A Fight to Preserve Poverty

The terrible mistake of increasing child allotments to families with many children should not be made under any circumstances, because it will send the Haredi economy reeling backward by four years.

The budgets for ultra-Orthodox institutions and yeshiva students should definitely be increased. Huge budgets should flow to the establishment of vocational training centers for Haredim. Yeshiva students who want to study in academic preparatory courses should be generously helped. A civic service should be established to provide yeshiva students with a way out of yeshivas and a way into work. More Haredi high schools, where religious and secular studies are combined, should be established. Industrial zones should be established in Haredi towns.

Money has to be invested in everything that really can eliminate poverty in the Haredi public, but its representatives will never make such demands in coalition negotiations. And the terrible mistake of increasing child allotments to families with many children should not be made under any circumstances, because it will send the Haredi economy reeling backward by four years. In the dark days of the "Halpert Law," the monthly allotment for the fifth and every subsequent child was NIS 856, five times the allotment for the first two children. A family with 10 children was granted NIS 6,500, tax free. In slightly less dark days, before the Halpert Law, the allotment to the fourth and every subsequent child was NIS 600, which meant NIS 5,000 for a 10-child family.

In the general atmosphere of sympathy for the poor and the general distaste for the last government, the fact has been forgotten that there is poverty - and there is poverty. The Haredi poverty, which is being represented in the coalition negotiations by 18 Knesset seats, is a voluntary poverty. It is the poverty of a society that does not provide its men any vocational or professional training, or even basic skills, and preaches the creation of large families regardless of economic abilities.

The most basic criteria for state aid is the extent to which a person can earn a living: in other words, a real attempt to work. But two-thirds of Haredi men choose not to work, preferring to be eternal students in yeshivas for life.

The Torah sages who send the Haredi MKs to negotiate over child allotments are those who make it so difficult for any initiative to draft some yeshiva students into the army and get some of the men to go to work. When a yeshiva student or ordinary Haredi male invests in his livelihood - like learning a profession - it is considered a failure of faith, since one's livelihood is supposed to come from the Blessed be He. If one must make an effort to earn a living, only the minimum must be done. But when it comes to child allotments, for some reason the Haredi MKs prefer not to count on divine intervention, but rather make efforts, apply pressures, and issue threats.

Haredi spokesmen claim that the child allotments have no influence over their family planning; but in practice, the fertility rate for Haredi women grew during the 1980s from 6.5 to 7.5 children - an amazing increase that probably has no parallel in modern history. The Haredim are insulted by the very thought that the public that finances their children's upbringing have the right to limit the allotments.

In their struggle to increase the allotments, they win the support of leftists, who argue that war should not be conducted on the backs of children.

But the truth is that the only way to end Haredi poverty and increase adult male participation in the labor force is just this: creating pressure on them through the child allotments. It proved itself in the last few years, when quite a few yeshiva and kollel students were forced into the job market.

The process should not be stopped. The Haredi community must understand that the cutbacks made in child allotments by the Sharon government was not a one-time affair, but expressed a clear position by the secular public that it is no longer ready to pay for Haredi society rather than society's adults.

And meanwhile, things should be set straight: the Haredi politicians demanding to once again increase the child allotments are not fighting against poverty. They are fighting to increase and preserve it.