Yesterday’s New York Times had a piece about the problem of voluntary Haredi unemployment in Israel. There are currently 70,000 married men whom the government has classified as “Torah is their profession.” (The Times article incorrectly states that there are 60,000.) They are, therefore, exempt from army and supposedly studying in a kolel – a yeshivah for married men – all day long. This is a permanent student exemption from military service which precludes them from seeking work.
With more than 60% of adult Haredi males unemployed, it’s no surprise that 56% of all Haredi Jews live below the poverty line. What the article doesn’t tell us is that an enormous number of these kolelniks are also committing fraud.
In last weekend’s print edition of the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot there was an expose about the large number of them who work and receive payment under the table. This way they don’t have to give up their subsidies, the kolels still receive state-paid tuition, and no one has to serve in the army.The newspaper took out help wanted ads in the Haredi community and received an overwhelming response. Yet almost none of the job seekers was willing to be paid legally. Instead they tried to work out ways to get paid through a family member or in cash.
In addition to the handouts and free tuition, they also receive substantial discounts on a very large number of taxes and services. According to the article, those who are cheating see no problem with it since the state is illegitimate in their eyes anyway.
There are signs of hope, but they are small compared to the size of the problem. If you really want to worry about Israel’s future, this is what should worry you.