Welfare, Religion, and Values: An Investigation of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
David BARTRAM , University of Leicester, United Kingdom
Welfare states and welfare policies are commonly understood as mechanisms for addressing material deprivation (and, perhaps, the social exclusion that follows from being poor).  In some cases, however, welfare programs as experienced by recipients have more to do with a religious and/or cultural imperative: state support enables people to reproduce a particular way of life, especially by making it possible to survive without engaging in full-time work (paid employment). 

This paper explores that proposition via analysis of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, where many of the men in very religious families prefer to engage in full-time religious study rather than holding regular jobs.  These arrangements are controversial, producing resentment among secular Israelis who believe that ultra-Orthodox men impose unfair fiscal burdens on the state and taxpayers. 

The paper argues that welfare systems should indeed consider religious and cultural differences of this sort, rather than assuming that material sufficiency is only relevant value.  The Israeli welfare state helps a distinct group of citizens to resist systemic pressures to become “normal” members of society (e.g. focused on conventional goals such as consumption, leisure, and career advancement); with state support, ultra-Orthodox Jews have more scope for pursuing goals and values of their own choosing.  In the Israeli case, however, one must balance that view against concerns about the way ultra-Orthodox elites use welfare programs to exacerbate the dependence of other (regular, non-elite) members of that community.