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.