As we conclude the celebration of our freedom from slavery in Egypt, our focus should shift to the Jews in our midst who can now experience a different form of freedom.
The legislation we recently passed requiring more haredim to serve in the IDF includes an important clause that states that anyone age 22 or over at the time of the law’s passage can legally work despite not having served. Close to 30,000 young men, who until now could not work because they had not served, are being informed that they are “free” to leave yeshiva or kollel and go to work.
Thousands, who are only in yeshiva or kollel because they have not been allowed to work after refusing to serve, will now join the workforce.
The shift from the current haredi model that pushes young men to focus exclusively on Torah study and not work for a living must take place for two reasons.
First of all, the system is not sustainable economically. The poverty is devastating.
This poverty is not only a physical problem, but also a spiritual problem since, as our Sages teach, poverty leads to sin and turning away from God. Second, as haredi columnist Jonathan Rosenblum explained in a recent presentation, we cannot apply the same rules that existed for a very small, homogeneous group of elite scholars in the 1950s to a heterogeneous group of hundreds of thousands in 2014. The community today is “something completely different” than it was when the Hazon Ish instructed his students to focus on Torah study alone, an approach he only intended to last for two generations.
The Talmud made this point when it described that many tried to focus on Torah study exclusively, like Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai, and they failed. Rosenblum rightfully stated that teaching a young child who does not excel at Talmud study that success is defined by full-time learning is “signing a death warrant” for that child and “putting him in prison.”
Aside from the problems the current system causes for mainstream boys, it creates impossible situations for the girls.
In Rosenblum’s words, “not every woman can be a superwoman” and be homemaker, mother and wife while also serving as the primary or only breadwinner in the family. This unfair stress on the Jewish mother “isn’t a Torah ideal,” as Rosenblum put it.
So it is time for a change. Interestingly enough, the Hatam Sofer, who used the phrase “new things are forbidden according to the Torah” to combat changing any customs in light of the emergence of the Reform Movement, also wrote that change must take place once we reestablish ourselves in the Land of Israel. He believed that in Jews in Exile should try to focus exclusively on Torah study, but that once we returned to Israel, everyone should work alongside their Torah study. He believed that just as we interrupt Torah study to put on tefillin, we must also interrupt Torah study to work and fulfill the mitzva of rebuilding the land of Israel. He specified that this applied to all professions in Israel.
The Knesset task force to help haredim enter the job market, which I founded and chair, has quietly established projects that help thousands of haredim find work. We have reached out to companies, and many have begun targeting haredim to hire.
Secular Israel is slowly learning that, once properly trained in their fields of interest, these haredim often emerge as top employees. As Finance Minister Yair Lapid has explained, young men who have spent years studying Talmud have a high level of intelligence, along with deeper thinking and reasoning abilities, which give them an edge in the job market – especially in hi-tech. They are also remarkably disciplined. My task force recently unveiled the All Jobs for Haredim website, on which tens of thousands of jobs from companies in all fields will be advertised specifically for haredim, on a page geared toward the lifestyle of this community. This is an outgrowth of the change in mind-set that we are encouraging among secular employers, and it is slowly taking hold.
The combination of economic need, the new law allowing tens of thousands of haredim to go to work legally, secular companies now seeking to hire haredim, the current government’s budget allotting hundreds of millions of shekels to providing the haredi community with job training, and the recent development of many haredi schools agreeing to teach general studies with Education Ministry oversight in return for full funding, truly makes these days a “time of freedom and redemption” for the haredi community.
The call must continue to spread throughout haredi and secular Israel: “Let our people work.”
Haredim – get trained and go sustain your families with dignity. Secular Israel – hire haredim and forget the old stereotypes. The time is ripe for us to remember that we are one nation and that all of us are responsible for one another.
• The author is a Knesset member for the Yesh Atid Party.