Why I Ultra Don't Mind Israeli Subsidies To The Ultra-Orthodox
12/29/2010 - 12:41
Jonathan Mark

Regarding today's front page story in the Times: "Some Israelis Question Benefits For Ultra-Religious."

Here's mistake number one, often made by the ultra-unaware: All "ultra-religious" are not the same. All yeshivish-types are not the same and not all Chasidm are the same and most of them aren't afraid of an honest day's work. Chabadniks don't sit around waiting for a handout. You tell a Chabadnikt there's a job in the Congo or Saigon and he and his wife say "When do we start?" Plenty of Satmars take the early bus, too. When Americans speak of welfare queens and hustlers, they're not speaking of chasidim.

JJ Gross, of Jerusalem, points out in a letter to the Jerusalem Post (Dec. 16) that you can't dump the chasidim and the yeshivish "under a single rubric," even if "to the undiscerning eye they all look the same.... [There] is huge difference between the hasidic and the “yeshivish” communities.

"Hasidim are historically disposed to do an honest day’s work, while the yeshivish believe others should do the work for them. Indeed, even within the realm of vocations that are necessary for the very maintenance of Jewish life, such as the writing of Torah scrolls and tefillin, typography for religious texts, ritual slaughter and kashrut supervision, hasidim are ubiquitous while the yeshivish are nowhere to be found.

"Perhaps the government should concentrate its job-generating efforts on the hasidic communities. It might find both the rebbes and their followers receptive to ideas that can wean families off the dole. Once such efforts begin to pay off, it would be time to cut all subsidies to the yeshiva world, which shamelessly subsists on life support and bites the hand that feeds it."

Here's another point: When conservatives in the United States would criticize welfare programs by saying, "they should go out and work," that was considered ugly and racist by many of the same readers of the Times who now say, "Yeah, those ultra-Orthodox should go out and work." Why is the first statement racist and ugly but not the second? We're not told how many want to work and how many can't find work. What we do know is that cheap generalizations that would never be allowed in the United State for blacks or even illehal aliens are freely administered by ultra-American Jews when it comes to Israel's ultra-Orthodox.

The article tells us: "In addition to the men, more than 50 percent of haredi women do not work, compared with 21 percent among mainstream Jewish women. About 75 percent of Arab women do not work." Would we say that Arab women (and men who don't work) are lazy and don't want to work but live off Israeli subsidies? Why are Arabs living off the state not an issue but Orthodox Jews are?

Demographics: One of the main reasons why the Jewish Surrender Lobby on the left keeps saying that Israel has to run up the white flag is the alleged reality of demographics, particularly the Arab birth rate that supposedly will threaten to make the Palestinians the demographic majority west of the Jordan River.

But the Times article reports, "The ultra-Orthodox... make up 10 percent of Israel’s population of 7.5 million, but are increasing rapidly... while the Arab fertility rate has been dropping." Well.

The Times adds, "haredim still marry young and favor large families with eight children or more. Enrollment in ultra-Orthodox primary schools has increased by more than 50 percent over the last decade."

So, doesn't that solve the demographic problem that so torments the Surrender Now activists?

The Times reports: "Several months ago the [Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel] issued a report that caused widespread alarm: If current trends continue, it said, 78 percent of primary school children in Israel by 2040 will be either ultra-Orthodox or Arab."

Why is that a problem? Ask anyone at J Street, would it be terrible "If current trends continue, 78 percent of primary school children in Arizona will be either illegal immigrants from Mexico, whose parents are not paying taxes but living off medical and eductation subsidies paid for by a increasingly taxed white minority?"

Would that be a fair and reasonable question? So why is it fair for there to be "widespread alarm" if 78 percent of Israeli students are ulta-Orthodox or Arab, supported by an increasingly taxed "white" (non-black-hatted Orthodox, non-Arab) minority in Israel? Why is one question racist and xenophobic and not the other?

The Times reports: "There are also signs of growing anger among mainstream Israelis: University students over the last weeks have blocked roads in protest of stipends amounting to $30 million a year for the eternal students of the kollels, which are seminaries for married men. They argued that they should receive similar benefits."

Why doesn't the Times ask Orthodox Zionists, or Likudniks, or settlers, what they think about government subsidies for leftist university students and academics in Israel -- recipients of massive government subsidies, as well as payoffs to extortionist tenure protection -- who urge boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel, who slander Israel as an "apartheid" state, who declare Israeli leaders to be "war criminals" and thereby subject to arrest if these government leaders dare step foot in Europe -- should their government subsidies be slashed?

Why are massive subsidies for these academics who are active enemies of the state not be every bit as much of a concern as the subsidies for the equally non-Zionist but relatively harmless yeshiva students?

The Times reports: "More than 2,500 haredim and other religious soldiers have served in a combat battalion [and] about 1,000 haredim have served in Shahar, a special army program set up in late 2007 for ultra-Orthodox married men," but that limits the discussion rather than illuminating it.

Instead of that narrow close-up, let's pull the camera back to see that draft-dodging on the Israeli left is booming, while 40 percent of IDF officers are Orthodox. So, if anything, there is a trend to the more conservative, traditionally-raised Jews stepping up in service to the country. That trend is far from the impression given by the narrow focus on the most extreme Orthodox.

One Big Lie should be put to rest, the lie that yeshiva subsidies are the result of political coercion. There have been, in recent years, less than 20 Knesset members out of 120 that can be counted from Orthodox parties. Is Israel's system so absurd that less than 20 Knesset members can dominate the other 100? Do you really think so? There have usually been as many Arab or Communist Knesset members. How come they can't wrangle the same subsidies?

Because it is a Big Lie that Orthodox coercion has anything to do with yeshiva subsidies anymore than Medieval literary coercion has to do with subsidies to Medieval literature departments in American universities. Both the Israeli and American governments subsidize just about anything in a classroom.

If you insist that the problem is coercion by Orthodox political parties, then here's my gift the anti-haredi Israelis: Stop whining and download a copy of the United States Constitution. Make it the law of the land, and dump your surreal Rubik's Cube electoral process that rewards single-issue minority parties -- such as the haredi parties that supposedly so annoy you.

And while we're at it, dear Israel, your Supreme Court (with the exception of Justice Neal Hendel) stinks, too.

Israel is an independent country and I respect their sovereign right to subsidize leftist academics and haredi yeshivas, to have an absurdly activist Supreme Court, to maintain settlements, and to allow pro-Hamas scoundrels to serve in the Knesset. I love the place, but I don't have to take all their complaints all that seriously. Sometimes, Israeli political hustlers are just blowing smoke, just like here in the States.

Today they're blowing smoke about those mean ol' haredi yeshivas. Come on, you're such a great democracy, you don't like something, change it. You've had 60 years to change it.

No democracy works perfectly but Israel's electoral system is particularly amateurish and more susceptible to lobbyists -- including the yeshivish welfare lobby -- than even what we have here in the States.

If Israel insists on having a legislature comprised of only minority parties and political alliances more suited to a reality TV show, instead of representatives elected by district, then Israelis will continue to have the system that Israelis, secular and haredi, seem to want.

When Israelis takes the idea of district representation seriously, then I'll take their complaints about haredi blackmail seriously.

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This article is so wrong it is hard to know where to begin. The reason why we blame the Orthodox for their lack of income and not poor in America is because the poverty of the haredim is the result of their own choosing not the fact that they weren't able to get an effective source of income. In America people have real hardships that came based on efforts to try to live the American dream and build a better life for the family. The Arizona example is complete B.S. Last time I checked Illegal immigrants and Arizonans do not want to kill each other while destroying their right to exist. Everything about this article shows a complete lack of understanding of every situation that the author mentioned

You will have to form a large coalition and demand that payments be stopped. Start voting out people if possible. Otherwise you are going to have a 3rd world country in 30 to 40 years.

I am not Jewish, but Christian. I have a great admiration and love for the Jewish culture and nation. I have always wondered how these particular Jewish families provide for themselves. This was informative. I do believe in the power of prayer, however, and Chaver's comments, I thought, were quite "right on" But I also understand Udi's distress at feeling the burden of carrying families on his shoulders while the parents are unwilling to do so. Very interesting article. Thank you.

This is such a ridiculous article. You criticize the people that argue against subsidies to Yeshivas but you don't yourself make an argument for them. These are the facts: 65% of Haredi men do not have jobs, they are supported entirely by the taxes of secular Jews and Arabs. They go to schools that do not teach English, math, or science. Their children (7 to 8 a family) live in third world poverty. And their children to not serve in the army. When Israel is 50% Haredi and there is no army left, no amount of prayer will protect Israel from her enemies. Maybe you don't mind, but as an Israeli I mind when I have to work harder in order to pay taxes to put food on the table for a Haredi family in which the father CHOOSES not to work and CHOOSES to have as many children as possible. I also mind when I spent 3 years FIGHTING for my country and the Haredim sit around and pray.
You missed one important point. The Yeshiva students truly believe (right or wrong) that their study of Torah protects the land as much as the military. They believe that we need a spiritual army in addition to the physical fighting. When Israel is at war or under a more severe terror threat, those study halls are packed 24 hours a day. They study, they pray, they do what THEY know to protect the nation. Whether you agree that we need spiritual protection or not, you should mention their view in an article that addresses the issue. There are so many stories of Israel's military successes that are not answerable without an acknowledgment that G-d protects His people. Maybe they have a point, or maybe not, but I'd rather not find out the hard way.
It's nice to see an article in the JW that isn't anti-semitic when it comes to orthodoxy. I am a formerly chassidic person who is no longer observant; however, I can attest to the fact that the work ethic among chassidim everywhere is alive and well. I share Mr. Mark's feelings about the yeshivish world, who subscribe quite fully to the "beshvili nivrah ha-olam" (it is for me that the world was created) mentality.
It may be worth saving this column by J. Mark as a model of sophistry. Apparently he cannot muster honest arguments in support of subsidizing a hoard of adult Torah students, most of whom do little if anything to support their families and most of whom hide in their yeshivas to avoid protecting klal Israel through service in the IDF. Let me tackle just two of his many half-baked arguments: Surely he knows that the ultra-Orthodox political parties' Knesset members pay a critical role in the formation of Israeli governments, and thus can use their status in a highly fragmented political system to extract privileges for their constituents. The Arab parties play no such role. Does Mark take us all for ignorant fools? He talks of "massive subsidies" to leftist students and academics. Come again? Any subsidies to higher education are to students in general. (As much as one might agree with Mark's scorn for "leftist" students and academics, the Israeli government is not picking out the anti-state students for special subsidies. (Mark declines to note that many if not most in the Chassidic communities are well known for opposition to the state of Israel.) As for the rising number of children born in ultra-Orthodox communities, the children are indeed a blessing. Their births stand in sharp contrast to the secular communities' tide of abortions. However, one can only wish that more of their fathers had also studied subjects that would provide them with means of supporting their families. Instead, our mail and e-mail boxes overflow with charitable appeals for impoverished Israeli children.
The Arab parties play no role in forming governments only because neither Likud nor Labor nor Kadima ever wanted to form a government with them. If those same parties decided not to ever form a party with an Orthodox party, then those Orthodox parties would be in no position to extract all sorts of privileges. It's absurd for Israeli parties to make deals with Orthodox parties and then cry foul because the Orthodox parties made a deal. If the secular Israeli parties were sincere, they can avoid the Orthodox altogether, not that they should.