For the first time since the founding of the state, the rates of employment among ultra-Orthodox women are higher than those of all Israeli women, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced on Wednesday.
Since 2000, employment of ultra-Orthodox women has shot up by nearly 30 percent, Ynet reported. Almost 80% of haredi women are employed, surpassing the overall female labor rate of 75.3%.
Shahar Ilan, vice-president of research at religious freedom advocacy group Hiddush, believes that the spike over the last decade is a direct result of the social security cuts implemented in 2003 during the prime ministership of the late Ariel Sharon.
Sharon’s government went against the objections of the ultra-orthodox parties and backed then finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-social security policies.
“Facing economic challenges, haredi society will, by default, send wives into the workforce in order to protect the husbands’ Torah studies,” Ilan said. He estimated that the economic sanctions on the ultra-Orthodox, primarily manifested in child benefits cuts, have brought down the sector’s birth rate from 7.5 to 6.5.
Ilan also cited the establishment of several academic and technical education institutes for haredi women as a contributing factor, allowing them to take up previously unattainable professions.
Both employed women and unemployed women seeking work were included in the statistics.
Salaries for haredi women were found to be significantly lower than those of non-haredi women, as they tend to work in the public sector and in part-time jobs.
Hiddush CEO Uri Regev said the statistics are proof that cuts in child benefits and aid to yeshiva students are the best way to integrate the ultra-orthodox into Israeli society and economy.
Regev said it is equally important to overcome rabbinical objection to the incorporation of haredi men into the workforce. “Haredi politicians and rabbis are responsible for the poverty in their sector,” he said, claiming they actively sabotage attempts by haredi men to seek employment.
Ultra-orthodox society regards Torah studies as the main role of Jewish men, sometimes preferring to live austere lives rather than give up on their scholarly destinations.
In Israeli haredi society, it is customary for husbands to spend their days studying, while the wives serve as breadwinners.