Analysis: How Attacking Chareidim Has Turned Into Competitive Sport On Political and PR Playing Field in Israel


chareidi-chiloni-bneibrakBy Eli Kazhdan

The following was written by Eli Kazhdan for the largely irreligious readership of Yediot Achronot:

Once the social justice storms finally subside, the dictatorial regimes in many of the Arab countries disintegrate, and a solution is found for the doctors’ strike, the social agenda will inevitably revert to the l community. The ultra-Orthodox have always been a hot potato, of sorts.

Even President Shimon Peres dedicated a few words at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset to the theme of Chareidim. He eagerly challenged the ultra-Orthodox sector to expand its participation in the labor market, concurrently calling upon Israeli employers to open their gates to chareidi employees, while respecting their needs and customs.

Lest the Supreme Court find itself idle, the Honorable Judge S. Jubran will soon adjudicate a petition to the High Court of Justice, regarding the question why a university student in Israel is not entitled to the same national insurance benefits awarded to a chareidi man learning in kollel.

Various studies show that the chareidi population in Israel is about 600,000 people. The total cost of the national insurance benefits provided by the State for this community adds up to approximately NIS 120 million – certainly a considerable sum. The total cost of higher education for the upcoming two years is estimated at NIS 1.3 billion. Additionally, in 2011 the government awarded, justifiably, NIS 1.5 billion for scholarships, bonuses and financial aid. Any discussion should keep these facts in mind.

The problem is that attacking the Chareidim has turned into a competitive sport on the political and PR playing field, making it very difficult to talk numbers. Although the total cost of national insurance benefits for Chareidim is tenfold less than the costs of higher education, the debate is not one of numbers or of just distribution. The challenge in clarifying the distinction between academic education and religious studies is a cultural one, deeply rooted and engrained.

A chareidi person can understand the importance of the academic world, as well as the need to invest in secular studies – in addition to religious studies. And yes, he can also value the necessity of the IDF and our security forces for the security and safety of all of Israel’s citizens. At the same time, the average non-chareidi finds it hard to comprehend why the study of Torah is the real fuel of the Jewish people.

Unparalleled Chareidi Work Ethic

I assume that in the petition served, inter alia, by university students and various non-Orthodox movements, we will hear about the differences between kollel men and university students, about the inner faith that demands the study of Torah to be a daily occupation, about religious studies not being a profession-oriented and often a short-lived and ephemeral training. We will also hear that a democratic country possesses the necessary tools, and is legally entitled, to provide discrete and tailor-made budgets for kollel students. Likely, we will also hear about the government’s concerted efforts to encourage the chareidi community to move out of the sometimes vicious unemployment cycle, in order to battle poverty and to improve the growth potential of Israel’s economy.

I very much doubt, however, that the cultural angle will be part of the legal or public discussion. It is questionable whether the chareidi community will be able to explain to the general public, to the media and to the legal system that, notwithstanding all the good will, to create a homogeneous, egalitarian society, the path to the change cannot be a revolutionary one; that it has to be an evolutionary, gradual process; that it cannot be imposed from the outside, but only through changes from within. Slow, controlled modifications, long-term thinking, and, most importantly, going with the flow and not against it, are the means for reducing the flames, and creating a fertile dialogue.

One paradigmatic example for gradual change and not a revolution: until recently, chareidi women who sought employment worked almost exclusively in the educational field – as teachers or teachers’ assistants. Through strategic thinking, intensive dialogue, mutual respect and just distribution of resources, the government created incentives for companies employing chareidi (and Arab) employees.

The government not only talks the talk, but also provides a monthly incentive of NIS 1,000 per employee, which is transferred to the employer, throughout an allotted term of 30 months. Through this program, 3,500 Chareidim have already joined the workforce. CityBook Services, like other high-tech companies, recognized the untapped potential of the chareidi sector: unparalleled work ethic, devotion, seriousness, speed of learning, and more – and have predicated their business models by tapping into this sector.

It is the civic duty of our political and business leadership, media, and courts to become genuinely acquainted with culture and mores of the minorities in Israel – chareidi and Arab alike. Each of these communities maintains a rich and multi-faceted cultural world. In any forthcoming discussions and debates regarding equality for Chareidim in Israel, our leadership, media and courts have an overarching responsibility to avoid unnecessary revolutionary tendencies, and to understand the predispositions and trends within the chareidi community, when planning and executing a long-term strategic vision for this community.

Eli Kazhdan is the CEO of CityBook Services, employing 200 chareidi women in Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit.

{Yediot Achronot/ Newscenter}


  1. Actually the opposite is true. The State of Israel saves billions of shekel every year from not fully supporting many chareidi schools and chareidi universities, a.k.a. kollelim. Chareidim pay taxes like seculars do and deserve to get their share in schooling, yeshivot and kollelim, which is in their opinion nothing less than universities where professors are highly paid and supported by the government, even though the students learn subjects that has nothing to do with their future career. Chareidi men should declare that they are learning Chinese culture, liberal arts, and other shtuyot and they will get State grants like students in universities.

    The fact is that the media in Israel, the government and judicial court has the highest level of discrimination and racism against religious Jews in general and chareidim in particular, in the world.

  2. Charediism is not entirely as much a True Value of Being Jewish and Keeping our True Laws and Ways in as much as it really is an exception to the ways of Modern Jewish Life in that it does extol the values of Torah, but at the same time, their segregation into insular communities negates their role as a light unto the nations and destroys bridges in the Jewish community. So suffice to say that the insularism and protective customs of this sociological distinct group do not meet all of Israels needs all of the time.

  3. Excellent essay, Mr. Kazhdan.

    Could you please submit it to the other Chiloni (secular) newspapers in Israel. (Humor:) Perhaps the Amei Haaretz who read that other newspaper will learn from you, as well.

  4. Mr. Kazhdan is to be commended for being part of the solution to the poverty issue, rather than simply railing against it. Also for publishing a coherent, sober analysis of the issues and how to deal with them.

    Kudos, too, to, lulei demistafina, Yediot Achronot for printing his words.

  5. Thanks to Reb Itche for being behind this idea of creating the Citybook back office for their US Madison Title Company. You should continue helping yidden with tzedaka with your innovative ideas.