Man, oh man, did I blow it with this one. Obviously, I was completely ignorant of the nature of college education in Israel and just assumed it was like the US model. Thanks to my commentators for correcting me on this. I'll make sure my next post isn't nearly as flawed.
The following news item appeared on YWN:
MK (Yahadut Hatorah) Rabbi Yisrael Eichler presented a query to Minister of Industry & Trade (Bayit Yehudi) Naftali Bennett. He explained that Israel’s civil service does not recognize yeshiva study, and as a result, chareidim are barred from apply for many jobs. He explains they are told that since they lack a bagrut (matriculation) diploma and an academic education, they are not qualified to apply for civil service positions. Eichler feels that limud Torah should be credited as an equivalent for in most cases, the chareidim are indeed qualified for the public sector positions but lack the paperwork under the current requirements.
Rabbi Eicher certainly has a point. Torah study (especially in Israel) should be no worse than studying history, music or art. The study in many yeshivos can certainly be intense and there is no question that in the more elite yeshivos, the level of study could certainly qualify one for an undergraduate degree.
Rabbi Eichler then goes on to state that because yeshivos cannot issue degrees, their "graduates" earn less in the marketplace and this is a form of discrimination.
However, there are two problems that I find with Rabbi Eichler's query:
1. Undergraduate degrees are designed to produce well-rounded students. For example, an accounting major does not *only* study accounting. In most universities, an undergraduate student has to take a set of courses in various subjects (English [in the US], history, arts, basic sciences, etc.) regardless of their major. There are no accredited schools that I know of that give an undergraduate degree in Biology (just to pick an example) while allowing the students to only take Biology (and other science) courses. To meet this requirement, a yeshiva would have to teach other non-Torah subjects as well to produce a well-rounded student - something I don't see most (if any) Chareidi yeshivos in Israel doing.
2. Let me preface this part by saying that I could be wrong here simply because I don't know about Israeli employment matters -- so if I'm wrong, please feel free to chime in and let me know.
If I understand correctly, the Israeli government does not mandate higher salaries for college graduates. If a company needs someone to answer phones, they are going to pay an employee whatever they feel is appropriate -- regardless of whether or not that person has a college degree. Simply having a college degree does not necessarily produce higher salaries. What produces higher salaries, ultimately, is a demand for the skills of the worker and the relative scarcity of those skills. Simply possessing a college degree in Talmudic studies will generally not lead to higher salaries for that person (unless, of course, the person is applying for a job where their Talmudic studies are relevant and germane to the job). Recognizing four years study as a college degree will not magically open up doors for chareidim in the marketplace.*
* That being said, I do realize that there *are* benefits that may come with simply having an undergraduate degree with regard to some government jobs and the ability to apply to graduate schools. But I don't see many chareidim applying to graduate schools outside of the yeshiva system and I doubt there are enough government jobs to employ large swaths of the chareidi society.