Distorting Statistics about Charedim
As Mark Twain noted, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. You can quote a factually true statistic and use it to completely pervert the truth.
Some tragic examples of this can be seen in the article at JewishPress.com by JoeSettler, defending the Israeli charedi community. The falsehoods are so tightly interwoven into the article that I'm going to have to fisk it.
We’ve all heard claims how Chareidim don’t work, that Chareidim don’t go to the army, that Chareidim don’t carry their share of the national burden. Liberman’s supporters are saying Liberman is raising this anti-Chareidi / anti-religious flag for their own good and ours. The tone, the rhetoric, the Sinat Chinam is horrifying – and far too many people accept these statements/assumptions as fact. Here at the Muqata, we had a theory we wanted to test. What if these assumptions are not really true or not completely true, how would we prove it? And if these claims don’t reflect reality what do we need to look at instead? We decided to examine the data for ourselves, and discovered that everyone is comparing apples to oranges.
Actually, as we shall see, it is JoeSettler who compares apples to oranges.
I. Army Service
True, if you compare the overall percentages of Chareidim that haven’t done the army to non-Chareidim, the difference is huge, and will remain huge.
But we asked ourselves, is that really the right way to look at the numbers and the situation?
Yes. That is exactly the right way to look at the numbers and the situation.
A 30-something Chareidi man with six children will never be going into the army, so those statistics don’t actually tell you anything useful, other than he is never going to go into the army.
No, it tells you that this Chareidi man has made a lifestyle choice that prevented him from going to the army. That is relevant.
34% of Chareidi males obligated to enlist in the IDF or Sheirut Leumi in 2017 were enlisted, according to a 2018 IDI study... That percent that enlisted is up 5% from 2016, and that percent has been going up every year... Among the non-Chareidi (male) population, it appears that IDF enlistment is estimated at 85%.
First of all, writing as someone who lives in a largely charedi city, this figure of 34% of those obligated to enlist - around 4000 young men - is highly suspect. Where are all these charedim in the IDF? The so-called Nachal Charedi is mostly comprised of Dati-Leumi who want a higher standard of kashrut/tzniyut, along with some charedi dropouts. Who has seen 4000 new charedi soldiers?!
But even taking the 34% number, that is still only a third of chareidi young men who are supposed to be enlisted for the first time. And this in turn is an even tinier fraction of charedi men of army age - of which there are over 30,000 exemptions given annually.
When you look at the relevant statistics, you see a completely different picture than what is portrayed by Liberman and the media.
You see a society that is integrating. You see a society that is catching up to their non-Chareidi counterparts in terms of service. You see a society that is undergoing both evolutionary and revolutionary changes at a healthy pace that is non-destructive to their society.
You then realize that the argument that Charedim don’t go to the army is not only blown out of proportion, but is false and must be rejected.
No, the argument that Charedim, for the most part, do not go to the army, is still absolutely true, not withstanding the very small recent rise in charedi recruits. There are 30,000 exemptions and only a few thousand serving. You can argue about the best way to change that. You can argue that it's best to let the number gradually rise, rather than to force conscription. But it is false to make a general statement that Charedim go to the army.
All the statistics we’ve seen until now separately compared the number of Chareidi men working, the number of Chareidi women working, and then compared that to their non-Chareidi male and female counterparts. It’s very Tzanuah (modest) of them to present it that way, but it doesn’t represent certain social and fiscal realities in Israel. Is that really a fair comparison? Is it even a relevant comparison? Why are we comparing individuals when we should be comparing households? In a household it doesn’t matter if the husband or wife is working (certainly not in a progressive household), only if they are making enough money to support their household unit and chosen lifestyle.
Actually, I think that it's definitely relevant to compare individuals rather than households, but let's accept his point for now. And let's see where this leads.
...The answer (based on raw 2017 survey data we received from Kohelet) to the question of how many households have at least one breadwinner is as follows :
Non-Chareidim: 80.1% | Chareidim: 84.6% | Arabs: 79.5%.
...In simple English what do these statistics mean?
It means that most Israelis households have at least one breadwinner who is working and supporting the family.
...What does this mean for the question as to whether or not Chareidim are participating in the workforce?
The answer is that when comparing household to household, there is no effective difference between Chareidi and non-Chareidi Jews. Both family household units work and support themselves.
The sleight-of-hand performed here is so subtle that I'm not sure if the writer even realized it himself. JoeSettler has gone from citing a statistic that most chareidi homes have at least one breadwinner, to arguing that this proves that there is no difference between charedim and non-charedim, and that charedim equally support themselves.
How on earth does this follow?!
The fact that someone is working does not mean that they are managing to support their family. And it most certainly does not mean that they are equally contributing to the economy!
A household in which there are one or two people working in high-income jobs, paying full taxes, contributes to the economy. A household in which the husband is in kollel, and in which there are one or two low wages, often in non-professional careers, and in which there is a resultant tax exemption, does not contribute to the economy (or contributes far less).
What becomes clear is that Chareidi households are not a drag on Israeli society and tax payers as Liberman and friends may claim. Israeli households and society are holding their own and doing their part.
Chareidim make less money and spend less money. Their purchasing patterns are also very different. And those are all valid lifestyle choices.
What becomes clear is that Chareidim are not economic burdens on society.
When comparing household to household – which is the only comparison that matters – Chareidim households are on par with the rest of Israeli society.
This is so obviously false that it boggles the mind to see anyone make such a claim. Even charedi apologist Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in Mishpacha that "We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment." Endorsing a speech by President Rivlin, Rosenblum noted that "20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks" (if you just consider first grade, it's over 30%). Leaving aside the question of who will serve in the IDF, the pressing question that he asks is: “who will fund the maintenance of this army if Israeli society is poor?” He also notes that “the modern economy puts a high premium on education, and ever more jobs require academic or vocational training of some kind.” How will the national economy survive, with such a huge proportion of society being uneducated and unemployed?
And then you have the staggering study that came out from the Finance Ministry a few weeks ago, saying that if the employment rate of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jewish men remains stagnant, it will cost the Israeli economy more than $100 billion a year over the next several decades.
Anyone who denies the reality of this problem is supporting its continuation.
III. Sharing the Burden
The same unfair question can of course be turned around. Are secular Jews doing their share for Israeli society?
The data shows that when it comes volunteering and charity, Hilonim are not giving close to what their Chareidi counterparts are giving back to their fellow Israelis.
First of all, I don't know why he's comparing Charedim to Hilonim. Is that the standard that Charedim should set for themselves? Why not compare Charedim to non-Charedi religious Jews?
Second, the immense amount of volunteering and charity that occurs in charedi society is mostly to help other charedim - who are in dire economic straits!
Third, volunteer work done by charedim does not remotely compare to years of IDF service and milu'im and Sherut Leumi.
Fourth, charity to poor charedim does not remotely come close to outweighing the tremendous economic burden on the country by a rapidly growing population in which half the men don't work, those who do work are generally in non-professional careers, and there is virtually no secular education.
Hiloni households are also not doing their share in the demographics battle with the Arabs. It’s the Chareidim that are out-birthing the Arabs and maintaining Israel’s demographic balance, and it is the Chareidim that are bearing the financial burden of the demographics battle.
Increasing the number of Jews does not help the country if those increased numbers are dragging down the economy (which in turn encourages others to leave). And even if charedi families have two kids which become more "modern" and take a real job, that still leaves four more who don't.
JoeSettler concludes as follows:
The next time you hear Avigdor Liberman complain about Chareidim not carrying their share of the national burden and that drastic action is needed to fix the situation, you’ll now know that not only is Liberman completely wrong, you can ask him, why aren’t his Hiloni voters doing their share for their fellow Israelis?
In reality, neither question is fair to ask. Israel is a mosaic and every community is contributing in their own way to make Israel a dynamic, vibrant society. Everyone is shouldering the burden in their own way, but there are far too many false claims made against Chareidi society that simply aren’t backed up by the data – especially when you start to compare data points that more accurately represent real life in Israel.
In reality, while Avigdor Liberman may well distort some things, the fact is that charedi society does not remotely share the burden of military service, and is a dangerous ever-increasing drain on the economy. There can be reasonable disagreement about how to solve this problem, such as regarding whether it can be changed by imposing financial pressure. But denying that the problem exists is wrong and dangerous. It harms the nation of Israel, and it doesn't even help charedim.
For further reading: Rosenblum: We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment
(I'm off to the airport now, so there will be a delay in moderating and replying to comments.)