How Israel’s Welfare State Drives Thousands of Orthodox Men Out of the Workforce

On Wednesday, the Knesset passed its annual budget—but not, of course, without much negotiating and public controversy. One issue that made a number of headlines in Israel’s mainstream press involved the size of various allocations to the ḥaredi sector, the product of the inevitable commitments any government makes to the smaller parties in its coalition. Analyzing the latest statistics on these expenditures, Haviv Rettig Gur shows the perverse and damaging incentives they create for those they are meant to benefit:

The result of this complex web of benefits spread across a dizzying array of government agencies is that a ḥaredi family in which the father does not work receives four times the total financial help given to a non-ḥaredi Jewish family, according to the researcher Nisan Avraham of the conservative Kohelet Policy Forum.

But the subsidies themselves aren’t the real problem. The deeper crisis lies in the conditions placed on these subsidies, which, in the case of ḥaredi recipients, are often taken away as soon as the father of the household goes to work. . . . The bottom line is astonishing: ḥaredi yeshiva students are so heavily subsidized that it simply isn’t worthwhile to go to work.

It’s easy to blame ḥaredi political parties, especially in recent decades when sustaining this incentive system became their central political mission. But these policies did not begin in ḥaredi politics. They were gifts given to the ḥaredi community by other forces, commitments that were meant to secure ḥaredi political support and ended up reshaping the community into one that can literally no longer pay for itself without government largesse.

By its own measure, the Israeli ḥaredi community is a wild success story. It is a community constructed around a sacred mission to resurrect the religious culture that was consumed in the fires of the Holocaust. And it is hard to exaggerate just how successful this project has been. . . . The yeshiva in Mir, in present-day Belarus, had an enrollment that topped out at 400 in the 1920s. Its present-day successor, the flagship of the yeshiva world, is the Mir yeshiva in Jerusalem, with enrollment above 9,000.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Haredim, Israeli politics, Welfare


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount