Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Is There Really a War against the Torah World?

MK Naftali Bennett
Once again, we see the two worlds collide. Charedim see things one way and non Charedim see it another.

The new draft laws in Israel exempts all Charedim currently of draft age from army service. That means that they can all go to work right now. Or they can stay in Kollel and learn Torah full time with impunity.

The question arises, what will they do? Will they opt to stay in Kollel and live a financially impoverished lifestyle? Or will they opt for the workplace? If the majority of Charedim choose to stay in full time Kollel, that will not alleviate their poverty as a group. It will increase it. Hopefully most will opt to go to work. But what if they don’t? Is there something  further that can be done to change that? YWN reports the following: 
Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett has sharply cut state subsidies for children of avreichim, Yated Neeman reports. The report states the cut is exclusively for daycare services for the children of avreichim, no one else.
The explanation is that the ministry has set new regulations into effect, regulations that state a family may only receive a full assistance package if both parents are working or if one has received a military deferment. At the age of 22, if one is released from military service and opts to continue learning instead of joining the workforce, then one will receive a significantly smaller state subsidy for child daycare...
Yated reports that it is now clear that while Bennett was pushing the Shaked Committee to permit talmidim to receive a draft deferment and learn until the age of 22. Bennett feels that from 22 on they must leave the beis medrash and work or deal with the monetary consequences. 
The Charedi reaction was predictable: 
MK Rav Moshe Gafne responded stating “What a chutzpah that Bennett does such a Zimri act while seeking the reward of Pinchas. He is waging a war against the Torah world. One receiving a draft deferment from the IDF from 18-22 will receive full daycare subsidies. However we know one just about gets married at that age but this is the new regulation from Bennett’s office”.
Gafne adds “He is significantly worse than Yair Lapid and I have seen this in a number of cases. His tenacious battle to dismiss bnei yeshivos from IDF service at the age of 22 to make sure that they enter the workforce. He is trying to educate the Torah world. 
MK R' Moshe Gafne
Well it’s nice to see words of praise for Yair Lapid for a change – even in this back-handed way. I guess when it comes to getting government subsidies, observant Jews like Naftali Bennett are actually worse than non observant Jews like Yair Lapid. At least as far as MK R’ Moshe Gafne is concerned.

To be clear, I don’t want the Charedi world to be punished for learning Torah. I happen to be a fan of learning Torah. And no one wants to see people starve. It is cruel to take funds away from people who depend on it to live. That was the status quo until now. But it cannot continue. It will break the bank! And why is it fair to support people who choose not to work? Paying for child care is designed to enable parents to work and thereby produce revenue for the government. Studying in a Kollel does not do that.

But even if an argument can be made that it is proper for a government to support Lomdei Torah, where is the money going to come from? The government cannot just print money. Where are they going to get the funds needed to support the continual and exponential increase in the Charedi population in the coming years?

The only realistic solution to alleviate Charedi poverty is to incentivize them into the workforce. By reducing subsidies to Avreichim after age twenty two – as their families just begin to grow, they will have no choice but to go into the workforce. This is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. It may not be pleasant but there is not much Israel can do about it. The money to continue funding these kinds of subsidies - is just not there.

Nonetheless the Charedi world sees this as a terrible blow to the Torah world. They believe that reducing subsidies is a cynical attempt to tear people away from Torah study. They see Bennett as a Zimri.  Zimri was the biblical prince of Israel who was killed by Pinchas because of the massive Chilul HaShem he did in public with a Midianite princess. How can anyone compare the selfish act of Zimri to the altruistic act that Bennett is doing? Even if one disagrees with Bennett and considers him to be grossly in error, one should realize that his motives are not selfish and certainly not to be compared with Zimri.

Cutting off subsidies is not done out of any sense of meanness or anti religious feelings. It is no doubt being done out of necessity.  Paying families these large subsidies only encourages them to not work.  The cost of per child of subsidies to a community whose population continues to increase at exponential levels cannot be sustained. Rabbi Gafne should realize this. It’s nice to be altruistic about Limud HaTorah. But it is not realistic to continue to expect a government to keep increasing its payouts to a community that will not help themselves out by going to work.

The bottom line is that a more Charedim need to work. And age 22 is a reasonable age to begin doing so. This does not mean that they must. No one is forcing them to leave the Beis HaMedrash.  They can continue to stay in Kollel.  But Israel can no longer afford to pay for it to the extent they once did. And as I must have said a gazzilion times already on this subject, they do not have to stop learning just because they have to work. They can be Koveiah Itim after work. Or before work.  Like many Charedi Jews all over the world do.

The Charedi world will survive. And it will even thrive if those who are truly the cream of the crop and worthy of support are supported by the Charedim who work. Isn't that what Yissachar and Zevulun is really about?