Monday, May 03, 2010

Right on the Money

One should always seek the truth wherever one finds it. There is an op-ed in Ynet from Yair Lapid that seems to be bashing the Charedi world. Some people I know have even called it hate-mongering. I suppose if one is predisposed to think of Tommy Lapid’s son as a ‘Jewish anti-Semite’ one may come to that conclusion after reading his essay. But if one truly analyzes it - one will see nothing more than a plaintive cry about troubling issues that many Charedi writers have themselves conceded to. He is only presenting them from a Chiloni perspective.

I think we ought to be paying attention to him rather than bashing him just because of his last name. He may or may not hate Charedim – I don’t really know anything about him. Admittedly his tone is somewhat resentful. But if one is exasperated at seeing the deteriorating circumstances of his own community and those of society at large… and sees a long festering obvious contributing factor, who can blame him? Let us look at what he is really saying.

He sees a system that is unsustainable. He sees a lack of decent education that can only result in increasing reliance on government support. And he sees a demographic shift that will reduce the financially productive sectors and increase the financially dependent sectors. Is that hate mongering or just noting reality?

There is no education in Charedi school for boys. Until 8th grade the only secular studies taught are elementary arithmetic and Dikduk – Hebrew grammar. After that… nothing but Torah with a heavy emphasis on Gemarah. Communication skills of Charedi children are limited to Hebrew speakers. They do not learn English at all in the classroom. Unless the parents are English speaking or make an effort to teach them the language that many professions, careers and trades require. This is a great disadvantage if they ever choose to do anything other than sit in the Beis HaMedrash and learn. Not knowing the English language severely limits their earning potential.

True, Charedi girls do learn the language and more. And that helps them get better jobs. But Charedi boys remain ignorant of it unless a special effort is made. Is it the goal of Charedim to make their own workforce almost entirely feminine? If that is so, then why do they discourage women from seeking advanced education that might improve their earning potential? But I digress.

Although Lapid speaks about other issues which may or may not be relevant or even fully accurate, his primary point is about the impossible economics of the future.

Most Charedim receive a huge proportion of their sustenance in various forms from Israeli entitlement programs funded by a tax base from the workforce. The population demographic is shifting. The percentage of Charedim grows while the percentage of non Charedim shrinks. This means the tax base will shrink too. Lapid asks where will the additional funds for future support of the Charedi society come from? If you factor in Arabs and retired people who are entitlement beneficiaries too - he claims that even now those numbers add up to 60% of the population being supported by a 40% workforce!

What is he asking for? Certainly not the destruction of Charedim. He is only asking for the same thing I and many Charedi writers have asked for. A better education that will help prepare them for the future. He would mandate the same thing I would. A basic secular studies program. Not one that includes any forbidden subjects. Just one that includes the basic tools necessary for them to have a chance at a more productive life in the future.

The fact is that extortionist measures have been used by the Charedi political parties to gain funding for their constituencies. It’s politics as usual. That’s the way democracies work. ‘You give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want’ – quid pro quo.

I don’t blame the Charedi political parties. But I don’t support them either. The government has never asked Charedim for anything other than to institute some basic uncontroversial secular education into the system. But the minute that thought is even suggested by anyone, Charedim cry ‘Shmad’! In other words they see it as forcing the Torah world into a slippery slope that will incrementally lead the Jewish people ‘off the Derech’!

How can I blame Mr. Lapid for resenting this kind of thing? The Israeli government is not czarist Russia. But that is how the Charedi leadership sees them. Any attempt to insert even the slightest amount of secular subjects is met with a huge outcry!

Can anyone imagine this happening in the United States – where government mandated standards are in place in even the most Charedi schools? And yet in Israel such standards are treated as an assault on Torah!

This is Lapid’s primary point. If one factors out his exasperated way of expressing it – it is there for all to see. If this is hatemongering, then one has to consider Charedim like Jonathan Rosenblum and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz (among others) hatemomngers too. They have made similar points. I really think all of them are right on the money.