Op-ed: The entry of Haredim into the government and their taking on ministerial positions is part of a larger process of Haredi integration, which includes Haredi politicians taking responsibility for Israeli society as a whole.

Agudat Israel’s Council of Torah Sages approved MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) as health minister after 63 years in which an Orthodox Ashkenazi did not serve as a cabinet minister. Without underestimating the importance of the decision, one must see it in its proper perspective: a symbolic act which reflects a change which has already been taking place for a while in the Haredi community and the Haredi political system. These are both in an advanced stage of integration with Israeli society, while maintaining their unique characteristics.

Processes of integration and separation of the Haredis in Israel have always influenced the behavior of Haredi politicians and can be divided into three periods. In this context, it is worth noting their support for the establishment of the state and their participation in the first governements due to the Haredi public’s exuberance experienced at the foundation of the Jewish state after the Holocaust.

After the War of Independence, a struggle began between the ruling party and the Haredi leadership regarding recruiting women for national service, an issue over which Agudat Yisrael withdrew from the government in 1952. So began the first period, “the cultural entrenchment” which led to social, educational and geographical insularity, and the building of walls of separation.

MK Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
MK Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)


The second period began with the political upheaval of 1977 that heralded the alleged splitting of the political and social process. While the social separation and the “society of learners” (full time Torah study being the primary vocation of adult men) reached their climax, Haredi politicians returned to the coalition, but refused to take positions in the government.

This historical return didn’t come about from them drawing closer to the general society but from urgent economic need. However, in contrast to common belief, the decision not to take roles of ministers, is rooted not only in ideology, but also economic considerations. Agudat Yisrael, with its four MKs, was supposed to get a minor ministerial role but as an upgraded substitute was rewarded the head of the Finance Committee.

In the eighties MK Avraham Shapira, called “The CEO of the State,” ran the committee as a shrewd and skilled businessman. He helped to promote the economic plan that saved the economy but also made sure to inject funds to yeshiva students and Haredi religious and educational institutions. In 1984, MK Menachem Porush was appointed Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, and after the dirty trick political scandal in 1990, the Jewish mind had concocted the patent of a deputy minister without there being an actual minister above the deputy, a way of joining but not declaring one’s affiliation.

The combination of almost total social separation and deep political involvement did not last long. From a historical perspective, it turns out that the third period of the relationship between the Hardim and the state, the period in which we are now in, started in the late 1990s. Its roots lie in the fact that, despite increased state support, Haredi poverty grew and reached its peak in the wake of the economic program of 2003. Since then, there have been a considerable number of economic initiatives to integrate the Haredim into the market through military and academic tracks and placement centers. A leap of more than 30% of their employment rate within a decade and a lowering of barriers between the Haredi public and the secular public is an inevitable byproduct of this process.

And what is the role of Haredi politicians? Initially they preferred and some still prefer to stay on the sidelines to see which way the wind blows. But in recent years a new wind is blowing from the direction of some, like Litzman and Gafni, which clearly supports promoting the employment of Haredis. In other words, the locomotive of Haredi integration into the economy has set off and has swept Haredi politicians to such an extent that in the last coalition agreement, United Torah Judaism promised to expand Haredi employment pathways.

The entry of Haredim to the government and their taking on ministerial roles is part of a larger process of their integration, which includes Haredi politicians taking responsibility for Israeli society as a whole, for example within the framework of the health care system. The latest decision of the Council of Torah Sages in this context is almost evident. Now, it is incumbent upon the other components of the Israeli public to give a boost to this important process of Hardim taking responsibility for the joint management of the Israeli state . This partnership carries with it the good news and strategic importance for the continued existence of Israeli society.

As reported by Business Insider