Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Iyun”: Deliberations > A New Response to Anti-Charedi Critics

A New Response to Anti-Charedi Critics

Criticism leveled against Charedi Judaism has recently risen to exceptional tones, in particular concerning Israel's economic future. How should we respond to criticism, some of which seems justified, without losing faith in the righteousness of our path?

Sivan 5783 / June 2023

In recent times, and especially during the run-up to passing the state budget by Israel’s new government, Israel’s public sphere has become filled with harsh criticism of Charedi society and its politics. Some comments bordered on incitement. Huge signs at demonstrations in Bnei Brak – since when do citizens protest against fellow citizens? – announced that “we aren’t suckers” and “we aren’t your donkeys.” The internet, as usual, was filled with jarring expressions of scorn and hatred, and even (so-called) mainstream media did not remain indifferent. Channel 12’s news anchor Galit Gutman referred to Charedim, in their entirety, as “bloodsuckers.”

Of course, some rallied to defend Charedim. In his Channel 14 monologue, Shai Golden stated that “we are witnessing one of the most vociferous incitement campaigns I can recall – a campaign of incitement, hostility, hatred, libel, and slander; demonization campaign that has crossed every reasonable boundary.” President Herzog condemned the harsh expressions, decrying any phenomenon of “humiliation and condescension of other groups.” Charedi representatives themselves jumped at the opportunity and launched their own attack against “a terrible and cruel wave of unchecked incitement” and noting “caricatures that Der Stürmer would have been proud of.”

There is nothing terribly new in the above. In 2010, to mention just one previous example, Gabi Gazit, a renowned Israeli journalist, dubbed Charedim “leeches, worms, and parasites,” triggering a similar condemnation, counter-attack, and (partial) retraction cycle. This time, however, it seems something is different. Many good and upstanding members of Israeli society perceive Charedi society as a significant challenge to the future of the Israeli State. These are not only radical lefties. Critique of Charedi conduct crosses party lines and has been voiced by all sides of Israel’s political spectrum, including, for example, the conservative “Kohelet Policy Forum.” Moshe Koppel might be a partially lapsed Gerrer Chassid, but he’s the last person we would accuse of Charedi hatred.

Criticism of Charedim includes several components, but the central point raised in recent months focuses on economics. The story is fairly simple. Employment rates for Charedi men have been hovering around 50% for several years now, while the average salary of working Charedi men is approximately 55% of the average salary of non-Charedi Jewish men. Accordingly, the poverty rate (relative poverty, albeit, but it remains not insignificant) of the Charedi public – families, individuals, and children – is far higher than poverty rates within general society.

The budget was passed. Protests have calmed. Israel’s Angel Bakeries submitted an apology letter after its chairman protested against Charedim in Bnei Brak. Yet, the hot topic of the Charedi challenge continues to dominate the public discourse

When you add to this the strikingly stable high birthrates of Charedi society, the institutional education for boys that focuses on Torah alone, and the fact that female employment, while impressive, will not fill the budget hole, this presents a dramatic economic challenge. Many reports and opinions have been written about it, whether by private bodies or the Ministry of Finance (the budget department published a harshly pessimistic opinion on the matter just before the budget was passed). Even the OECD joined the party in its report on Israel’s economy, warning that consequences could be harsh if the country does not change incentives concerning Charedi male employment. As Charedi society continues to grow, many in the general public are thus expressing their anxiety about Israel’s economic future and their resentment at having to support Charedi families abstaining from work.

The budget was passed. Protests have calmed. Israel’s Angel Bakeries submitted an apology letter after its chairman protested against Charedim in Bnei Brak. Yet, the hot topic of the Charedi challenge continues to dominate the public discourse. The question I wish to address in this article is: what do we answer? What should the Charedi response to the constant criticism be? Moreover, what are we supposed to answer to ourselves? How do we justify the situation whereby we, Charedim, receive so much from the state even as we contribute so little in economic terms?


Existing Responses

Existing and familiar responses can be placed on a narrow scale ranging between blanket denial and accusations of anti-Semitism. A different approach pushes the claim of Charedi identity with the priestly tribe of Levi, who spent their days in spiritual pursuits and were supported by tithes from the rest of the nation. I find these responses insufficient. Below is a brief review.

  1. Anti-Semitism

The “anti-Semitism” response generally chooses to disregard the facts. It declares that those expressing criticism are deeply infected with Charedi-hatred, a new and grotesque version of the self-hating Jew phenomenon of 19th-century Germany. Figures like MK Yisrael Eichler, who dubbed the tax on disposable utensils and sugary drinks “anti-Semitic taxation,” will dismiss any criticism, factual or otherwise, in a similar style. Rivka Ravitz, today a member of the JPPI organization, made a not dissimilar argument, claiming that the protest groups are simply searching for new reasons to hate Charedim:

Perhaps you, my protestor siblings, are looking for reasons to hate Haredim? And maybe the whole reason for your hatred is the fear of a community that venerates a supreme value, the eternal Torah. Maybe the great hatred is actually fear of a community that, despite all the opposition and contempt, is not afraid to cling to its empowering, elevating, invigorating values. Do some people fear my community’s growth and the values I represent enough to take to the streets with these shallow and superficial condemnations?[1]

It seems the growth of Charedi society genuinely intimidates some individuals, yet this type of reaction only inflicts greater damage. Aside from the superficiality of the claims, such as MK Moshe Gafni’s creative assertion that the Kohelet Forum comprises left-wingers, these allegations do actual harm. Branding opponents as anti-Semites, even when they raise legitimate issues and criticisms, is a serious mistake that only fuels far more hatred than already exists. Numerous conversations with concerned individuals spanning the political spectrum have confirmed an abundance of genuine worry and very little hatred. It is a shame to contribute to its proliferation.

Branding opponents as anti-Semites, even when they raise legitimate issues and criticisms, is a serious mistake that only fuels far more hatred than already exists

  1. Denial

Another common response is flat denial. Usually, this answer comes in a one-word sentence: Denied. “Charedi men don’t work” – Lies! “This creates a significant economic challenge” – False! “State income from income tax and similar taxes make up a huge part of the state budget” – Wrong! “The Charedi family receives far more than it contributes ”– Nonsense! And so on.

Sometimes, as a column published a few months back on the “Kikar Shabbat” website attempted,[2] the denial is backed up by different claims. Some point to the large consumption of Charedi families and the correspondingly high VAT contribution; some note economic contributions in the form of philanthropic donations that Torah institutions pour into the state; and some argue that since higher-income individuals pay the majority of taxes, the limited employment participation of Charedi men is not a significant factor. Some claim that we, the Charedim (especially Charedi women, as MK Moshe Gafni pointed out from the Knesset podium in reference to his granddaughter), work and pay taxes like everybody else.

This is not the right forum to refute these claims at length – such work has been done on other platforms. Yet, even a cursory glance demonstrates how unconvincing they are. Less income means less consumption and less indirect taxes; less Charedim in employment means less Charedim in the upper deciles earning higher incomes; and Uncle Sam’s philanthropic money might ease the financial burdens on Charedi families, but it won’t save the country. Moreover, Charedi employment and earning rates are low, and that’s certainly no secret. For some reason, to which I will return later, claims such as those above continue to be supported by many within the Charedi community. For non-Charedi individuals and those more familiar with the relevant issues, they only cause frustration, disappointment, and even resentment.

The “denial claim” remains better than the “anti-Semitism claim.” To respond fairly, however, we must be ready to face the data and listen to reasonable and well-researched claims. Thus far, this is not the case. In the case of some claims, the response “partially false” can be effective. Yet, it is certainly not enough.

  1. Alternative contribution

This answer is more sincere. It acknowledges that in economic terms, we contribute little and receive much. On the other hand, it emphasizes our contributions in areas with indirect or distinctly non-economic value. The answer is divided into two types of contributions: charitable organizations and Torah study.

We take immense pride, and rightfully so, in the outstanding work undertaken by organizations like Yad Sarah, Zaka, Yad Eliezer, United Hatzalah, and others. These prominent organizations, some of which depend on the untiring work of thousands of volunteers, accomplish tremendous tasks that deserve admiration. There are also organizations, such as Matnat Chaim in the field of kidney transplants, whose work saves the state millions of shekels. Some Charedi apologetics, such as the abovementioned piece, go to length to point out this impressive Charedi voluntary work.

Yet, it remains difficult to understand how these upstanding and holy achievements meet the economic argument. The existence of wonderful charitable organizations and thousands of volunteers indicates noble character traits and a willingness to sacrifice for worthy causes. In economic terms, however, their value remains minimal, and making economic contributions (through participation in gainful employment) does not conflict with charity and voluntary activity. Good societies (think of Tocqueville in his Democracy in America) can maintain both.

The claim of Torah study raises a different point: although we do not contribute financially, our Torah study is essential for the state’s existence. Rabbi Yaakov Butchkovsky, an acquaintance and well-known author, recently formulated this claim. Amid accusations directed towards the Charedim, he argued that we need to stand up proudly, asserting that

we preserve our very identity and yours, our very existence and yours. Absent our spiritual efforts, there is no value to anything created here. Moreover, there can be no continued existence of anything that has developed here. Without the tribe of Torah scholars, there is no nation of Israel; without the nation of Israel, there is no State of Israel.

This argument is not without merit, but it is flawed. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that Israeli society will accept this viewpoint. Leaving aside the arrogant tone, even those who acknowledge the value of Torah study will struggle to comprehend the necessity of an entire tribe devoting all their minutes exclusively to it. The average person, including the Torah observant, believes that our identity can be preserved through Torah study mitzvah observance in the manner of previous generations, without requiring the dedication of a distinct tribe. In summary, it is highly unlikely that this argument will be accepted. Since the general public is also the principal funder of Torah institutions, it is crucial that they understand the claim.

Second, and more fundamentally, even we find the approach difficult to understand. In the long history of the Jewish people, and even in Jewish centers today in other countries, there are Torah-observant and Charedi communities that combine a deeply imbued Torah life with gainful employment and civic involvement, alongside a rabbinic elite (and the ten batlanim that Chazal mention) who provide Torah guidance and halachic rulings. Why is there no room for such an option in Israel? Aware of the issue, Rabbi Butchkovsky notes that “as the world outside becomes increasingly volatile and steeped in secular values, the concern grows that the gradual erosion of social values will lead to a progressive weakening of Judaism.” For this reason, he claims that “we need a large tribe of Levi, one that stamps a meaningful presence.” Yet, these ideas sound more like justification in retrospect than positive reasoning for an ideal arrangement.

Moreover, the “tribe of Levi” terminology is gleaned from the words of Maimonides at the end of the laws of Shemitta and Yovel, which refer to individuals who separate themselves from normative society and not to an actual tribe. It is worth citing the words of the Rambam, often quoted by apologists, in full:

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be his portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world, like He provides for the priests and the Levites.

Many cite the words of the Rambam as a source for the right to withdraw from the world in total dedication to Divine service, or, in its modern realization, to Torah study. Yet, Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l notes that the Rambam does not refer to somebody who withdraws from the world and places himself at the mercy of others: “The intention is not that he will take financial support from others, for surely, the Rambam in the Laws of Torah Study (3:10) is highly critical of this [of Torah scholars who are supported by others, Y.P.] Rather, the intention is that he should make a minimal effort (hishtadlus) and Hashem will bless his work and provide his sustenance for all his needs” (Derech Emunah, Shemittah and Yovel Chap. 13; thanks to my friend Chaim Cohen for pointing out the source).

This intuitive insight brings us to the third and perhaps most significant point, which is the distinction between the legitimate choice to withdraw from the working world and an expectation that others finance the choice. Many choose to live a modest lifestyle, and Western society does not condemn them for it. However, this choice does not bequeath an individual, and certainly not a “tribe,” the right to gain support from others. Buchkovski is aware of this problem and questions the legitimacy of Charedi demands for funding, yet dodges the issue: “It isn’t our job to justify our representatives; we need to justify the Torah alone.” Given today’s circumstances, in which the Torah world relies heavily on state funding, this evasion is hardly satisfactory. An education system that urges withdrawal from economic activity cannot ignore the matter of how the system is funded.

Fourth, there are clearly boundaries to the applicability of this claim. The day it becomes a majority in the country, the “Charedi tribe” will bear the responsibility for economic growth, or else the whole country will collapse. The criticism aimed at Charedim is that the red line is fast approaching, requiring our attention and long-term planning. At the same time, there seems to be no perceptible appreciation of this on the part of Charedi society itself. A response that fails to address where to draw the line is fundamentally inadequate.

In conclusion, it seems that most of the familiar responses run along the lines of “Do not answer a fool in his foolishness” (Mishlei 20:4). As Rabbi Mordechai Neugroschel notes (quoting an instruction of Rav Shach regarding the Charedi recruitment in the IDF), it is best to entirely refrain from responding to public critique; alternatively, criticism should be answered with humor – it is permitted to mock idolatry. In other words, it is better not to answer. However, every parent knows that silence or laughter may be received with understanding when coming from a small, cute child but not from an older, mature person. We have grown into a large and mature public, and answers are required not only by “them” but even by “us.”

Below I will try to formulate a suggested response of my own, starting exactly at this point: the division between “them” and “us.”


“Us Versus Them”

The division between “them” and “us” is as old as Zionism. It might be older still, but the question of Zionism, for or against, has for many decades become (since the early 20th century) the central question of affiliation and identity. The traditional world, the Torah observant public that continually shrunk over many decades, was divided into two: those who support Zionism and those who do not. With the establishment of the state, the Jewish public in its entirety divided along the same lines: Zionists, observant and non-observant, and Charedi. To this day, every Charedi child knows the basic division between “them,” anyone who is not Charedi, and “us.”

However, all bad things eventually end – and splitting the Jewish People into “them and us” is surely bad. In relation to high percentages of the general population, it seems that it is already possible today to move from “them and us” to a perception of “we and us,” notwithstanding profound differences between groups that remain unchanged. Accordingly, the answer to criticism against Charedim may also modify.

During the period before the state was established, there were significant reasons for the “them and us” division. Many rabbinic leaders believed that the Zionist vision was illusory, designed with the sole intention of further penetrating the Orthodox ranks with a secular ideology laced with Jewish nationalism. For example, Da’at Rabbanim, a polemical rabbinic publication first published in 1902, claimed that:

The deceivers themselves know that the settlement of many thousands of Jews in the Land of Israel among the rest of the nations within it, the more so with the intent of establishing a Jewish state and a haven with the permission of the governments, cannot be accepted with credibility. […] To entice and mislead unsuspecting individuals unaware of their deceptive methods, which have successfully lured many people to abandon their religion, they have created a fictional form of redemption and material salvation in the form of a Jewish state and safe haven in Israel.

Even after Zionism succeeded in realizing the Jewish state, the concern remained that the Jewish State would be unkind, to say the least, toward Jews who maintain the faith. An anecdote about the Brisker Rav, zt”l, reflects this concern:

Maran Ha-Griz [Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav], zt”l,  once met the son of Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, and asked how his father, the great Rabbi Yechezkel, was doing. He replied that Baruch Hashem he is well. The Brisker Rav responded that he is now calm, hast mir beruhigt. “I thought that the Zionists might have already started hanging the rabbis, and it made the most sense that they would do so alphabetically. If so, your father should be among the first. However, now that you tell me that he continues to live in peace, I am calm because until they reach me, it will take plenty of time.”[3]

“Them versus us” indeed. Over time, however, the State of Israel and its secular leadership didn’t turn out to be as bad as was first feared. Not only did the Zionist movement succeed in establishing a strong and prosperous state and was privileged to achieve this in the Holy Land and including Jerusalem, but the treatment of Torah-observant Jews was also better than expected. When Rabbi Ya’akov Blau, zt”’l, was asked why he forbids stealing from the state and evading tax payments (contrary to previous rulings of some of his peers), he replied that in the past, there was a fear that the state would treat Torah-observant Jews with cruelty and open hostility. In contrast, today it has become clear that the state’s treatment is fair and proper. This precludes any room for halachic leniency.

Charedi Judaism in Europe suffered doubly, both under the oppressive burden of exile among foreign nations and due to a plethora of secular movements – the Bund, socialism, Jewish enlightenment, emancipation, and Zionism – that gained prominence. In just a few decades, the population of European Jewry had gone from overwhelmingly observant-traditional to secular in its great majority, even in relatively conservative regions of Poland and Galicia. In stark contrast, Charedi Judaism in Israel has enjoyed unimaginable prosperity, as noted by Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, zt”l, the Rebbe of Slonim, in the early 1980s:

The wonderful phenomenon of our generation, in which, before our eyes, we see such incredible revelations that nobody could have dared to imagine a generation ago. Suddenly, a wonderful generation arose, a generation of Torah and Jews who observe Mitzvos meticulously. Torah tents are flourishing, and the study within them is at the highest level. At the same time, the Chasidic courts are thriving in all their glory, and the wonderful and amazing Teshuvah movement that we have not heard of in any generation. Naturally, the question arises: who gave birth to all these for us? Who is the one who has the power to cultivate and raise such a generation, unheard of in previous times? Certainly, there is no natural explanation for this, except that the Holy One, blessed be He, alone – “I am Hashem, in my glory and alone” – has nurtured and multiplied this generation […]. All this is thanks to those holy martyrs.[4]

The growth and flourishing of Charedi society is, indeed, a miracle, but the miracle happened via the channel of the Jewish state. It supported Charedi education, funded institutions for Torah study, enabled Charedi cultural autonomy, and agreed to a range of helpful arrangements of religion and state established in the so-called “status quo.” Of course, not everything has been rosy. That much we know well. But the claim that Charedi society has flourished despite the State rather than because of it does not hold water.

Alongside this, the average Israeli’s approach to religion has become less hostile and more inclusive over the years. TV series such as Shtisel, which present Charedim in a humane and positive light, and religious artists such as Hanan Ben Ari who have penetrated the Israeli mainstream testify to this. It is no wonder that despite official rhetoric that continues to emphasize “them and us,” the real-life attitude has changed significantly. As several articles in this journal discuss, many among Charedi Jewry see themselves as partners in the State of Israel, no less than their brothers in the general public.

Regrettably, not everyone in non-Charedi Israeli society can dwell within the description. Harsh statements made by leaders of the recent “protest movement” reflect that some simply refuse to be brothers and uphold a divisive us-versus-them that no unifying rhetoric can bridge. For this group, which engages in an intense, all-out religious and cultural war that takes no prisoners, nothing but complete surrender to a new religious-cultural world order will suffice. Concerning this small but highly vociferous and influential minority, it is imperative that we fight; capitulation to a social order imported from the most liberal wings of Western progressivism is not an option.

However, this battle should be fought in partnership with the great majority of our religious and non-religious brothers, with whom we share a deep common denominator. I believe that today, we face a new opportunity to respond to the brave and tragic call of Rabbi Yissachar Teichtel in his Em HaBanim Semeicha to join together in correcting the sin of the spies through building the Land:

If we wish to rectify this, we must now complete what was missing then, namely, perform actions to arouse love and yearning in the hearts of the Jewish People wherever they live, desire and yearn for the cherished Land of our ancestors, and stoke a fire in their hearts to come and inherit the Holy Land, so they desire it more than any delight in the world. This will be the ultimate rectification of the terrible devastation.[5]

In the past, the “them and us” mentality limited our focus to building the Yeshiva academies, Charedi neighborhoods and cities, Chasidic courts, religious services, Chessed organizations, and so on. Faced with the intense threat of rampant secularism, there was ample justification for this, and this isolationist approach was the foundation for the great success of Charedi Judaism. Today, there is a perceptible trend among the Charedi public to expand our fields of involvement beyond the traditional areas and to rise to Rabbi Teichtel’s challenge “to unite all of the Jewish People as one group in the pursuit of this mitzvah.”[6]

The intention here is not to promote the “assimilation” of Charedim; even the word “integration” might be misleading. Isolationism, the value of remaining culturally distinct, is a fundamental principle of Charedi society; given the caustic nature of much of Western culture, upholding it remains a crucial need. Yet, we must acknowledge the deep partnership of all Jews living in Zion, a partnership of destiny imposed upon us by Hashem. As Rabbi Teichtel said in his reflections on the state of the nation during the Shoah, “It’s as if He said to us explicitly: My children, from now on, I do not want you to linger in the lands of exile, which is why I withdrew. I refrain from further guaranteeing your secure residence in exile; rather, arise and journey to your mother’s embrace and return to the land of your forefathers.”[7]

The formula that merges deep partnership with value isolationism is far from simple; many articles on this platform have expounded on different angles thereof, and much more needs to be explored and employed. For our discussion, it is reasonable to assume that the partnership must also include an economic aspect. This brings us to a different kind of response to criticism leveled against Charedi society.


A New Response

The “them and us” approach is a direct continuation of the Jewish mentality in the diaspora. For two thousand years, the division between Jews and non-Jews was clear, and rules for its safeguarding were even established in Halacha, such as the prohibition of non-Jewish wine, bread, cooking, and, of course, marriage to non-Jewish spouses who serve foreign gods. Our detachment from the nations of the world helped mold an economic concept that can be summed up in several words: “liberating from their hands” (lehatzil miyadam).

The expression is sourced in the commentary of the Magen Avraham (244:17, based on Avoda Zarah 13a), referring to a positive mitzvah to (legally) take holding of a non-Jew’s money so that it will not serve to fund idolatrous practices. As foreign and hostile entities that often plundered or encouraged the raiding of Jewish communities (not to mention physical harm), it is no wonder that the Jews of the Diaspora did not recognize the duty of “good citizenship” towards their countries of residence, but instead extended as much as possible the approach of “liberating from their hands.” There was never much; it was undoubtedly a mitzvah to recover whatever could be recovered.

The concept of “them and us” informed the financial relationship between Charedim and Israel, continuing the “liberating from their hands” legacy from darker times. “We” save from “them.”

The concept of “them and us” informed the financial relationship between Charedim and Israel, continuing the “liberating from their hands” legacy from darker times. “We” save from “them.” The attitude is still reflected in official rhetoric. For example, an editorial published some time ago in Yated Ne’eman posited that the role of Charedi representatives in the Knesset is limited to “taking positions that can save from [that which is lost to] the lion and the bear, from [that which is lost to] the tide of the sea and the flooding of a river – to assist the needs of faithful Judaism and to stand guard over the holy of Israel.”[8]

This concept perpetuates the gap between “us” and “them” and denies the possibility of a partnership between them. The responses mentioned above, most of which are not wholly sincere and certainly don’t address the non-Charedi frustration, stem from the same outlook. In a 1983 speech to members of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher urged her party never to forget a fundamental truth: “The State has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves.” She continued to affirm that “there is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money.”

The responses noted above derive from seeing taxpayers as “them;” it is “other people’s money.” I want to offer a response that draws from an assumption that the taxpayers are “us.” The following is an outline:

  1. Charedi Judaism emphasizes spiritual values in general and Torah study in particular. In economic terms, it thus contributes less. We do not consider this dishonorable. We are convinced that our contribution to the Jewish people and the State of Israel is significant and critical.
  2. Alongside this fundamental understanding, and given the wonderful growth of Chareidi Judaism, we recognize our growing responsibility in general matters of state, including economic resilience. Over the years, and alongside a boundless appreciation for devoted Torah students, we are aware of an intra-Charedi movement to expand employment circles among men and women while preserving the Torah values on which they grew up. This is a positive development that should be encouraged and applauded.
  3. We believe that the said movement should grow from within the community and that forcing change from the outside will harm it. Regarding the demand for introducing core curriculum studies in boys’ schools, integrating English and mathematics studies will be considered positively, in consultation with Torah leadership and in a phased manner. Parents should be given the freedom to choose their preferred curriculum track.
  4. Charedi society is no longer a marginal minority but a significant part of the Jewish majority in the country. Given this transition and meeting the broad responsibility noted, we expect equal treatment and full partnership in policy matters for Israel and in charting the future path of the Jewish State. As a moral and upstanding public seeking to follow Hashem’s path, we believe we can make a deeply positive impact on Israel.
  5. We are not oblivious to the frustration that parts of Israeli society sense concerning economic, military, and other issues and are willing to engage in dialogue to resolve it. However, we demand respectful and objective discourse that reflects a sense of Jewish belonging. Regrettably, this sense of brotherhood has been eroding lately. Our collective future depends on its urgent reinforcement.

I strongly believe that large parts of Charedi Judaism, which see the Jewish inhabitants of Zion as “we and us” rather than “them and us,” could sign a document based on these points. I hope their voice will be heard, reaching the ears of the Charedi public and broader Israeli society.


In an article published several years ago on this platform [Hebrew, pending translation], I wrote about the Torah virtue of self-reliance on a personal level, articulated in Grace after Meals: “Please make us not dependent, Hashem, our God, upon the charity of others nor upon their loans.” There is no reason why this value should not apply even in the public sphere.

Naturally, families tend to base their decisions on personal considerations. Current hardships for mortgage payers will doubtless impact individual decisions more than the public issues discussed in this piece. Yet, considering the Charedi collective is a worthy enterprise, both because personal decisions are deeply influenced by community belonging and because the delicate fabric of Israeli society depends on public trends represented by hard statistics. While our priority remains balancing family budgets, we cannot be oblivious to the trends on which our public future depends.

For many years, we have not prioritized the public virtue of self-reliance and other worthy issues – for good reason. All our energies were invested in restoring the Torah institutions and holy communities destroyed in the Holocaust. Today, by the grace of Hashem, the Yeshivas and batei midrash are larger than ever, huge communities have risen to glory, and our remarkable success ushers in a new era: an era of public responsibility that extends beyond the confines of our local Charedi communities.

This responsibility includes, almost by definition, the transition from “them and us” to “we and us,” even as we stand our ground and refuse to assimilate. It is a transition that demands fresh attention to many issues. Economics, however, the theme of this article, stands out as a high priority.


[1] See:כענייםבפתח/.

[2] See a column by Rivi Gloskin, “Once and For All: Do Charedim Really Not Contribute to the State or Pay Taxes?” [Hebrew] Kikar HaShabbat (31.10.22).

[3] Uvdot Vehanhagot Mibeit Brisk, Vol. 2, p. 205.

[4] Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, Kuntress Haharugah Alecha (Jerusalem, 5748), pp. 28-29.

[5] Rabbi Yissachar Dov Teichtel, Em HaBanim Semeicha, p. 258 [my own translation].

[6] Ibid., p. 255.

[7] Ibid., p. 146.

[8] Yated Ne’eman, Friday, 29 Kislev 5783.

13 thoughts on “A New Response to Anti-Charedi Critics

  • I applaud almost the entire essay. However, the most salient criticism of the non-Hasidic Hareidim is the invention from whole cloth of a lifestyle, kollel forever and for all, which is a distortion of our past. Until this lie is put to bed, opposition to a mode of existence that distort halakhic Judaism with crass impunity, and furthermore, claims to be its current incarnation, should not be surprised by the negative reaction.

    What’s more, if RAL ztl can serve in the IDF, it is difficult to imagine someone who feels that his erudition and commitment are more deserving of being freed from communal responsibility.

    Despite the challenges of secular society, we have faced other periods of aggressive secularization without retreating from the world around us. Claiming our situation is sui generis is another ahistorical claim. Roman decadence or the 19th challenges of modernity are but two examples.

  • This is a superbly written and intellectuially honest artic;le that deserves the wides possible distribition and discussion both within and outside of the Charedi world

  • IMHO the main issue is: “We are not oblivious to the frustration that parts of Israeli society sense concerning economic, military, and other issues and are willing to engage in dialogue to resolve it. ” Up to now it seems that there is no overlap between the minimal goals of the rest of society and the maximum goals of shareidi society and thus no mutually agreeable resolution has been identified (even if both sides honestly wanted dialog/resolution) If this is so, then each side will identify its best alternative to a negotiated solution which will result in more we and less us.

  • In his introduction to the current issue of TI Rabbi Pfeffer writes “Glancing at the kind of moral decadence that pervades Western society today, one can hardly blame Haredi society for taking the withdrawal option.”

    For openers this is a blanket statement that presumes, wrongly, that haredi society has a monopoly on morality while general society is synonymous withe S’dom. That immoral behavior, and some very sick pathology, is pervasive in haredi circles is hardly a secret. Sweeping such pathology under the carpet does not mean it does not exist. A more importantquestion is to what extend are these sickening phenomena manifest in the haredi world BECAUSE of haredi structures and strictures, not despite them.

    But today’s topic is the increasing revulsion of normative society to haredism. One thing should be made perfectly clear, very few secular Israelis are opposed to haredim because of their attire or ritual extremism and insularity. What they are upset by is the fact this cloistered society exists on life support. Haredim especially need fort here to be a secular or less extreme society in order to make the cloistered life possible. From military security to medical care – and EVERYTHING in between – haredi society would’nt survive for an hour without those whom they consider untouchable and morally inferior.

    Every rebbe and rosh yeshiva knows EXACTLY which doctor his follower should seek out for the best medical care. And that doctor is never haredi because that very same rebbe or rosh yeshiva will not allow any of his followers to receive the education needed to become a physician. Haredim won’t support the state, or observe Yom Hazikaron or say a mi shebeyrach for chayalei Tzahal. At the same time they know full well that without those ‘kofrim’ they would be obliterated as would any Jew in Israel. Hence it is not just the cavalier refusal to participate in any way, shape or from in the welfare and well being of the Medinah that disgusts the anti-haredi sector, nor the unbridled greed with which haredi parties plunder the treasury, that make people angry. No, what makes them angry is the ZERO hakarat ha-tov on the haredi street for everything the rest of society does – willingly or not – for them.

    In exactlyy what sort of never-never land do haredim live? What do they think, for example, when they storm Shaarei Tzedek or Hadassah hospital, or install their ‘askanim’ at the branches of the kupot holim, demanding the very best care when NOT A S INGLE ONE OF THEM will ever be a doctor or nurse. What exactly are they thinking when the rare haredi soldier has his uniform stolen from the clothesline over Shabbat? And if you say such behavior is exceptional, let’s be very clear — NO ONE is speakiNg out against it. NO ONE. To be sure, there are indiviDual nominally haredi people who do show some appreciation but they are very few and far between.

    In sum, the haughty self congratulation of haredi society for its supposed moral superioriTy is meaningless when liviNg such a lifestyle is made possible, soup to nuts, by the very men and women whom the haredi world reviles.

    • Mr Gross, it would be wonderful if you would actually respond to the thoughtful and impressive pieces on Tzarich Iyun rather than giving us the dubious honor of reading your standard rant in the comment section of every article. As for Rabbi Pfeffer’s opening, I didn’t notice he excused the Haredim of any improper conduct, but he’s certainly right to point out that the Haredim have managed to weather the secular storm pretty well, though doubtless they also pay a high price in doing so (as articles on this site discuss). Either way, an actual response to the articles themselves would be nice.

    • Too many “blanket statements” here, JJ

  • I am not an Israeli, nor Haredi, nor a sociologist. The following comments are offered in light of the above. I was watching Rough Diamonds, that mini series about a Haredi family in Antwerp, which at least had the feel of authenticity. I was watching it and it hit me: This is a show about a working Haredi family struggling to remain in business (among other things). No one in the family was studying in a kollel well into middle age. Everyone went to work. Of course the high tech and photography shops in NYC are owned and staffed by Haredi Jews. My point is obvious: Outside of Israel there is little question about Haredim going to work. The Israeli situation is the result of several developments that has led to serious economic consequences that will only worsen. So I applaud the work of this periodical to bring the discussion to a wide public.

    I will say quickly in passing that the barrage of name calling in Israel and the heightened anger those words represent are regrettable. But let me point out that it’s a two way street. Referencing non-Orthodox religious Jews as “pigs” for just one example contributes to the toxic environment in Israel.

    kol tuv,
    Rabbi Phil Cohen

  • For this excellent article, I can only add one perspective towards the economic question. It is not meant as a justification, an apology or anything defensive or political, just to raise a point I feel many are not aware of. The economic argument against us is in part based on a model from the industrial revolution–a man goes out to work from 9 to 5 and thus generates his self-sufficiency and creates tax revenues for the country. In that model, people are the economic asset, so the country needs them, hence the anger towards us being absent. If you follow the narrative of the World Economic Forum, however, this basic reality is changing and fast, and the fate of humans in it has to be considered–the new outcomes are neither far away or clear. Tasks that used to be led by people are shifting increasingly to machines, and with AI, not just the physical, low-skilled tasks but those tasks that require cognition. So as machines will increasingly produce the economic assets for the country–what will humans be doing? The optimistic and Haredi side of me says–this is all being revealed now to give people the space to learn the Torah. But the pessimistic side of me gathers that we are moving to economic trends in which revenue earning will go into the hands of the few, who will become richer, for being highly skilled and unusually gifted with STEM skills, while many others, and particularly Haredim, will be left out, by choice or by fact. I feel it is a bit shortsighted to have all these discussions about the economic role of Haredim in a reality that really no one is ready to predict–save that it appears to put on the pressure for everyone to become algorithm engineers–also hardly a realistic plan. And so then what about the secular folks in the social economic peripheries of the country who have little to no connection to good STEM ed and are really not likely to end up in the new economy either? Are they parasites?

    • There may be some utopian or dystopic future where few work. Right now in Israel the unemployment rate is low, meaning most everyone’s at work, whether 9-5 or at home behind a computer screen. So, the suggestion that Haredi unemployment may be matched by unemployment numbers elsewhere because of advanced automation and is therefore tolerable, is, to say the least, not a terribly strong argument

  • I disagree with the author.
    The Hareidi world likes to live a seperate cave like life style here in Israel. Being that they choose to live that type of lifestyle it’s very easy for them to be a target of racial slurs. It’s a good thing that racist comments will not be tolerated. It’s time to take a positive stand regarding this legislation instead of focusing on negativity.

  • To start with, unemployment is low in Israel while non-employment is high. 40% of Arab women work, 50% of people with disabilities work. 50% of Haredi men work. A lot of people over 45 are falling out of the workforce but staying chronically unemployed. The people who were really part of the workforce who fall out–tend to get back in. But many never make it in, and Haredi men are only one group with that problem.
    One facet in that reality is that Israel has two economies–the hi-tech and funded internationally, vs. local industries that are stagnated for years–that effects secular Israelis as much as Haredim and keeps our economy weaker, Haredim are not the cause of that reality, it is a national problem.

    Look at Covid and you will see that is exactly a taste of things to come already going on–thousands thrusted into unemployment because they did not have the skills to work from home or more importantly worked in industries (the other 80-90% of Israel’s workforce) that have not upgraded to adapt as hi-tech has. Those with higher skills stayed at work–though even among hi-tech workers, there was a lot of unemployment and noticeably, among Haredim who made the effort to try to get into hi-tech. –last in, first out.
    While the job market is now back to its pre-covid levels, it is now harder than ever for haredim to break into hi-tech because there were so many more experienced Israelis thrust out of work, hard for them to compete with them.
    So we have already seen what these shifts can create, and it will not look like today’s workforce at all. And it is not far away.
    My point is that Haredim are not the only cause of the current economic pressures but we are often used as the punching bag for all that is wrong, underdeveloped and not ready about the Israeli economy.

    • Two points:
      1. In the 19th century the few religious Jews who lived in Eretz Yisrael mostly lived from the Haluka, i.e. donations from rich Jews abroad. This uniquely Israeli phenomenon continues to this day. All post hoc justifications for this are just that – unjustified excuses for a longstanding habit. The State stands in for the rich Jews of yesteryear.

      2. The secular believe their way of life to be threatened by the “judicial reforms” which are supported by the ever growing Haredi population – to benefit itself. It is the Haredim who have trespassed into the secular sphere by supporting drastic constitutional changes the secular population largely opposes. One who plays with matches may get his fingers burnt.

  • The solution is simple: abolish the IDF draft for all

Write a Comment

Please write down your comment
Name field is required
Please fill email