The tiny proportion of Charedim in Israel’s civil service has surfaced over recent years as an issue that has involved many: politicians, voluntary organizations, foundations, and even members of the Civil Service Commission and government ministries. The critical importance of the issue is related to the fact that it is not just about creating additional jobs for the largest employer in the country. It is also a significant opportunity for the Charedi public to take responsibility and be partners in running the country. Yet, despite efforts to increase Charedi numbers in the civil service, the situation on the ground remains far from satisfactory.
In the present article, I wish to present the dismal situation of attempts at integration, explain the possible causes of their failure, and suggest a course of action to overcome the barriers that have so far prevented a significant entry of Charedim into Israel’s civil service.
Failed Integration Efforts
The Civil Service Commission is the largest employer in the economy. As of May 2022, the number of employees in the department stands at 81,840 employees, employed in 102 government offices and support units. It is pertinent to distinguish between the limited civil service, which includes only government offices and support units and whose employees are directly employed by the state, and the entire public sector in Israel, which also includes local authorities, hospitals, health insurance funds, police, the National Security Service, schools, public companies, and more, comprising about 700,000 people.
In many countries, an effort is made to integrate civil service workers from groups that suffer from underrepresentation. Among these groups are women (less true for many coutries today), the disabled, immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities, and those that differ from the majority of the population in their religious beliefs, their way of life, their external appearance, and their language. This is considered to be a matter of some importance. Employees from different communities know how to provide better, targeted, and more tailored service to members of their own community. In addition, employees with diverse backgrounds and different mindsets can help to come up with original ideas, even if they are not always endorsed, due to the cultural world and the unique ways of thinking they can bring to the table. The diversity of employees in government offices can help the civil service become better and more efficient, improve its image in the public eye as an open, innovative, egalitarian, and representative body, and increase public trust.
Employees from different communities know how to provide better, targeted, and more tailored service to members of their own community. In addition, employees with diverse backgrounds and different mindsets can help to come up with original ideas, even if they are not always endorsed, due to the cultural world and the unique ways of thinking they can bring to the table
In 2011, when it was not yet possible to ascertain the number of Charedim in the civil service, I conducted a sample test on the number of Charedim in government offices and selected local authorities. The analysis showed that the proportion of Charedim in the civil service and local authorities was minuscule, very far from their proportion in the population, even though many Charedi academics, men and women, had already been educated in professions that meet the requirements of the civil service tenders (including for positions ranked in the Union of Academics in Social Sciences and Humanities at levels 36-38 and above, and in the A1-A2 ranking for jurists). This figure was surprising, especially because surveys suggest that Charedi individuals are interested in working in these fields. For example, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor at the time (2011) showed that among Charedim, 72.1% of women and 45% of men expressed a desire to integrate into the public sector, compared with only 43.5% of women and 20% of men in the general sector. Despite this, the number of Charedim in the civil service and local authorities remained very small, the only exception being education.
Until 2015, Charedim were not considered a unique group entitled to special treatment concerning integration into the civil service, and the category “Charedi” did not even appear in the Civil Service Commission’s registration and identification forms. It was thus impossible to know with any certainty how many Charedim there were. In May 2014, with the increased intensity of calls to deal with the issue, then Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett passed a resolution to establish a committee that would recommend to the government how to integrate Charedim into the civil service. I was privileged to be appointed among its members as a representative of the Department of Tenders and Exams of the Civil Service Commission. As the committee’s highest priority, it aimed not only at integrating a significant number of Charedim into the civil service but also recruiting people with the necessary expertise and experience to rise to higher employment levels and attract more Charedim to follow them.
Following the committee’s recommendations, the government adopted Resolution 869/15 at the end of 2015, the main theme being increasing the accessibility of government tenders to the Charedi public, granting affirmative action to Charedi candidates in government offices, allocating some 50 exclusive positions each year to Charedi individuals, and the referral of Charedim to professions required in the civil service, with an emphasis on the government health system, civil engineering, and the fire and rescue service. From a practical point of view, the government’s decision also discussed measures that would make it easier for Charedim to enter the civil service, such as focused open days, workshops for civil service examiners and evaluators on the Charedi population, professional support for Charedim who are part of the civil service, changing the screening tests to ensure compatibility with a Charedi audience, and other recommendations. As a result of the committee’s efforts, it was also decided to begin identifying and indicating Charedim in civil service tenders and among civil servants so that numbers could be tracked.
Charedi MKs were not idle, either. In December 2017, MK Gafni submitted a bill that would ensure greater representation of members of Charedi society in the civil service. This led to a government decision (3268/17) stating that Charedim will be included in section 15a of the Civil Service Regulations as a group entitled to appropriate representation and that between the years 2018-2020, 7% or more of all employees recruited into the state service will be Charedi.
In practice, the two government decisions (from 2015 and 2017) are far from being fully implemented. As of the end of 2022, only 1,539 Charedi employees are registered in the civil service (not including education), constituting only 1.9% of all employees. This is an increase compared to only 1.2% in 2019, but it remains a far cry from the target set by the government decisions. At the most senior level, Charedi representation is approximately 0.6%, while the numbers for student positions, 4.2%, are slightly more encouraging.
The failure of the civil service to integrate Charedim is especially striking against the background of significant successes in integrating other populations. For example, the number of Arabs in the civil service as of the end of 2022 is 11,360, which is about 14% of all employees, while government targets (which, in fairness, have not been updated since 2007) are only 10%
Even in the recruitment field, the situation is far from positive. Since the government’s decisions were put into effect, the number of Charedim registering for government tenders has increased significantly. While between the years 2015-2017, only 4,236 Charedi individuals applied for civil service, the years 2018 through 2022 saw a significant increase, and no less than 46,764 Charedim applied for civil service tenders. This number is 9.6% of all candidates who applied for tenders during this period, a number higher than the proportion of Charedim in the general workforce – 8.5% as of 2022. However, somewhere along the line between the application submission and getting a job, something went wrong. In practice, only 573 Charedim were hired over these years, which is 0.1% of applications and 4.9% of all those hired for work in the civil service. In other words, relative to general Israeli society, 50% fewer Charedim who submitted applications were accepted. In this context, it is important to note that while in 2018, 70% of Charedi applicants for civil service tenders met the threshold conditions, the rate for 2022 dropped to only 43%. Charedim are submitting more applications, but their chances of being accepted are, therefore, far lower than they used to be. In terms of tenders earmarked for Charedim, numbers also fell from 41 tenders in 2018 to 22 in 2022.
The failure of the civil service to integrate Charedim is especially striking against the background of significant successes in integrating other populations. For example, the number of Arabs in the civil service as of the end of 2022 is 11,360, which is about 14% of all employees, while government targets (which, in fairness, have not been updated since 2007) are only 10%. The number of Ethiopians integrated into the civil service is 2,783, which is 3.4% of all employees. The government target is only 1.7%, which is the Ethiopian proportion of the entire population of Israel. Despite the considerable attention paid to the integration of Charedim in the last decade, the effort appears to have so far failed to produce results. In some respects, we have even seen a regression in recent years.
What steps are likely to change the situation? Below I will try to explain why the government’s policy has so far failed to integrate Charedim. Moreover, I will suggest we can work more effectively toward their inclusion.
The Tall Hurdles of Charedi Integration
The challenge to integrate Charedim into Israel’s workforce is different from that of other minority groups, bringing a unique lifestyle and set of values that deter many employers. Most Arab employees lead a standard secular lifestyle, similar in many elements to that of the rest of the population. Ethiopians have also traditionally been discriminated against due to their different status, but their lifestyle is largely similar to standard Israeli employees. This is certainly the case for women, new immigrants, as well as the Druze and Circassians, who are included in the groups entitled to appropriate representation. Charedim, in contrast, bring something different to the workplace: different clothing, family size, vacation dates, mentality, standard of living, values, scale of priorities, and more. Perhaps most importantly, many Charedi, especially but not exclusively Charedi women, display a lower level of readiness for amicable relations with other employees, certainly outside of office hours, and especially with those employees belonging to the opposite gender.
These differences cause concern among employers in all sectors of the economy. Still, the issue is most prominently expressed in the less competition-oriented (and more clique-oriented) work environment of the civil service. In addition to problems of personal connection in everyday work, the civil service needs to represent state values to the general public. The expectation that a Charedi employee who grew up in a non-Zionist and isolating society will succeed in providing this service seems illogical to the employer. Despite positive remarks expressed by employers who have hired Charedim into the civil service, Charedi integration has not increased significantly.
Therefore, following the 2017 law that required 7% of Charedim to be hired and the flood of Charedim that hit the civil service job market, employers got cold feet. They understood that a genuine openness to accepting Charedim would bring greater diversity to their office than they necessarily wanted – diversity that goes beyond the varying faces of women, immigrants, and Arabs, but also in significant cultural changes they must accommodate. For many, this was too challenging. As for the legal to employ Charedim and to provide Charedi with designated jobs, the long sorting process, which many Charedim are not used to, came to their aid.
Many Charedim find difficulty in passing the screening process. The reasons are partially poor skills but also an inability to make the required mental adjustment. There are several differences between Charedi and non-Charedi candidates. First, Charedim don’t learn to market themselves in the accepted ways of today’s job market. Charedi culture promotes modesty and goodwill over individualism and a sense of self-importance, and this does not always serve them well at interviews, where there is confidence and vision are more in demand.
Beyond that, the language issue is also central. The professional concepts mentioned in the tender, the exams he has to pass, the resume he needs to write – all these are written in a foreign language from the perspective of the Charedi job seeker. The use of the wrong words gives a bad impression, and even somebody who is highly talented for a management position will appear unprofessional in the screening process.
Selection panels are mostly made up of senior officials, and since the number of Charedi executives is zero, it is likely that committee members will have negligible familiarity with Charedim, thus hurting the candidate’s chances. The prestigious Yeshiva at which the Charedi candidate studied does not particularly impress them
Even if the candidate manages to pass these hurdles and reach the final selection panel, interviewers are unlikely to be familiar with Charedi culture. They will find it hard to properly evaluate him based on details given at the interview. Selection panels are mostly made up of senior officials, and since the number of Charedi executives is zero, it is likely that committee members will have negligible familiarity with Charedim, thus hurting the candidate’s chances. The prestigious Yeshiva at which the Charedi candidate studied does not particularly impress them; nor does his resourcefulness in completing academic studies with honors while continuing to study in Kollel and maintaining an external image as an Avrech. Charedi life is foreign to them, and they know nothing about the values and norms practiced in Charedi society. Similarly, a young Charedi woman who is careful to refrain from looking directly at a male interviewer, as she was taught in school, will be mistakenly perceived as being unassertive or rude. She might be rejected even though her abilities are not inferior to, or may even be superior to, other interviewees.
Though Charedim are currently applying for tenders, many pitfalls remain along the way, leaving little opportunity for even the most seasoned Charedi employees.
An Illustration: The Failed Mashpi’im Program
An example of the value barrier that prevents Charedim from entering the state service despite government decisions can be found in the unfortunate tale of the “Mashpi’im” program. As part of a government decision (869/15), 7 million ILS were allocated to operate a unique program for the integration of Charedim into the civil service, under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Welfare (which later became the Ministry of Economy) and operated by the Charedi KEMACH Foundation. This program was supposed to take in some 400 Charedi individuals over four years (50 men and 50 women each year, in separate groups), put them through a training program for work in the civil service for about six months, and then integrate them into designated jobs in government ministries and local authorities. The concept behind this program was to accept Charedim already in possession of a bachelor’s degree and with impressive abilities and potential. These individuals would begin at entry levels, but also have the capacity to advance to senior positions quickly and attract more Charedim in their wake.
Claims that the program fostered gender equality by allowing men and women to advance in the civil service in equal numbers fell on deaf ears. So did the claim that absent gender segregation, young Charedim would refuse to participate and the essential integration of Charedim into the civil service would stall
The program lasted only two terms, one for women and one for men, until a feminist lobby pounced on it, petitioning the court on the grounds of illegal gender segregation. Claims that the program fostered gender equality by allowing men and women to advance in the civil service in equal numbers fell on deaf ears. So did the claim that absent gender segregation, young Charedim would refuse to participate and the essential integration of Charedim into the civil service would stall. Even the willingness of the executive committee of the program to allow some activities to be held for the men’s and women’s courses jointly did not help. The court, backed by some foot-dragging by the Ministry of Justice, accepted the petitioners’ position. After about 50 male and female graduates integrated into the civil service and local authorities with a 90% success rate (!), the Ministry of Labor was forced to stop the program’s activities.
Only a few dozen Charedim entered the civil service following the program, but they are quality individuals who can inspire others to do the same. We can only imagine what our situation would be today if the program had continued. The success of its graduates and their progress in government offices and local authorities demonstrates what would have happened had the 50 grown to 400. As in many other cases, the court’s need to be right overruled its ability to be smart, and this remarkable plan failed to take off. We witnessed another example in 2021 when the Rashi Foundation tried to open a similar program for Charedim in the civil service, a welcome collaboration with the Ministry of Social Equality. When they discovered the program would also be gender-segregated, the ministry got cold feet, and the program was shelved.
For the past year, the Ministry of Labor has been running a project entitled “Tnufa” (“Push”) that offers short training programs for Charedim who wish to join the civil service and includes limited integration into various public institutions. Taking place in a gender-mixed environment, it remains unclear how effective it can be in allowing young individuals from the Charedi mainstream to integrate into the service. The integration of Charedim into the civil service requires a true readiness for diversity and inclusion of different cultures. So far, the anxiety and opposition such diversity raises has slowed and may even entirely stall the continued integration of Charedim.
What Can Be Done?
Notwithstanding the complexity, what can be done to change the situation?
Failure to integrate Charedim into the civil service was expected. The writing was on the wall. As a condition of integration, goodwill is required on both ends; we need to make room for all groups, recognize their unique way of living, and enable their existence at the same time as integrating them into the organization or society. However, in this case, some players seem reluctant to accommodate the other way of life. As an example, making peace with a gender-segregated civil service preparation program could have signified government ministries’ readiness to reconcile with Charedi values. With this acceptance, the state would signal its willingness to consider the unique needs of Charedi individuals, and encourage decisionmakers in government offices to open the door to them.
The following points for improvement in the process of integrating the Charedim are offered in the hope that their implementation will once again lead to progress and an increase in the number of integrating Charedim:
Training-related issues: We need tailored programs for integrating Charedim into the civil service in a format that has proven itself in the Mashpi’im mentorship program and that may also help in the future. At its outset, the Mashpi’im program included several months of participants getting to know the civil service, its values, and its character. It allowed future employers and participants to get to know each other personally. Tailored training for a high-quality and potential-laden group of Charedi youth may give impetus to the integration of Charedim in government offices and bring many more to follow. Such a program must be adapted to the Charedi way of life, both in content and in the necessary gender separation (at least at the beginning), to allow for the participation of those hailing from the core of Charedi society.
Giving every candidate equal opportunity: For Charedi candidates to receive an equal opportunity, intensive training must be conducted for senior officials (with an emphasis on those participating in selection committees) for in-depth acquaintance with Charedi society, its values, and lifestyle. Also, a Charedi evaluator should be attached to the selection committees so that the committee is balanced and recognizes the value of high-quality Charedi candidates. It is still difficult to find senior Charedi officials in the public service. However, it is possible to appoint a Charedi public representative whose presence may be essential for properly evaluating candidates.
Accessibility issues: It is necessary to ensure the actual implementation of several sections of the previous government decisions that make the state service accessible to Charedim, which are not yet implemented: increasing the number of designated jobs, activating the database of accomplished Charedi students who have registered for the civil service (dozens of students have been entered into the database, yet it remains inactive), continuous access to jobs through the career guidance centers and institutions that train students, as well as assisting and mentoring Charedi youth who integrate into the civil service during the first stage of entry.
Knowledge and information: A Charedi union was recently established, and it must be strengthened and given resources to reach Charedi workers and work on their behalf. This should strengthen the integration of Charedi employees into offices and increase compatibility, also enabling comprehensive mediation of Charedi needs with offices and help Charedim integrate into offices in an organized manner. Similarly, private institutes should be encouraged to regularly monitor the number of Charedim who succeed in entering the civil service. This can include the publication of data from time to time to encourage and urge those concerned.
Compatibility: In addition to the above, workplaces ought to be sensitive to the Charedi lifestyle. For example, in the private sector, the norm is that mothers of small children divide their work between morning and evening hours, while afternoons are free to spend at home. Also common is the norm that allows for a hybrid division of work, some of which is done remotely. This makes it easier for employees who must care for large families. In other offices in the private sector, Charedi men are now given the opportunity to start their mornings a little later and finish their day later, allowing them to pray and study before coming to work without giving up on the quality and excellence of their job performance. As the civil service adopts norms of this type, more Charedim will be able to integrate successfully.
Marketing: Finally, a call is needed from the heads of the various ministries for Charedim to come and be part of the service. From time to time, the commission conducts campaigns calling on young people to join, and such campaigns require specific targeting for the Charedi public, broadcast in the appropriate media, and speaking in its language. This could bring high-quality Charedi youth to the service and increase the integration of Charedim into the civil service.
Some critical steps have recently been taken in the directions suggested above. The recently signed coalition agreement between the Likud and the Charedi parties includes a series of measures to promote Charedi integration in the civil service: the government’s decision from 2017 will be extended until 2028 and updated so that the percentage of designated jobs for appropriate representation of Charedim in government offices, set at 7%, will increase by an additional percentage point each year. The government will determine incentives and/or sanctions to promote appropriate representation in practice, allocating 15 million ILS to implement its 2015 decision. This will come with an emphasis on establishing a pool of outstanding Charedim for the civil service and allocating designated jobs for them. Alternative qualifications to academic degrees will be recognized, and an appropriate quota will be made for Charedi representatives on the boards of government companies and statutory corporations (as already in place for women, Arabs, Druze, Circassians, people with disabilities, and Ethiopians).
Will it work? The answer depends on the level of determination of Charedi MKs, as well as the level of cooperation of the Civil Service Commission and the CEOs of the different ministries and offices. The increased number of Charedi members approaching tenders indicates that Charedi society is interested in the process. In light of these considerations, it is imperative to pay attention to both the Charedi parties and the Commission and its offices promoting the issue. Cooperation and goodwill of all parties are necessary for this process to move forward, and we can only hope that these steps, alongside continued raising of the issue to public awareness, will allow the absorption of quality Charedim into the civil service for the great benefit of both Charedi society and Israel’s general population.
 Civil Service Commission report, May 2022. https://www.gov.il/BlobFolder/reports/diversity-report-2021/he/diversity-report-2021.pdf
 Almagor Lotan, 2019. https://fs.knesset.gov.il/globaldocs/MMM/26c6c668-2417-e911-80e1-00155d0a98a9/2_26c6c668-2417-e911-80e1-00155d0a98a9_11_13506.pdf
 See examples of this in Canada, Great Britain and Norway. In: Almagor-Lutan, A., and Zadok, D. (2011): “Encouraging the employment of underrepresented groups”, document of the Knesset Research and Information Center 5.5.11.
 According to: OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate, Public Employment and Management Working Party, “Fostering Diversity in the Public Sector”, October 2009.
 The minimum ranks according to the Machar scale for jurists, psychologists, accountants, and social workers.
 Survey of the Administration of Research, Planning, and Economics, Ministry of Economy, Malhi, 2011.
 In Decision No. 1624 of May 25, 2014.
 The Civil Service Appointments Law of 1959
 Peleg-Gabai 2022; https://fs.knesset.gov.il/globaldocs/MMM/08a5e3e2-3cd1-ec11-8147-005056aac6c3/2_08a5e3e2-3cd1-ec11-8147-005056aac6c3_11_19536.pdf
 Schwartz, 2022; https://fs.knesset.gov.il/globaldocs/MMM/542aeec9-c2e5-ec11-814d-005056aa4246/2_542aeec9-c2e5-ec11-814d-005056aa4246_11_19824.pdf
Picture Credit: OHAYON AVI