Presence of Malice

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Last night, I took note of HaAretz’s gratuitous swipe at Kadima, mere minutes after PM Sharon’s cerebral hemorrhage. [Although quick, I don’t think it was nearly as inappropriate for Meir Sheetrit to bring up the party’s continuity the following day. The clock is ticking towards the elections, and people do need to know that the Kadima party can survive Sharon’s illness.]

Then I noticed this article featured by HaAretz — a nice reminder that its distaste for anything on the political middle or right-wing still takes a back seat to its virulent antipathy towards all things religious. Lisa L. also noticed the article and emailed me; thanks for the tip, Lisa, and others are always invited to send in tips via the comments or via email to blog at cross hyphen currents …

The article discusses charedi women finding employment at charedi high-tech firms. But here’s the title: “Lured into the high-tech sweatshop.”

Lured – “To attract by wiles or temptation; entice.” [American Heritage Dictionary, online at answers.com.] A lure is a decoy. It is dishonest. People are “lured” by the lights of Hollywood, only to find out that most actors are broke. People are “lured” from foreign countries by promises of wealth, only to find themselves in situations barely above slave labor.

Sweatshop – “A shop or factory in which employees work long hours at low wages under poor conditions.” Sweatshops are unsafe, with a boss not far from a taskmaster. The Triangle Shirt fire killed so many, according to reports, because employers locked the doors, claiming otherwise employees stole things when they went outside.

People are not “lured” into well-paying jobs in enjoyable work environments. And an enjoyable work environment hardly describes a sweatshop. So you open the article expecting to hear that people were enticed into terrible environments — and instead encounter charedi men and women enjoying their jobs.

Hava Kleiman of Modi’in Illit is a software programmer. She was once employed by a company owned by secular Israelis. However, she had difficulties integrating work with her religious way of life there.

“I always had a Jewish calendar in front of me,” Kleiman recalls.

That calendar fits in well with her current position as project manager at ImageStore, which provides electronic document archival services. The office is near her home, and all the workers, including owner Ephraim Reich, are ultra-Orthodox (Haredi).

Was Ms. Kleiman lured, or did she find a job close to home, in an environment that understood and appreciated her way of life?

Employment in high-tech, particularly in companies with branches in ultra-Orthodox communities such as Modi’in Illit and Betar, is a welcome solution for Haredi women.

Did you ever hear someone describe a sweatshop as a “welcome solution?”

Yisrael Abeles of Bnei Brak, who is married to a teacher and is the father of seven, studied programming in the first such course offered by the Haredi Center for Vocational Training. When he graduated, in 1998, he and 15 of his fellow students were hired by the Malam information technology company. Currently he oversees the work of 15 male and female employees, some of whom are ultra-Orthodox, as manager of a software development team for the company’s Metropoli-Net subsidiary.

Wow — a dossie actually got a job. And he became good at it. Now he’s a manager.

Abeles said that at first there were some integration difficulties, as both he and the company’s secular employees had to learn each other’s style of speaking. More than 10 percent, or around 160, of Malam’s workforce is ultra-Orthodox, about 60 percent of whom are women. The company is planning to hire dozens of Haredi women at a software house to be established in Ashdod.

So the charedim and secular shared an office, and discovered they could actually get along. And the company is so happy with the work ethic and productivity of the charedim, that it plans to hire dozens more. By all accounts, everyone is happy with how well charedim are doing in skilled labor, including the workers:

According to a study carried out two years ago by the American Joint Distribution Committee’s Brookdale Institute, the social and professional integration into the workforce of graduates of 12 training courses for the ultra-Orthodox in fields such as land appraisal, tax consulting and software programming was better than both the participants and their new employers expected. About 85 percent of the graduates expressed satisfaction with their jobs.

Two-thirds of the graduates worked with other ultra-Orthodox employees, but even those who were the only Haredim in their workplace said they did not feel alienated. Most said they participate in work-related social events and succeed in maintaining their ultra-Orthodox way of life.

So where’s the lure? Where’s the sweatshop? Finally, we get to the last paragraph:

One of the original attractions of high-tech for the ultra-Orthodox was the high salaries in the field. While this holds true for men, high-tech work is less attractive for women due to familial and social constraints. A significant number of rabbis, for example, encourage Haredi women to work, but only in ultra-Orthodox workplaces, where salaries are often close to minimum wage.

Aha! Salaries are often close to minimum wage. Any statistics on that? No. Interviews? Zip. Anecdotal evidence? Nada. It looks like the last paragraph was tacked on by a hostile editor, because the entire rest of the article contradicts it.

Malam is opening up an “ultra-Orthodox workplace” near Ashdod, but they’re going to have to use the same pay scale they use for everyone else, or they’ll get sued. It sure doesn’t sound like Hava Kleiman thought the trade-off wasn’t a good one, when she changed jobs. Very few people are going to accept minimum-wage salaries when they can go to Malam, and, as the article says, there are an awful lot of charedim who are the token charedi at their firm — and it says nothing about being limited to men. People make trade-offs all the time, because money isn’t everything — but money is something if you’re trying to feed a family. Charedim make trade-offs like everything else.

There’s no lure. And there’s no sweatshop. If this article were published by non-Jews in Idaho we’d have a name for it. We shouldn’t fail to recognize it just because the publisher is Jewish.

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10 Responses

  1. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Speaking of headlines, Haaretz recently ran a story in its web edition on a study of who wastes water in Israel. Far down on the list of culprits was the country’s Mikvahs. But the headline read “Mikvahs and others waste water”. Technically correct, the headline says more about the biases of the paper than the wastage of water.

    Menachem Petrushka

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    One of the big problems of many Israeli Chilonim (= non religious) with Charedi society is the self-imposed poverty caused by years of full time Torah study. In the US that would be accepted as an individual/family choice, but in high-tax/high-welfare Israel the costs really are spread to the rest of the country.

    For Ha’aretz to be anything but supportive when Charedim get good, high paying jobs smacks of hypocrisy. I suspect that the journalist who wrote this article would agree with me – the article’s tone is positive. However, the editor who chooses the headlines seems to have a different agenda.

  3. Moshe Friedman says:

    I don’t think you realized how odd this headline really is. Even the paragraph you quoted simply said that some Rabbis discourage women from going to certain workplaces. However, one would assume that the phrase “lured into the sweatshop” was referring to all the high tech workplaces mentioned earlier in the article, and thus makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, even as an insult to Hareidim. It’s simply incoherent.

    As you noticed, the article also has an almost uniformly positive tone, which clashes with the headline.

    If you read Ha’aretz regularly you’ll notice that their English is far from perfect and that they often use words with the wrong connotations. For some reason, this seems to be especially true of the headlines. It’s quite possible that this is just another example of that.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    When Haaretz starts writing positive articles about Charedim without any post Zionist and anti Charedi spin , then we will see a different paper. Until then, expect nothing but Shachar Ilan’s so-called “inside pieces” and articles re scandals, etc.

  5. sarah says:

    You sure about that? I seem to recall reading an article in the JPost about a year ago about a company that was hiring chareidi women for high tech jobs but paying them well below the going rate. They felt they could get away with it because the women didn’t have many other options.

  6. Harry Maryles says:

    What do you have against Idaho?

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    Menachem,

    That’s an undocumented swipe at the “charedi press.” I doubt you could find an article anywhere in the charedi world that, were it printed in Idaho, you would call anti-Semitic. This is only the most recent example of what we find in HaAretz.

    Charedim will not get along in regular units in an army as young unmarrieds, for all sorts of reasons obvious to anyone familiar with the army. This is why the hesder yeshivot have hesder units. Furthermore, you don’t want to replace Torah study with military service.

  8. Menachem says:

    Yaakov,

    Your critique of Haaretz is on target. I’m wonering how this would be (was?) portrayed in the Chareidi press, which is usually the mirror image of rags like Haaretz.

    Regarding your statement below:

    “So the charedim and secular shared an office, and discovered they could actually get along. And the company is so happy with the work ethic and productivity of the charedim, that it plans to hire dozens more. By all accounts, everyone is happy with how well charedim are doing in skilled labor, including the workers:”

    Imagine if the chareidim themselves took this to heart and realized that they can actually get along with non-chareidim in the work place, the army, sheirut leumi, etc. What a wonderful world it would be!

  9. ralphie says:

    Ha’aretz editorial bias aside, one has hopes that this might be the beginnings of improving the sour relations between the Haredi and the secular.

  10. Mordechai Y. Scher says:

    good call on this one…

    Well, yes; if this were in Idaho we *would* indeed have a word for it. Where Haaretz is concerned, the very same word applies (often has, in my opinion). Some anitsemites are indeed Jews, as we see at Haaretz. I guess a more correct term today is something like ‘hatred of Judaism’; but in the old days it was all antisemitism.