Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Do Charedim Live Off The State - Really Really?
A number of people sent me a recent article in Globes, about how the claim that "Charedim live of the state" is not actually true, if you look at the statistics. Since the author of the article is a charedi apologist from Kiryat Sefer, I was instantly suspicious. I asked a friend of mine, who is part of the charedi community, works in finance, and thus has a much better understanding of these topics than I do, to write a response. Since he is part of the charedi community, he has chosen to remain anonymous. Here is the response:
Haredi author Shulamit Rosen recently published an article in Globes with the headline "Do Israel’s haredim really live off the state?". The article purports to assess how accurate the “accusation against haredim of economic parasitism” is.
“Economic parasitism” is an inflammatory term, and one that is unlikely to be helpful in considering the economic contribution made by Israel’s haredi community. This post will instead seek to provide context to the numbers Rosen cites in making her case that the truth is “so distant from the media’s depiction and the common financial perception of haredim”. As will become apparent, her article obfuscates more than it illuminates.
Rosen seeks to parry the accusation that “haredim don’t pay taxes”, by citing the fact that the pre-Covid 19 haredi employment rate for 25-64 year olds was 64.5%, only 14% below the 78.5% for Israeli citizens on the whole. Yet this is misleading in several ways. To begin with, employment rates do not actually answer the question of how much tax haredim pay. And if we compare haredi employment rates to the 86% employment rate for non-haredi Jewish Israelis (rather than the entire Israeli population, which includes both haredim and Arabs), then the disparity is actually considerably larger: 21.5%.
As far as taxes are concerned, we can do little better than cite the Israel Democracy Institute’s "Haredi Society in Israel, Yearly Report (2020)", the very report Ms. Rosen relies on to support her contentions. This report shows that, in 2018, the average haredi household paid 1,524 NIS per month in income tax, national insurance and health insurance, which is only 34% of the 4,461 NIS paid by the average non-haredi Jewish household. This disparity reflects the fact that haredi households have a much lower income than their non-haredi counterparts: in 2018, the average haredi household brought in 9,766 NIS a month from work, which is only 54% of the 18,191 NIS the average non-haredi Jewish household earned per month. Nor do haredi households spend more on (taxed) goods and services. Despite its much larger average size, the average haredi household spends 16% less on these than its average non-haredi counterpart.
As for the 21.5% gap in employment rates between haredim and non-haredi Jews - while 21.5% is itself no small number, it also conceals the fact that when we consider men alone (instead of averaging the employment rate of both genders), their employment rate is only 52.5%, compared to 88% of their non-haredi Jewish counterparts. And haredi men in 2018 in work earned only 56% of what their non-haredi Jewish male counterparts did: that was partially due to a lower number of hours worked (84% of the hours worked by non-haredi men), but largely due to lower wages (67% of those of non-haredim), which itself is because they are generally working in non-professional careers. It is worth noting that 27% of the haredi males who are employed work in education, which by and large means that they are part of the haredi cheder and yeshiva complex. That compares with a mere 4% of non-haredi males who work in the education sector.
While the employment rate of haredi women is just 7% below that of non-haredi Jewish women (76.5% vs 83.5%), they only earn 66% on average of what non-haredi women earn, largely due to the fact that many of them are employed part-time. On average, haredi women who are employed work 77% of the hours of non-haredi women. Funnily enough, Rosen does note that “only 57% of employed haredi women actually work full time”. But this is only in the context of her attempt to demonstrate that haredi women do not disproportionately benefit from discounted child day care.
Rosen proceeds to ask “exactly how much financial assistance do haredim receive from the government?” But instead of answering this question, she merely cites some problematic statistics regarding government subsidies for the haredi and non-haredi education systems. As for how much haredi families receive from the state in welfare and other related payments, here too Rosen’s favored Israel Democracy Institute report comes in handy. The report notes that the average haredi family received 3,577 NIS per month in welfare and support payments, 66% more than the 2,157 NIS received by the average non-haredi Jewish family.
When it comes to the relative state subsidies for the haredi and non-haredi education systems, Rosen makes much of the limited funding provided to yeshiva students in comparison to university students. While there is certainly room to debate the extent to which a Jewish country should fund yeshiva study, it is perfectly reasonable that, from an economic perspective, the government should seek to subsidize university studies (which, incidentally, are open to haredim too) to a greater extent than yeshiva learning, since university studies train people to be able to contribute more to the economy.
Rosen claims that “mainstream elementary schools in Israel receive NIS 1,262 per student per month from the ministry. And haredi elementary schools? NIS 404 per student”. Yet, according to Israeli official statistics (see the table on page 15 of this report from Israel’s State Comptroller), “recognized” haredi elementary schools receive an average of 1,008 NIS per student per month, 89% of the 1,133 NIS received by non-haredi schools. Of course, many haredi boys in particular study in schools that receive reduced government funding due to their refusal to teach the national curriculum, and this may explain some of the disparity between Rosen’s numbers and those presented here. But it should also not be overlooked that, in other countries, even ones that provide state funding to religious schools, those schools that opt out of teaching the national curriculum do not receive funding from the government. Moreover, given that Haredi families tend to have a far larger number of children than non-Haredi families, this favors the Haredim when considered in terms of educational funding received per household and certainly per taxpayer.
Rosen goes on to write that “the government finances NIS 2,625 of a standard high school student’s education per month, in contrast to NIS 655 for haredi high school students”. Once again, Israeli Education Ministry statistics (as cited in The Marker article) tell a different story. In 2018, haredi high schools received 1,975 NIS per student per month, versus 2,612 NIS for non-haredi high schools. Haredi boys tend to study in yeshivos ketanos rather than high schools, and this presumably accounts for some of the disparity between the Israeli Education Ministry statistics and Rosen’s numbers, though the gap still appears suspiciously large.
In conclusion, while there is no conclusive cut-off point at which it can be said that a particular demographic “lives off the state”, it is abundantly clear that the haredi community’s relative contribution to Israel’s economy falls significantly behind that of its non-haredi Jewish counterpart. And when all is said and done, the average Haredi household does receive considerably more funding from the state than it pays in taxes.
Of course, much of this is due to the fact that Haredim are, in relative terms, poor in comparison to the non-haredi Jewish population. And poverty itself is no crime. But the simple fact is that maintaining a developed economy would be impossible if the rest of Israel adopted the educational and employment patterns that haredim choose. It is understandable that the communities that opt in to the elements which make Israel’s developed country status possible object to the rapidly growing segment of the population that does not.
To quote R. David Brofsky of Yeshivat Har Etzion: “...for those who actually experience the consequences - for those whose cities or towns have very little money to invest in parks, schools, and infrastructure because a significant percentage of their population, in principle, lives below the tax bracket, for those whose taxes are higher because other communities choose not to participate in the tax burden, for those whose children spend years in the army defending a community which in principle doesn’t bear the burden of participating in the country’s defense - these are actually real issues. All societies are made up of those who are wealthy, those who are in the middle-class range, and those below. And by definition, societies are meant to provide for all, and individuals certainly can choose to enter high or low paying fields. I am referring to the ideology of an entire community - which denies its children the education necessary to enter the workforce in a significant manner… I believe, as a community, there should be an evaluation of whether those decisions are considerate of the broader population.”
If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.