Thousands of haredi exempted from military service, granted access to work force

The Jerusalem Post/April 1, 2014

By Jeremy Sharon

The government sets up two employment guidance centers in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Ashdod, Modiin Illit, Petah Tiqva and Beer Sheva.

Some 28,000 haredi men are to begin receiving full exemptions from military service immediately after Passover, under the terms of the ultra-Orthodox conscription law the Knesset approved last month.

The government hopes many of these men will leave their full-time Torah studies in yeshiva and enter the workforce, and is therefore preparing programs to help them find jobs.

The conscription law gives any full-time haredi yeshiva student of military age who is 22-years-old and over a full exemption from military service, and there are 28,000 men in this category.

The exemptions are to be provided gradually throughout the coming 12 months.

The Defense Ministry is to determine the number of given every month in coordination with the Economy Ministry, so as not to overwhelm the job market.

The men eligible for the exemption are required to report to the IDF, where they are to be given the option of choosing to perform military service, civilian service or to take advantage of their full exemption.

Until now, it has not been legally possible for ultra-Orthodox men to work without first performing military or civilian service, but the government hopes that many of the men receiving a military service exemption will decide to enter the job market.

The state has already set up two large employment and career guidance centers in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, respectively, and others are planned to be opened in Ashdod, Modi’in Illit, Petah Tikva and Beersheba.

The centers are designed for haredi men, where careers guidance professionals create a file for individuals seeking work, and review their personal background and any relevant educational or vocational qualifications.

Applicants would be given aptitude tests designed to provide a clearer picture for the career councilors of what kind of employment would be appropriate for the man in question.

The centers are to provide courses for haredi job-seekers on orientation to the workforce, writing a resumé, searching for employment, interview techniques and employment rights.

All applicants are entitled to NIS 9,000 grants from the Economy Ministry, to help pay for any job training program he may wish to attend, while some courses are to be fully subsidized by the state.

There will likely be an emphasis on vocational courses and careers not requiring high levels of secular education, as well as on entry level positions with on-the-job training.

Despite these efforts, observers of the ultra-Orthodox community have said that they expect only a small proportion of those receiving the military-service exemption to leave their yeshivot in favor of the workforce, especially in the short term.

Dr. Haim Zicherman, of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Religion and State Project, pointed to the Civilian Service program, which is an alternative to military service that since 2008 has been available to haredi men on a voluntary basis as a way of fulfilling their national service obligations before being legally able to work.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Zicherman noted that in the past six years, any haredi man wishing to leave yeshiva has been able to participate in the relatively undemanding one-year civilian service program and then work. He therefore argued that the mass exemptions would be unlikely to lead to haredi men leaving the study halls en masse, since in practice, anyone wishing up till now to join the workforce has been able to do so.

Zicherman expressed skepticism that such large numbers of haredi men could gain employment in light of their low levels of non-religious education and of professional qualifications.

He underlined a report published this week that demonstrated a high level of prejudice among employers against employing people from the haredi community.

Such prejudices were based on myths and misconceptions of supposed requirements that haredi employees might need in the work place, he said.

In addition, the deputy director of the Hiddush lobbying group, Shahar Ilan, expressed concern that the atmosphere of hostility toward the government could prevent people from leaving the study halls.

The haredi leadership has depicted the government’s conscription law as an attempt to destroy haredi values. The concern is that the antipathy to the law and the government will make students hesitant to leave the yeshiva, at least at in the coming months, lest they be considered traitors to the community.

Ilan acknowledged that in the long term, increasing numbers of the haredi men who will receive military service exemptions this year will being looking for work, but only on the condition that recent cuts to the welfare budget, which have targeted some of the key benefits enjoyed by the haredi population, remain in place.

The haredi political parties will almost certainly condition their entries into any coalition, whether in the current government or after national elections, on the repeal of some of the cuts to the benefits the haredi sector enjoyed over the past 10 years.

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