If there is one overriding issue the recent elections placed on the nation’s
front burner it is that of “sharing the burden,” the burden referring to
military or national service, and the sharing to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and
But is the desire for haredim in the IDF really what drives
a disgruntled electorate apoplectic? Does the IDF really want haredim – in their
current unwilling, entitled, entrenched mindset – in its ranks? Do we, as a
nation, really need 50,000 functionally illiterate, physically unfit and
culturally antagonistic young men in uniform? Has anyone considered the
practical ramifications of masses of hostile boys trading in their black hats
for army berets? Or is what bugs us simply the fact that the taxpayer is fed up
with feeding an exponentially growing population of families headed by indolent
men, most of whom are only nominally enrolled in yeshivot?
A casual look at
Israel’s poverty statistics is revelatory. The typical Israeli city has a
poverty rate that hovers around 20 percent. In Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, which
are heavily populated by haredim, the poverty statistic is more like 70
In this utterly lopsided spread may lie the key to relieving
taxpayer frustration, while creating an environment that could organically yield
a normalization of haredi (and Arab) society.
It is time, indeed, to draw
a definitive line between genuine poverty and willful poverty, and to remove the
latter from our poverty rolls.
Genuine poverty, such as that of widows
and orphans, the chronically sick, and the emotionally disturbed deserves to be
given every aid possible. Willful poverty, i.e.
families headed by
able-bodied, mentally balanced men who refuse to work for a living, should not
be classified as poor, and should receive neither direct aid – in the form of
cash handouts, stipends and aid for large families – nor indirect aid in the
form of relief from arnona (property tax) and free medical care.
with, our current official poverty statistics are a national scandal because
they appear to indicate a huge gap between rich and poor, when this is hardly
By striking the willfully poor off the poverty rolls our
picture looks, and is, a great deal healthier.
ISRAEL IS not a basket
case. Our burgeoning Jewish state shouldn’t have to go hat in hand, through a
plethora of charitable organizations, to our “rich” relatives in the Diaspora
begging for food. This is a disgrace, and it is unmerited.
plenty available right here – both in government and philanthropic funds – to
care for the truly needy.
Haredim are very astute when it comes not only
to sticking their hands in the taxpayer’s pocket, but also to helping themselves
to the goodies being uncritically distributed by well-intentioned third-sector
organizations. These include monthly food baskets, free soup kitchens,
subsidized wedding halls (where a small wedding is one with 400 guests), food
banks and holiday food distribution programs, and clothing vouchers for
Many double- and triple-dip by receiving free food from several
charitable organizations. And none of this begins to factor in a thriving
If ordinary Israelis had a clue about how haredim
mostly live quite well without ever doing a day’s work, they would be donning
black hats and white shirts and enrolling in the nearest kolel.
it’s pretty much a free ride for life. And the only reason haredim can get away
with it is because our government is willing to tango with their political
parties, whose agenda is pretty much limited to one thing – getting more and
more funding for their chronic welfare constituents.
mass burglary camouflaged as poverty cannot be done overnight. Sadly we are
living with hundreds of thousands of men who have never known any other way.
They are unskilled, unschooled, and convinced by their politically-motivated
sages to believe that their lifestyle is sacrosanct.
eliminate the flow of public funding might indeed create a mass of truly
poverty-stricken families that lack the tools to fend for themselves.
solution, rather, begins at the IDF induction center. Every conscription- age
young man who passes the basic physical and mental requirements for army service
should be given a choice; either to serve immediately (or do real, meaningful
civilian national service) or to sign a waiver that deprives him – in perpetuity
– of the right to ever receive any government or charitable benefits. This
should be true for haredim, for Arabs and, yes, for secular Tel Avivians who are
shirking service in ever-greater numbers.
No stipends, no food subsidies,
no arnona waivers, no free medical.
Third-sector charities will be
provided with the names and ID numbers of those who choose not to
They will then be legally prohibited from supporting these men
and their future families, or else risk losing their status as tax-exempt
Families that are already chronically dependent will not
Faced with the stark choice of national service or forgoing
the welfare route will, in short order, result in a sea change in haredi
attitudes across the board. Haredi schools will suddenly find a way to obey the
law in terms of teaching basic language and quantitative skills. Haredi rabbis
will quickly discover that every Torah text from Chumash to the Mishnah to the
Rambam and beyond legitimizes – in fact demands – that one work for a
Kolels will become, for the first time, selective in terms of who
is admitted and who receives support, and the national burden of responsibility
will be more equitably shared.
And yes, what is true for haredim should
be equally true for all citizens.
Arabs and secular freeloaders should be
no more exempt from their national responsibilities than law-abiding Israelis.
Normalizing our society means eliminating willful poverty as a legitimate
criterion for public assistance. Absent the moral corruption that results from
politically horse-traded largesse, we will be doing ourselves – and this
includes haredim – a huge favor by helping mainstream them into healthy,
productive lives, which is even more important than just sharing the
The writer is a creative director who spends half of each day
studying in a non-paying kolel in Jerusalem.