Subsidies to Ultra-Orthodox Jews Under Fire

December 30th, 2010 at 3:31 am | 2 Comments |

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The New York Times reports:

JERUSALEM — Chaim Amsellem was certainly not the first Parliament member to suggest that most ultra-Orthodox men should work rather than receive welfare subsidies for full-time Torah study. But when he did so last month, patient the nation took notice: He is a rabbi, here ultra-Orthodox himself, whose outspokenness ignited a fresh, and fierce, debate about the rapid growth of the ultra-religious in Israel.

“Torah is the most important thing in the world,” Rabbi Amsellem said in an interview. But now more than 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel do not work, compared with 15 percent in the general population, and he argued that full-time, state-financed study should be reserved for great scholars destined to become rabbis or religious judges.

“Those who are not that way inclined,” he said, “should go out and earn a living.”

In reaction, he was ousted from his own ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, whose leaders vilified him with such venom that he was assigned a bodyguard. The party newspaper printed a special supplement describing Rabbi Amsellem as “Amalek,” the biblical embodiment of all evil.

The intensity of the attacks from his own ranks appeared to underscore their own fears about a growing backlash to the privileges and subsidies long granted to the ultra-religious. The issue is not just the hundreds of millions of dollars doled out annually for seminaries and child allowances. Worry — and anger — is deepening about whether Israel can survive economically if it continues to encourage a culture of not working.

Already, there are an increasing number of programs to prod the ultra-Orthodox to join the work force and to serve out the military duties required of all other Jewish Israelis. But critics say these are not enough: Rabbi Amsellem says what is needed is nothing less than “revolution.”

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • jerseychix

    I have no horse in this race, but I think that the state subsidizing the full time study of religion for these men is a bit extreme. Couldn’t their rabbi’s nominate the most promising ones for the subsidy and then the rest of them get jobs?

    I think that the vile opprobrium directed at Rabbi Amsellem is pretty indicative of the corner that this population has backed themselves into. Pretty sad and a pretty big waste of time talent and treasure.

  • midcon

    Well jerseychix, remember Israel is a “Jewish state.” There is very little separation of church and state. The structual similiarities between Israel and those states who employ Sharia law are remarkable. Women have a lower status than men (especially in the ultra-Orthodox segments). Cleric’s decisions carry legal weight. They both prohibit fraternization with “infidels” (Israel letters regarding girls dating Arab boys and selling or renting to Arabs). They have some of the same dietary restrictions. I could go on, but you get the point. The extreme behavior by both nations is often driven by the extremism within the religious sectors. This is not a condemnation of religion just an observation that religion is often an obstacle on the road to peace.