Luring the Haredim Backward

The allowances and support for yeshivas must be gradually stopped, as they provide a disincentive for Haredim to integrate into the labor market, something that harms all the country’s citizens

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister Zeev Elkin, Litzman, Gafni and  Rabbi Menachem Porush signing an agreement, December 2018.

Data from the Israel Democracy Institute regarding demographic changes in ultra-Orthodox society should worry decision makers as well as every citizen. They show that the number of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men in yeshivas and kollels (yeshivas for married men) shot up in 2017 to 114,100, compared to 94,000 in 2014, a rise of 21 percent in only three years.

Moreover, for the first time since higher education programs aimed at Haredim started opening in 1998, there was a drop in the number of Haredim enrolled, from 9,600 people to 9,400.

>>More ultra-Orthodox students enroll in yeshivas but fewer go to academic institutions

These statistics combine with data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, which show that the trend toward employment among Haredi men has also reversed; for three straight quarters there has been a drop in the employment rate of Haredi men, and in the third quarter of 2018 it fell to 47.8 percent.

According to professional sources, the primary reason for this reversal is this government’s policy changes regarding allowances and an increase in the budgets of yeshivas and kollels.

These numbers are part of the disastrous results of political agreements signed by the current government. In 2012 to 2014, the government, at the initiative of then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid, cut support for yeshiva students who hadn’t served in the army and almost totally eliminated the budget for foreign students studying in Israel’s Haredi institutions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, in his current government, allowed all this funding to be restored.

Far-reaching coalition agreements have stymied long-term efforts to increase ultra-Orthodox participation in the job market. These figures are particularly worrisome because they conflict with the government’s plan for integrating Haredi men into the labor market, which calls for their employment rate to reach 63 percent by 2020. This goal now seems far from realistic.

The government was irresponsible when it yielded to the demands of Haredi political representatives. The allowances and support for yeshivas and yeshiva students must be gradually stopped, because they provide a disincentive for Haredim to integrate into the labor market, something that harms all the country’s citizens.

Along with gradually stopping the allowances and support, the government must cooperate with people in the ultra-Orthodox community who are working to increase Haredi independence and their integration into the wider society. These people are not represented on the political level; in fact, they are often in conflict with the Haredi community’s official political representation. These people should be the allies of any responsible government, not the politicians who perpetuate the lagging employment of their voters, do them damage and undermine the country’s future.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.