Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Tammuz 5763 - July 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Government Has no Heart

The social protest against the government's new policies is widening. The leaders of the protest are working single parents who need government help to make ends meet. A non- working single mother with two or more children has been cut from NIS 3,346 to NIS 2,607 a month. A working mother who makes the minimum wage has been cut from NIS 2,592 to NIS 1,232. It makes the difference between a low, but tolerable, standard of living and a life of unfilled needs.

There are already some 50 women in tents opposite the Knesset. There are reports that many more are on the way, from Ofakim, from Upper Nazareth, from Sderot, from Hatzor, from Eilat and from Beer Sheva. They are converging on Jerusalem, because many of them feel that they have no place else to go.

The government says that its main thrust is to change the "welfare ethic" that makes people prefer taking handouts and doing nothing to going to work. This is a goal that has been pursued on many fronts. There has been a major revamping of the tax system, for one thing. For the first time, capital is taxed. This should reduce some of the burden on labor and make it more attractive to work.

However, in its zeal to reach its goals, which are basically shared by most of Israeli society, the government has been too quick to throw out its social safety net that support large sectors of the population. Families headed by single mothers with children make up more than 10 percent of all the families in Israel, and they have been thrown out onto the streets.

The economic cuts were passed with little opposition. Most of the warnings were raised by chareidim, and their voice is being pointedly ignored by the current government that very noisily includes the adamantly anti-chareidi Shinui party. The louder the chareidim protested, the happier Shinui was.

It is a shame. In fact, though they do not make it a signature issue, the chareidim have been the champions of all the economically weak sectors of the population. It was their presence in the government that always ensured that no drastic steps were taken against those who cannot tolerate them, and their absence allowed the passage of a series of budget cuts that may make technical economic sense, but are nonetheless impossible for a real Jewish heart. Without the chareidi representatives to provide a conscience for the government, the Treasury technocrats made their move without sufficient concern about the human consequences.

It is not enough to say that it is better for everyone to work than be on the dole. Jobs have to be available. There are now at least 300,000 foreigners in Israel who are working under conditions that no Israeli is willing to accept. There is already high unemployment. Unless and until the economy beings to pick up steam, there is little prospect of those on welfare finding jobs. What should they do until then?

The basic economic policy principles are not something that anyone these days can disagree with. They are the consensus of all the experts virtually throughout the world, since America has come to dominate these fields. Yet they still must be applied in a Jewish way that is sensitive to the needs and situation of the poor and downtrodden.

There is one point of disagreement over ideology. We see those involved in learning Torah as being gainfully employed. They work very hard and are very busy. We see their work as a service to the entire society, certainly no less than many other services such as liberal arts professors, political pundits, art critics and artists themselves. They never got very much in direct support from the Israeli government. (The only direct support for Torah learners was about $160 a month.) In any case their numbers are small. But they are not part of the problem of poverty in the Jewish state. They are part of the solution. Everyone should learn Torah.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.