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The Jewish Response to Haredi Poverty

Even with all Israel’s political handicaps, its economy has performed remarkably well. Much credit should be given to Bibi Netanyahu for creating a strong business class and attracting foreign investors like Warren Buffet. So it might come as a surprise to many in America that Israel has a poverty problem.
As it has been reported, “At present, just 30 percent of Haredi [a theologically conservative form of Orthodox Judaism] men participate in the work force. Almost half the Haredi population lives below the official poverty line. As the Haredi share of the population grows, pressure will mount on the tax rolls, the welfare system and inter-communal tolerance and civility.”


It’s hard to feel bad for starving Israeli Haredim when they do everything in their power to continue a culture of indecent dependency. The issue here is so bizarre that any way you look at it you are left scratching your head in disbelief. As it now stands, aside from a few cut-off-your-nose-despite-your-face secularists, the main group advocating for Haredi poverty are the Haredim themselves. For years now Haredi leaders have been at the forefront of preventing the emendation of Israeli law to remove the obstacles in the way of granting employment to those who do not enlist in the army. Many in its leadership ranks would prefer poverty than the risks that come with the workplace.
Furthermore, so dead-set are Haredi leaders on ensuring that their followers go hungry that they are now placing all kinds of new restrictions on women to prevent them from participating in the work force. For years there was a quiet revolution happening in Haredi life–men would sit and learn while women would become the family breadwinners. Well its seems that the women starting knowing a bit too much, becoming a bit to independent, and having a bit too much of a say around the house. So, the Haredi leadership has now decided: no more women working.
Too many Haredi leaders would actually prefer that their followers remain poor and starving (ok to be honest they would actually prefer that the Jewish world pay them not to work). It’s hard to feel bad for the Haredim–or want to assist them–when they are so disinterested in helping themselves. I feel terrible about young children starving, but they don’t so why should we?

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posted November 8, 2007 at 5:01 pm

There are lots of Haredi males in the diamond trade, of course. If there was some way to train them in other areas so they could be segregated from the rest of society and yet earn a living.

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chaim baruch-chaim

posted November 8, 2007 at 7:26 pm

a) Any group that wants to segregate itself from the larger society and that society’s job market must accept total responsibility for their own economic lives.
b) As my parents and grandparents, who had a strong bit of a separatist streak themselves, frequently said of able-bodied people refusing available honest work and then asking for a handout: “If you don’t work, you don’t (or shouldn’t) get to eat.”
c) I seem to remember a pesky little commandment that says in part, “Six days shall you labor and do all you work…” It is a mitzvah to work, just as much as it is a mitzvah to keep Shabbat.
d) Failing to do what is possible to do to provide for your family is child abuse and should be treated as such by civil authorities.
e) It is self-evident that the higher good is in fulfilling duties to others, even above purity, doing (other) mitzvahs, studying, and otherwise making yourself feel holy.
So I guess it’s clear I have not a milligram of sympathy for the adult Haredim Rabbi Stern depicted. But is there any way to help the children without helping the undeserving parents? I hope there is, but I do not know what it is.

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posted November 11, 2007 at 8:19 pm

Something to consider – haredim have a strong basis to believe the most important thing in life is dedicating oneself to service of God through constant study and worship. almost any mainstream orthodox authority of both recent and distant past have focused on this goal as the only worthwhile pursuit in life. even if these haredim were to work, they aren’t skilled in anything, so would work all day to bring home very little, leaving little time to study Torah; and the way the tax laws are setup in israel, a typical worker takes home less than 50% of what they make. so practically speaking, a haredi man untrained in any skill, will likely make approximately $20,000/yr., which will yield about $12,000 after taking into account tax benefits for having several children (haredi families avg about 6 kids). hardly enough to support a large family, and not any more than they get on welfare and study stipends provided by kollel administration for doing what they believe is truly important in life and would be virtually unable to pursue if they were in the workforce.

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posted March 8, 2008 at 9:09 am

“cut-off-your-nose-despite-your-face” (???)

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