(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yesh Atid MK and former deputy finance minister Mickey Levi has strongly condemned the government for a significant rise in the number of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men in fulltime yeshiva study and a concomitant plateauing among that sector joining the work force.
These changes occurred during the tenure of the current government, according to Levi, and appear linked to increases in yeshiva stipends and other welfare benefits to the haredi sector demanded by the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, despite the last government’s goal of boosting male haredi employment.
Levi condemned the government for what he called “cynical politics,” which he said would cause long-term damage to Israel’s economic growth.
Statistics recently released by the Central Bureau of Statistics show the number of full-time, married yeshiva students increased from 64,600 in 2014 to 74,700 in 2016, an increase of more than 15%.
That bucked the trend of the three previous years. From 2012 to 2014, the number of full-time, married yeshiva students decreased from 70,800 to 64,600, a drop of close to 9%.
At the same time, increases in male haredi employment since 2013 tailed off in 2016, with an increase of just 0.9% over the 2015 figures, leaving male haredi employment at 51.7%.
Between 2013 and 2015, male haredi employment rose from 44.5% to 51.2%, an increase of 15%, largely thought to be related to exemptions from military service given to some 20,000 full-time yeshiva students and slashing in half of the budget for yeshiva stipends.
The mass military service exemption was implemented to allow men who were not committed to full-time yeshiva study to join the workforce, since the law prohibits citizens from working until they complete military service or gain an exemption.
Even female haredi employment, which has seen rapid gains since 2011, stopped growing and even declined slightly.
In 2011, female haredi employment stood at 61.5%. It rose some 19% to 73.1% in 2015. However, it decreased to 72.8% in 2016, despite the trend of year-on-year rises from 2011.
In coalition agreements with Likud to form the government, UTJ and Shas demanded that dramatic cuts by the last government to the yeshiva budget be reversed, a demand that was swiftly met.
On Monday, a further increase to this budget of NIS 50 million was approved, bringing the total to a record level of NIS 1.2 billion.
Levi said those increases create a disincentive for haredim to join the work force and would damage Israel’s economic growth, while condemning haredi society to ongoing poverty.
“This is a foolish decision with regards to Israel’s economy and society on the one hand, as well as being an expression of cynical politics on the other,” said Levi.
“A straight line can be drawn from the doubling of the yeshiva budget, the sharp rise in full-time married yeshiva students, and the halt in the trend of increasing haredi participation in the work force.”