (the latter decision will be approved next week ) will encourage them to abandon the fleshpots of government allowances and go out to work.
You have to be an absolute simpleton to believe that - or else a first-class political cynic. Not only will not a single additional Haredi get a job due to these decisions, but the Netanyahu-Steinitz government will go down in history as an anti-Zionist government that undermined the state's fundamental values for one single purpose: retaining their positions, and the honors they confer.
This will be the first government ever to place a legal seal of approval on the Israel Defense Forces' demise as the people's army. It's a government that plans to give a kashrut certificate to the Haredi community's cynical and cowardly evasion of military service.
The nation will thereby be divided in two: those who risk life and limb to defend the homeland, and those who sit at home and laugh at the freiers.
Even IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi raised an outcry on Sunday, when he protested, "we're in favor of integrating Haredim into the army - and if we're allowed, into the job market as well." That's also what incoming chief of staff Yoav Galant thinks.
But Netanyahu and Steinitz are willing to grant the Haredim a complete exemption from military service at age 22. They disregard the fact that this will push other religious or traditional young men into the arms of Haredi yeshivas. They also disregard the fact that it will encourage draft-dodging among the secular community, which will not be willing to serve forever as donkeys carrying the Haredim on their backs.
Steinitz says the very fact that guaranteed income allowances for yeshiva students will be limited to five years is "a real turnabout." But in truth, it's a turnabout for the worse. First, this limit won't apply to the 80 percent of yeshiva students who are over age 29. And second, everyone knows that in politics, five years is more than enough time in which to make changes.
Meanwhile, not a single Haredi has actually had his allowance stopped. And that's what matters.
Moreover, the government recently increased its financial allocation to the yeshivas by NIS 200 million, to NIS 1.1 billion, and put this sum into the baseline budget - something no previous government ever dared to do. And to this must be added the NIS 1 billion given to the independent school systems run by Shas and United Torah Judaism, which on one hand still refuse to teach the core curriculum, and on the other educate their students in anti-democratic, anti-state and anti-Zionist values.
But the Haredim know that freiers never die. They just get replaced by new ones.
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