In “Liberalism and the Right to Culture” Avishai Margalit and Moshe Halbertal’s primary argument, in the case of Ultra Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs in Israel, is that the state of Israel should conduct public policy in a way that will assist with the preservation of these groups’ minority culture. They attest that what is known as right to culture supersedes the state of Israel’s neutrality and requires that it “actively assist needy cultures” (p. 492).
This right encompasses several factors including the right to maintain their communities within a larger society without interference from the state, recognition from the general public of their way of life, and assistance from the state to maintain and allow these cultures to flourish (pp. 498-499). In instances where the individual’s livelihood, education, language, and general lives rely heavily on their community, as is the case in particular with the closely-knit Ultra Orthodox community, state assistance is especially necessary to preserve the minority culture.
Using the examples of such practices as rules governing the observation of the Sabbath in Ultra Orthodox communities and the maintaining of the Arabic language in Israeli Arab communities, they highlight the perception of discrimination at the base of moves to further liberalize public policies against these minorities. For instance, Ultra Orthodox Jewish communities prohibit vehicular transportation through their respective neighborhoods during the Sabbath.
Members of this group will naturally refrain from such modes of transportation. However, this ban also encompasses those of other cultural backgrounds traveling through these communities and could be seen a prohibitive of national identity. Margalit and Halbertal argue that these groups right to culture “it is an important and sometimes even a necessary component of a reason which is sufficient for obligating others to help maintain a culture” (pp. 500).
They further argue that since immigration and other laws protect the interests of the Jewish majority in Israel and continue the rule of a liberal majority, any special treatment afforded to Ultra Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs is “justified by the fact that liberal neutrality serves the majority culture” (p. 510). 2) Explain what are positive and negative rights using the reading material. There are many examples of positive and negative rights in the discussions presented in each of the readings concerning the practices and continuing function of Ultra Orthodox Jews in Israel.
From the standpoint of positive rights a point touched on in many of the readings are the allowances and subsidies provided to Ultra Orthodox Jews on the part of the state government. Despite their disapproval of the state of Israel as a secular governing body, many families had grown to rely on the child allowances, educational institutions relied on funding, etc. The child allowances are paid even if the parents do not work and continued to increase through the beginning of 2001 were the result of efforts by Ultra Orthodox politicians.
In 2001, a law was passed raising the allowance to NIS 855 a month for the fifth child on but significantly decreased credits for a first child (Shtrasler, 2008, p. 2). Subsequently, those who benefited most from the child allowances at this point were large families, of which many Ultra Orthodox Jewish families would be categorized. Margalit and Halbertal’s argument for the state of Israel’s obligation to provide support in preserving Ultra Orthodox communities, helps put these subsidies and allowances in the perspective of a positive right.
As a positive right it deals directly with the idea of this community being provided with sustenance on which to continue living their culture by an outside source, in this case the state. However, as Cohen notes in explaining about the growth in the dependence on charity from outside sources such as moneylenders, the state, and charitable organizations (both local and abroad), what is a positive right for the Ultra Orthodox Jews is not always positive or cohesive with their religious way of life (2006, pp. 45-46). As he explains, biblical sources greatly discourage accepting charity in place of self-sufficiency.
However, the current Haredi community has been able to justify charity in the name of full time study of Torah (Cohen, 2006, p. 45). Due to this change in viewpoint towards charity, people are now accepting it readily and in some case unnecessarily (Cohen, 2006, 46). The Haredi community’s justification in doing this and living along guidelines which are outside the public majority, in turn, provide the perfect example of negative rights. The Ultra Orthodox community’s rights to being a self-contained and separate unit from general Israeli society most pointedly illustrates negative rights in the reading material.
As this is a religious based cultural community, the freedom to exercise their religious views in all aspects of their culture, from dietary habit to limits on media, is one of the rights which has allowed the community to continue outside the mainstream. 3) Explain what Margalit and Halbertal’s arguments imply negative or positive rights (or both) and why. Their primary argument, stating that the state of Israel has an obligation toward the Ultra Orthodox Jewish and Israeli Arab cultures to assist in preserving their right to culture, implies positive rights.
Margalit and Halbertal’s arguments indicate positive rights in the respect that they perceive that the state’s public policy should be conducted in such a way as to recognize these cultures as separate from the nation-state culture and provide monetary assistance to allow certain culturally central practices to continue. As head of a ruling majority, it is the state’s obligation to act in a way that serves and provides continuation of these minority cultures.
Margalit and Halbertal’s essay can also be seen to argue on the side of negative rights as it advocates the minority communities ability to their own cultural practices and morals as constructs of their society. An example of this could be made of the refusal by Ultra Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs to serve in the Israeli army. Another example could be made for simply for the rights of these communities to exist outside the public majority, speaking their a language other than the official language of Israel – for Israeli Arabs it is Arabic and for the Ultra Orthodox Jews it is Yiddish.
4) How would you assess a request from an Ultra Orthodox to increase child allowance? Assessing a request from an Ultra Orthodox for an increase in child allowance is a sticky situation from the information I gleaned in the reading materials. While Margalit and Halbertal would argue that an adequate child allowance is a significant way for which the state to help provide support for the Ultra Orthodox community through financial subsidy, allowing for the practices which provide continuation of their culture, others such as Cohen and Shtrasler would argue that the allowances breeds the reliance of the community on state assistance.
On the one hand, raising child allowances would lessen some of the financial strain on the Ultra Orthodox community. On the other hand, raising allowances continues a reliance on the state and does not address the heart of the economic strain on their community. Cohen’s primary argument is that the lack gainful employment and particularly the lack of desire for gainful employment (2006, p. 50) would only be exacerbated by an increase in allowances. As he explains, employment is sought only out of financial need (2006, p.
12). A lower child allowance places more of the burden of economic stability on the individual and, in the case of a closely joined community as the Ultra Orthodox, onto the community. Though need may be the motivating factor in seeking training or jobs outside of the community that could provide more than bare sustenance, the need could necessitate change in the community on a broader basis. Many of the things which prevent or discourage Ultra Orthodox men from entering the workforce are belief based.
With the exception of Margalit and Halbertal, all of the other sources agree that much of the financial hardship experienced by the Ultra Orthodox community finds its source in ingrained cultural and religious beliefs. Chief among these, is the practice in current generations of Ultra Orthodox men of remaining in the yeshiva well into adulthood. While men in the general public may largely be establish in their careers by the time they reach 40, the number of Ultra Orthodox men remaining in the yeshiva until this age has only increased over the years.
As Berman notes, by the mid-90’s (prior to the cutting of child allowances) one-third of these men remained in yeshiva until their 40s to continue studying full time (2000, p. 908). As long as these men remain in their studies full-time they will not contribute in a meaningful way to their families support; in many cases, wives are responsible for the financial support of the family (Cohen, 2006, p. 46).
While none of the sources advocate the lessening of the importance of yeshiva, it necessary for the long term benefit of the community that emphasis also be placed on employment, education and training for participation in the job market. The rising birth rate noted by Berman (2000, p. 907) could be used as argument that the financial burden placed on the family by full time study in the yeshiva does not effect the growth of the family and therefore the centralized belief of immersion in Torah study as a tenet of the community should not be a factor in child allowances.
However, more recent numbers from Shtrasler which reflect a decline in birth rate since the change in child allowances shows that the community is able to adjust to economic hardship. This adjustment advocates not the increase in allowances but instead an equalizing of the community’s reliance on this subsidies. Future generations of the Ultra Orthodox community will learn how to adjust and address the financial needs of their families through means aside from state assistance.
As Shtrasler explains, the increase of the child allowances in 2001 by MK Shmuel Halpert had a negative effect on the community in raising their reliance to state assistance, “Halpert sought to bless his public and ended up cursing them” (2008, p. 2). Their reliance simply justified an increase in wariness to the secular public and unemployment, creating a larger economic problem than amount of child allowances. By lowering the allowance, the government placed the burden back on the community.
Though some may perceive this burden as destructive to the right to Ultra Orthodox culture, it also allows for a new approach in the leadership of the community. It does not necessitate change in the religious or moral belief structure. It is through the exercise of negative rights on a community level as opposed to a national level that standard of living must increase. A change in the attitude towards employment and general education, as advocated by Cohen, and not increases in child allowances that would help prepare future generations to benefit from self-reliance rather than state support.
References Berman, E. Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice: An Economist’s View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. (2000, August). The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 115 (3). 905-953. Cohen, B. (2006). Economic Hardship and Gainful Employment in Haredi Society in Israel. The Floersheimer Institute for Political Studies. Margalit & Avishai. (1994, Fall). Liberalism and the Right to Culture. Social Research 61(3). 491-510. Shtrasler, N. (2008 January 15). It’s the Budget, Stupid. Haaretz.
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