Liberman: Ultra-Orthodox to get stipends for fewer study hours, so men can get jobs

At first meeting of ministerial socioeconomic committee of new government, finance minister says he aims to bring more Haredi men, Arab women into workforce

Screen capture from video of Finance Minister Avigdor Libeman at the opening of a meeting of the ministerial socioeconomic committee, February 15, 2022. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of Finance Minister Avigdor Libeman at the opening of a meeting of the ministerial socioeconomic committee, February 15, 2022. (YouTube)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday he intends to halve the number of hours that ultra-Orthodox men must spend in study in order to qualify for state stipends, freeing up their time to join the workforce.

Liberman spoke at the opening of the first meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Socioeconomic Affairs since the new government took over eight months ago.

He said the idea was to provide “positive incentives” to encourage more ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women to find jobs.

Many ultra-Orthodox men learn full time in yeshivas, or kollels for older married men, where they study Jewish religious texts. Those in kollels can receive state stipends but are required to spend at least 40 hours a week in study.

Liberman said he intends to reduce the number of weekly hours to 20 without reducing the stipends that the men receive.

“That will enable them to go out to work,” he said.

The finance minister, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party, did not remark on specific plans to increase the number of Arab women who have jobs.

“We intend to enlarge the pie, to reduce the gaps in Israeli society, and to strengthen the middle class,” said Liberman, a champion of secular rights. His views have seen him clash with ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who prefer to preserve a fragile status quo between religion and state.

During his Sunday meeting with the visiting head of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Liberman said, he got feedback relating to the need to bring more Israelis into the workforce.

“We received great appreciation for our performance and that of the Israeli economy,” he noted.

Also on the agenda of the committee meeting were a number of key topics, including the state of medical services in the northern and southern parts of the country, the rising cost of real estate, and the campaign against domestic violence.

Liberman said plans to set up two new hospitals, one in the north and the other in the south, would be on the agenda.

Illustrative: Yeshiva students in Israel (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

On Monday, Channel 13 news reported that Liberman intends to use a mixture of subsidy cuts and financial incentives to increase ultra-Orthodox workforce participation.

Liberman’s plan would end daycare subsidies for children of full-time yeshiva students and scrap property tax discounts for families in which the parents do not work.

The report said the plan also includes “carrots,” such as offering financial benefits to Haredi schools that teach core curriculum subjects such as math, science, and English.

Channel 13 said the main obstacle to the plan was coalition party leaders’ desire to work in the future with ultra-Orthodox factions. Supporting such measures will no doubt enrage ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and may undermine the prospects for political cooperation down the road.

Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the 38-member OECD, was in Israel on his first visit to the country as head of the organization. He joined Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to discuss Israel’s economy, tax reforms, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of the structural challenges facing Israel are linked to its two-speed economy and the need to bridge the socioeconomic gaps to foster economic performance,” Cormann told the cabinet meeting Sunday.

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