Steinitz urges haredim to join workforce
Finance minister says senior Treasury officials holding talks with ultra-Orthodox leaders in bid to encourage haredi men to enter labor market. According to data presented at Israel Management Center conference, rate of participation in workforce among haredim still low but constantly increasing
Speaking last week at an Israel Management Center (IMC) conference, Steinitz said that both the secular and haredi public "have gotten too used to the unhealthy reality in which a large part of the haredi public does not work.
"I know this is a generalization," he added. "My deputy, Itzik Cohen, is a haredi man who does a wonderful job, and there are many like him."
According to Steinitz, "As a person who has dedicated many years of his life to the study of philosophy, I can also cherish studying for the sake of studying. After all, philosophy is not exactly a practical profession which leads to a certain job, but a profession for a purely spiritual purpose.
"I can cherish the fact that Israel is a global center of Torah studies… but I also think it is extremely important that a larger part of the haredi society integrates in work and creation.
"I recently visited New York and met the leaders of a haredi community. One of them told me, 'We, the haredim in New York, are not like the haredim in Israel. We support ourselves.' Hearing that brought up a lot of emotions in me.
"I, and senior Treasury officials, are holding these days a series of discussions and talks with the outstanding rabbis of this generation and are trying, through full cooperation with them, to encourage haredim to join the workforce."
"We will do everything in order to provide them with the appropriate conditions. It's important both for the welfare of the haredi community and for Israeli's economy. We are all one people sitting in one boat," the finance minister said.
Participation in workforce on the rise
According to data presented during the conference, the haredi population's participation in the workforce (as employers and job seekers) is among the lowest in the world, due to the phenomenon called "Torah is their profession" – ultra-Orthodox men studying Judaism all their life and not working.
According to data compiled by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, 80% of haredi men practice "Torah is their profession", but this phenomenon is constantly dropping in the past few years, due to the natural growth among the haredi population on the one hand, the pension cuts and the drop in the power of associations providing for these men on the other hand, as well as a feeling among the haredi community itself that not all of these students are in fact interested in studying.
Haredi women's occupation rate, on the other hand, is higher than the national average, as most of them support their families while their children are being taken care of by their older siblings or grandmothers.
According to figures presented by Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias of Shas, which he attributed to updated surveys of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Planning and Economic Administration, the rate of working haredi men recently reached 30%, and a total of 30% of the haredi families have two providers.
Millions of shekels a year
The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry invests millions of shekels a year in helping haredim integrate into the workforce, both through courses focused on professional training for men and women of the sector, as well as through governmental support for companies employing haredim.
Many companies have established in recent years telephone service centers and additional departments employing only haredi women. The Israel Defense Forces also gives haredi soldiers professional training, which is beneficial both for their military duties and later in life.
It should be noted that while in the past there were haredi men who studied so as not to enlist, in the past few years the authorities prefer to ignore draft dodging among haredim in order to allow them to integrate into the labor market without becoming deserters.