Every afternoon, after Aharon Rayner completes his daily Torah studies, he gets in his car, drives to Ramat Gan, logs onto a computer and starts buying and selling US stocks. The 30-year-old father of four who lives in the haredi community of Elad trades for a few hours before going home to spend time with his wife and children.
Rayner’s decision to become a stock trader, where he can earn an average salary in just a handful of hours each day, is unusual among the ultra-Orthodox community, but it is gradually becoming less so; partly because, unlike many other professions, stock trading can accommodate the haredi lifestyle.
“To me this is the ultimate solution. It combines Torah life with work and family perfectly,” said Rayner, whose red hair and beard stand out against his traditional black garb.
Integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews into the labor force, particularly men, is one of Israel’s most pressing long-term economic challenges. Due to their high birthrate, haredim, who currently comprise about 10 percent of the population, are expected to account for 27% within 50 years, according to the Bank of Israel.
“If there isn’t a continuation of the process of rising participation rates of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations, the combined demographic changes are expected to reduce future annual growth by around 0.6 percentage point,” BoI Gov. Karnit Flug said in a speech last week, referencing Israel’s Arabs, whose low labor-force participation is as notoriously low as that of haredim.
For ultra-Orthodox men, choosing to work instead of Torah study can elicit a backlash within their community.
Those who do want to work, however, find that their yeshiva education leaves them ill-equipped for good jobs.
Because most have families to support from a young age, the prospect of spending three years getting a college education is uninviting. Many have not taken the required psychometric matriculation exams for university study to begin with.
When a friend of Rayner’s told him he was going to learn how to trade stocks, he took the plunge too.
According to Dudu Roz, the founder of the day-trading school where Raynor learned the ropes, Simple Trade, just about 7% of his students are ultra-Orthodox (all men), but the flexibility the lifestyle affords them is a good fit.
“If we learn to accept the haredi population as it is, we will get to the right solutions,” he said. “The haredi community isn’t looking to get rich. Their priorities are study, family and then salaries,” Roz continued. Instead of sitting and trading all day, they prefer to come, make their money quickly and move on.
For Rayner, the fact that he can study Torah each morning and still have plenty of time to devote to his family is key.
“It’s the hours. You can maybe do a few trades a day and get $100-$200 a day, and that leaves you the evening to spend time with your family,” Rayner said.
A lifetime of religious discipline and adherence to rules is also helpful in a vocation where adrenaline can fly high and traders are often tempted to go against best practices.
“When a haredi man learns the rules about what you are and aren’t supposed to do in trading, he is someone who knows how to control himself. He does what’s allowed and does not do what’s not allowed. It’s helpful in trading,” Rayner said.
Roz found that his model, which eases students into trading through a six-month course, gives them a mentor and, at the end, offers them a shared workspace to sit and trade together, works for haredim. The fact that the office provides computers – which many ultra-Orthodox do not have in their homes – is an extra boost.
Despite the many qualities that drew Rayner into trading, there are still tough barriers to getting into the field. For one, the six-month training course can cost between NIS 2,500 and NIS 13,000. Beyond that, traders need to have a starting lump sum of money to trade with, usually at least NIS 10,000.
Furthermore, the social taboos are persistent. Despite having several friends who trade, Rayner said people keep quiet about it.
“People who trade don’t love to say it,” he said. “I won’t tell you that traders are shouting it in the street, because people start saying, ‘He must be earning millions.’” One friend realized he had been “discovered” by a member of the community when the two entered the same trading chat room.
Without wondering why a fellow ultra-Orthodox individual was also in the chat room, he panicked and changed his screen name.
But for Raynor, those challenges were easier to overcome than the alternative options – whether seeking a degree or taking out hefty loans to start a brick-and-mortar business.
Moreover, he cherishes the fact that he can support his family without having to give up Torah study.
“I’m trying to get my friends to understand that you can stay in the Torah world and be in the labor market and there’s no contradiction,” Rayner said. “I didn’t leave the yeshiva. I’m still there.”