Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Ellul 5760 - September 13, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







How Much Money do Chareidim Really Get?

By A. Porat, with Yoni Rottenberg

This article is the second in a series that will appear from time to time discussing the allocation of public financial resources of the State of Israel. The next one is scheduled for after Succos.


The chareidi public in Eretz Yisroel periodically comes under attack for various things. One of the favorite issues -- as it is for everyone these days -- is money. The attack in the area has three main focuses.

The first claim, an old one, is that the chareidi public extorts money from the State. Ha'aretz published a series of articles under the heading "Chareidim '98: the Price" including a sensational headline: "Avreich's Allowance: 17,000 NIS." Unfortunately, that series was very successful, and the main points infiltrated the consciousness of the secular public to such an extent that the average citizen is sure that all the chareidim are becoming wealthy at the expense of the secular public.

This writer has often been involved in discussions with secular people about this topic. I present them with objective facts about the poverty and modest living standards of our community and how we are discriminated against in the budget every year, but they refuse to believe me. At best they are willing to accept that the religious live modestly, but if so, they think, it is the politicians who surely pocket the money themselves. One of the best refutations of this argument is that the chareidi public appears at the bottom of the all income and wealth tables, year after year.

The second claim, a newer one, is that the chareidi public does not pay taxes and is consequently not entitled to any rights. Sometimes they are content to disqualify our financial rights, and sometimes they want to take away more.

The third claim is an original and much more sophisticated one, and was first proposed more recently. This argument says that the poverty suffered by the chareidi population is voluntary, that the husbands and wives are able to earn more but choose to live in poverty. Therefore, the argument goes, there is no justification for supporting chareidi families in the same way that those who suffer involuntary poverty deserve support.

These arguments contradict each other. It is difficult to reconcile the "wholesale extortion of public funds" and "17,000 NIS monthly per avreich" with "voluntary poverty."

The real truth is, however, that all three claims have a common basis: hate of the chareidim and an attempt to portray us with any negative characteristic such as extortioners, leeches and so on, with a view to undermining our legitimate rights and casting us in as negative a light as possible.

Matters have reached the stage where one of their spokesmen, an economist, has come up with the revolutionary proposal to cut back grants to chareidim but not those to Arabs. We cannot assume that this person was bothered by the budgetary costs, since in the same interview he readily admits that the sums of Bituach Leumi child benefit that are paid to the Arab population are higher than to the chareidi community. The payments to the Arabs, he explains, constitute "positive discrimination" whereas the chareidim suffer only from "voluntary poverty."

Summary of Previous Article

In a previous article (published in the edition of parshas Vayakheil) we dealt with the budgetary support of the chareidi sector and with the true beneficiaries of the treasury's funds, but since a long time has passed since the first article was published it is worthwhile to repeat some of the points made there.

In the article we proved that the chareidi population contributes to the income of the State, i.e. it pays taxes.

In the first part of our article we used precise data to prove the falsehood of the claims made in the sensational "17,000 NIS per Avreich" article in Ha'aretz. Unfortunately, since its appearance the conclusions of that article have acquired the status of irrefutable "facts" which have been used by left-wing propagandists for purposes of incitement against the chareidi public. Its "data" were also presented to the Tal committee set up to discuss proposals to draft yeshiva bochurim.

The blown-up figure refers to the government benefits that are implied in the activities of a hypothetical family with ten children all of whom are under 18 with two sons studying in a school with a dormitory (3000 NIS) and neither spouse working -- in other words it applies to very few families if any. Even then the implied income of the family would be only 10,250 NIS (4,500 Bituach Leumi, 3,100 to the school for the two boys, 1,000 to the wife and 650 in kollel support and 1,000 in reductions of various fees). The figure of NIS 17,000 comes from arguing then that for someone to net NIS 10,000 a month after taxes he would have to gross NIS 17,000. This is a phony and sensational way to calculate: you count discounts as income and then count the hypothetical taxes saved from the hypothetical income as more income! Also, only the kollel support is unique to the chareidi community.

On the other hand, we discovered that the average secular family costs the state more than a large chareidi family. Every child studying at university costs the state more than 4000 NIS. With figures and logic like Ha'aretz we can easily argue that a secular family gets NIS 20,000 a month from the State.

In the second part of that article we proved that the chareidi population contributes equally to the payment of taxes, and does not eat from the bread of charity, contrary to its image in the media.

The main points were that the income of the State is divided into two parts: 51% is from direct taxation (income tax and the like), and 49% is from what is called indirect taxation which is mainly VAT (a sales tax) but also includes customs duties and other taxes.

As every beginning economist knows, all citizens have the same burden of indirect taxation because these are taxes on consumption. Therefore, generally speaking every citizen, including those who do not work, contributes equally to that half of the sum total of all tax income.

As for income tax, we noted that this tax is paid overwhelmingly by the 10 percent of taxpayers with the highest incomes (75% of the entire amount) and within this group the relative share of chareidi taxpayers is equal to their relative share of the population as a whole, if only from the fact that within the group are to be found investors from abroad many of whom are chareidi.

It should be pointed out that the article dealt mainly with families of avreichim where neither spouse works. The truth is that most of the population termed "chareidi" works, and even in the case of families of avreichim, one spouse is usually working.

As for the third claim of "voluntary poverty," we refer the reader to the enlightening article of Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman in the Yated of parshas Shemos this year entitled "Self- Imposed Poverty or Secular Arbitrariness?" in which he explains at length that poverty is a part and parcel of the secular state's policy of encouraging and financing university studies whilst refusing to recognize and discriminating against yeshiva studies.

A university lecturer for ancient Japanese earns a salary of up to NIS 50,000 a month. He is entitled to a sabbatical leave, a pension and many other social benefits. Contrast this to a kollel main who receives NIS 726 a month and receives no social benefits. That is, for doing things which, in pure economic terms, are similar, one is in the highest income bracket and the other in the lowest.

Facts such as these do not deter those circles from complaining about our voluntary poverty. The chareidim do not choose to be poor. They just choose to study Torah, and are prepared to suffer poverty if that is a consequence.

Da Ma Shetoshiv

As we wrote in the first article, we are not fooling ourselves into thinking that bringing to light real statistics will in any way lead to the cessation of the campaigns they are conducting against us, since these characters, disciples of anti-religious campaigners throughout the generations, have no interest whatsoever in hearing responses. Their purpose and intention is to defame the religious public.

The following vort from the Haggodo is instructive in this regard. When referring to the chochom and the tom it says, "If your son shall ask you." When talking about the rosho it says, "If your sons shall say." Reshoim do not ask, they say. Their intention is to provoke and irritate, not to listen to answers. It is therefore futile to answer them, since they will in any case not accept the truth, rather "break his teeth."

Why, the joke goes, are new Haggodos printed every year? Because last year's rosho is a tzaddik compared to the new reshoim.

Rabbi Grossman in the above-cited article brings an incident in the name of the Brisker Rov zy"o who related how a group of activists approached the Chofetz Chaim zt"l with a proposal full of facts and figures addressed to the authorities proving that the Jews were discriminated against in the allocation of the budget. They argued that the authorities would be motivated by these proofs to right this injustice.

The Chofetz Chaim replied with an insight from the Chumash. Yaakov Ovinu when confronting Lovon came up with logical claims, stating that he had worked for him faithfully for twenty years, "in the day the drought consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes . . . " On the face of it these were irrefutable arguments, but Lovon's response is that the daughters, sons, flock and everything that he sees belong to him. In other words, everything you received from me was given as a present and not because you had any right to those things.

The Chofetz Chaim explained that logical claims are only of value if the party you are addressing relates to you as someone with rights, but if your very existence is a sting in his eyes, no proofs -- as good as they may be -- can be expected to have any effect.

All this said, this article, can still serve a twofold purpose. First, its contents can be used as a "da ma shetoshiv" to the general secular public which is exposed to constant incitement. Second, it can prevent ourselves from giving any credibility to their arguments.

We shall deal with the discrimination of the chareidi public in budgetary matters. It will be shown that our image in the secular street, according to which we receive too much, is based on falsehood. Even when it comes to those parts of the budget which are officially based on criteria of equality, the chareidi public finds itself discriminated against. Ironically, it turns out that the left-wingers, those prime inciters against the chareidi public, are also the main beneficiaries of the budget.

Before we go any further, it should be pointed out that a large part of the State budget is reserved for the salaries and pensions of senior State employees. Almost no one in the chareidi community is in this elite group. These jobs are attained by means of connections and not through merit. If a chareidi somehow manages to become a candidate for one of these positions, he becomes disqualified by the Ben Dror Committee, a committee set up to pass on the qualifications of appointees to positions of public trust.

On 31.12.99 Yuval Rachlevsky, who is responsible for salaries and labor agreements, published a report on the wages received by 687 public bodies during 1999. According to this report the average wage of a State employee is 27,003 NIS a month (compared to the average wage of 9823 NIS a month received by an employee of a Religious Council) and the average wage of a senior State employee is stated to be 34,045 NIS a month (the average wage of a senior employee in a Religious Council being 15,120 NIS a month).

The cost of the monthly wage of senior employees of health funds and of the Electricity Board (including the employer's costs) is 55,000 NIS, and even the cost of the director's secretary is 45,695 NIS a month. Senior Bank of Israel employees receive 54,500 NIS on average. Similar figures are cited for senior figures of government-owned companies, judges, heads of Councils, Members of the Knesset, Ministers and other public employees, including spokesmen and secretaries.

These senior employees also benefit from a "budgetary pension" for life. These pensions are financed exclusively from state funds (as opposed to standard private pensions on the market which are "accumulated pensions" based on employers' and employees' deposits over the years) which cost the state about NIS 4 billion a year.

The cost to the state of all these gigantic wages in 1998 amounted to about NIS 35 billion! If we are discussing the issue of who benefits from the State budget, we must first consider this point. All the allowances and benefits received by other sectors are totally out of proportion to the wages received by senior employees. The monthly salary of one senior Electricity Board employee is enough to cover the child allowance of 27 families with seven children each!

Control Over the Budget

However, we are not only taking into account individual salaries, but also and primarily the control over the state budget as a whole. To get a complete picture, we must first explain something about the mechanism of budgetary politics.

Those same senior employees who gained their positions because of party connections or someone else they knew, have control over the massive budgets of all public bodies. They use this power to divert monies to their associates, thus rewarding them for their "investment" in the past.

Heads of public libraries, museums and culture clubs will organize lectures about topics which match their political opinions. The heads of Ma'atz (the Department of Public Works) will invest the half billion NIS they have at their disposal in projects which benefit the public with which they are associated (one of the central projects undertaken during the term of the left-wing government was at Kfar Shmaryahu junction, whereas when the Likud was in power money was pumped into the development of Yehuda and Shomron).

Acoustic walls along highways are designed and put up in neighborhoods where the population consists of associates. Take as an example the case of the decorative acoustic walls put up along the whole of the Geha freeway -- except, for some strange reason, the section passing through Bnei Brak.

The directorate of Mifal Hapayis (the State Lottery) decides how to divide up NIS 752 million a year. They will decide, for example, to allocate NIS 81 million for the erection of the new Chamber Theater. Those in charge of the funds of the Custodian General (part of the Ministry of Justice) approve requests for financial assistance made by community centers and theaters. Money which people left in their wills for the State of Israel are allocated by the Custodian General's Office to institutions and subjects close to their hearts.

The same goes for the JNF, the Jewish Agency and all those other bodies which have an annual turnover of billions of NIS (sometimes public bodies will pour money into amutot [nonprofit organizations] which advance the interests of election campaigning).

Every public body also receives requests for support from many bodies. Associates' requests are authorized immediately, whereas all the rest are asked to produce certificates and documents, only to be politely turned down subsequently with various excuses.

In addition, these bodies employ workers from their own parties, invite and pay speakers affiliated with them to lectures, place adverts in their newspapers, arrange entertainment or holidays for their employees at hotels or companies belonging to their associates, as well as outings and festivals. All these activities are funded by the institution of which they are in charge. Of course, all this is conducted in a seemingly democratic and egalitarian manner by means of tenders or other similar measures, but it goes without saying that these resemble elections held in Arab countries where the results are a foregone conclusion.

It should be pointed out in passing that wealthy people who donate funds to political parties during election campaigns are rewarded afterwards by politicians, whether in the form of being winners of public projects, getting building permits from District Committees or other similar favors. This is how things work in the democratic State of Israel in the twenty- first century.

Consider as a contrast the following. The only way a yeshiva graduate can benefit from the Treasury's funds is via one section of the Education Ministry's budget whereby he becomes a lecturer within the chareidi culture department (which hardly has any funds allocated to it as we shall see further on).

A lecturer who is a graduate of the general education system, on the other hand, besides qualifying for numerous direct benefits from the Ministry of Education as we will soon see, can also give lectures in the framework of "study days" at public libraries, museums, community centers, the Histadrut and its various institutions, the Jewish Agency. He or she can also receive financial assistance for research from these bodies, thus benefiting from the colossal sums poured into them. And then they throw at us without the slightest embarrassment drivel about "voluntary poverty" and about the disparity between years of education in the chareidi sector as compared to the sums which we receive. Incidentally, most anti-chareidi research is financed by government money!

The extent of the control key figures have over the budgets for which they are responsible may be gauged from the fact that the Report on Wages received by Public Bodies contains examples of irregularities in 40 percent of cases! Members of the Board of Directors who are responsible for maintaining standards of fairness within public bodies are also chosen according to party political affiliation, with obvious results. Incidentally, all the corruption scandals we read about at regular intervals are to be understood in the light of this ugly state of affairs.

This state of affairs (known in Israel as "the red party- book" system, after the fact that in the 30s and 40s membership in the leftist labor union was proven by the possession of a red party membership booklet) was of course originated by the Labor Party (previously known as Mapai). It dominated the appointments of 80 municipal companies and 72 government companies. Every brigadier in the army was assured of a job at the termination of his service, regardless of whether he had any business experience. This makes sense when we take into consideration the fact that even the Israeli army is politicized. Senior positions are obtained through "connections" and most brigadier generals come from kibbutzim affiliated with the left-wing parties.

The NRP -- part of the government for so many years -- was also not to be outdone, rewarding its people with positions in the 132 religious councils, the Chevra Kadisha and other institutions. These senior workers naturally worked from within to further the interests of their party's institutions. Wedding and divorce notices were published in the NRP newspaper Hatsofe. Conferences organized by the religious councils or by the Chevra Kadisha would be held in halls belonging to NRP people, the singers and organizers always "inexplicably" wearing knitted yarmulkes and so on.

This circular arrangement of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is in essence the old notorious "red party- book" system, except that in the old days everything was done in the open, and today more sophisticated methods are used.

This arrangement -- a legacy of the days of Mapai governments -- still exists today in the context of quotas and licenses. The beneficiaries of milk and egg quotas are those agricultural settlements who undertake to vote for the right party, all others being told that the quota has already been used up.

Religious party activists working in religious agricultural settlements during the election campaign came across an astonishing phenomenon. In many cases the residents identified with the workers' views, but apologized to them, explaining that in their settlement everybody had to vote for a certain party, otherwise their quotas and budgets would be adversely affected. There was only one ballot-box in their settlement, they said, and everyone knew "in secret" which piece of paper was being slipped into the ballot-box behind the curtain.

As we know, the chareidi public has almost no representatives in any of the 701 public bodies. We do not even find any chareidi members on Boards of Directors. A kollel and yeshiva education over many years is not taken into account by the enlightened members of the Ben Dror committee, and almost every chareidi candidate, even one with a lot of management experience, is rejected at the outset. The explanation for this is the committee's unwillingness to let the chareidi public get a foothold in government-owned companies, in order to prevent our having access to their budgets.

The few shekels we do get are only a drop in the ocean compared to the others: their only purpose is to decorate the distribution of the money with a semblance of equality. The committee's recommendations are unanimously accepted when a chareidi candidate is disqualified, but when some proposal goes against the interests of the leftists' camp, the committee's conclusions take on the character of "mere" non- binding recommendations. An example of this was the case of Yossi Katz, who was candidate for ambassador to Germany.

All in all we are presented with the picture of a completely institutionalized mechanism whose main beneficiaries are certain very specific parts of Israeli society, primarily members of the "enlightened" camp, whereas the chareidi public is considered an alien element and only receives several isolated budget allocations. We receive almost nothing of the billions of NIS turned over by public bodies (whose source is the taxes we pay) and senior positions are almost unavailable to us. In short, whoever has access to the plate gets pieces of cake, and whoever is far from it receives only crumbs.


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