I’ll eat my hat right in the midst of the math faculty of the largest campus in the heart of the Israeli state if we see a majority that gets it right. For some reason I have reasonable basis to assume that despite the public’s right to know, it is being prevented from hearing the following fact: Most students in the independent and religious education system – roughly 100,000 students – study the entire core curriculum. Tens of thousands of other students study 75% of the core curriculum.
However, there are people who won’t let the facts confuse them. The haredi community is being portrayed as a collective that does not study the right subjects, is not enlightened enough (yet those who hate it are very much enlightened,) does not work, and lives at the government’s expense, of course.
The fact that in the last decade alone, thousands of haredim earned academic degrees isn’t mentioned. Even when a senior journalist like Sever Plocker tours the haredi stronghold of Bnei Brak and returns with two impressive news stories about the number of working people in town, he fails to convince anyone – because nobody is willing to question the stigma.
Anyone who chooses to tour haredi towns such as Beitar Ilit, Modi’in Ilit and Elad will find tens of thousands of haredi workers. Including men. And all of them, with no exception, are able to count their change at the supermarket.
Respect our lifestyle
Only two weeks ago, the haredi world held its own version of the Herzliya Conference. The 2,000 attendants, comprising executives, businesspeople, and public opinion leaders, saw appearances by all the big names, ranging from business mogul Yitzhak Tshuva to IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu, and from the foreign minister to the Tax Authority’s director (full disclosure: I served as the convention’s host.)
All the dignified speakers who chose to tour the exhibit spread across several halls encountered a culture shock. For a moment they rubbed their eyes with astonishment, which reminded me of the first time I visited the Amazon. At one stand after another they saw haredi businesspeople who employ many other haredim.
Many of them underwent training at various institutions, yet none of these people needed seven years of schooling; whether it’s pleasant to admit this or not, there is nothing like studying the Talmud, which is based on answers and questions, for sharpening one’s mind.
Anyone who thinks he will be able to “educate” the haredi public via laws and punishments is wrong and misleading. This is a community that knows how to fully stand for the principles it believes in. It is also a minority whose lifestyle must be respected, at least the way this is done with other minorities. The problem is that some people refuse to look into the data, for fear it won’t confirm their views.