haredi school
Haredi boys studying at a private school in London. Photo by Pierre Terdjman
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In 2005, Amiram Gonen of the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies examined the practices of London's ultra-Orthodox community. It has close ties to the Haredi community in Israel, and accepts the religious authority of rabbis in Israel. Nearly every Haredi lad in London is sent for "finishing" to an Israeli religious school. The community maintains its own education system, separate from the British state system.

Since these schools focus on religious studies (although the children learn other subjects as well ), they do not prepare their graduates for entering the modern job market. And because Haredi families in London tend to be very large, like their Israeli counterparts, the community is very poor.

But there is a vast difference between the two communities. In Israel, the majority of Haredi men study in yeshivas and don't work. In London, it's the opposite. Most Haredi men do work, even if their jobs are not particularly well-paid. An analysis by Hagay Levin of the Prime Minister's Office's National Economic Council, based on Gonen's research, found that 18% of Haredi men in London study in a yeshiva their entire lives. Most of these are the best students. But in Israel, the parallel percentage is between 60% and 75%.

Meaning that in Israel near all Haredi men, not only the best and brightest, turn yeshiva study into a vocation.

Levin's analysis names three reasons for this vast difference. One is army service: There is none in London, and here there is. Since the only way to evade conscription is to study at yeshiva (the Tal law ), in Israel all the Haredi men stay in school.

The second reason is welfare policy. Britain also cares for its poor, especially the large families among them. The birthrate in Britain is low, so it has an active policy of encouraging birth. But much of the support in Britain is conditional on finding work, for instance the negative income tax. The difference in help for people who work and those who don't is immense. That motivates them to work. In Israel, Haredim get most of their allowances whether they work or not. They do not have an incentive to work.

The third difference is education. While that of the London Haredim also emphasizes religious studies, most of their schools also include nonreligious subjects in the curriculum. In Israel, many of the Haredi boys' schools, especially at the high-school level, do not.

You want special treatment, you pay for it

This brings us to how Britain and Israel treat the separate Haredi education systems. Britain won't finance textbooks that aren't part of the official curriculum. It doesn't ban special schools with alternative curricula, but it won't finance them. You want special studies, you pay for them in a private school.

In Israel, the state finances the Haredi education system, to the tune of between 55% and 100%, though the schools don't use the official curriculum. They are not supervised, and they do not obey the state when it comes to safety, equality between students and workers' rights.

The two countries treat these separate education systems completely differently, and the fruits of each system are also completely different.

The fact that the Haredi education system in London is private makes it very expensive. Therefore Haredi men have no choice but to work if they want their children to attend the special schools.

In Israel, the state finances most of the system, so the men don't have to work in order for their children to attend the special schools.

The British system achieves two goals.

It preserves the principle of spending public money only on things that benefit the state. (It will only fund schools that empower citizens, including through their future inclusion in the workforce. )

In Israel, on the other hand, taxpayer money is squandered on a school system that is separate, anti-Zionist, antidemocratic, that sometimes discriminates on ethnic grounds and that does not prepare its graduates for the modern labor market.

It also forces those who use the separate education system to go to work, through the burden of high school fees. In Israel, the separate education system doesn't burden its consumers, who don't have to work: The ones paying for it are people who do not use it and who do work. The British Mandate may have had some positive aspects.