Monday, May 22, 2023

Funding ‘No Limudei Chol’ Schools

Belzer Rebbe, -Yissachar Dov Rokeach
A billion dollars is a shocking amount of money. Even for a government. Especially for a government of a relatively small size like Israel.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin has registered his protest against the current Israeli government’s  allocation of over a billion dollars in financial aid to the Charedi schools. No strings attached.

His point is that this aid hurts them more than it helps them. I actually agree with him about that. That aid cripples their ability to provide an adequate income for their families and be more contributing to the country that protects and defends them. As Rabbi Slifkin noted: 

…when you consider how one-third of first-graders are charedi, it becomes clear that the very low rate of professional employment in the charedi world does not only harm them, but also threatens the entire national economy and the country’s very survival.

The amount of harm that the charedi mass-poverty system causes both to themselves and can bring upon the country is incalculable. And it’s something that the previous government was about to start solving… 

The previous government offered to give the Charedi schools a lot of money too. But only in exchange for teaching the basics of a core curriculum that would enable more of them to have a better shot at earning a living. Which one Charedi faction accepted:

This became known as the “Belz arrangement,” because Belzer chassidus agreed to it. It would have been absolutely revolutionary in helping charedim out of the poverty cycle and towards contributing to the national economy instead of draining it

My criticism of the ‘No Limudei Chol’ curriculum in Charedi schools is well known.  Like a few other issues that are near and dear to my heart, I have discussed this issue to death. And as recently noted the lack of a Limudei Chol curriculum in the Charedi schools in Israel is a far bigger problem than in the US - where it is primarily limited to a few of the more extreme (but very large) Chasidic sects like Satmar. In Israel it is almost every school in every segment of the Charedi world, From Chasidic schools to Lithuanian type Yeshivos. With the notable exception of a minuscule number that do offer Limudei Chol. Charedi high schools offer zero secular studies!  Hence, Rabbi Slifkin’s lament. A lament that I share.

How ironic it is that the one segment that had agreed to change their  ‘No Limudei Chol’  paradigm into a dual religious and secular curriculum was the rather large Chasidus of Belz. They decided that it was worth the ‘price’ of offering core secular subject in order to get the government funding they so desperately need. Funding that all other schools get. I’m not so sure they are all that unhappy with this new paradigm.  It will surely open up more options of employment for their Chasidim. 

This is not to say that these ‘No Limudei Chol’ schools shouldn’t get any aid. But it should be limited to health and poverty issues. I do not want anyone to get sick or starve just because they are stuck in a system not of their own making. But in no way should there be any funding of their ‘Limudei Kodesh only’ curriculum. They should not be punished for the ‘sins of their  fathers’. Who have indoctrinated them to believe that God prefers religious studies and nothing else. 

What about the the following point made by Rabbi Slifkin: 

Chazal (the sages of Talmudic times) were very clear about the problems of relying on communal support and the obligation upon parents to ensure that their children will be able to support themselves. 

How do they explain this and other references to support oneself such as Ein Kemach, Ein Torah - without sustenance - there can be no Torah? 

They explain it all away by saying times are different now since there is so much more material to study. They are encouraged to live a more austere lifestyle. Sustenance should be achieved in other ways. Primarily by working wives, parental support, maxing out credit cards, free loan societies (Gemachs) and not the lest of which - government aid.

Living a more austere lifestyle may sound like a truly altruistic sacrifice for the sake of Torah. But forcing your children to live that way can backfire and cause them to abandon the Torah. Blaming it as the reason for their poverty. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. I realize of course that many – perhaps even most Charedim end up in the workforce at some point anyway. and often they do make ends meeat eventually. But without the preparation that a decent Limudei Chol curriculum would have given them their ability to find good jobs is severely hampered. Thereby depriving  themselves of the opportunity to give their children a better life. Which would reduce by at least one factor that leads young Charedim astray.

That being said, unlike Rabbi Slifkin, I do not wish for this government to collapse. I don’t know what kind of government will replace it. I prefer that they instead reconsider their ‘No strings attached’ policy and attach the one string that will serve all Israleis. The same string accepted by Belz in the last government. Which is that full funding will depend on whether a school teaches  core secular subjectsin addition to religious subjects. That will help both the Charedi community and the rest oif Israel. Without that government allocations should be limited to the health and poverty concerns of the students.

If the Netanyahu government does not give into Charedi (and extremist religious Zionist) demands, does that mean they will become toast very quickly? I’m not so sure about that. They have to know that carrying out their threats to bring down the government will result in their losing everything - if the polls are even remotely accurate,. Are they that stupid?

My guess is that they are not. As things stand now those are empty threats. (Either that or they are that stupid!) In my view the Netanyahu government should have the courage to do the right thing and not accede to every demand made by their coalition partners. Because by doing so, they will do great damage to the Jewish people in a multiplicity of ways. Some of which are too scary to even think about.