Friday, April 16, 2010

How Much Longer Can This Go On?

There is an editorial in Jerusalem Post about the economic situation of Charedi population in Israel. It is based on a study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies. And it is a devastating ‘bombshell’ about the future of the Israeli economy.

This report is a statistical one. Not a Charedi bashing one. It cites statistics from the past and present and projects into the future. And that future is not pretty. Not only for the Charedi community but for the entire country.

Most objective people in the world see Israel as a highly productive country that is on the cutting edge of hi-tech research and development. In proportional terms (they) have far outstripped the rest of the world!

But as the editorial notes there is an underside to this story. Most of the accomplishments are from the educational and demographic circumstances of at least two decades back.

But the demographics have changed as has the educational situation. Productivity has gone down. It is not too hard to see why.

The percentage of people who do not get any education except in Torah studies has rapidly increased over the last two decades. And they therefore contribute very little in an to Israel’s economic stability.

The Charedi world has made certain of that by banning any formal education for males among their ranks. As a result people with great potential – are not doing so. Instead they become lifers!

By that I mean the are relegated to a life of poverty and dependence on government largess and charity in order to subsist. They tend to stay in Kollelim well into their thirties and forties during which they get no decent job training. And they have developed entitlement personalities making it difficult to fully integrate into the workforce. Many expect a scenario at work similar to what they were used to in the Kollel. Like leaving at noon on Erev Shabbos or Yom Tov. May employers are discouraged from hiring former Avreichim.

In far too many cases - when they finally do go to work, they do not have the skills to get the good higher paying jobs. So they become lifetime burdens on the state – working menial jobs and getting government subsidies. As this demographic increases - the productivity level decreases. Fewer people will be answering the challenges of the technology age. And Israel will cease being a leader in that field. There are exception that do end up getting training and good jobs. But they are exceptions and if one believes the statistics only 35% of all Charedim work at all! This is not a bash of Charedim. It is just a fact.

Here are some raw statistics from the Jerusalem Post article.

ABOUT ONE-THIRD of Israeli households nominally subsist under the poverty line, while almost 20 percent of men between the ages of 35-54 don’t work. The malaise, though, isn’t equally endemic in all social sectors. Its gravest concentrations are among Arabs and haredim. Unemployment figures for Arab men had soared from 15% in 1979 to 27% in 2008. Among haredi men it spiraled from 21% 30 years ago to a whopping 65%.

Imagine that! 65% of Charedi men are unemployed! If things continue as they are it's only going to get worse. And the percentage of Charedim in the total population is constantly increasing. An economy cannot survive with these kinds of statistics.

Lest I be accused of being anti Kollel (as I’m sure I will be) I am not. Leaving the importance of Mada aside - I support long term full time learning for the best and brightest of those who are motivated to do so. I have said this many times and I say it again here. These potential Yechidei Segula deserve to be fully supported by the Klal. I also support unfettered learning for nearly all religious Jews post marriage for two or three years.

But as I have also said many times, I do not support ignoring the future by being unprepared. At some point – probably early in their Yeshiva lives – these young Yeshvaleit should be preparing for the future and learning a profession or a trade …or any financially productive skills. This does not mean they have to stop learning during the years of preparation. It only means that - some - of their time should be devoted to it.

And I am diametrically opposed to the total lack of any formal secular education of all Charedi males – as I am to every single Charedi male staying in Kollel for as long as possible. Currently they are encouraged to do so by ‘the system’.

They ought to be discouraged – if they are motivated only for reasons of societal pressure. That pressure ought to be reversed in the opposite direction by the very system that created it. That same system ought to also do a 180 on preparations for Paranssa.

It ought to be encouraging them to follow their natural aptitudes and abilities and learn how to become productive in those fields. Whether it is in the arts, the sciences, or the trades. This in my view is the only sensible way out. Encouragement to learn full time should only be given to those whose natural aptitudes are geared to learning Torah.

It should be noted very clearly here that former Charedi religious objections to army service no longer exist due to Nachal Charedi. Lack of required army service is therefore no longer a legitimate excuse for not getting a job. Charedim can now serve in harmony with their Hashkafos.

I have said it so many times before. This situation cannot stand. It is unsustainable as is. Until now it only impacted on themselves. It seems as though now it will impact everyone.