Opinion |

Israeli ultra-Orthodox Lawmakers Impose Poverty on Their Community

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
Lawmakers Moshe Gafni (R) and Arye Dery (L), in the Israeli Knesset.
Lawmakers Moshe Gafni (R) and Arye Dery (L), in the Israeli Knesset.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

The cruelty of lawmakers Arye Dery, Meir Porush and Moshe Gafni knows no bounds. They are clearheadedly sentencing their ultra-Orthodox constituencies to poverty and deprivation. They are deliberately preventing Haredi youngsters from studying math, physics, computers, English, history and geography, so that they will not be able to find work that will provide them with a decent living.

As a result, young married Haredim have no choice but to enroll in kollel (yeshivas for married men) and be dependent on the Haredi lawmakers to obtain for them allowances, discounts, benefits and donations that will enable them to live. That’s also the reason that they will vote for Shas or United Torah Judaism, and provide the lawmakers with a high salary, honor and authority.

This past week, the Haredi lawmakers really lost it. They scolded and insulted Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman because he announced that he planned to stop the day-care subsidies for the families of avreichim (married yeshiva students) who do not work. Lieberman wants to subsidize those who do work, and there is nothing more justified than that.

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It’s clear that one can study Talmud and also work. In Brooklyn, for example, the Haredim are no less observant than those in Bnei Brak and Mea She’arim, but they support their families respectably. They get up early in the morning, manage to get in a folio of Talmud, and then at night, after work, they go back to the study hall and learn more in depth. They are true Jews who are upholding the spirit of the Torah.

The Rambam (Maimonides) writes that, “Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates [God’s] name, [and] dishonors the Torah… All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.” And that’s exactly what’s happening in Israel, when the secular majority must work twice as hard, and pay twice as much taxes, to support those who choose not to work.

Our sages said, “Skin a carcass in the market and don’t rely on other people,” “If you eat the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy and it is good for you,” and “He who doesn’t teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal.” But those cruel lawmakers not only teach theft, but are also wailing, “we are poor,” when they are the reason for this poverty.

Lieberman has so far taken only one step in the right direction. He must know that avreichim get a lot of other benefits. They get a kollel stipend of 800 shekels a month – while a secular student studying engineering or medicine pays tuition – as well as a scholarship of 1,200 shekels ($365) a month. They also get rental assistance from the state, large discounts on municipal taxes (arnona) and pay a symbolic amount to the National Insurance Institute and for health taxes. Moreover, they are also eligible for subsidies for family day care, after-school programs and dormitories – for a total of up to 5,000 shekels a month.

Haredi activists also claim that Lieberman’s new “decree” will not cause any student to leave the kollel and start working. Anyone who claims this is contemptuous of the Haredim, making them out to be irrational. When child allowances were cut in 2003 by then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Haredi couples started to have fewer children and the number of men who went to work increased. Lieberman’s (small) move will also have an impact, provided that the change is maintained long-term, not just for one or two years.

United Torah Judiaism lawmaker Yaakov Litzman was recently asked why avreichim do not work. He replied without hesitation: “It is not written anywhere that the man should work, it is enough that the woman works.” Indeed, it is not for nothing that every avreich, every morning, says the blessing, “Who did not make me a woman.” He goes to the kollel, and there, if he wants to, he will study and if not, he will spend time in the coffee corner. He lives in a patriarchal society, where he is honored for his status as an avreich. His wife is his property. She was created to serve him. She is also the one who has to go out to work, and then take care of the children, cook, clean, and then admire him when he returns home.

If the “Lieberman decree” is implemented but the avreichim still don’t go out to work, their wives will not stop working, as the Haredim threaten. The exact opposite will happen; they will work much harder. Litzman will be happy.

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