Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Shevat 5762 - February 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Paying for the Air We Breathe

by Yitzchok Roth

Today it has become almost impossible to find a single news article on problems the country faces that does not place some of the blame on the chareidim. This is not paranoia, but fact. The following is a selection of telling examples:

Mr. Levine [pseudonym] writes about a young woman suffering from a rare disease who was in need of a drug that cost her NIS 10,000 ($2,200) for every six-week treatment cycle. Bituach Leumi does not cover the medication and the patient complained, "When I was healthy I paid taxes and now the State is throwing me to the dogs." Writes Mr. Levine, "In an absurd way, she is not entirely right. Bituach Leumi cannot cover every expense. What if her medication cost a million dollars per day? The State cannot afford such expenses . . . " Yet her anger, explains Mr. Levine, stems from what she reads in the paper and the calculations she makes based on this information. "Two hundred and twenty-one thousand yeshiva students receive monthly allowances from the State of Israel. These are healthy people. This money could have been used to save many sick people like her." To his credit, Mr. Levine also made note of the NIS 17 billion ($3.8 billion) used to bail out the kibbutzim, but he forgot to mention the respective budgets for universities, theater, athletics and other expenditures generously doled out from the State budget.

Another example: A feature story discussed the danger of collapse of the IDF's reserve system. The article indicated that only a small percentage of the 250,000 reservists actually serve during the course of a given year. Yet a more pressing problem is the army's shameful lack of consideration for reserve soldiers, including students and self-employed workers. Furthermore, income tax is deducted from the per- diem compensation given for reserve duty, injuries are not covered by medical insurance, some basic financial provisions are not provided, and various other abominations are carried out by military authorities toward those who are willing to devote up to four weeks every year for the sake of national security.

The national security budget consumes a sizable portion of the State budget, and it should have enough funding available to compensate reserve soldiers fittingly, but the writer of the article found it imperative to place some of the blame on the chareidim. "I'm not saying the chareidim should be recruited," says one disgruntled reserve soldier, "but with all the money spent on them, some money should go to us, to those who make a contribution."

This is not the type of extreme incitement propagated by Tomy Lapid and company. There are ways of defending against incitement by Shinui and Meretz, for every sane person knows that they lash out without provocation and in fact their attacks do not go unchallenged, whereas the above two examples are far less direct.

In every article, whether on the unemployed, the sick, reservists, students or any other segment of the economy, news writers never fail to mention that the problem could be solved merely by curtailing the flow of funds to the chareidim. They create an impression that the State is really doing chareidi institutions a favor by allocating funds. It has an obligation to assist students, Arabs, theaters or any taxpayer, yet money given to chareidim is a special benefit that lies behind all of the country's economic problems.

The facts bear repeating: The State is not doing any special favor by channeling a minuscule percentage of the budget to the chareidi sector, just as no one considers it a special favor when the State provides support for a failing theater. Every citizen pays taxes with the knowledge that the money is not spent exclusively on security, but is used for social programs as well. The chareidi sector does not pay less in taxes than any other sector--whether in terms of income tax from employees and the self-employed or indirect taxes such as VAT. The reality, say objective economic observers, is that chareidi public institutions receive less than would be expected in proportion to their representation in the general population.

But who listens to facts and figures when the provocation press plies its trade day and night? Who needs to verify facts when every reporter knows he is expected to mention the chareidim in every article--whether relevant to the topic of discussion or not--or else the article will not be sent to print?

If a survey were conducted it would undoubtedly show that a large majority of the population believes the "exorbitant" funds given to the chareidim should be halted. Many respondents would probably also support the termination of funding for chareidi institutions and perhaps, to cover past expenses, the imposition of a special tax on the chareidi community for the right to live in the enlightened State of Israel and to breathe its air.

This is not a modern Israeli invention. Jewish history, from the Nation of Israel's incipient beginnings and over the course of thousands of years, has been filled with many such examples. The attitude towards the Jews throughout the generations has been transposed onto the chareidim since the founding of "the Jewish State." There is nothing new under the sun.

From the Nation's inception at the beginning of sefer Shemos, government authorities have invariably displayed similar attitudes toward the Jewish population in their midst. Just as with the chareidim today, afflicting the Jews has always been ostensibly for the common good, in order to save the state from the Jewish/chareidi threat.

In his commentary on the Chumash, HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch draws such close parallels between Pharaoh's decrees and the events of his day (and similar to today) that the thousands of years that have transpired since then almost seem to disappear. One excerpt from his commentary in particular reveals how the wheel of history turns without fail.

After he explains how the oppressive decrees against foreigners were directed from above as a political tool by a despot trying to make the public forget his own tyranny over the entire population, he writes:

"There is little new under the sun and historical events at large are as old as history itself. Whenever a tyrant wanted to oppress a people, he would give them a lower class to oppress and thus be indemnified for his own oppression. Many of the special laws applied to Jews during the Middle Ages and later have this policy to thank for their origin. Similar considerations may have guided this first instigator of the earliest incident of these anti-Jewish laws. Pharaoh wanted to compensate the Egyptian people whom he held in oppressive subjection by creating for their benefit a caste of pariahs on which every other caste could look down with contempt, and each person could imagine himself a free man in comparison. But the fact that Pharaoh could not reproach the Jews with anything beyond their rate of multiplication, and to justify his intended harshness had to take his stand on supposed motives of high state policy, is a brilliant testimony to the high standard of the social behavior of the Jews.

"It is true that we can learn from Yechezkel (22:8) that the same cannot be said of their spiritual behavior, that they did not retain their faithfulness toward Hashem . . . But within the social realm it seems that no claim was made against them. Had the Egyptians sided with Pharaoh from the beginning, there would have been no need to stir up jealousy through artifice and to plant such farfetched fears in their minds. Instead of opening with a decree of exile, it could have been concluded immediately with an order of expulsion (on Shemos 1,9).

"The Jews became a policy issue, giving the national treasury an interest in them, to impose burdens upon them and to squeeze as much money as possible out of them. They were foreigners, from a distant place, and any price could be demanded of them for the air they were allowed to breathe. Therefore they were given over to financial authorities: `Veyosimu olov sorei missim' (on posuk 11).

"They were charged basic taxes as citizens of the state. Their rights remained intact, only they were required to pay a special tax for the right of citizenship, or for the state's patronage. But first Egyptian hooligans were allowed to criticize them severely. At the next stage they were robbed of their rights and were denigrated in the public eye when they were turned into slaves, creatures without protection under the law" (on posuk 14).

The transformation of the chareidi public into the primary culprit in every misfortune that befalls the economy nowadays bears a distinct resemblance to the chain of events under Pharaoh's rule. But we can also take courage in the promise that the persecution in Israel today will have the same result: "Veka'asher ye'anu oso, kein yirbeh vechein yifrotz" (posuk 12).

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