Times: Should Adult Orthodox Men Work or Study Torah?

The Times reports on a significant Talmudic clash of cultures in Israel.

The mainstream secular culture considers it desirable and preferable for adult men to work in materially productive jobs. The Haredi Orthodox culture deems it worthy that adult men (now 60% of them) sit in Yeshivas and (ostensibly) study Torah, which they deem to be a spiritually productive occupation.

The Haredis believe that the study of Torah contributes to the welfare of the Jewish people and sustains the world in mystical ways. The secular believe that the men who sit and study are unproductive drains on the economy and society.

A Haredi rabbi in Israel now agrees with the secular critics and says that too many Orthodox men are unemployed by choice and on welfare subsidies. Most of them should be engaged in material work, he proffers. We agree with him.
Some Israelis Question Benefits for Ultra-Religious

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, the nation took notice: He is a rabbi, 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.” ...more...


Religion and State in Israel said...

Check out the Masorti Movement in Israel's "The Sages' Yellow Pages campaign.

More photos here.

Richard said...

I believe that the term 'yeshiva' is derived from the Hebrew word 'yasab', which means to sit. I can confidently say that the Zionists who founded Israel did not believe in 'sitting' around, waiting for something to happen. Studying is fine, but it should not be predicated on a parasitical mode of existence, enshrined as a welfare entitlement.