Israeli government moves to get haredi men out of the kollel, into the office

Ultra-Orthodox men could soon have to study only half as much to receive the same government money – to encourage them to also work.

 Haredim protest in Jerusalem against the conscription of ultra-Orthodox youth into the army. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredim protest in Jerusalem against the conscription of ultra-Orthodox youth into the army.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The future may hold less mandatory study time for Torah scholars, following a statement from Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to the Knesset Economics Committee on Tuesday in which he addressed the issue of employment for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men in the labor force.

The Finance Ministry intends to reduce the number of study hours required to receive a scholarship from the government, Liberman said, adding that the reduction in required daily learning time could be as drastic as 50%.

“That is, for about 20 hours they will get the same as if they studied for 40 hours,” he said. “This will allow them to go out to work.”

The move targets a rapidly growing and underemployed sector of the Israeli population, as the haredi community stands to make up nearly one-third of the nation’s population within the next few decades.

The government has made other moves in the past to integrate the haredi community into the workforce. It has allocated more than NIS 1.5 billion toward the cause since 2010, in part, to help haredim receive higher education.

Over the past decade, the employment rate of haredi women jumped from 56% to 77% as of 2019. More than 50% of haredi men were employed by the end of the 2010s.

“We want to help haredi children, unlike Shas and United Torah Judaism, who want to keep them imprisoned in poverty,” Liberman told the committee.

On Tuesday, he told the socioeconomic cabinet he also intends to withdraw discounts on municipal taxes, pre-nursery schools and after-school programs from nonworking parents and give incentives to schools that shift to teaching the core curriculum.

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

Haredi MKs were outraged by the plans, which they said reinforced a steady trend by Liberman to disproportionately harm their sector.

“Many Libermans have come and gone in our history,” UTJ chairman Moshe Gafni said. “They leave like the dust of the earth, and the Jewish people endure. Liberman is making every effort to keep the haredim in the headlines, just to make up for his own failures.”

Shas MK Moshe Abutbul called Liberman antisemitic, while his party colleague MK Moshe Arbel called on State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman to probe whether Liberman had illegally overstepped the limits of his authority in his plan, which affects multiple ministries.

The Knesset Economics Committee meeting with Liberman discussed the government’s plan to assist small businesses and the self-employed as the coronavirus pandemic enters its third year. Liberman addressed the need to confront the rising cost of housing and domestic violence and to promote employment of Arab women in the workforce.

“We want to bring into the labor force the populations that have not yet joined those who work,” he said. “We intend to increase the pie, reduce the gaps in Israeli society and strengthen the middle class.

“We have already acted on these issues. For example, we increased the subsistence allowance for IDF soldiers by 50%. We increased the allowance for retirees who receive an income supplement... This is already proof that we are not content with intentions, but are performing and budgeting on the ground,” Liberman said.

In response, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi told Liberman: “In the name of the thousands of coronavirus victims you buried, the tens of thousands of businesses you abandoned and the hundreds of thousands of children you left hungry, I call on you to quit.”