The Jerusalem Post notes what will probably be a split in Untied Torah Judaism, the political party that is home to Ashkenazi haredim both hasidic and Lithuanian. The issue at hand? Should the party join Ehud Olmert's coalition? Labor may very well withdraw from the government, leaving Olmert 2 seats short of the controlling margin he needs to remain in power. UTJ can provide 3 seats, and save Olmert's government.
This is exactly what the non-hasidic part of UTJ, known as the Degel HaTorah faction, wishes to do. They see this as an opportunity to get more money from the government, specifically:
…The Haredi Education Law would anchor in legislation funding for over 100,000 elementary school children and tens of thousands of yeshiva and kollel students. At present, the funding is dependent on the success of annual lobbying efforts. The bill would also prevent the Education Ministry from interfering in haredi schools' curricula.…
But the hasidic Agudath Israel faction, controlled by the Gerrer Rebbe, refuses to join a coalition with Olmert. Why? Could it be that the Gerrer Rebbe is standing up for the settlement movement or for the soldiers who fought the last Lebanon war without the proper equipment and leadership?
Of course not:
…The Gerrer Rebbe, who almost single-handedly decides Agudah's policies, has already declared that his party will not enter the coalition, or support it, without a major concession on child allotments. As finance minister in 2003, Binyamin Netanyahu made deep cuts - hundreds of millions of shekels - in child benefits.…
The Israeli government pays each family for each additional child by increasing the family's welfare benefits. Those specific benefits were reduced in 2003. Agudah – whose families are larger than Degel HaTorah's because hasidim marry earlier and have more children, is holding out for benefits that matter most to its constituency, just as Degel HaTorah is holding out for the benefits that are most important to theirs.
The sad thing is that if haredim got enough secular education to join the workforce in reasonably paying jobs, most of these benefits would be minor to them. But they eschew secular education and expect taxpaying, hardworking non-haredi Israelis to foot the bill.
And, it seems, another weak prime minister trying to save his coalition will pay that bill, perpetuating a broken system that will, sooner rather than later, implode.
The greatest kindness we can do for haredim is to mandate work while at the same time providing training and education to make that work possible. The government would probably do this if haredi rabbinic leadership approved – but they do not approve. And so, the welfare state will continue, ensuring more haredim are born into poverty, view work with disdain, and live on the dole.
It does not need to be this way, but the rabbis make it so. How sad.