Weekly Commentary: Theological Debate Impossible - Numbers Should Drive
Policy on Work and Skill Acquiring Disincentives For Haredis
Dr. Aaron Lerner 19 May 2023
It is impossible to engage in a theological debate with Haredis on policy.
It is pointless, for example, to cite text in the Bible without relying on a
rabbinical interpretation. Midrash has a higher standing than the text of
the Bible. Thus we have Haredis citing the "precedent" that King David had
an equal number of men studying Torah as serving in his army and proposing
that Haredis are the modern day Issachar tribe which studies Torah while the
rest of us are a modern day Zebulun tribe working to support them.
This leaves us with the numbers.
#1. Of Israeli Jews age 25-64 only 31% of Haredi men and 37% of Haredi women
work full time while among Jews who do not identify themselves as being
Haredi, 76% of men and 59% of women work full time. (Source: Hebrew print
edition of Haaretz using a June 2022 report of the Knesset Information and
Research Center based on data from the end of 2021).
So when a Haredi argues that he works and all Haredis work he and his
friends could very well be among the 31%. But that personal experience
doesn't change the figures.
#2. The 11% of Haredis who term themselves "modern" comprise 11% of the
Haredi population and average 4.7 children per 40 year old woman while those
terming themselves "ultra conservative" comprise 28% of the Haredi
population and average 8.2 children. "Conservative" are 32% with 7.1
children and "with a touch of modernity" are 29% and 5.6 children.
(Source: Telephone poll 2018, Lee Kahaner, Haredi Society on the Axis
between Conservatism and Modernity, Jerusalem: Israel. Democracy Institute,
All other things being equal this huge difference in family size would
indicate that the representation of "ultra conservative" and "conservative"
in the Haredi population will rise significantly over time.
Combine #1 and #2 and we find ourselves with a society in which a huge chunk
of the population simply does not carry its own weight.
Yes. Those 31% Haredi men working full time (probably less over time as
more are "ultra conservative" and "conservative") can be the source of
encouraging anecdotal coverage of Haredi "success stories".
But the other 69%, along with the 53% of Haredi women not working full time,
simply aren't generating the income to be able to cover their cost to
society either via income tax or the VAT they pay to buy things with the
little money that they have.
They do not cover their medical care (the Government pays the health funds
per person in the fund), education, transportation and other expenses which
have a marginal cost per resident while benefiting from low income linked
transfers and discounts along with subsidies for those who choose to study
Torah rather than work. And that's before we even talk about sharing the
cost of national defense and other big ticket items.
The numbers are much much worse than the numbers that the talking heads
mention. They talk of 50% of Haredi men working when only 31% work full
time. The 81% labor force participation rate of Haredi women is seen as an
indication that the problem is only with Haredi men when only 37% of them
work full time.
It would be comforting to be able to conclude with a policy recommendation
guaranteed to significantly raise the labor force participation rate.
But Haredi politicians argue that economic considerations play no role in
the decision not to work and the 6% increase in 2009 in the Haredi
employment rate in the wake of then Finance Minister Netanyahu's reduction
in child benefits is seen by some economists as inconclusive.
In the least we can say that a key step to solving a problem is recognizing
that it both exists and is significant.
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