FaithWorld

Jobless ultra-Orthodox Jews weigh on Israel’s economy

(Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a rally in Jerusalem June 17, 2010. Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel on Thursday against the court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together. REUTERS/Ammar Awad )

(Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a rally in Jerusalem June 17, 2010/Ammar Awad )

Meir Gross is a Jewish ultra-Orthodox father of five who does not work. Despite warnings that Israel’s economy may be threatened by his fast growing, often unemployed, community, he does not want a job. Gross advocates a pious existence geared to study. He spends nearly his entire day learning Torah (Jewish law), which he says is the most important edict bestowed on the Jewish man, and it cannot be combined with a job.

“Torah study demands utter and complete devotion. We’re not interested in making money or in material luxury. We are content with very little and our true joy, and highest duty, is learning,” Gross said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or “Haredim,” are a devout tight-knit community who make up 8-10 percent of Israel’s 7.7 million population, with eight children per family on average. Many are supported by the state and live well below the poverty line.  A Bank of Israel report in March said about 60 percent of Haredi men don’t work.

But in 20 years the Haredim will make up 17 percent of the work force and many analysts say Israel’s economy will suffer enormously if things do not change.

“They are a real danger to Israel,” said Omer Moav, economics professor at the University of London and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “If we go bankrupt it’s the end of the story for us. Our strong army rests on a strong economy.”

Israeli students incensed by ultra-Orthodox benefit

israeli students (Photo: Students protest near Hebrew University in Jerusalem on October 27, 2010 against the bill to give more state funds to Torah students/Ronen Zvulun)

Israeli university students have demanded that the government drop plans to pay stipends to ultra-Orthodox Jews who study the Torah but do not work.

Protests over the so-called Yeshiva bill in the past week highlight growing Israeli resentment of the 600,000 ultra-Orthodox “haredim”, who live almost entirely off state welfare benefits.

Several thousand students held a protest march in Jerusalem on Monday warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu they were not “suckers” who would meekly accept what they regard as rank discrimination.