This week has shown Israelis (and the world who watched in disbelief) that there is the State of Israel and the Haredi enclaves. While in Israel, the Corona pandemic restrictions are being violated to a significant extend, in the Haredi community, the restrictions simply do not apply. The Haredi leadership has chosen to ignore the State-imposed regulations and order their communities to keep schools open, to pray in large numbers in synagogues and, as happened a couple of days ago, to go to funerals of important rabbis in large numbers.
The pictures of these two funerals (that indeed were also shown on TV all over the world), defied reality. Thousands of Haredim packed the streets of Jerusalem, in massive throngs they moved towards the cemetery and even in football stadiums or pop-concerts people would never be as close to each other as these Haredim, most of them without masks. While the indignation in Israel was enormous, the Haredi politicians were silent, and so was their servant, Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The issue of Haredi “independence” has been highlighted by the Corona pandemic, but it didn’t start just last year. The Haredi population is not part of Israel and has consciously chosen not to be part of Israel. In contrast, Israel has always made significant efforts to accommodate the Haredim, and their political power has enabled them to make demands whenever they feel there is something that they need from the State.
The result of this stand-off is amazing: a population group that makes up 11% of the total population, does not recognize the authority or legitimacy of the State, does not contribute to the State and will behave only as their leaders will see fit, are disproportionally supported by the State in nearly every aspect of life.
The Haredi education system, which is independent from the Education ministry and does not follow its rules, is financed by the Education ministry, even though most basic subjects such as English and mathematics are not taught, leaving the pupils without skills to develop as independent citizens. Which of course is the main aim of the Haredi leadership, to prevent people from becoming functioning individuals by themselves. In addition to the Education ministry budget, the Haredi schools receive a per student allocation from the Religious Affairs ministry, while the Ministry of Social Affairs covers the cost of boarding for many of these students because they cannot live at home
The kollels (Haredi study institutions for married men) are generously funded by the State and their students receive a stipend for an almost unlimited time. These grown-up men, married and most of them father of multiple children, study the Torah all day, and force the State to feed their children and prevent them from going hungry. There are almost one hundred thousand Kollel students in Israel today. Fifty percent of Haredi men do not work and do not intend to work ever during their lifetime.
Most Haredi families live in public housing, and receive subsidies to pay their rent. The apartments are small and thus with the many children Haredi families have, often crowded but cheap because of government subsidies. In addition, for those who can afford to buy an apartment, the State allocates building sites in National Priority Areas, which makes the price of apartments significantly lower, while mortgages are available at preferential terms.
Religious services, are paid for by the State and the rabbis are State employees and get their salaries from the State. This is also the case for religious services and the city rabbis in non-Haredi communities but tax-paying citizens should be entitled to government services, even though it (should be) questionable if religious services must be part of those.
It cannot be stated clearly enough: The Haredi community is receiving State money way out of proportion to its size, and the State does not get anything in return. It allows the Haredi community to behave with contempt towards the rest of Israeli society, from those who do observe Corona regulations to youngsters spending three years of their life as soldiers. It has to stop.
Israel and Israelis must wake up to reality and take steps to stop the flow of money into the bottomless pit that is called the Haredi community. It will result in cries of Anti-Semitism and worse than that (also today, Israeli Police officers are called Nazis during Haredi protests) but it will force the Haredi population to understand that the limit of their “Hutzpa” has been reached.
The importance of the upcoming elections in curbing the Haredi takeover of Israel cannot be stressed enough. (The Haredi population is 12% now, but with the number of children the average Haredi family has, this will be 30% and more in another 25-35 years). If Israel will be able to enable a government without the blackmailers of the Haredi parties, the situation may finally be changed and put on a more even keel, while forcing the Haredim to become part of Israeli society or distance themselves completely from it and in particular from its money.
The big question of course will be if Israeli, Jewish political parties, with several of them being very vocal about changing the status quo vis-à-vis the Haredim, will indeed go through with it, if presented with the opportunity. Some of these parties are religious parties (modern Orthodox religious) and most others will have at least some religious members, albeit very few Haredim. The fact remains that most of the laws enacted in the Knesset that made the inordinate benefits for the Haredim possible, could not have been passed by the Haredi parties alone. And even if these benefits were demanded as parts of coalition agreements and passed as part of coalition considerations, it remains to be seen if these Jewish political parties will be able to go through the (undoubtedly) painful process of straightening Israeli society by stopping the financial incentives to the Haredim and invite them to becoming part of us.
The Future of Israel as we know it depends on it, and time is running out.
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