Stuck Between Cutbacks and Studies

B., an ultra-Orthodox resident of Jerusalem in his twenties, was fired a year ago and has since been unable to find work. For years, he combined yeshiva studies with a job editing religious books for publication. He had even seriously considered abandoning the yeshiva to work full-time at the institute that employed him. But then he was fired.

In fact, more than half the institute's employees were fired over a two-month period. "People are buying fewer books," B. explained. "They're cutting back."

Even more importantly, however, most such institutes - of which there are dozens in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community - depend on donations, as it takes years of sales to cover the initial cost of producing the books. And in the current economic climate, donations are plunging.

B. said the salary was good. But he received no social benefits, and was even forced to sign a contract waiving the severance he is due by law. He has not considered suing; "it's not done." Thus he, his wife and two children are now living off his stipend from the yeshiva plus his wife's earnings from doing office work at home - both of which are meager. He has found some freelance work to supplement his income, but these jobs, too, are disappearing.

Shmuel Kamil, 26, is so far in a better situation. Until October, he was learning full-time in yeshiva. But then he decided he wanted to combine Torah study with work, so he registered at the Haredi College in Jerusalem to obtain a bachelor's degree in computer science. Now, he is studying five afternoons and evenings a week in the college's academic preparatory program, while continuing to study in the yeshiva during the mornings.

The yeshiva pays him a stipend of NIS 1,500 a month, and his wife works in a day care to supplement their income. So far, he said, the yeshiva has not reduced its stipends or stopped paying any of the avrechim (married students), but "they are not accepting a single new avrech. Donations have declined and the kollels [yeshivas for married men] cannot increase their support. So you cut back."

Nevertheless, he is optimistic that he will eventually finish his degree and find work in high-tech. He knows that high-tech firms are currently firing, but "the high-tech world goes in cycles: after a slowdown, there is generally a boom. So I hope it will be okay."