Israel Plans to Cut Ultra-Orthodox Men’s Seminary Hours

Israel’s Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday offered incentives to ultra-Orthodox men to join the workforce by halving hours spent in religious studies. In exchange, they will receive the same state allowance in return. But the plan has come under sharp criticism from community leaders.

About half of the ultra-Orthodox men in Israel work, while the rest study 40 hours a week in seminary. Seminary is a religious practice carried out since the formation of the state of Israel. At that time they were allowed not to work and carry out military service because their population was small.

But the Bank of Israel and economic leaders have warned of long-term problems with budgets if they are not integrated into the workforce. Especially as the ultra-Orthodox population is expected to grow from 12.6 percent last year to 32 percent by 2065.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man studies at Mir Yeshiva Jerusalem, in Israel July 4, 2012. (Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man studies at Mir Yeshiva Jerusalem, in Israel July 4, 2012. (Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

For nearly 12 years before the formation of a new government in June, two ultra-Orthodox parties lent support to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, effectively preventing any change.

But now, ultra-Orthodox parties are on the side of the opposition, giving a secular figure named Lieberman an opportunity to act.

Under his plan, Lieberman – who has long believed ultra-Orthodox men should make a living – said he would cut the hours men spend studying to 20 from the current 40, while still giving them the same state allowance.

“This will allow them to go to work,” he said.

Lieberman has proposed that both parents be employed to receive state subsidies for child care.

Many ultra-Orthodox families are large, and often their economy is supported by women, of whom 78 percent have jobs.

Lieberman holds an economic cabinet meeting for the first time since the government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was formed, also focusing on raising the cost of living.

Community rights agencies and support organizations have suggested low wages for ultra-Orthodox men. This is because they have never studied English, math and science and need training and more opportunities. [ah/rs]