(photo credit: Courtesy)
In what might be a harbinger of a dramatic shift in Shas’s public
attitude toward higher education, Religious Services Minister Ya’acov
Margi on Wednesday said that his movement encourages joining academic
institutions and obtaining degrees.
“Even in the last decade, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef [head of Shas’s Council of
Torah Sages] saw the need for higher education, and the person to bring
it to fruition is his daughter, Adina Bar-Shalom, who founded the first
haredi college [The Haredi College of Jerusalem]. Shas also encourages
joining academe and obtaining a degree,” Margi said during a panel
discussion on haredi employment at the Sderot Conference for Society.
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“There is an openness in the haredi sector [to joining the work force]
even when it isn’t publicized,” he said, stressing that the process must
be advanced in moderation, that the shift should “seep” into reality,
and not be imposed.
In some parts of the haredi world, he said, there is a silent
acquiescence to men seeking employment, and in others a more direct
openness, but the haredi world won’t “raise the banner” of employment.
Margi addressed some of the reasons more haredim have in recent years opted to seek jobs rather than remain in yeshivot.
“Most of the budget of the Torah world is from overseas Jewish
philanthropy, and that [has greatly diminished] as a result of the
financial crisis,” Margi said.
In addition, “the reductions in the allotments and the payments”
provided by the state have led many people who didn’t want to live in
poverty to enter the workforce.
The minister, who turns 50 next week, praised the success of IDF
programs such as Shahar Kahol and Halamish in drawing haredim to its
ranks, and provided an explanation of why so many ultra-Orthodox men
still do not serve in the military.
“Whoever thinks that haredim learn in yeshivot to avoid military service
is wrong; the reason for the mass movement toward Torah-centered
institutions is the lack of Jewish values in the [secular] public
educational system,” he said.
Margi called for more understanding between haredi and secular Israelis,
as did Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) earlier in the day.
“We are in a process of conciliation and mediation, but if we don’t
recognize the needs of the secular and haredi sectors, we will get
nowhere and continue to destroy each other from within,” he said.
Margi may gave been thinking of the remarks by Finance Minister Yuval
Steinitz’s senior adviser Dr. Avi Simhon, who said on Tuesday that
public leaders should call on haredim and Arabs to lower their
“You should tell them it’s irresponsible, you are harming your children,
your society,” Simhon said in an address at the conference. “A regular
person works out how many children he can support, and [then] his taxes
are allocated to those who have eight children, without the means to
In response to Simhon, Margi called on the secular population to quit
complaining about the haredim and instead “have as many children as
possible; as a haredi, I am fearful [hared
in Hebrew] for the fate of the Jewish people.”
Also at Tuesday’s conference, Steinitz reiterated his stance regarding
the urgent need for haredim to join the workforce. Without them, he
said, “our economic growth won’t continue.”
The finance minister maintained that the IDF, unlike the economy, would
be able to survive without ultra-Orthodox Jews. He did, however, say
that founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion made a historic mistake
when he exempted haredim from mandatory military service.
Steinitz’s address was disrupted by students from Sapir Academic College
and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who raised their voices in
protest over the bill to fund kollel students in what they say is an
“Now I feel like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,” Steinitz said with a
smile, referring to the heckling the premier was subjected to in his
address to the General Assembly of the North American Jewish Federations
in New Orleans this week.