Employment: The Paradox of Haredi Happiness

Employment: The Paradox of Haredi Happiness

By: Avraham Yustman

Is wealth a necessary ingredient for happiness? We all know the quote from Pirkei Avot: “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot”. A report from the Central Bureau of Statistics seems to agree with the passage above.

According to the data presented in the report, the percentage of Haredim who are satisfied with their lives and their economic situation is higher than the rest of the population. The sense of poverty in the Haredi sector is only 8% (one percent more than Jews and others). The average gross income per Haredi household is NIS 13,658, compared to a similar income for a secular household of NIS 22,061 (meaning, the Haredim earn about 40% less).

Other data also show that the secular public has a much higher standard of living than the Haredi public. Only 50% of the Hardim went on vacation in Israel in 2016, compared to 65% of the secular. Regarding vacations abroad, the gap is increasing: 17% of the Haredim went abroad in 2016, compared with 60% of secular Israelis.

These gaps and data point to different worldviews regarding the connection between wealth and happiness. The question taps into the discussion of how Haredim should be integrated into the employment market. When the lack of physical sustenance – perceived as the main catalyst for going to work – does not constitute a sufficient incentive. The push for integrating Haredim into employment must be rephrased, as this incentive is no longer linked to insufficiency.

In examining recent history, the absence of Haredim from the workforce was mainly due to the connection between military service and employment. A Haredi who did not serve in the army could not fit into the work envirenment. The loss on the part of the state was doubled – neither military service nor employment.

For that young Haredi, the dilemma was relatively simple. He will not do military service, and if that means that he will not be able to bear the burden of supporting his family, he will continue to sit and study and not go to work. In recent years, there has been a realization that the two must be separated and that more Haredim should be able to enter the employment market unconditionally.

In order to further increase Haredi participation in the workforce we must continue to remove those barriers that prevent their integration and offer a variety of solutions suited to the different audiences, based on an understanding of the needs and constraints of the various streams in the Haredi sector.

So too, with regard to the dilemmas that always stand in the way of the Haredi job seeker, will employment in a non-Haredi workplace require assimilation into an open and pluralistic society? Will he have to give up his identity? This problem is shared by both sides and its solution cannot be solely mathematical or economical, but an understanding of the need to bridge worldviews for the common goal of a thriving Israeli economy in the global community.

The original article appeared in Yisrael Hayom on July 4, 2018 and is translated by Gesher. Avraham, a Vice President at Kemach is a Fellow in the Gesher Leadership Institute and participated in Project Community #5 in March, 2017.