By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
Haredi, women, and high-tech: three words you never expected to exist harmoniously in the same sentence. And yet, in the Jewish state, these three are a match made in the Garden of Eden. In Israel, the hottest social debate continues over the economic effect of Israel’s religious population and what should be done to ameliorate the resulting economic pressure on haredi families and on the state. These discussions and subsequent laws have encouraged many haredim to seek work where many were previously opposed, as work takes time away from men’s commandment of Torah study and women’s duty to take care of the family and home. However, as the haredi lifestyle with plenty of kids and a minimal earned salary becomes less viable, haredi rabbis have granted approval for many men and women to enter the workforce, leading to a rapid increase of employment among the haredi sector. Women, in particular, are leading this revolution within the community, as they are often required to be the family breadwinners so their husbands can continue to fulfill the commandment of Jewish learning.
With a majority of haredim living below the poverty line, the number of employed haredim is steadily increasing. This increase is a welcomed change in Israeli society, as unemployed haredim are costly for the state, which continues to financially support unemployed haredim as well as their many dependents. More than 50 percent of haredi men are now participating in Israel’s labor force, up from 33 percent in 2005, Israeli media reported in February. Although this represents a huge increase in employment, the figures continue to lag behind the 90 percent of non-haredi men who are employed. According to Stuart Hershkowitz, deputy CEO of The Jerusalem College of Technology’s Lev Academic Center, the low employment rate costs the Israeli economy some $2.18 billion each year: “Due to unemployment, they do not pay taxes, and, therefore, become a strain on society.” More promising are the 71 percent of haredi women employed in Israel, an impressive percentage of employment when compared to the 80 percent of their employed non-haredi counterparts.