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Israel: Welfare
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Welfare


The Ministry of Social Welfare began its work in June 1948, carrying on the mission of the Social Welfare Department established in 1931 under the Mandate. The National Insurance Act of 1953 and the Social Welfare Service Law, passed by the Knesset in 1958, authorized a broad range of welfare programs, including old age and survivors' pensions, maternity insurance, workers' compensation provisions, and special allowances for large families. Retirement age was seventy for men and sixty-five for women, but persons were eligible for some benefits five years before retirement age. The Histadrut was also a principal provider of pensions and a supplier of insurance. In addition, there were a number of voluntary agencies, many funded by Diaspora Jewry, that contributed significantly to the social welfare of Israelis.

Special subventionary programs, including low-interest loans, subsidized housing, and rent or mortgage relief, were available to new immigrants after 1967 through the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the World Zionist Organization. At times these programs have been criticized by native-born Israelis or long-time settlers in the lower income brackets, especially for benefiting relatively well-to-do immigrants from the West. Even more controversial have been benefit programs designed to aid returning Israeli emigrants readjust to life in Israel.

(Of the numerous books on Israeli society, Michael Wolffsohn's Israel, Polity, Society and Economy, 1882-1986 is a veritable compendium of demographic information and social indicators. Israel: Building a New Society, by Daniel Elazar is lucidly written and closely argued. Sammy Smooha's Israel: Pluralism and Conflict explains the major social rifts discussed in this chapter and contains useful statistical information in detailed appendices. More concise, and focused upon the post-Begin era, is Peter Grose's A Changing Israel. For two views of Israel by Israelis, see Amos Elon's The Israelis: Founders and Sons and Amos Oz's In the Land of Israel. Finally, the Political Dictionary of the State of Israel, edited by Susan Hattis Rolef, contains many valuable entries on aspects of Israeli society and politics.

On religion in Israel, the most comprehensive treatment remains S.Z. Abramov's Perpetual Dilemma: Jewish Religion in the Jewish State. More analytical is Religion and Politics in Israel by Charles S. Liebman and Eliezer Don-Yehiya. Their civil religion thesis is developed at greater length in Civil Religion in Israel. Also recommended is an article by Shlomo Deshen, "Israeli Judaism: Introduction to the Major Patterns," in the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

On the waves of Oriental immigration and the settlement of Oriental Jews, see Nation-Building and Community in Israel by Dorothy Willner. A series of anthropological studies covers this period especially well. These include Cave Dwellers and Citrus Growers, by Harvey Goldberg; Immigrants from India in Israel, by Gilbert Kushner; and The Dual Heritage: Immigrants from the Atlas Mountains in an Israeli Village, by Moshe Shokeid. Myron J. Aronoff's Frontiertown: The Politics of Community Building in Israel is a study of a development town in the same period. Also recommended is The Predicament of Homecoming, by Shlomo Deshen and Moshe Shokeid. The best book on Oriental ethnicity is the collection edited by Alex Weingrod, Studies in Israeli Ethnicity: After the Ingathering. On more recent immigration, see American Immigrants in Israel: Social Identities and Change, by Kevin Avruch; for a comparison of American with Soviet immigrants, see Zvi Gitelman's Becoming Israelis: Political Resocialization of Soviet and American Immigrants.

A critical study of Israeli education in a development town may be found in Power, Poverty, and Education by Arnold Lewis. The classic study of a kibbutz is Melford E. Spiro's Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia. On Israeli Arabs, the most comprehensive and balanced study is Ian Lustick's Arabs in the Jewish State, although events in late 1987 and early 1988 have overtaken its main theme, the explanation of Israeli Arab political quiescence. On the Druzes, see Gabriel Ben-Dor's The Druzes in Israel: A Political Study. On West Bank Arabs, the collection Palestinian Society and Politics, edited by Joel S. Migdal, is recommended, as is Meron Benvenisti's continuing West Bank Data Project. The Journal of Palestine Studies is an important resource as well, containing useful articles such as that by Elia Zureik.

The Israel Pocket Library, which contains material originally published in the Encyclopedia Judaica, has several books in the series that address aspects of Israeli society. These include Society, Religious Life, Jewish Values, and Education and Science. The material in these books is now dated but still valuable for the period before the October 1973 War. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibiliography.)

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Israel was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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