| A Few Minutes With |

Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz: Chareidim in Government Service 

      “I’m not a conspiracist, but I do recognize a reluctance on the part of the civil service to take in chareidi employees”

Photo: Flash 90

When Professor Daniel Hershkowitz was appointed head of the Israeli Civil Service Commission in 2018, he fulfilled a childhood dream. “I always wanted to be a firefighter,” he reflects sardonically, “and from the first day on the job, I found myself putting out fires.”

This week, Hershkowitz, a respected academic with semichah from Mercaz Harav, found himself dragged into the ugly, escalating fight between Israel’s elected officials and its unelected bureaucrats. Behind the most recent flareup is Likud MK Dudi Amsalem, who holds the portfolio “minister in the Justice Ministry,” urging Hershkowitz to fire Michal Rosenbaum, head of the Government Companies Authority. Amsalem claims Rosenbaum is stonewalling his appointments; she in turn claims Amsalem is foisting unqualified appointees on the system.

In the meantime, the press is on the attack, and protesters are gathering outside Hershkowitz’s home. In a conversation with Mishpacha, he rebuffs the criticism and focuses instead on working chareidim.

“The unique toolbox chareidim bring to the workforce is an invaluable commodity,” he says.

With all due respect to the Rosenbaum-Amsalem feud, a much more pressing concern is on Hershkowitz’s agenda: integrating chareidim into public service. The head of the Civil Service Commission is well aware of the challenges. In 2017, a year before he assumed the role, the government set its quota for chareidi recruitment to the civil service at 7 percent.

Six years later, that goal is still a long way off. For example, chareidim represented just 4 percent of the public sector’s intake last year.


You claim you’re on the case, but the glass ceiling seems as impenetrable as ever.

“The numbers are trending up. I’m working to update our employment quotas. That is, in addition to a required annual intake of 7 percent, government departments will be judged by the percentage of chareidim they employ overall.”

At the end of the day, your job is to implement the government’s decisions. You don’t seem to lack the motivation, so where’s the difficulty?

(Laughs.) “The gap between decisions on paper and the ability to implement them on the ground is what the entire story is about.”

Can you explain? Why exactly is the gap so acute?        

“The health system accounts for 50 percent of the public sector. The sensitivities many in the community have about working in hospitals makes it a challenge to fill the quotas. Many chareidim won’t work in the health system out of halachic considerations. Of course, there are heterim, especially when it comes to pikuach nefesh, but many chareidim prefer to stay away. And those who are willing don’t always live within reasonable proximity to a hospital.

“The government’s offices are concentrated mostly in Jerusalem, which — if you include towns in greater Jerusalem, such as Beit Shemesh — is mostly where the chareidi population is concentrated as well. The difficulty arises with hospitals, which are spaced out across the country.”

Bottom line, things are moving at snail’s pace. Why can’t we simplify the process, do away with discriminatory entrance requirements? Why exclude a talented chareidi perfectly suited for a position simply because he doesn’t have an academic degree in history or archaeology?

“The requirements for educational credentials are set by the Council for Higher Education. It’s not at my discretion. That said, when it comes to positions of trust, where I do have say, I certainly do intervene in favor of chareidi applicants.

“For example, I did this with the appointment of an assistant director general. The roles state that applicants for the post must have an academic degree. In cases where I do have the authority, such as positions of trust, I’ve exercised it to bring in assistant directors general whose skills were suited to the position.”

The current dissonance between elected officials and the unelected bureaucracy seems unbridgeable — the conspiracy-minded will point to the deep-state.

“I’m not a conspiracist, but I do recognize a reluctance on the part of the civil service to take in chareidi employees. I prefer using incentives to change behavior over heavy-handed enforcement of quotas.

“Under my watch, the training department has broadened its ranks. Its workers are tasked with preparing public sector employers to integrate chareidim into a heterogeneous work environment. And then there are also financial incentives.”

At the same time, you believe that a single chareidi employee can allay the concerns of an entire department.

“Every chareidi employee in a government ministry or department changes the situation dramatically. Places that have hired chareidim as part of affirmative action policies have discovered the community’s quality.

“Graduates of the yeshivah world bring with them a unique toolbox. Yeshivah teaches people how to think, and in public service positions, that’s an invaluable commodity. The same applies to chareidi women. They have a very strong work ethic and serve as an example to their environment.

“In addition to the fact that chareidim bring a different perspective and skill set, I see that wherever we integrate chareidim, barriers come down and the entire department changes.”

The Dimonah nuclear reactor hired several Gerrer chassidim from Arad. While your office had to initially push for their acceptance, they’re now being asked for more of the same.

“Recently we got a chareidi payroll accountant in there. A very senior position by any account. The feedback we got from his superiors is amazing.

“Even where we’ve encountered a negative attitude, the barriers came down as soon as chareidim are actually introduced into the environment. True, we’re not there yet, but more and more chareidim are integrating, including into top-secret military units and the national cyber system. This is something we haven’t seen in the past.”

We understand that you consider the crowning glory to be the appointment of Mrs. Rachel Pissam, a chareidi mother of ten and grandmother of 18, as head of the human resources department.

“Do you understand the significance of that? When did we ever hear of something like this? So, yes, the civil service has made strides in the integration of chareidim over the past few years.”

The director of your office, Mrs. Yael Mizrachi, is also chareidi.

“And I’m proud of that. We’ve been able to shatter glass ceilings. In the end, all of Israeli society benefits from that.”

“In recent months the Israeli civil service has begun using the cloud services of tech giant Google. This requires a significant expansion in trained manpower. We’re working on integrating dozens of chareidi women who’ve acquired the relevant training as part of the learning tracks for chareidi seminary girls.

“Chareidi women can find a source of income that respects their way of life in the public sector. I made sure to let them work from home one day a week, and we’ll soon start a pilot program under which they can work from home two days a week. This makes things easier for mothers of multiple children.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 977)

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