September 1, 2011

Why Provide for the Ultra-Orthodox?: By Moshe Feiglin

The economic hardships felt by many Israelis must be the fault of the settlers and the Ultra-Orthodox. After all, who else can possibly be to blame?

This article will not deal with the ridiculous claims aimed at the settlers (as if a kindergarten in Ofra costs more than a kindergarten in the Galil or Tel Aviv). Instead, we will focus on the Ultra-Orthodox and the claims against them that seem true on the surface. A large community that does not work, while being sustained by the taxpayers' money, does seem to be a strain on the economy.

First of all, I would like to state that a way of life that encourages the public at large - and not just the best and brightest who are studying Torah - not to work, is clearly problematic. That is not what Judaism is about. The reliance of so many thousands of men on the Torah-learning stipend while not significantly providing for their families stems from some historic distortions that have more to do with politics than with ideology. Nevertheless, that is the problem of the Ultra-Orthodox themselves. They are the only people who have to deal with it and it looks like they are doing so more than ever before.

But let us look at the claim that the Ultra-Orthodox are living off the money of the taxpayers. On the surface, in the short term, that is the truth. But in the long term, it is quite likely that just the opposite is true and that it will be the secular who will be living off the tax shekels of the Ultra-Orthodox. Sounds surprising?

The economic crisis plaguing the Western world is fueled by low birthrates. In most of Western Europe, the birth rate is negative; less than two children per family. Parallel to the low birthrate, life expectancy in those countries has risen. The result is that the percentage of elderly in those societies is very large. The shrinking younger generation no longer has the ability to sustain the aging generation, whose longevity requires expensive medical care. And so, West European countries are falling into the throes of economic crisis, one after the other.

It turns out that the most important investment a nation can make is in its children. An Ultra-Orthodox family that brings ten children to the world invests tremendous effort to raise them. The Tel Avivian with one or two children whose tax shekels today help them with their efforts - is actually investing in the people who will provide for him when he gets older!

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