The lack of a core curriculum in the haredi sector for boys is one of the biggest restraints on the integration of men from the community into the workforce, and on their earning capacity.
Schoolchildren stand in the doorway and watch as ultra-Orthodox Jews prepare matza in Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv March 30, 2015.- (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Everything is interconnected in Israel. One of the catalysts of the year-long electoral roller coaster has been the continued reluctance of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to integrate into society, including serving in the IDF and entering the workforce.
The issue is Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s redline: He has not wavered on his refusal to sit in a government with the religious parties that avoid military service at the expense of the rest of the country.
Likewise, this is one of the tenets of Blue and White co-founder Yair Lapid. More than anything else, the haredi issue is the one that has kept both sides of the political playing field from gathering enough partners to form a coalition.
For the rank-and-file Israeli, there’s also no shortage of animosity toward the haredi sector. The commitment of haredim to Torah study over earning a living or serving in the military mars them with the freeloader label, and only further antagonizes a mainstream that sees haredi control over life-cycle events as an infringement on their civil rights.
Anyone who has witnessed the common street blockages near The Jerusalem Post offices by members of the extreme Jerusalem Faction group and their flagrant refusal to acknowledge the authority of the police, as well as the ease with which they call enforcers of the law “Nazis,” knows how urgent and dangerous the situation has become.
There have been efforts to train haredi men and women to join the job market, and as a result, for a number of years there was an increase in haredi employment. However, according to a report issued last year by the Labor Ministry, while the overall employment rate of Israelis aged 25-64 stood at an all-time high of 78.3%, only half (50.2%) of haredi men were employed. According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s 2019 Yearbook of Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel, that’s a drop of almost 2% from the stable period between 2015 and 2017.
The report also showed a decline in the percentage of haredim pursuing advanced academic studies, as well as in their conscription into the IDF and participation in National Service programs.
Those worrying trends could shift upward in the long term, however, if a statement recently made by senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni is true.
As reported by the Post’s Jeremy Sharon, Gafni said that the senior rabbinic leadership of the haredi community has approved the study of “secular” subjects such as math and English in elementary schools for boys.
That would be a game changer, since the overwhelming majority of haredi high school pupils do not study those core curriculum subjects – or if they do, like at the Shas-run school network Maayan Hahinuch Hatorani, the studies are not thought to be at a high level.
Uri Regev, director of the Hiddush religious pluralism organization, said that the move “will guarantee the possibility of young haredi men [being] in the workforce without becoming a burden on the public purse.” He called on the non-haredi political parties to make clear before the upcoming election that state financial support will be given only to ultra-Orthodox schools that teach core curriculum studies.
The lack of a core curriculum in the haredi sector for boys is one of the biggest restraints on the integration of men from the community into the workforce, and on their earning capacity. It has been cited by numerous reports as one of the economy’s leading problems in the future.
According to a Finance Ministry report presented at an IDI conference last year by Assaf Wasserzug, deputy head of the ministry’s budget division, if the employment rate of haredi men remains stagnant, it will cost the economy more than $11 billion a year by 2030 and $117b. a year by 2065.
We welcome Gafni’s statement and encourage the slight opening of light into the closed haredi society. In a matter of years, it could make a huge difference in the ability of haredi families to join others who are standing on their own feet, earning their keep and serving as productive members of Israeli society.
And maybe, just maybe, it would remove one of the causes of Israel’s political paralysis.