Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jobs and Education in the Charedi Mainstream

Charedim in the classroom (Mishpacha)
It seems to me that the Charedi world in Israel is very much in tune with my views about what is needed to improve their financial lot. Much more so than I had originally thought. An artcle in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine made this quite clear. The truth is that this has been obvious to me for quite some time. 

What I didn’t realize is the extent to which mainstream Charedim would agree. To say that the Magazine reflects only their own view and not the view of their reading public would in my opinion be a real stretch. To the extent that any Charedi might say that - might be for purposes of agreement with a Hashkafa that has ruled Charedim in Israel since before the end of the Holocaust. There is not a doubt in my mind that Mishpacha represents the perspective of mainstream Charedim in Israel. An increasing number of them want good jobs

Mishpacha’s Binyamin Rose interviewed several experts asking them what they saw as a solution to integrate Charedim into the workplace. Obviously if you are asking that question - that is your goal. Charedim actually want to work in order to improve their lives. It appears that increasingly for the average Charedi, the idea of staying in Kollel indefinitely is no longer a realistic goal. It is only for the elitist students among them. The rest need to support their families. That should not be too hard to believe. Living in poverty is not fun. It can ruin a family - causing dysfunction and loss of one’s children to observance – if not worse. That’s a pretty strong motive for seeking a decent job.

All of those interviewed said pretty much the same thing. The key to success in the workplace is education.  An education that they are currently bereft of because of the existing Charedi paradigm of studying Torah only (past 8th grade… and only studying basic math until then).  Learning the  English language is the sine qua non for careers in high tech were many of the good jobs reside. To a man everyone interviewed made that point. Without the basics, getting a good job is a non starter.

A college degree is a must in most cases. Charedim are encourgaed to take advantage of Charedi colleges and get degrees before applying for a job.  

There is a degree of discrimination in hiring practices. Even degreed Charedim are discriminated against because they lack experience. Which is a catch 22. You  get experience on the job. If you aren't hired because you have no experience, how are you ever going to get any? 

The answer is that you level the playing field by applying for jobs at a younger age when there are not as many applicants with experience. Without a degree, what possible chance does a job applicant have when competing with a secular Israeli that has one? 

Relying on government largess is no longer a realistic option. Even if some of the government aid programs are restored in the new Keneset, it will never be restored to previous levels. They realize that they cannot make ends meet on government stipends alone. They need to go to work.

What about doing what American universities do by giving college credits for Limudei Kodesh? Israeli colleges do not offer that option. That’s because in America most colleges give college credits to Limudei Kodesh as a supplement to the regular college courses taken in college. In Israel Charedim want to use them as the primary college credits - adding a few  college courses, and then getting a degree.. That is not going to happen. Because that would make any bachelors degree a lie. (Unless it is a degree in Talmudic Studies. But that isn’t going to get you a job.)

What is missing in this article is the one thing that would give Charedim a real advantage over what they have now. A core curriculum of the type that was (and is) vehemently fought by Charedi leadership. The article mentioned the government attempt to force a core curriculum upon Charedi Yeshivos and their abject  failure in doing so. But that doesn't mean it shouldn’t continue to be insisted upon. 

The curriculum could be similar to what American Charedi Yeshiva high schools provide. Creating a ‘Telshe Yeshiva’ type program like the one I experienced when I attended Telshe in 9th and 10th grades would be a giant leap towards the goal of mainstreaming Charedim into the workforce.

I know the refrain. Israel is not America. Israel has its needs and America theirs. What’s good for America would not necessarily be good for Israel. Besides - they will say this is how it’s been for decades and look what it has grown into?!

Sure. Israel is a huge Makom Torah. But at what price?  Is having quantity as important as quality? Is the American system so inferior to the Israeli one? Is it only Israel that will produce the next Charedi Gedolim? If so, where are they?

It is my sincerely held belief that a good secular education in high school does not detract one iota from anyone becoming even a Charedi Gadol. Let Israeli Charedim get a decent education. Nothing will be lost. Charedim can remain as Charedi as they wish. Their Torah knowlegde will not be diminished by a good secular education in high school. Certainly not anymore than it was diminished for R’ Elya Svei, R’ Avrohom Pam,  R’ Yaakov Perlow, R’ Shmuel Kamentsky, R’ Dovid Feinstein, R’ Aharon Schechter, or R’ Aharon Feldman.  All of those people were and are recognized Charedi Gedolim. All of them had at a minimum a good secular education in high school. Why can’t they be the paradigm for Charedi greatness even in Israel? Are they not Charedi enough?

Nothing will be lost by providing the Israel Charedi masses a decent secular education in high school, But there will be a lot gained by the vast majority of them. The ones that are seeking jobs now would certainly have fared better in the job market had they gotten one.