The three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are all patriarchal in the roles they assign to genders within the family. The husband is the head of the household and calls the shots and the wives and children follow his orders, at least in theory. Women are supposed to bear children (the more the better) and be responsible for taking care of them and for cooking, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining the household. These roles become more pronounced and extreme the more fundamentalist the believers are.
But there is one major difference between ultra-orthodox Christians and Muslims and ultra-orthodox Jews. In the first two, the man is supposed to be the breadwinner of the family and it is preferred that women stay at home. But in the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews known as the haredim, the men are supposed to spend their entire lives studying the Torah, not engaged in gainful employment.
So what about income? Very often, it is the women who are expected to also earn money to support the family (without being relieved of all their other responsibilities) so that the men can continue their full-time studies. In fact, the haredi educational system seems to be designed with this outcome in mind.
Girls have 12 years of religious and secular education, and then two years of job training at seminaries that began about eight years ago adding classes in software engineering, graphics and architecture. Boys aren’t offered secular courses after primary levels, the IMF said in its March 9 report.
In other words, all that the men are actually qualified to do is further study of the Torah, since the religion-heavy education they receive makes them unqualified to do most jobs, while the women get an education with an eye to them entering the job market. Why having to shoulder all these burdens does not take a massive toll on women and result in burnout at an early age baffles me. What is interesting is that the very fact that they have jobs should make it easier for the haredi women to walk away from this situation if they find it unbearable, unlike Christian and Muslim women in fundamentalist families who have no financial independence. I don’t know what the statistics are for haredi women leaving but these are very tightly knit communities and the psychological barriers to leaving may be strong enough to keep them from doing so, however intolerable they find their daily lives.
Not surprisingly, this practice has resulted in haredi families having high rates of poverty. This is true for haredi families worldwide but the effects are most pronounced in Israel, where the numbers of haredi is large and growing rapidly.
While the ultra-Orthodox make up about 8 percent to 10 percent of the population, they will represent 17 percent of working-age Israelis in 20 years because of their high birth rate, according to the bank. By the late 2050s they will account for a quarter of the population, a March 9 IMF report found.
The ultra-orthodox, along with Arab-Israelis, have the lowest labor participation and highest poverty rates in Israel.
This is causing a major drag on the economy since the government of Israel has to step in to support these families.
Tucker said seminary students get monthly stipends from the government of about 800 shekels ($200) in addition to as much as 1,200 shekels a month distributed by seminaries to married students from money raised through donations. The families also benefit from government child subsidies of as much as 300 shekels per child.
It turns out, though, that there is an additional benefit for the men in Israel to be permanent students of the Torah. By law, all men have to serve in the military when they turn 18 but yeshiva students are exempt as long as they stay in the seminary. The haredim are politically powerful and successive governments have pandered to them and Matti Friedman describes how as their numbers rise, this sense that the haredi are parasites on the rest of Israeli society is causing considerable stress and demands that something must change
Like most very religious people, the haredi have a deep sense of self-righteousness and do not in the least see themselves as moochers. A haredi member of the Knesset said that any man who works for a living instead of spending all his time studying the Torah is not really a haredi. In fact, they say that it is only their devotion to full time prayer and study that is protecting the nation and that the rest of the country, far from criticizing them, should be grateful, as evidenced in an interview on an Israeli TV news program.
“We are keeping you alive and supporting you! It is not you who sustains us, as you believe,” [Rabbi Menachem] Blau insisted, meaning haredi Torah study and prayer were the only reasons Israel exists and thrives, and that non-haredi Israelis should be fawning at the feet of haredi Torah scholars and yeshiva students because of it.
But not all of them felt that they were saving the nation by spending al their time on religious studies.
Then Channel 10 got a random haredi man to speak on camera.
“I want to milk the state, because if I do not take the money it goes to the Bedouins or elsewhere. The government has stolen our budgets and gives us nothing,” the haredi man said.
Given that this idea that men must forgo work and spend all their time studying their religious texts is not present in the sister religions of Christianity and Islam, it would be interesting to find out how and when that idea came about and managed to convince a significant number of Jews.
The idea of living the life of an ascetic dependent on the charity of others is also found in Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism (I don’t know about Islam) but those numbers are very few and those people renounce the world and all its attachments (including their families), while the haredi seem to want to have it both ways, be part of the world and yet not contribute to it.