Keeping It Kosher

Keeping It Kosher

Baseless Myths about Haredim, Work, and Education

Haredim want to work? There’s a revolution of increased Haredi employment? Yeshiva studies improve the mind so well that graduates can learn any subject easily? Let’s not get carried away.

Haredi yeshiva Flash90Haredi yeshiva Flash90

First, an update: last week the government secretly began a gradual implementation of the legislative reform granting broad exemptions from military service for yeshiva students. The haredim want to work. That some of them want to work is a reasonable assumption. But the Haredi ideal is to prolong yeshiva study as long as possible.

Taking a job is doubly damaging: The person must enlist in the army or do national service, and his social status suffers, too. Hence, the truth is that some Haredim want to work, many more don’t want to work, and most of those who take jobs do so because they have no choice. Hence when President Shimon Peres says that “there is an inaccurate image of Haredim as not wanting to work,” a large proportion of the Haredim don’t see this as complimentary but rather as very insulting. As if he were calling them losers. There’s a revolution in progress, with Haredim taking jobs. There’s been an improvement. Hardly a revolution.

A decade ago, two-thirds of Haredi man did not work (and those who did, worked under the table), i.e. between 60 and 70 percent of Haredi men did not work. Nowadays between 50 and 60 percent of Haredi men do not work (the reason for the wide degree of approximation in these figures: different surveys reveal different results). For comparison’s sake, only a little over ten percent of non-Haredi Jewish men are not working. In other words, there’s still a long, hard road to travel till we can talk about a revolution in Haredi employment.

Another depressing angle on the data: Every year, nearly 7,000 Haredi youths reach the age of 18. Every year, only some 2,000 Haredi men under the age of 30 are doing either military or national service. Every year, in other words, another c. 4,000 Haredi men are added to the ranks of those not employed. Why only 4,000? Every year another 800 yeshiva students receive an exemption via Profile 21 (psychiatric unsuitability) and can work if they really want to. Some consolation for the job market.

Employers don’t want Haredim. Apparently this myth arose from a few surveys that examined employers’ concerns about Haredi employees. But there’s another side to this: Some 95 percent of employers who do not employ Haredim said, in the survey conducted by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, that not one Haredi applicant had ever approached them. So much for theory.

The director-general of the L.M. Placement Company gave the media a much more practical bit of data: Of 1,500 available positions, Haredim managed to fill only a few. He did not find Haredim willing to take these jobs. The truth? For sectors deemed “other,” meaning migrants, Arabs, Ethiopians and Haredim, too, it is always harder to find work. But it is only the Haredi media and representatives of the Haredi public who turn this reality into a campaign explaining why it’s not the fault of the Haredim that they don’t have jobs, but rather the fault of the employer.

the Haredi ideal is to prolong yeshiva study as long as possible


Haredi parties work hard for the Haredi public. Nonsense. The Haredi parties work hard for the yeshiva student constituency and almost completely ignore the constituency of Haredim in the workforce. The Haredi parties don’t make an effort to create jobs for Haredim, promote professional education for Haredim, or make it easier for Haredim to leave yeshivas and enter the workforce. Stated differently: Haredim who work vote for the Haredi parties, but those parties do not represent them. In the best case, they enjoy benefits that yeshiva students also enjoy (such as the Mortgage Law that the Haredi parties are pushing). Yeshiva students don’t need secular studies in order to work. The mode of studying used in yeshivas gives them an intellectual edge that enables them to master any new learning quickly.

Haredi women are educated with a curriculum very similar to the one used for matriculation in the secular system. Haredi men study almost no secular subjects whatever. Hence, unlike the pre-preparatory programs for Haredi women which have only a negligible dropout rate, in the preparatory programs for Haredi men there are a lot of dropouts.

It turns out that the Haredi women’s studies, which are very similar to the secular curriculum, are actually much more effective for someone wishing to acquire a profession. And let’s not forget: The preparatory programs enroll only the best and/or those able to meet the financial burden of such studies and/or those who can make the time to study after they’ve already started a family. Those with less impressive backgrounds or who have no time to study or can’t afford the cost of college tuition, give up beforehand. Meaning that even the Haredim most suitable for higher education have difficulty acquiring basic skills at such a late point in their lives. In any case, a key skill that Haredi men mostly lack is a knowledge of English. Some 40 percent of Haredi men don’t know English and another 40 percent have only an intermediate knowledge of English, or less. Learning a language as an adult is much harder and this won’t be affected by any sort of yeshiva study. Unless, of course, the yeshiva study is conducted in English.

A yeshiva education is just like a degree in literature so a yeshiva education should be accredited on a par with a college or university education. Every academic degree guarantees that the graduate has earned matriculation or has been through an academic preparatory program, meaning that each such student has a basic knowledge of mathematics, English, grammar, history, civics, etc. And it also guarantees that the student has already coped with academic requirements including: English at the college level, other foreign languages, computer literacy, information management, statistics, etc. So anyone seeking to compare an academic degree to yeshiva studies should try, first of all, to acquire those skills at a yeshiva.

Two more small differences, actually rather weighty: Degrees granted by institutions of higher learning are closely supervised by the state and operate pursuant to its requirements; yeshiva studies take place at institutions that insist on complete autonomy. And no less crucial: Yeshivas grant no degrees and do not hand out grades.

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