Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Working Illegally

In an unsurprising result from a survey reported in Ha’aretz, 20% of Charedi Yeshiva students in Israel work illegally. Considering that a couple of years ago there were a reported 60,000 Yeshiva students registered as learning full time, that would mean that approximately 12,000 students are cheating the government – most of those probably married with children!

As students they are required to learn 45 hours a week. As such they are entitled to a government stipend. They can work part time after that. But the survey found that they work an average of 28 hours a week. These numbers do not jive. Although it is theoretically possible to work 73 hours a week, it is highly unlikely that they do. Certainly in the majority of those cases. So in addition to the stipend they receive, they make on the average an additional 3300 shekel (approximately 1100 dollars) per month.

It is unsurprising for two reasons. The poverty level of Charedi system of men learning full time even after they are married with children is very high. Charedi legislators in the Knesset are forever crying about the low level of financial support for the poor Charedi student gets from the State. The poverty is real and it is no surprise that the government stipends are not enough for these students to live on - especially if they have families.

Unfortunately it is not surprising for another reason. Cheating the government is apparently not seen as all that wrong. It is probably seen as practically a Mitzvah by some of them to cheat a government that cares so little about them and is in fact seen as anti Charedi!

Who is to blame for this problem? On both counts - the extreme poverty this lifestyle causes and the attitude about stealing from the government - I blame a rabbinic leadership in Israel that forever perpetuates a system that does not allow for any Paranasa preparation at all during their time in Yeshiva prior to marriage. And even then, only when the proverbial knife is at their throats.

I blame Charedi Chinuch for not emphasizing the Issur Gamur of stealing money from the government in any way. It is completely forbidden in Halacha. And yet 20% of these student s are apparently doing it. That so many do it is probably an open secret that is either ignored by the rabbinic leadership… or perhaps even encouraged under the table!

And why wouldn’t it be, if Charedim consider the Government to be Reshaim – evil people: ‘If they won’t give us any enough money legally - we will figure out a way to take it from them illegally!’

Of course no one in that community will shout that from the rooftops. They will obviously deny it to anyone who asks. They will probably say it is a typical canard hurled against them by the anti Charedi media (like Ha'aretz) or anti Charedi government officials.

But numbers don't lie. And the truth is that the Charedi rabbinic leadership would not countenance a 20% rate of cheating the government if they were truly opposed. They see probably see the need of the poor Avreich - feel their pain - and let it slide and spit on the government.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they considered it Mesirah if someone would inform the government that an Avreich is receiving a government stipend that he does not deserve under the law because he does not put in the time in the Beis HaMedrash that is required of him.

This should not be allowed to continue. I realize the poverty is great. But it is not the government’s fault. It is the fault of the Charedi educational system. And as long as we allow things like this to continue, nothing will significantly change.

That said, I realize that there is beginning to be some change along these lines. National service as a means of satisfying government requirements for entering the workforce - is apparently being encouraged by the majority of Roshei Yeshiva according to this article (64%).

Along those lines Nachal Charedi seems to be a success, too. And there are some career training programs that have sprung up to deal with Charedim who want to enter the workforce. But unless they change the paradigm and stop looking to the government to support them, these changes are just a drop in the bucket. And the stealing will continue!