Concern Over Growing Haredi Numbers In Israel
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Rabbi Uri Regev is president and CEO of Hiddush-Freedom of Religion for Israel, a group that advocates for religious liberty and equality for all in Israel. He formerly served as president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, an umbrella organization of the worldwide Progressive, Reform, Liberal and Reconstructionist movements. And he was the founding chair and executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy group founded by the Reform movement in Israel. He was in New York recently and spoke with The Jewish Week about the divide between the fervently Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society.

Q: What do you see as the repercussions of the growing number of haredi or fervently Orthodox Jews in Israel?

A: It has triggered a debate over the future of the preparedness of the army. Ten years ago, 7 percent of those subject to the draft were exempted on the basis that they were studying in yeshivas. Now that figure is almost 14 percent, which adds up to 65,000 exemptions. During [David] Ben-Gurion’s time 60 years ago, there were only 400 exemptions.

How will this impact the army?

Currently in Israel, 26 percent of first-graders study in ultra-Orthodox schools. The army is saying that if nothing changes, in 12 years we will be facing a 26 percent exemption rate on the basis of studying in a yeshiva … and that there would not be enough of a draft base to draw from. Even now the declining draft crops has forced the army to cut the number of permits it gives to young Israelis who want to spend a year doing community service before going into the army.

All of those men studying in yeshivas must have an impact on the Israeli economy.

The comptroller general recently launched a website that listed all state grants. It showed that 53 percent of them go to religious institutions and 23 percent to culture and sports. The Mir Yeshiva was at the top of the list in 2009; it got 49.9 million shekels [more than $12 million].

How has it affected the Israeli workforce?

A Taub Center study showed that 30 years ago, 21 percent of the haredi males did not work. Today, 65 percent are not working. A comparative study shows that in the same haredi communities in New York and London, 70 percent of the males were employed compared to 35 percent employed in Israel. That means that they are not working here because they are able to get away with it. They aren’t doing it in New York and London because the government does not subsidize them.

How have Israelis reacted to the release of the grant figures?

Most recently as many as 10,000 students demonstrated in Jerusalem protesting an attempt to legislate the continued payment of 132 million shekels ($33 million) paid to yeshiva students with families — each family receives 1,045 shekels ($260) a month. The demonstrators were saying that the preferential treatment of yeshiva students can’t go on. Israel’s supreme court struck down the grant as of Jan. 1, but the haredi parties would like to legislate it into law.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was finance minister from 2003 to 2005, he cut child subsidies. What is happening now?

In 2006, the Bank of Israel pointed out that there was less poverty in the haredi sector because there was a decrease in the child birthrate and an increase in employment. But as prime minister, Netanyahu is restoring the subsidies and that is why economists are alarmed.

You are also concerned with those from the former Soviet Union whose father or grandfather was Jewish but not their mother, who come to Israel under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish and meet obstacles when they attempt to convert.

Now you are finding in Israel a debate about racist exclusion, and it takes the form of someone being told they are not frum [religious] enough. In the Immanuel School, for example, an Ashkenazi institution, they are excluding Sephardic students. Those who are accepted are being accepted based on a quota.


Last Update:

09/16/2013 - 19:53

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The word "frum" is mistranslated as "religious" in the answer to the last question to Rabbi Regev. It can be better translated as "Ultra-Orthodox" enough. Jews may be very religious and at the same time non-compliant with Ultra-Orthodox practices because their stream of Judaism has different beliefs, interpretations of the Bible and different holy books. To equate "frum" with "religious" is to insult the millions of more progressive Jews, whether Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Reconstructionist, or Karaite.

It is well known that the Reform movement stood hand in hand with the Naturei Karta in 1948 protesting the formation of the State of Israel. The Reform Movement leadership demanded FDR not to admit European Jews to the USA in the run up to WW2. When Israel was created, the Reform Movement protested that they did not accept Zionism. Today, Rabbi Regev and the Progressive Reform leadership have suddenly arrived in Israel to set up an organization to demand Israel cease being a Jewish State. This Progressive Reform Movement declares Israel an Apartheid State that subjugates the Arab Muslims and supports J Street's attempt for Congress to abandon support for Israel. Now Rabbi Regev is forming yet another organization to attack the tax paying Chareidi Community of Israel. They pay taxes and they demand services like any constituancy. Hey, I am no Orthodox Chareidi - far far from it. I only know that having lived in Israel I know the reality of life there and Rabbi Regev is a fringe hater. The majority of Israelis are traditional Jews who have pride in being Israeli Jews. They know very well the history of the Reform Movement in Europe and the USA. The Jewish Week should interview organiztions that provide social services and education to real Israelis. There are so many exciting things going on in Israel today. Rabbi Regev and his hateful organization is not one of them. You know his bio. Stop the hate already. I love all Rabbis. Let him teach love and tolerance for all - even Jews he disagrees with. What a concept in 2011.
The state support of religion, some 65 years after the Holocaust, is very uncomfortable for this American. I think it's time to shrink the subsidies to nothing and let the Religious support themselves as Masorti and Reform do--by raising money from the private sector. My Haredi relatives have left the yeshiva environments and make their way privately, using their skills. It can be done and it should be done. Adam, Rabbi Regev's smicha is as good as anybody's and you should respect it. If you can't say something to move the discussion forward, you don't have to spread hate. That's chillul Hashem. Even I know that and I'm just a grandmother. Progressive, Reform Jews have something to add to the conversation--and sometimes they even contribute scholars, Orthodox scholars to the community. I know one. Just think about it.
Why would the Jewish Week give credence to a certified rabble rousing Progressive Reform activist. Mr. Regev is a hater and much villified in Israel by the majority in the Center. The facts are much more complicated. Most Israelis know that the real problem is the collapse of dedication to Army service by priveledged Tel Aviv youth. Drug use is rampant. Many have fled Israel and Army service for the fleshpots of the EU and USA. Those that serve are desknikim not fighterim. The actual trend in Israel is for religous high school graduates serviing in decorated Hesder fighting units. Charedim are searching for ways for acceptable service and job integration. Rabble rousing activists like Mr. Regev just poison the atmosphere. I call on the Jewish Week to be more responsible. Many of your readers have lived in Israel. We read many papers and we know which opinions are truthful and which are rabble rousing. This column is not an honest one and only seeks to spread strife and anger in the Jewish Community. This is shameful. Let's improve the dialogue in the Jewish Week not harm it.
State supported religion is anathema to Americans. Do not ask them to accept it. Americans expect devotees of the faith to support its own religious teachers, not expect those not of the faith to pay to support them through the state. Americans hate knowing that their own tax money is being used by another nation to support a religion. They have every right to be angry about it.
You clearly list the numbers of "ultra orthodox" jews that recieve an exemption yet you clearly dont list all of the secular israelies that dodge the draft. I have also heard form Army officials that most of the people getting an exemption are not Army material and would be worthless to the military. "A comparative study shows that in the same haredi communities in New York and London, 70 percent of the males were employed compared to 35 percent employed in Israel. That means that they are not working here because they are able to get away with it." You clearly consider learning the sacred teachings as not learning, but if a person would want to devote his life to learning everything about a toothpick that would be a valid job. Most of these haredi people in Israel are young people who are still in their 20's and the will soon be getting a job with a better salery. Lastly you write about so called racism within the religious section. First of all you are not religious so you do not understand the laws of Judaism. If your mother is not Jewish then you are not Jewish. No exeptions. Also religious Jewish schools expect a certain level of religiousness from their students. If they feel that a certain kid would be a bad influence on the others due to his lack of obsevance then the will not accept that kid to protect the other students. I relize that this is on an American website so the readers will most likely be American. If I am correct in my assumption that this was written and will be read by non Orthodox Jews, then you people need to relize that G-D has the back of the Jews and if we would stupidly pull the plug on the study of Torah we would be wiped out. Do not think for a second that I go to a Haredi school and therefore I am brainwashed. I was born in Pennsylvania to well educated parents. My Father is a lawer and my Mom is an envirnmental scientist. I currently go to a modern orthodox school in Chicago. I am in 11th grade and I am planning to go to a good school or join the IDF/ settle in Israel, however I am not a Zionist (that does not meen that I hate Israel). You people should move to Israel and talk to the other side you will see that they are not as primitive and stupid as all this false propaganda makes them out to be.

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