Opinion |

Lieberman Is Doing Israel's ultra-Orthodox Community a Big Favor

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, in December.
Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, in December. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

The Haredim are angry. They are convinced that the government wants to steal their most prized possession from them. They say Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman is motivated by hatred, and that his goal is to make them poorer and more miserable.

But the fact is that if the Haredim continue to not work and to prevent their children from studying math and English, Israel’s economy will collapse. It’s already struggling to carry them, and since their share in the population is increasingly growing, the problem is becoming more acute.

Even now, each high-earning secular Israeli family supports, through its taxes, one Haredi family headed by a full-time student at a kollel yeshiva who does not work. These taxes are already very high, and there’s a risk that as soon as they rise even higher in order to pay for the natural increase in the number of Haredim, then entrepreneurs, high-tech employees and people in high-demand professions will emigrate.

They will simply refuse to pay such high taxes, and thus a vicious cycle will take shape: more taxes on those who remain, more emigration and so on and so forth, until things completely fall apart. This must be prevented.

The employment rate for Haredi men is just 51 percent. This may not sound so bad, but the real picture is much worse. Of this number, 35 percent are employed part-time, in jobs with low pay and low productivity. Most of them aren’t in the private sector, in manufacturing or in agriculture.

They work for the local religious councils, for the Religious Services Ministry, in yeshivas for children and in kollel yeshivas, for married men; in the vast apparatus of kashrut supervision; as religious scribes and in countless charitable organizations. These are jobs that are funded by the state budget and contribute very little to the country’s gross domestic product. These are workplaces that have a large surplus of manpower.

So the Finance Ministry is doing a good thing by preparing a plan to encourage Haredi men to join the workforce. The plan denies subsidized day care and after-school programs to those who do not work. This is the right thing to do. Government money should not go to someone who has deliberately chosen not to work.

The plan also cancels the discounts on arnona municipal taxes for families that do not work, and this is the right thing too. Another clever measure: reducing the weekly study hours for adult yeshiva students from 40 to 20. They will receive the same stipend as before, but will be able to get vocational training in the morning and study Talmud in the kollel yeshiva in the evening.

The treasury’s plan also offers a carrot: It increases the incentives for Haredi schools that teach the core subjects, without which it is very difficult to find a good, well-paying job later in life.

The Haredi rabbis and Knesset members have already voiced their opposition. For decades, they have sentenced their community to a life of poverty and want.

They prevent young Haredim from studying math, physics, computers, English, history and geography, so that they won’t be able to find a decent job and will have to remain in the kollel. Lawmakers from the Haredi parties, therefore, are expected to obtain subsidies, discounts and donations for their communities, who, in turn, will vote for Shas and United Torah Judaism. There is no limit to the cruelty of Arye Dery and Moshe Gafni.

The plan to promote Haredi employment is the latest of several big changes the current government has brought to the Haredim. There’s also the kashrut reform, the conversion reform (which has not yet been passed) and the proposal to allow civil marriage.

There’s also the reform of the Haredi cellular networks, and the new conscription law (which has not yet been passed) that would lower the age from which Haredi men are exempt from military service to 21, enabling them to study and to work while still young.

So, disparage Lieberman all you want, but the truth is that these reforms are good for the Haredim and good for the economy.

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