The slogan of Tuesday's demonstration in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood in protest of the government's budget cuts was "Don't starve the children."
But the screaming headline of this weekend's edition of the popular haredi weekly Bakehila suggests that starvation is still not on the menu in most of the haredi world: "Some yeshivot haven't served meat on Weekdays for nearly a month."
All babies born after August 1 will earn NIS 144 monthly for their parents. This is one of the many elements of the budget that large haredi families feel will affect them disproportionately than other elements of the population. Previously, each additional child brought in proportionately larger child allowances, with the biggest jump kicking in at the birth of the fifth child when families would receive NIS 724 for it and every additional child.
While the structure of proportionately increased payments for children born before August 1 will remain in effect, August 1 will also see a 25 percent cut in all child payments, so that a family with eight children under 18 will receive NIS 3,022 per month instead of NIS 4,063.One Har Nof housewife with seven children, who works from home to supplement her husband's teaching income, was not overly disturbed about the NIS 838 loss from her monthly budget. "It'll just mean being even more careful than usual: one pair of shoes (each) for the boys, instead of one for Shabbat and one for every day; going to the souk instead of shopping in the neighborhood; no extras for the house."
And what about the further cuts spread over the next seven years, at the end of which families will receive the same for each child?"I have faith," she says, "and anyway, a lot can happen in seven years."
A non-working mother of eight pregnant with her ninth child who lives in the Sorotzkin neighborhood was a bit more anxious: "While my husband learns at a relatively wealthy kollel and so gets a $700 stipend, we're still very careful about expenses. I pay NIS 2,000 per month for tuition alone, and NIS 4,000 for food. The cuts will mean things like buying less clothes for the children. For us, the child allowances were like a salary, and people don't expect their salaries to get cut."
Would she have done anything differently had she known that the government would not continue the high level of child support for large families?
"While jobs as heder teachers in the Lithuanian [non-hassidic] world are plentiful and pay relatively well, my husband isn't suited temperamentally for that. Jobs as yeshiva teachers for older boys are scarce in both the Lithuanian and hassidic worlds. Even if my husband were to secure a job as one, he would only make $100 more than then he does now.
"Had I known when I got married how things would work out, I would have gotten a job, which I still hope to do in the long run. But as a woman nearing 40, I don't know how easy it will be."One mother of 10 in her mid-thirties, living on the edge of Mea She'arim, was close to hysteria.
"I'm always afraid, even though I have faith in God. This will make life 10 times harder than it has been already. My husband's kollel stipend is only NIS 1,500, and for us the NIS 5,500 I was getting from [the National Insurance Institute] paid for our bread and butter.
"I'm proud to say I've never bought new clothes from my children, only second hand," she continued. "As it is, we depend on Yad Eliezer [a veteran haredi charity distributing foodstuffs] and Hasdei Libi [a new charity delivering disposable diapers]. But my husband can no more stop learning Gemara every day than a fish can live out of water."
Did she never worry that one day the government would decide to cut down on its financial support? "I always thought that the state should thank me for giving birth to Jewish children," she answered.
Asked if there no longer remained any residents of Mea She'arim who refuse to accept money from the government out of ideological reasons, she replied, "Very few, because regular expenses water, electricity, telephone are so high."
Many busines will fall as a result of the cutbacks, she estimated, as haredim will buy much less. The theme was echoed by other haredim, as well as the haredi press. "Haredim don't have any savings, and all the money we had went into buying products," she added.