Opinion: The recent violence is but the tip of the iceberg as the ultra-Orthodox community that is poor, uneducated and accustomed to handouts will lead the country to economic ruin if there is no change to the way politicians kowtow to its leaders

It is difficult to express opposition to the relationship between Israel and its Haredi population without slipping into racism and even forms of anti-Semitism.

But the Haredi community is currently at the center of public discourse and must be judged according to the facts.

עימותים באשדוד
Ultra-Orthodox rioters clash with police in Ashdod trying to enforce lockdown regulations (Photo: Reuters)


Ultra-Orthodox Israelis make up 13% of the population and 40% of the country’s coronavirus infections.

But when efforts are made to reduce the spread in their own communities and prevent it from infecting others, the response is often violent.
The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox are not involved. They are for the most part in compliance with health regulations, which leaves us with the Ashkenazi sector.

It is unclear what portion of that population is involved in the violation of lockdown restrictions and in the violence that we have been witnessing.

האוטובוס שהוצת בבני ברק
The burnt out shell of a public bus set alight in Bnei Brak by Haredi rioters (Photo: Courtesy of Kol Haolam News)


The Ponevezh Yeshiva is a respected institution with 3,000 students and Chaim Kanievsky is a rabbi with many followers. So the claims that the troublemakers are just a renegade few cannot be taken seriously, even if others in the community may not agree with the rabbis.

The recent wave of violence is just the tip of the iceberg in the contentious relations between Haredi Israelis and the rest of the county.

This relationship has a long history of strife that began even before the establishment of the state.

In 1948, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion agreed to grant an exemption from military service to 400 yeshiva students per year, despite the dire need for fighting men during the country’s War of Independence.

Just 20 years later, a parliamentary committee decided to increase that number to 800.

But in 1977, after Menachem Begin rose to power as the first Likud prime minister, all restrictions on the number of exemptions were removed as part of his coalition agreement with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

חייל מכוון נשק לעבר מפגינים המתנגדים לגיוס חרדים לצה"ל בירושלים
Haredi protesters attack a member of their own community for joining the IDF (Photo: A. Cohen)


Repeated efforts over the years to reach some agreement that would see Haredi men join in the national defense effort have failed.

In 1974, just 2.4% of eligible Haredi men were excused from military duty. By 2010, that had increased to 16%.

In 2017, the real number of exemptions rose to 11,700 – and this will likely ho even higher.

But the Haredi community receives more than a free pass for military service that most Israeli 18-year-olds have to complete. They are also recipients of a government stipend to support them in their Torah studies, and the budget for that has more or less doubled from NIS 638 million ($195 million) it cost in 2014.

The Haredi education system refuses to include core curriculum subjects such as math, sciences and languages, but still receives funding from the Education Ministry. Turning a blind eye to this lack of education can only cause long-term damage.

“Children who receive a third world education can only survive in a third world society,” professors Dan Ben-David and Eyal Kimchi wrote in a report submitted to the National Economic Council. They warned in the report that the long-term cost to the country and the Haredi community itself would be devastating.

הכנות לערב סוכות במאה שערים
A Haredi man holds a sign in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim area of Jerusalem warning against movies and the internet (Photo: Amit Shabi)


Without a review of the ultra-Orthodox community’s relations with the state, we are surely marching towards the abyss.

The recent violence, though dominating the news headlines, is but a footnote in an ongoing story. This has long been an impoverished and ill-educated sector of the population that is accustomed to receiving state hand-outs.

There is no need to abolish the yeshiva world. Torah students need not be dragged into the military induction centers, but the secular leaders must stop kowtowing to religious powers.

Dialogue will not help. Israel needs a government that represents the secular majority and keeps the Haredi politicians away from power.

This is the only way to resolve this issue – both for the good of the country and its ultra-Orthodox citizens.

As reported by Ynetnews