The situation is truly dire. The dollar's devaluation coupled with economic instability in the US and worldwide has crippled Israel's nonprofits, which rely almost exclusively on donations from the US.
Soup kitchens have cut back portions. New clients are not being taken. People are going hungry.
Israel's government – which, up till now has…
…left most of the caring for Israel's needy to these nonprofits – has not reacted to the crisis.
Haredim make up the majority of Jewish poor, and much of that poverty is self-inflicted. Men do not work. They "study" instead, often for their entire lives. These families subsist on government child allowances, welfare, $300 per month kollel stipends, and whatever money a mother of 12 can earn in her spare time.
In part because poverty is viewed as a self-infliced haredi problem, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, has not moved to do much to rectify it – the idea being that, without government handouts, haredim will have to work, just like everyone else. That will reduce haredi poverty, increase the country's tax base and make it possible for the country to deal with cases of poverty caused by illness, old age, or truly bad luck.
The sinking US dollar and the mortgage crisis (i.e., George W. Bush's legacy) has hastened that day. Haredim are now being forced to work. But the economic crisis Bush helped to bring about has made job hunting very difficult. So haredim now have the worst of two worlds – poverty and actual unemployment.
It did not have to be this way.
If haredim had worked instead of relying on various forms of welfare and handouts, Israel's economic base would be much stronger and more evenly distributed. It would be easier for nonprofits to aid the poor, and easier to set a humane government policy so that nonprofits would not have to carry the brunt of the anti-poverty load.
But haredim did not choose to work. Why?
Because their rabbis ordered them not to.
Like the Holocaust and pretty much every other bad thing that has ever happened to Jews, the rabbis – the so-called gedolim and the hasidic rebbes – did not see it coming. And, like almost every other bad time, the rabbis will eat while their loyal followers go hungry.
Learn from history. It did not have to be this way.
[Hat Tip: Ben Max.]