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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guest Post: Chareidim and Working in Israel

Thank you to Jewish Worker (M. Bluke) for allowing me to use his post which responds to some of notion that is thrown about that charedim want to work and that "the man" is holding them back. Post follows:
Chareidim and Working in Israel from the Jewish Worker blog

The Mishpacha newspaper had pages upon pages of articles about Charedim working. The gist of the articles was that Charedim want to work and that the chilonim/government don't want them.

I would like to give my take on this.

One of the more effective claims that the Chiloni politicians and media have made in the past few weeks is why in Brooklyn can Charedim be doctors, lawyers, accountants etc. but not in Bnei Brak. The Charedi representatives only answer has been discrimination.

There is no question that there is discrimination against Charedim but the fact is Charedim can't get jobs for other reasons. Here are some of the differences that I see between Brooklyn and Bnei Brak.

1. In Brooklyn, Charedim go to real Universities whether it is Touro, Brooklyn College, Queens, etc. These are regular accredited universities with decent reputations. In Israel, Charedim will not go to University. They go to to all kinds of special Charedi programs that offer some kind of degree, the equivalent in NY of going to a place like Devry's. Many employers in Israel want a degree from a recognized University which the Charedim don't have.

2. In Brooklyn Charedim are much more open to the world. Guys who learn in the Mir, Chaim Berlin, etc. follow sports and generally know what is going on. Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens (certainly considered a Charedi Yeshiva), when they built their new building included a beautiful gym, that would never be done in Israel. They see non-Jews in the neighborhood and interact them. They see women dressed not so tzniusly. Therefore when they go to work, they have something in common with their co-workers. They can talk about sports, politics, technology, or whatever. In Israel, Charedim are very very sheltered. If you live in Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, many neighborhoods in Yerushalayim, RBS, etc. you basically hardly ever see a non-Charedi person let alone a woman dressed non-tzniusly. There also is no openness to sports or anything else in the general culture. Therefore, it is very hard for a Charedi person to fit in, they have absolutely nothing in common with the other people and have no idea how to interact with them.

3. Jews in America are stereotyped as smart and non-violent. This helps in the job market. Charedim in Israel are thought of as violent (rioting all the time) and ignorant.

4. In Israel, the Charedi parties are constantly pushing for religious coercion, whether it is not selling chometz on Pesach, no public buses on Shabbos, mehadrin buses etc. This causes the general public to worry that the Charedim are trying to take over and create a Taliban like state. In Brooklyn, there are no worries about religious coercion.

The bottom line is that the Charedim want to have their cake and eat it too. On one hand, they want to have the freedom to educate their children however they want, but then when it comes to getting a job, they want their education to be considered. It doesn't work that way. If you want to join the world you need to play by the rules and one of the rules is education.


Mr. Cohen said...

Mishnah, tractate Avot, chapter 1, paragraph 10:
Shemayah and Abtalyon received the tradition from them.
Shemayah taught: Love work...

Mishnah, tractate Avot, chapter 2, paragraph 2:
Rabbi Yehudah the Prince taught: Torah study is good together with Derech Eretz, because the labor required for both of them causes sin to be forgotten.
Bartenura explains that Derech Eretz is work or a trade.

Tanna DeBei Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 18, Paragraph 1:
Rabbi Yochanan taught:
I testify that any Torah Scholar, who studies with sincere motives and works to support himself, will be fortunate in this life and the afterlife. He will be revered by: his wife, his children and Gentiles. Angels will help him, and G_d will love him completely.

Babylonian Talmud, tractate Berachot, page 8A:
Rabbi Chiya bar Ami taught in the name of Ulla:
A man who supports himself with the work of his hands is greater than a man who fears G_d...

Babylonian Talmud, tractate Pesachim, page 113A:
[Rav taught Rabbi Kahana: If you need a livelihood, then] skin a carcass in the marketplace and take pay for your own labor.
Do not say: I am a great man, such things are below me.
To receive quick Jewish Torah quotes, go to:
and click on: JOIN THIS GROUP.

Miami Al said...

A few thoughts... I think that #1 might actually be a case of discrimination, or at least would be under US law -- OBVIOUSLY this means nothing for Israeli law, but some "food for thought."

US Law prohibits outright discrimination, and disparate impact discrimination. All things being equal, you can set any job requirements that you want, HOWEVER, if the requirements result in a disparate impact on a particular group, then the requirement must be a bona fide requirement.

I recall a case of a company requiring a high school diploma in an area where very few blacks had a high school diploma. It was for a blue collar position, where academics don't directly matter, but was seen as a way of choosing higher class applicants. Because this essentially prevented black people in the area from qualifying, and it wasn't a bona fide job requirement (the way a chemistry degree for a lab technician might be), it was seen as discriminatory for the disparate impact.

In Israel, requiring army service has a disparate impact on both Charedim and Arabs. If they had anything like the US Civil Rights Act, this would be a problem because both are "protected classes" (a religious group and an ethnic group). Obviously, for a security position, this would be relevant, but for most fields, it wouldn't be... how does infantry training result in a direct requirement for a computer programmer.

This is why job posts will say "high school diploma or equivalent," a requirement of a high school diploma weeds out people who are (or were) total screw ups, but it is seen as discriminatory, so technically a GED is seen as equivalent in the eyes of the law, even if not reality. That's also why you rarely see job posts requiring a college degree, it's always "4 year degree in X field or equivalent," since simply requiring a college degree for it's signal property (average or better intelligence, ability to stick with something for 4 years) is useful to employers, but might be discriminatory. While a degree in English would communicate an actual job skill... doesn't prevent the employer from interviewing and hiring someone with a history degree instead, but requiring "any" degree wouldn't communicate a requirement but rather a way of keeping out minorities that are less likely to have a degree.

#3, #4 are 100% true, completely real, but also completely stereotypical and discriminatory.

Just a few thoughts on what "ought to be," not what is.

rosie said...

It would seem that jobs in agriculture would not need a college degree and in EY those jobs are given to non-Jews and those jobs are also low-pay. Chereidim also live in cities with few job opportunities for those without degrees.
Just like in America, Jews might find cheaper housing and more jobs by leaving Brooklyn, in EY, they could create jobs by moving out of B'nei Brak and Jerusalem. The same problem of pay scale exists wherever Jews live however and it is impossible for frum Jews to survive on very low paying jobs; unless they at least find a place with very low cost housing. Such housing exists in the Shomron but then transportation is needed to get to the place of employment.

ProfK said...

Using the term chareidim to apply to Jews in the US is problematic. It is not generally used here with lots of other labels used instead--black hat, yeshivish, litvish, right wing, Lakewood-ish, frummies, chasidishe etc.. There is wide diversity among and between the various groups so labeled. Some of these groups are more insular than others. Some "believe" in secular education and some will skirt through with the minimum state required attendance and curriculum, if that. In short, it's difficult to compare chareidim in Israel to "chareidim" in the US because we don't have a single group that is homogenous that can be labeled "chareidim."

Because we don't have that single group I would disagree with the author's point #1, about "chareidim" here in the US "all" going to real universities--they don't. Some parts of the general grouping never attend any kind of post-high school institution. Some will go only the apprenticeship route receiving training in a specific field such as plumbing or electrical work. Some become store owners or workers. Some become clients of the multiple diploma mills that abound now, recognizing that most higher paying jobs will require a college degree but being unwilling/unable to get that degree through regular channels. And many of those people find out too late that those diploma mill "degrees" won't get them entree into the types of firms and jobs that they believe they are "trained" to hold.

In addition, some yeshivas with beis medrash programs do allow their talmidim to go to "regular" college and some don't. Some say "never" and some say only after you have spent X years in beis medrash. One of my students this term spent his entire schooling life in Torah VoDaas, until this year. Why the change? He wanted to go to college and the yeshiva said "no college." He is now in a different yeshiva that allows limited college and at Touro only. There are many who do not make the change of yeshivas, and Torah VoDaas is not the only yeshiva with such rules, and they get no college education.

In addition, as Al pointed out, the laws here in the US about schooling and about many other areas, such as job discrimination, are different from those in Israel. The role of the State is different. In Israel yeshiva school systems are funded by the State. That is not the case in the US--government funding is strictly limited and for certain services only.

Direct comparison of Israel to the US isn't just about comparing apples and oranges--it's trying to compare apples and hula hoops. Too many societal differences and structural differences to make the comparisons valid.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: Of course there are differences between the two, but the basic thrust of the article -- namely that if people can lead an observant "Torah true" life in the U.S. while working and supporting their families, then there is no reason why they can't do that in Israel -- still holds true.

gavra@work said...

# 4 is the big one. Why hire someone who will then complain that the skirts of the women in the office are not the exact length he requires. And then if you have two, you will never hear the end of it, since each of them hold of a different length!

To add another point, chareidim in EY are missing basic Hebrew writing, math, etc. skills that were not tought from 6th grade up, and can not be made up in a "Devry" type course. An employer would rightfully hire the prospect with the additional skills.

Its a case of "I want to eat my cake" (learn full time) and "eat it too" (get the skills learned by having a secular education).

mlevin said...

Miami Al - re "4 year degree or equivalent" I know something about that. 20 years ago, companies such as IBM, here in US required a college degree for certain jobs and realized that they automatically eliminated a large chunk of talented people from the pool of candidates for their positions Someone who has a college degree doesn't mean that they have any clue of the job skills they were applying for. Just imagine someone having a degree in art history applying for a job as an experienced database designer. There are no connections between the two. So, they added "or equivalent" clause in it. Later on both microsoft and IBM came up with various certifications to enable employees to distinguish between those who have the skills and those who don't. (And they made a bundle of money in the process, too.)

There are many highly educated and highly skilled people in this country (USA) who do not have a BS/BA. The ultra frummies look at these people as an example that they too do not need to go to college, but they overlook the fact that these people have an education, just not a piece of paper to prove it.

In EY it's even worse. Charedim are complete ignoramuses and bullies. And yes, having a military experience does give an edge to the potential employee. It proves that this person had learned how to be work in a team, how to listen to his/her superiors, how to take and execute orders, how to lead a structured life. Military (any military not only Israelie) teaches a lot and should not be disregarded as a discriminatory practice.

Anonymous said...

gavra: chareidim or yeshivish in America don't have such a great English either. I really don't think the difference between the two groups is that big. Both of them live in a self imposed poverty

Miami Al said...


Someone here tried to tell my wife that education doesn't matter, "look at Bill Gates, he dropped out of high school."

My wife corrected her that he dropped out of Harvard, which she responded, "whatever, he dropped out, same thing."

Somehow I don't think attending a top notch prep school, getting into the most exclusive University in the United States, and leaving your studies there to pursue a hot new field that was just opening up is quite the same as attending a mediocre Yeshiva and dropping out in high school to go sell mortgages or real estate, but this mother was adamant that it was kind of the same thing.

To each their own.

I think that the culture of laziness and short cuts that I see in the Yeshiva world, both Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish is an epidemic that is going to demolish the next generation.

In the public school system, salaries are standardized, so the best teachers get rewarded with the best assignments, upper middle class white schools (part of the reason the middle/upper middle class rebel against performance based teacher pay, the incentives for going into under performing schools would pull their top teachers out). Secular private schools use the quality environment as a recruiting tool. The Day Schools/Yeshivot seem to hire parents/community members that need a job, with little regard to qualifications.

Looking at the Rebbeim in the Modern Orthodox schools, it's Kollel guys that washed out of Kollel, and washed out so hard that they found work 1500 miles away from Brooklyn as a middle school teacher. When that person is held up in high regard (stand when they enter the room, etc.), is it any wonder that the children have such low expectations?

JS said...

I have to echo ProfK in that "chareidim" in the US (even in Brooklyn) are not a uniform group - or at least are not as uniform as "chareidim" in Israel.

I think the real issue is the role of the State and how the communities interact with it. In the US, when Jews of any stripe came here, they often came with nothing and had to work hard (regardless of what schooling they had) to establish communities, support families, etc. The government wasn't going to help anyone. It is only recent in America's history that government aid exists in the form of welfare, section 8, etc. This created a culture of work and need to interact (even in a limited way) with the secular culture.

Israel was founded very differently and the communities were able, through negotiations with the Zionist founders, to both insulate themselves from the secular society and receive great wealth and resources from the State. It created a culture of isolationism and dependence without the need or ability to bring in resources from elsewhere.

Of course that last point is rapidly changing and the community will likely be forced to change its dynamic as resources dwindle.

I disagree with #2. These areas aren't gated communities. Non-chareidi members enter, chareidim ride buses with other people, etc. And what does seeming non-tzanua people have to do with job or work skills?

Finally, about Torah V'Daas: My wife's grandfather has smicha from Torah V'Daas. He's almost 90, so this is a long time ago. He got secular degrees (even an advanced one) while there. It was encouraged. Also, you should see his wedding album which is full of Torah V'Daas rabbeim and students and their wives wearing short sleeves, not having hair covered, and mixed dancing.

A shonda!

Lion of Zion said...


"In Israel, requiring army service has a disparate impact on both Charedim and Arabs. If they had anything like the US Civil Rights Act, this would be a problem"

how does it ahve a disparate impact?

"how does infantry training result in a direct requirement for a computer programmer."

not a direct requirement, but apparently there is a perception that military service produces better employees (for various reasons, whether true or not). i had a friend who served in the IDF, got a computer degree from a mediocre college and applied for a job in california. he got the job and was told that the boss didn't care for his degree but was impressde by his military service.

JS said...

I should add, in case it wasn't clear, that the new culture in America of welfare, section 8, etc is turning many communities here in America towards the path their Israeli brethren are on.

Maybe the two ships will cross each other due to the various changes happening - Israeli chareidim are forced to work due to dwindling resources and American chareidim rely more on the State.

Lion of Zion said...


"is turning many communities here in America towards the path their Israeli brethren are on"

don't worry. that path is already well troden in america

JS said...


To simplify matters, I'm going to assume the employer is a State or Federal agency and we're only considering 5th/14th amendment equal protection issues, not the Civil Rights Act (not a huge deal since the Civil Rights Act has basically been interpreted as extending to the 5th/14th amendment in certain respects).

Let's say we're talking about race and only. An employer says "No members of X race may be hired." This is a race based classification based solely on racial prejudice and is de facto unconstitutional.

If instead, there isn't a racial classification, but instead "All applicants must pass an entrance exam" the qualification may still be violative of the 5th/14th amendment if it has a disparate impact on members of a certain race. Such a qualification is called "facially neutral" because, on its face, it doesn't appear to discriminate against any protected class (such as members of a particular race). However, let's say the entrance exam has a passage rate of 85% for members of X race and only 45% for members of Y race. The members of Y race could sue to get the qualification removed for having a disparate impact on members of Y race.

It's a difficult thing to win on since the disparate impact alone is not enough. For a facially neutral qualification, the burden in placed on the challenger (for a racial classification, the burden is on the defender) and thus the employer, for example, doesn't have to say or prove anything. To simplify things a bit, the challenger would need to show that the qualification was put into place for an impermissible purpose.

For example, the entrance exam is a screen that was designed to filter out uneducated members of Y race. If the burden is met, the employer-defendant must then prove the qualification would exist regardless of the impermissible purpose (for example, even if we didn't want to screen out members of Y race having educated employees as selected by the entrance exam is necessary for the job).

Chaim said...

I wanted to share an article I wrote about Linkedin that appeared in the Jewish Press:

Anonymous said...

Prefering veterens is not discriminatory. Every chareidi has an equal opportunity with the non-chareidi to serve and there are plenty of ways to serve and be fully observant.

YTV rules said...

As a less-than-90 year old Torah Vadaath musmach who went to College and Grad shcool while attending YTV, I quite simply do not believe Prof K that YTV does not even allow Touro College.

Miami Al said...

Here is a recent example of how disparate impact works in the US, High Court favors Chicago Black firefighters in discrimination suit.

Not shell, in 1995, 26,000 people applied for a small number of positions in the city firefighting force. There was an application test, where a score over 64 was passing, under was failing.

Because there were so many applications, the city chose to refine their list by only looking at people with a score higher than 89.

In this smaller pool (the 89+ score), it was overwhelmingly white and only 11% black. They sued as a disparate impact.

Since the city had no evidence, or claim, that people with a score over 89 were better firefighters than those with a 65 (just that 65+ people were more qualified), their screen is illegal discrimination.

A passing score was a bona fide job requirement, a higher one was not. Since the higher score requirement has a disparate impact on blacks, it's illegal.

If Israel had a similar standard (it does not), the requirements for military service would have a disparate impact on Arabs and Charedim, since they are overwhelming less likely to have military service than the rest of the population.

This doesn't take away from any of the benefits of hiring a veteran, just that it has a different impact on different groups. In the US, this is illegal, particularly for government groups, in Israel, it is perfectly legal and part of the culture.

However, for American Jews talking about the differences, there is SOME truth to the system being stacked against them, because government and business policies have a disproportionate impact on the Charedi and Arab sectors.

People from those sectors CAN serve, so it's not a direct discrimination issue, just a question of how the policies impacts hiring.

Commenter Abbi said...

For people commenting on the requirement of military service in Israel: It has no equivalence to a four year or college or high school degree in America, it's not to see whether prospective can work on a team or take directions or how far they can shoot artillery. It's to see whether they follow the law. We have a conscription law here in Israel, which simply does not exist in America. Exceptions are made, of course, for legitimate and illegitimate reasons. But prospective employers demand proof of army service because they want to see that their prospective employees follow the law.

JR said...

Every so often I come back to check out posts and comments and I'm reminded why visiting here is repugnant. It's comments like those from Miami Al who vilifies Torah teachers and MLevin who vilifies religious Jews that ruin this blog.