New haredi ethos: yes, get a job; no, don't learn any useful skills in school (2023)

This week, 200 economists warned that if the Israeli government began massively increasing subsidies to ultra-Orthodox schools and yeshivas, Israel would sink to third-world status.

Last week it was economists from the Ministry of Finance itselfhe talked, saying that the haredi's refusal to work will cost the Israeli economy 6.7 trillion shekels between now and 2060 — in other words, if they continue to work, the economy will be that much richer during that time.

None of these warnings tell us anything we didn't already know. Everyone knows thatthe ultra-orthodox population is growing rapidlyat a cost to the economy due to low employment rates and high poverty rates. And as the share of Haredi in the population increased, so did their percentagepolitical power. As a result, successive governments have caved in to haredi leaders' demands for more state aid and supported their refusal to allow their children, at least boys, to study "secular" subjects such as English and mathematics, or to serve in the military.

The new thing is the feeling of alarm.

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In secular circles, no doubt, part of the alarm is dueunprecedented money that Haredi leaders have squeezed out of Netanyahu's government, along with renewed demands for their sanctificationexemption from military serviceby law. Side by side, these two events make it clear to secular Israel that the haredi hand that takes refuses to give anything back.

But the unrest is no less a consequence of the culture war that has arisen with the revision of the judiciary. Suddenly the "first Israel" (liberal, secular, educated, worldly and wealthy) in protest of the "reform" realized that it could no longer live in peace with the "second Israel" (religious, less educated or yeshiva educated). isolationist and less tolerant, if not intolerant).

The increase in Haredi population and political power is undeniable, but the Haredi "economy" is no longer sustainable, not only for the rest of Israel that supports it, but for the Haredim themselves.

Haredim on high-tech courseCredit: צוות Mego

learning society”, as the scholar Menachem Friedman called it, took shape less than half a century ago in connection with the government's desire to subsidize society. After that, adult ultra-Orthodox men increasingly chose the ideal of full-time yeshiva study over employment.

Although the rabbis proclaimed it as the typical Jewish way of life, it could only happen if someone was ready and willing to support it.

The day of reckoning for Israel's "learning community" is near, and not because the rest of Israel is no longer able to fund the Haredi community. The fact is that Israel has become infinitely richer in the last three decadesGDP per population has almost tripled. Israel's growing resentment against non-Haredim is fundamentally based more on equality of burdens than economics. And the 'learning society' is being challenged from within.

An inner challenge

TheThe Haredi population is growing rapidly: The Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that in 2009 it was about 750,000, or about 10 percent of Israel's population. It is expected to reach 2.84 million by 2042, more than 20 percent of the population. The Haredi "economy" is failing to keep up with this staggering growth rate, and they know it.

Although the government has largely scaled back its efforts to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to enter the workforce,the employment rate continues to rise(it was estimated to be 54% last year, compared to 46% in 2015). Unfortunately, there is the other half of the story: yeshiva and college enrollment (for married students) has increased by 36 percent in the past 10 years.

Among Haredi women, the employment rate continues to rise, reaching 80 percent last year, just below the 84 percent of their non-Haredi sisters. Also during the past decade, the numberultra-orthodox men and women who graduate with a bachelor's degreealmost tripled. Almost all of them are earning degrees in work-related fields.

But whether due to cynical political calculations or a genuine belief in the value of Torah study, the community's rabbinic and political leadership still cling to the "learning community" model. Or more precisely, stick to a "learning society" - lite. While it is true that they get even more money to subsidize Torah study, Haredi leaders are also trying to create jobs for their people.

Haredi youth protest against ultra-Orthodox conscription in Jerusalem, June 2022.Source: Ohad Zwigenberg

More money for Haredi teachers, as the coalition agreement promises, means more jobs and better pay for the profession they employ39 percent of the ultra-Orthodox workforce. Theproposed conscription lawthe intention is not to retain young men in the yeshiva, but to introduce them to the labor market earlier by lowering the dismissal age from the current 26 to 21 or 23.

The sponsor is Moshe Gafni, head of the United Torah Judaism partylegislationthis would require ministries, local governments and state-owned enterprises to adjust testing and training standards to make it easier for Haredi to apply for jobs. Gafni even proposed quotas for ultra-Orthodox employment in the public sector.

Meanwhile, not only are more Haredi women working in the fields, but they are increasingly finding work outside the safe confines of the Haredi community, which is unable to create enough jobs for them. It is thereforetwo-thirds of Haredi working in high technology are women, the opposite of the gender ratio in the industry as a whole.

But there is a problem with the "learning society" model - lite, and the facts about the number of Haredi women in high tech illustrate this. These women are not stereotypical entrepreneurs and engineers who earn big salaries and cash in on stock options.

Haredi women get a much better secular education than boys, but it is not first class education with service in the 8200 Army Intelligence Unit or a degree from Tel Aviv University. They mainly do thorough work on the lowest rungs of the high-tech ladder. In any case, with an average of over six children per woman, few have the time, energy or desire to invest in a real career.

These women have nothing to be ashamed of. It is a good, honest, productive occupation and quite lucrative by Haredi standards. But they represent the pinnacle of Haredi human capital. From there it goes downhill. Few men have the mathematical and other skills necessary for well-paid productive work; even fewer have a higher education.

The rabbis are reluctant to accept the inevitable fact that more of their followers will have to find paying jobs, but they are reluctant to give them the tools to actually do so. This would mean more of them could serve in the military (a great place to learn skills and make friends) and be exposed to maths, science and English, which would mean giving them dangerous access to the wider world.

"Community of Learning" - Haredi rabbis and politicians lead their community to commit to the idea of ​​universal Torah study for men, but it perpetuates isolation and poverty. It may keep the system running for a few more years, but it won't be long before it also becomes unmaintainable.

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