Monday, July 12, 2021

Is Avigdor Lieberman an Antisemitic Tyrant?

 A classroom in Meah Shearim (VIN)
An antisemitc tyrant. This is what the Charedi politicians have called Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new Finance Minister.

There is no love lost between the Charedi world and Lieberman. For some time now he has expressed sheer disdain for this community and their politics. Politics that for the most part assured them financial viability through government subsidies. 

It was promised them as a condition for joining and thereby enabling a ruling coalition government.  Lieberman basically ‘swore’ that his party would never sit in a coalition with Charedi parties again. 

It’s pretty easy to understand the animus from the Charedi side. They see Lieberman as the enemy of Torah for trying to hurt their ability to perpetuate their way of life. Their fears have been realized. Lieberman has basically done exactly that by changing the rules.  From VIN

Starting Sept. 1, unemployed yeshiva students will no longer be eligible for daycare-center subsidies for their children, Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced on Wednesday. 

“I will continue to move towards eliminating negative incentives for integration into the labor force,” he said, stressing the “importance of putting those who work and pay taxes at the forefront.” 

Today, according to Channel 12, the state provides a subsidy of about NIS 1,000 ($306) per child in kindergartens run by WIZO, NA’AMAT and other non-profit organizations to families in which the wife works at least 24 hours per week, and the husband is not required to work due to his studies. 

Ninety-three percent of the families in the above category are from the haredi sector, according to the Finance Ministry.

This is breathtaking in scope. The sudden reduction in subsidies is indeed draconian.  It will surely hurt a lot of families that have subsisted on them. I’m not quite sure how these families will cope. I understand Lieberman’s concerns and even agree with him up to a point. But with this act he is shooting from the hip without any backup plan that would achieve his ultimate goal of mainstreaming the Charedi world into the workforce. 

This is not to say that I agree with the way the Charedi world’s  ‘All Torah - all the time - for all men’ way of life. I absolutely do not.  I have said more times than I can count that there is no way that this lifestyle is the ideal way for all Jewish men to live. 

My personal belief is that full time Torah studies should be supported for the best and brightest among us that that have the intelligence, skills, and motivation to become the leaders and teachers of our generation. What those numbers or percentages might be is up for debate but surely should be significant. But at the same time not the majority, let alone all. 

In my view every Jew should recognize and pursue the skills he is best at. So that if one is inclined to be a healer for example, he should pursue a medical career. The idea that he should study Torah full time is counter-productive. 

Even if he has a high IQ - that is not enough. Personal talent, ability, and motivation are equally important and should not be ignored. Even if a bright fellow can achieve great heights in his Torah studies, it will not be the best use of his time if his true interests lie elsewhere. Where he will be naturally more motivated to excel and use his God  given talents more productively in ways that will benefit the world. Much more than if he did something he was not as motivated to do. Even if he does well at it. 

In this sense, I agree with Lieberman.  Where I disagree is in how he sees Torah study. Which is apparently of no value to him. And I disagree with his method of achieving his goal.

I am all for changing the paradigm and have advocated that many times. But it must make sense and cannot come in the sudden and punitive way in which Lieberman has decided to do it. But indeed, the Charedi world must disabuse themselves of reliance on what amounts to charity by way of Israeli taxpayers.

A far better way to achieve the goal of getting the mainstream Charedi into the workforce is to incentivize them in a positive rather than negative way… and to do it gradually so that it won’t hurt them. 

For example Lieberman could work with the Education Ministry to require a basic secular curriculum in both their elementary schools and high schools in order for them to receive the full subsidies. The schools should follow the American Charedi paradigm of allowing for a significant part of the day to be spent on secular subjects – say for 4 to 7pm  each day. This way the majority of the day – from 8 to 4pm would be spent on intensive uninterrupted Torah study. 

If they don’t like the American model they can follow the European model created by R’ Yosef Leib Bloch, son-in-law of Telshe Yeshiva founder R’ Eliezer Gordon. He is surely considered by all to be a Gadol of the early 20th century . Telshe had Limudei Kodesh in the morning and part of the afternoon. And Limudei Chol later in the afternoon. A lot of Gedolim were produced in that educational environment. There is no reason that every Charedi student in Israel can’t do the same. 

Doing that would in the long run create a more productive workforce and incentivize more Charedim to pursue careers where their true talents lie. 

True - this will take more time and cost more money at first. But the payoff will be worth it. By doing this, the Charedi world in Israel can have the best of both worlds – a cadre of huge Talmidei Chachamim, Roshei Yeshiva, Mechanchim, and Poskim and a Charedi public that will not only be better able to support their families  but be able to support their Klei Kodesh - the ‘Holy Vessels’ whose talents best lie in the world of Torah study and its dissemination. 

In this way they will be able to perpetuate Torah without resorting the government charity. And at the same time it would moderate if not eliminate much of the animus the secular public has towards them. What could be better then that?