06 April 2013

The potential economic impact of Haredi men in the workforce

This article is a follow-up to one in which Naftali Bennett announced the publication o a Bill on military service for the Haredi. Unfortunately, I have managed to "lose" that one, so you'll have to rely on my faulty memory for detail. Of course, if your living in Israel, you might be kind enough to add the link (it was from Ynet) in the comments thread.

Anyway, Bennett's Bill as envisaged (it has, first, to go through the committee-writing stage - always a dangerous process) will expect virtually all Haredi males of the appropriate age to serve: either in the IDF or in national (public) service. After this, of, course, they can go back into Torah study (but, implied, is the idea that it will be on the same basis as all other undergrads: not at the state's expense, for ever). 1,800 will be selected every year to be subsidised for further Torah study, at the state's expense.

There is a clear, even more deeply implied, hope: after service in the IDF or in public service, a much higher proportion than ever before will opt for a more secular life, without ignoring the Torah. A new book by Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Sulzberger, "Jews and Words" (in English) notes, among much else, the "day-jobs" many of the Rabbis of antiquity and the medieval period had. Could this be a return to that?

Anyway, the article linked to above is Bennett's later thoughts on this topic. He is reported as noting (i.e., not a direct quote) that "Integration of ultra-Orthodox Israelis into the workforce is more important than a universal draft law to mandate the religious community’s enlistment in the military, said Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday." Given that elsewhere in the article (from the Times of Israel), statistics in the New York Times and the Washington Institute (dating from 2012) suggest that up 60% of the 700,000 Haredi men living in Israel are unemployed (and they and any families they have to be supported), this represents an untapped labour force of about 420,000.

Bennett appears to be saying, give them a secular education as well, and watch the economy boom even more. He even extends his economic analysis to greater employment of Israeli-Arab women, for the same economic effect.

By: Brian Goldfarb