Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Av 5761 - August 15, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Constant Scheming to Deprive the Poor Man of his Lamb
By S. Chemed

When UTJ MK Rabbi Shmuel Halpert put forward his proposal a year ago to increase the National Insurance Child Benefit allowance from the fifth child onwards, the previous Finance Minister, Avraham Shochat staunchly opposed this proposal, terming it "corrupt." However, despite the backing Shochat received from members of his own party and other anti- religious parties, Rabbi Halpert's bill was approved and became law, accompanied by the ranting of the Finance Minister.

In this matter Shochat followed the advice of senior figures within his Ministry, who consistently display a begrudging attitude towards large families, even if "chareidi families" are not the only ones involved. Every Israeli family is entitled to benefit from rights granted to large families, including Arabs, and for this reason their representatives in the Knesset supported the proposal. In practice, however, only families with more than four children stand to benefit from the increase, the allowance increasing together with the number of children in a family. The Bill's purpose was to ease the large family's financial burden.

The large family (one "blessed with [many] children" in Hebrew), which has always been considered a paradigm in Jewish tradition, has become a hot subject of debate in secular Israeli society. Anti-religious MK's have even challenged the validity of the term "mishpachot bruchot yeladim."

"It is no blessing," shouted Yossi Beilin during one of the discussions in the Knesset. His statement provoked heated responses from all sectors, including secular ones, who pointed out that Israel's first Prime Minister, Ben-Gurion was an enthusiastic supporter of large families, and enacted a financial reward for any family with ten children or more. Beilin, in response, said that this was an "unforgivable crime" on his part.

Fear of "Demographic Imbalances"

It is obvious that the real reason for the Finance Ministry's antagonism is not financial: the sum involved is relatively paltry. In truth, their antagonism is ideological, being based on the real fear of "demographic imbalances" felt by secular Israelis. Even senior figures in the Finance Ministry cannot maintain a neutral stance, since they are too affected by hostility towards the chareidim.

Secular Israeli society, caught up as it is in individualism, careerism and concern for a high standard of living, generally considers the child-rearing aspect of the human condition as a nuisance, and the size of the family is not a topic it pays too much attention to. A family consisting of two, or at the most three children, with one or two dogs, is considered the ideal.

They pour scorn upon the model of the chareidi family, which considers children to be a heavenly gift and is willing to confront all the challenges and difficulties of a large family. Its existence also contradicts totally the notions of secular society about children's welfare being easier to look after within the framework of a smaller family.

The opposite is true. There are no children happier than those growing up with lots of siblings, and no children sadder than those growing up in a lonely environment, where parents are career-oriented and have other things on their mind, leaving their children to grow up on their own, or at best in the company of one or two siblings.

However, the main reason for the secular opposition to large families in the chareidi sector (as well as in part of the national-religious camp), stems from the fear of "political demographic imbalances," the fear that within two or three decades the observant sectors in Eretz Yisroel will be a majority of the Jewish population, based on the assumption that the secular public will continue its "model" of the small family, and will carry on investing most of its resources in careers and egotistic hedonism.

This is the real motive behind the violent opposition to any proposal for increased assistance to large families, even though they try, unsuccessfully, to disguise this in "socio- economic" terms of "concern for the child," who will grow up in poverty, and be denied the opportunity for a personal career, a broad education, an academic profession and so on. Human history contains hundreds of thousands of examples of large families, where the tenth or twelfth child has developed the most on the personal level in every sense, in accordance with Chazal's principle, "Beware of the children from poor homes, for Torah shall stem from them."

Jewish children in particular, throughout the generations, succeeded, even in conditions of abject poverty, in investing all their energy in spiritual matters; they compensated for their lack of material possessions by immersing themselves in Torah, becoming eminent talmidei chachomim. There is no shortage of such examples in our history.

The Intifadah as an Excuse

However, a society run in accordance with proper Jewish values is duty bound to ensure that such families receive appropriate material assistance as much as possible, making sure that each child has "bread to eat and clothes to wear." This was the principle underlying the original law, which provided for Child Benefit allowances paid out by the National Insurance Institute.

It should be pointed out that Rabbi Shlomo Lorenz was the person who initiated this law during his early years as an Agudas Yisroel MK. He recently related that he was encouraged to put forward this law by R. Yosef Cohen z'l, from the chareidi community of Copenhagen, who told him that Israel should follow the example of Denmark which pays out such allowances.

Over the years, certain changes have taken place in the framework and extent of assistance offered by the State, culminating in Rabbi Halpert's proposal to strengthen the law by increasing the level of assistance with each additional child.

However, nine months ago the Intifadah broke out and the defense establishment asked for an additional three billion NIS during this current financial year. In order to finance this additional expenditure, the government decided to make cutbacks in other areas of the budget. One of the victims was the increase in Child Benefit allowance, even though this piece of legislation went through all the necessary procedures a long time ago, and was already being implemented.

Even someone without a professional insight into budgetary politics could not help being struck by the maliciousness of those senior Finance Ministry officials. After Sylvan Shalom became Finance Minister his officials lost no time in advising him that the approved increase in Child Benefit allowance was one of the most "appropriate" candidates for cutbacks. Amazingly enough, Shalom failed to realize the falsehood of this piece of advice. First of all, if the defense budget were in need of reinforcement, would it not be more logical to make cutbacks in its own budget first? Just recently it was reported that in order to make service in the permanent armed forces more attractive, a decision was taken to provide every officer with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (and there are hundreds of these) with a private car costing 220,000 NIS, as compared to the previous allowance of 80,000 NIS! Why can the army not make do without this additional luxury?

The annual Defense Ministry budget amounts to tens of billions of Shekels. Nobody disputes that due to the new security situation costs will necessarily increase, but is it really so difficult to find nonessential sections within the Defense Ministry budget which can be cut back in order to finance security activities? Finance Ministry officials know better than anybody else where cutbacks can be made: either in the huge sums allocated to bonuses and inflated pensions, or by reducing the amount of people employed in totally superfluous tasks in the framework of compulsory mobilization and reserve duty, or from other sections of the budget. Instead they find it fit to rashly attack the poor man's lamb by depriving large families of much-needed assistance.

A Huge Budget for Subsidizing Theaters

If they wanted to, Finance Ministry officials could, on the spot, find superfluous and wasteful sections relating to public expenditure, such as the State's generous subsidy to the theaters to the tune of 86 million NIS. Theaters are in the red: there are not enough people visiting them and buying tickets to finance their existence. In other words, if visitors would have to pay for unsubsidized tickets, which reflected the real cost of a performance, nobody would bother coming. Therefore in order to ensure the continued existence of the theaters and to encourage people to visit them, the government subsidizes them so that they can sell very cheap tickets. Workers' committees and children of High School age are forced to come to the theater almost for free, just to make sure that there will be a large enough audience for the actors to perform to, even though a lot of the pupils are disdainful of the actors and often shout out insulting remarks at them.

A State which considers it of essential importance to offer 86 million NIS worth of subsidies to theaters, cannot bring itself to allocate a few extra hundred NIS a month to children from large families. However, we have not yet touched upon the ultimate absurdity. The State invests huge amounts in every new immigrant and, as we know, even immigrants with tenuous connections to Judaism, through some Jewish grandparent, are entitled to these payments. When it comes to native-born Jewish citizens, on the other hand, Finance Ministry officials begrudge them even a small additional amount of extra assistance. There is no need to pay for flying these Jews to Eretz Yisroel, or for an "immigration basket" to finance their first few months in the country, nor do they need an ulpan, or to learn a profession, to find housing and so on!

The State Comptroller, in his last report, wrote that hundreds of millions of Shekels of public funds were being wasted, mainly by government-owned companies, including Bezeq, and yet nobody considers cutting back funds allocated to these companies. Better to deprive the poor man of his lamb. All this is due to the secular fear that the chareidi and national-religious sectors will continue top grow, despite the fact that these groups constitute the last hope for maintaining a Jewish majority in this country, faced with the real demographic threat of the Palestinians. But this fact does not bother them, for some reason.

A Secular Journalist: "They're Missing The Point!"

It is interesting to note that the absurdity inherent in the opposition to the increase in allowances to large families, has not escaped even an avowed anti-religious journalist such as Arye Kaspi. In the Ha'aretz supplement (4th Sivan) he demonstrates intellectual honesty, and writes as follows:

"The Finance Ministry hopes to save about half a billion Shekel by delaying the implementation of the Large Families Law. Delaying the implementation of social laws is a time- honored custom of the Finance Ministry--the chareidim managed to pass the Large Families Law about a year ago with the help of Arab MKs. According to the law, the Child Benefit allowance of families with five children or more will be increased. There is a consensus in the media that this is a bad law. The claim made against it is that the costs of maintaining a child become less with each additional child. Therefore the allowance should decrease starting from the fifth child, whereas this law does the opposite, raising it from the fifth child onward.

"This argument sounds very convincing, but it misses the point. Large families receive governmental assistance not only because of the costs of raising a lot of children, but also because that way we locate poor families. All over the world there is a direct correlation between poverty and a high number of children!

"One of the most difficult issues in any social program is to decide who are the weak sections of society. Any definition is bound to be inaccurate. Not all disabled people are weak, not all one-parent families need financial assistance, and not all old people are dependent on a National Insurance allowance. The modern Welfare State has reconciled itself to the fact that there will be a certain amount of people who will benefit from a social security measure, which was not designated for their specific situation. A correct social policy will use several definitions of poverty, in the hope that that way most poor people will be protected. The assistance granted to large families is one such technique.

"Another argument made against assistance to the chareidim is that they suffer from `voluntary poverty.' This is a standard claim made by the middle-classes all over the world to explain why the weak should not be given assistance. According to this theory, the poor have only themselves to blame for their situation. In Israel the unemployed are blamed for their unemployment and those receiving minimum wages are blamed for an unwillingness to get on in life.

"There can be no doubt that the values of chareidi society contribute towards the poverty of its members, but the children born to a poor family are not to be blamed for their situation. The problems in such a family start not with the eighth child, but with the first. The allowance, even though it is officially meant for the seventh or eighth child, is divided in practice between all the members of the family. It has to be remembered that the new law makes a large family just 500-1000 NIS better off. About another 100 NIS per child. Less than the cost of one private lesson in English or a pair of pants. According to the new law, the Child Benefit allowance of a family with eight children would be 3997 NIS. You could not while away your time in a five-star hotel with such a sum. The opposition of the Finance Ministry and of the media to the Large Families Law does not stem only from economic or social considerations, it also seems to have been influenced by a touch of hatred towards chareidim!"


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