In January, Israel made history and finally, after years of disgrace, increased the salaries of IDF soldiers. It was a crown achievement of the outgoing government, one that had been spoken about for years but was never done.
At the cost of NIS 900 million, Israel’s soldiers – the young men and women who give time, energy and sometimes lives for their country – were finally starting to be paid something a bit more respectable. It is still far from being enough in a country as wealthy as Israel, where there is a booming high-tech industry and almost endless natural gas. Nevertheless, it was something.
According to the plan, combat soldiers began to be paid NIS 2,400 per month and that will later increase to NIS 3,000, while non-combat soldiers began to receive around NIS 1,800 a month, instead of the approximately NIS 1,200 they were receiving before.What the soldiers who started to receive this money didn’t know at the time was that they had an easier alternative. They didn’t have to go to the IDF to get paid close to NIS 2,000. Instead, they could have become an avreich, as the ultra-Orthodox call their yeshiva students who sit and learn, and if they waited just a year, they would soon receive the same amount.If there is anything that is insulting about the incoming government that Benjamin Netanyahu is working to establish, it is the decision to double the government subsidy to Haredi yeshiva students. This is taxpayer money, almost exclusively funded by families whose children serve in the IDF. Having IDF-serving families fund non-serving families is an insult to these soldiers.
The real price at hand
I don’t know where Goldknopf has been for the last 75 years since Israel was established as a state, but he would do himself a favor to visit the hallowed ground at the Mount Herzl cemetery and walk along the rows of military tombstones. He might learn a thing or two about the difficulty soldiers encounter on the frontlines and the price some are forced to pay.It’s a bit different than what happens in a yeshiva where it is infrequent – to say the least – for someone to die battling out a sugya (a piece of Talmud) in the tractate of Baba Kama.This is not a column against Haredim, it is the opposite. I am writing this because the Haredim need help and the country’s success in providing that assistance will be key to Israel’s continued sustainability and success.
THE NUMBERS tell the entire story. Currently, the Haredim make up about 1.2 million of Israel’s citizens, around 13% of the country’s population. With a high birthrate – thanks to Haredi mothers, the Jewish fertility rate has surpassed the Arab rate – the ultra-Orthodox are projected to grow to be 30% of the population by around 2060, in just over 35 years.On its own, there is nothing wrong with this. The problem is in the following statistic: According to the Bank of Israel (BoI), approximately 75% of Haredi women work (close to the national average of 85%), but only 50% of men work.When you dive a bit deeper into the 50%, you see that only a third of the men work full-time. The rest are only part-time and most work in menial jobs with barely any (3%) in the tech sector, the economy’s primary engine for growth.One more statistic from the BoI: A Haredi family pays on average NIS 1,500 in monthly income tax. A non-Haredi family – secular and national religious – pays an average of NIS 4,500.Think about that for a moment. The Haredi household has more people than a non-Haredi household – sometimes double. Yet, it pays a third in taxes.
THE FIRST is painful but is needed: Israel needs to give up on drafting the Haredim into the IDF. It is unfair and creates a stark inequality but it is the right thing to do.
Do Haredim need to draft in the future?
Thankfully, the country has enough soldiers without needing to draft the Haredim, as has been shown over the last 75 years. I recognize the danger in doing this since such a move could turn secular and national-religious youth off from serving in uniform.