The headline on our June 25 front page read “Haredi-secular wars heat up.” And between then and now, tensions between the fervently Orthodox and the largely secular Israelis have come close to the boiling point. One issue we highlighted at the time was a tug of war over state stipends for married yeshiva students. The stipends enable them to continue studying Torah rather than working for a living – and they are also exempt from serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
According to Wednesday’s New York Times, the state stopped giving stipends to married university students in 2000 – and those students are understandably resentful. In recent weeks, the Times reported, they “have blocked roads in protest of stipends amounting to $30 million a year for the eternal students of the kollelsâ€¦. They argued that they should receive similar benefits.”
We do not discount the value of study – whether of Torah or science or other sound educational path – to the state and to the individual, but we are concerned about the perpetuation of a poor, unskilled, and growing underclass who are ignorant of all but Torah and who live on Israel’s bounty without doing anything to replenish it.
It could be argued that these “eternal students” are indeed replenishing Israel’s spiritual stock, and it may be that there are spiritual giants among them. But, just as in any population, excellence in the haredi population is most likely rare.
Knesset Member Chaim Amsellem of Shas, who is himself haredi, is taking a lot of heat for pointing out the shortcomings of Israel’s policy (or lack thereof) toward the haredim. But he deserves, instead, a yasher koach.
It’s just as important for Israel to absorb this population – while not trampling on its identity – as it has been for it to absorb the Russians and the Ethiopians. The haredim need to be integrated into Israeli society; they need to be trained to enter the workforce; and they need – unless they have specific religious objections – to serve in the IDF. (Of course, to serve in Israel’s army, you have to acknowledge the state’s legitimacy, which many, if not most, haredim do not.)
As Amsellem said last week, “The lack of professional training of tens of thousands of yeshiva students, leaving them without the opportunity to make an honest living while studying in yeshivas, is an injustice to the students, their families, and the Torah.”