Hassidim to study 'secular' trades

Belzer Rebbe opens door for followers' entrance into Israeli workforce.

belzer rebbe 298 88 (photo credit: )
belzer rebbe 298 88
(photo credit: )
At a speech delivered before thousands of his Belzer hassidim, the Belzer Rebbe called on those of his followers who were not studying properly or were not financially stable to learn a trade while attending a kollel. "Students who have the talent and economic ability to spend years studying in kollels are blessed and fortunate. But those students who, after a year of poor studying, whether this was due to their skill level or because of their financial situation, must go and learn a trade that can support its practitioner," the rebbe said on Simchat Torah last week, according to Channel 2. A Belz hassid who asked to remain anonymous told The Jerusalem Post, that abject poverty in the haredi street was a driving force behind the new phenomenon of haredim going out to get jobs. "People come to me begging for a job worth NIS 3,500 a month. 'Give me any job,' they say. There is no bread to eat on the haredi street." Asked if the situation was worsening in the wake of the budget cuts in recent years, the hassid emphatically concurred. "The average student," he added, "isn't willing to live in poverty anymore. It's getting harder for the haredi public to accept the claim that wealth distracts the mind from study." However, MK Yisrael Eichler (Agudat Yisrael), a Belz hassid and spokesman for the denomination, told the Post that there was nothing new in the rebbe's call. "The rebbe only spoke about learning a profession in the evening hours while studying in the kollel. This is a big deal in the media only because there are those who[se economic policies] are starving small children, and who have to justify their policies. So this gives them a chance to say, 'See, the haredim are going to work.' But Belz hassidim have always gone out into the workplace." Aharon Rose, a researcher of modern ultra-Orthodox thought, explained the discrepancy between the claims of Eichler and the Belz hassid. "It's true that most of the hassidic groups don't have anything ideological or theological against working, but the issue isn't work itself. As the haredi world grows," Rose told the Post, "the jobs within the haredi world have dried up." While many hassidim have always worked inside the community, "even in black market Judaica manufacturing," they are now forced to leave the community in order to find work. "The hassidic world reins in its students in large part through financial control, since they only go to work inside the community. That's changing now," Rose added, "and the Belzer Rebbe is taking a tremendous risk by telling his students that they can study 'secular' trades." "The issue," the hassid agreed, "is that people can't get decent jobs. The Belz hassidic movement is growing, and the rebbe regularly meets his followers who are going to work for pennies. He wants them to learn a trade so they can get real jobs with real salaries that can support families. We want to work in the general workplace just like any other citizen." "The big question for Belz is this: can the community survive when its young people go out into the world?" Rose explained. "They're asking themselves whether the secular world is unattractive enough, and whether their young people are strong enough in their identity and morals to withstand the pressure. The rebbe has accepted this risk by saying, 'Go out and work.'"
More about:Simchat Torah, Belz