Israeli Fathers Warming Up to the Idea of Paternity Leave

A new law that makes conditions easier has spurred a 30% rise, albeit from a low base

ILLUSTRATION: A new father with his young baby
Dan Keinan

Israeli men haven’t exactly jumped at the chance to take paternity leave when their wife or partner gives birth, but a change in the law this year is bumping up the tiny number.

The National Insurance Institute, which pays out maternity and paternity benefits, said the number of fathers who applied this year would reach about 700. That’s a 30% increase over 2016 and almost double the number in 2010, but it’s just 0.5% of the 130,000 women who took such benefits.

In Sweden, 90% of men who qualify for paternity leave take it. Swedish parents get 80% of their salaries while on leave lasting up to 450 days, of which half must be used by the father or he forfeits it. Couples can take the first month together.

In Israel, fathers have been entitled to paternity leave since 1998 and they are entitled to 100% of their salary, but until last March when the law was amended, the terms weren’t very favorable to men.

“The amendment was undertaken with the understanding that there were too many obstacles preventing the father from taking paternity leave even when he wanted to,” said MK Rachel Azaria, (Kulanu), who proposed the bill with MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).

“The fact that women were required to return to work and men had to take a minimum of three weeks prevented [leave] from being a joint endeavor.”

The new law extends leave to 15 weeks from 14 and lets the couple take one of them jointly, although that reduces leave to 14 weeks. Until now, only one of the couple could be home on leave. In addition, the minimum leave a father is entitled to take was cut to one week from three.

Azaria said she was confident the number of fathers taking leave would rise next year because of the amendment.