The growing number of haredim choosing religious studies over gainful employment is unsustainable, and arrangements have to be made to force them into work, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said Monday.

“By the time you are up to 10 percent of the population of whom 70 percent of the male part of the population doesn’t work, you are getting to a macroeconomic issue,” he said at a media conference. “What is more of concern is the rate of growth of this community, this population relative to the rest of the population.”

With birthrates three times the Israeli average, haredi communities are mushrooming. Yet many of the communities are increasingly impoverished, with 65 percent of the men unemployed and many living on charity.

“If something is not sustainable it will stop,” Fischer said. “This is not sustainable.

We can’t have an ever-increasing proportion of the population continuing to not go to work.”

Change would come, he said, but the question was whether it would “happen in social conflict, in political conflict, or can it be helped to happen consensually and constructively? And what you find when you talk to people in that community is that they understand the issue. Some of them say, ‘Just let’s get on and do it, but don’t make a noise about it.’ I hope that is possible, but something’s got to happen to change that situation.”

Fischer said the two main sectors of Israeli society greatly affected by poverty were the haredim and Arabs, both of whom have a much lower participation in the labor force.

According to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, haredim and Arabs will make up 78% of Israel’s population by the year 2040. However, the trend among haredim was to increase the number of non-employed men. In 1979, for example, just 20.9% of haredi men did not work, compared to 65% today.

Fischer said the lot of Arabs was improving while haredim were getting steadily worse off. Six out of every 10 haredim lived below the poverty line, while among the Arab community it was just about 50%, he said.

Fischer said Israel faced a unique situation in combating unemployment because of its mandatory military service. Due to arrangements in place, haredi men are exempt from military service if they remain in seminary until the age of 28.

Economists say haredim are so limited in their education that they fall below third-world children, which would make it difficult for this community to supply engineers, physicists and doctors.

United Torah Judaism MK Menahem Eliezer Moses said even when haredi men learn a profession, they are often discriminated against in the secular workplace.


“We have helped over 8,000 young men learn a profession and who are willing to integrate, but they are not being accepted,” he told The Media Line. “People slam the phone down on them when they apply for jobs because it’s not comfortable for them to think of haredim in the workplace.”

Moses said his community was aware of the need for participating more in the workforce, but he stressed that it wasn’t necessarily up to the men to go to jobs.

“If the man isn’t working, then the woman does,” he said.

Moses said he welcomed forecasts of a huge haredi population in Israel in 20 years.

“With Hashem’s help, we will be a majority, and that is good because it’ll bring closer the arrival of Moshiah,” Moses said. “If the secular come begging us for work, we’ll gladly give it to them.”

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