Nov 26, 2007

The Matrix revolution

Matrix has revolutionized the haredi workforce.

They have set up centers in various Haredi cities in order to allow the Haredim, the wives that is, to enter the workforce. They have created unique conditions in order to allow for the special needs of the Haredi women. They have unusual hours, such as the workday concluding at 2 pm so the women can get home in time for their kids arrival from school (among other things). They take women who have absolutely no experience or higher education and train them from a to z and give them a profession.

In exchange for this, the pay is considered very low.

Yet, despite the low pay, they employ hundreds of such women in each of various centers in Haredi cities, such as Beitar and Modiin Ilit/Kiryat Sefer. The reason is because these women would not go out to the general workforce to look for jobs. They are concerned about working in an appropriate environment. They do not want to work with secular people, they do not want to work in a place where their tzniyut might be compromised, they do not want to work in a place where their needs are not understood and they might have a hard time leaving early to get the kids or taking off when sometimes necessary. Matrix has filled a void for these women and provided them with everything they need to go out to work and provide for their husbands learning in Kollel, along with training them.

Some people complain about the low pay. As far as I am concerned, they have unusual conditions, they are trained (they forget that if not for Matrix, if they wanted a job they would have to go pay tens of thousands of shekels to go learn how to program or whatever else they do) and there is of course the issue of supply and demand. If they felt they deserve more, they should ask for it and if they are willing to either look for other jobs at higher pay or not work at all for such low pay, maybe Matrix would feel pressed to increase the salaries. As it is, because of all their special needs being provided and accounted for, I do not consider them underpaid, even if the actual salary is below market level (which it is).

That is the background.

Now for the juicy story.

There are occasionally rumors of uncomfortable situations, such as "flirting" between the managers and some of the women, other tzniyus problems. Recently, a woman in one of these Haredi work centers (the one in Kiryat Sefer), left her family and religion. She is rumored to have had an affair with one of the managers/lecturers.

There are calls for Matrix to change their system. People are blaming Matrix for creating and being responsible for a situation in which families are destroyed.

It is not Matrix's fault. True, maybe there is room for improvement. Maybe certain improvements can be implemented (maybe hire more female managers and instrcutors where possible, maybe more religious managers and instructors where possible, etc.) to minimize the risk of coming into contact with the outside world even more, and whatever can be done, should be done. Every family destroyed is a disaster. If a family can be saved from a tragedy like this, it should be.

However, Matrix should not be blamed or faulted and punished for this, even if there is room for improvement.

People, even Haredi women, are human. There will always be a certain percentage that will buck the system as soon as they are exposed to the outside world. That is the risk of keeping people locked up their whole lives - as soon as you open the door and let them out, even just a bit, they get overwhelmed and change everything.

If someone feels it is not for them and that they would not be able to withstand the risk, they should not take such a job. If they are so concerned about the finances of the home, but reluctant to send a specific prone wife into the risk, then they should either continue to live in poverty or maybe the husband should consider going to work in that case, so as to protect the family spiritually.

Matrix is a company that is doing what it can to provide for the needs of a specific community. Of course, it is financially worthwhile for them to do so otherwise they would not do it. The problem is a human problem. There will always, everywhere, be women (I only say women because that is the specific case under discussion, but it applies to men as well) that will succumb to external pressures and temptations. The fact that it has hardly happened and this case is the exception actually speaks well for the system Matrix has put into place. There is only so much protection they can put in place. Once you are in the outside world, there are temptations. You have to be strong enough to withstand them, or find other solutions.


  1. "Some people complain about the low pay"

    rafi - Israel is no different than here in the US. People are developing an unreal sense of entitlement. All the reasons why their pay is lower is irrelevant to the fact that "it IS lower". and these people (the complainers, not all those who participate), simply don't see the intangible benefits of the program as part of the pay.

    welcome to retail.

  2. They end work at 2PM. That's about 6 hours, assuming that they have to get their kids off to school as well, ignoring lunch. In a normal programming job, they'd be working an additional 4-5 hours per day, and that's not even on a busy day. So they are working short days, with no option of working extra time when needed, and they complain about the low pay.

    Go figure.

    (An additional benefit which Shaya didn't mention is the chance to "hook up" at work!)

  3. the pay issue was just filler. The real point of the post was the scandal and the reaction to it...

    regarding the pay issue, I do not see them being taken advantage of, as I said in the post, because of all the side benefits. That being said, there is room for discussion on the matter. When someone is underpaid for a long time maybe they are being taken advantage of and abused. In this case i think that is not the case, but it is something that could be a concern...

  4. My wife just started a job with Matrix as a technical writer.

    Some of the older (in terms of seniority, not age) workers work 4 hours a day; the new ones work 6, and they seem to have a preference for those who can work 8.

    She's paid hourly, with the option for overtime, but at regular rates (not time-and-a-half).

    Her base salary is quite low, but the flexibility is nice. Additionally, as you mention, they claim to provide training (although she received basically nothing, but then again, she has some college (English literature), so she's a decent writer ;) ) Additionally, they seem to be quite pregnancy friendly (which by law all companies must be, but you can imagine how hard it is for a company to have it's female employees take off 12 weeks every 12-18 months, as often happens...)

    Officially, the company has frum policies; for example, woman cannot take taxis alone to out-of-town meetings, and Internet surfing is banned. The "cafeterias" for men and women are separate, and mingling is strongly discouraged.

    Of course, any time one man talks to one woman there's the potential that they could follow up with something assur, but I see the likelihood of this as being no greater than of a woman developing a relationship with the manager of the local grocery store.

    Regarding salary, I don't see how we could survive on her salary. I work as a real-time (embedded) programmer, and make almost 6 times her salary (pre-tax; post tax is about 3 times), which is how we survive. Her salary basically pays for the kids' ganim, metaplot, and a little extra cash.

    That said, she joined Matrix because she wanted to be able to work part time, and build some experience, so that when the kids are older, she'll be able, if she wants, to enter the regular work force. The chareidi atmosphere was not the reason (although she does seem to enjoy working with frum women)

  5. thanks Mike. I wonder of the new Matrix complex and setup in bet Shemesh is the same as those in the other areas... I think it is much smaller....

    If your wife did not go through their system, she might be paid a salary more in line with the market (pro rating it for the less hours (read: part time) she is working) than their general workforce which is being recruited by Matrix, trained and taught by Matrix and then hired by Matrix....

  6. I think she said it's about 70 people; smallish, but growing.

    She was supposed to have received technical writer training (in both writing and word), but she knows how to use Word just fine, thank you, and she also can comprehend the basics of English grammar, so...

    Trust me, she's not making the market salary, even allowing for the fact that part time isn't a linear deduction (since two workers at 4.25 hours is not the same as one at 8.5 hours / day).

  7. Maybe they shouldn't keep them locked up until crisis point.

    If you choose a lifestyle, there are going to be limitations to it. If you don't like the limitations, don't live that way. Matrix is doing them a huge favor and chesed.

    I'm sure most people are very happy and only a few are complaining. And of course, those few should feel free to remove themselves elsewhere.

  8. you are right to talk about human nature and temptations, but the rabbis do not want anybody to be faced with temptation and they do not (re)act according to statistics. So they might very well at some point forbid women to work in a place like Matrix because one single woman might succumb. They'd rather have the women sit at home. IOW, I think that the rabbis are not prepaid to pay any price and take any risks whatsoever, even if it may affect one person.

  9. bohr- great name, and you raise an interesting point. I was looking at it as an individual case and each person should weigh the risks of going into the outside world. You are suggesting that the Rabbis might cancel the whole thing because they might decide, based even on one case, that the risk is too great.

    I can see something like that happening.

    It would be a shame because the system was created to fill an obvious need. These families need more parnassah than what the husband brings home in the form of a kollel check. Not everyone can open a kindergarten in their living room and not everyone can be a teacher in the local beis yaakov. If what you say happens, they will all be back at square one and these families are going to be the ones hurting...

  10. rafi
    Chazal cancelled the mitsva of shofar, lulav and megilla on Shabbes because one person might inadvertently carry IIRC in a chatser sheena meurevet (issur derabonon). We see that they were prepared to suspend a mitsva doraisa because of a remote risk of transgression.
    In our case my impression is that the risk of transgression is not considerd by the rabbis as a remote possibility or even a strong possibility but as a certainty. They might no be prepared to be shutaf in a situation resulting in a certain transgression.

  11. bohr - you might be right, but on the other hand, life is life and one cannot really assur being part of life. if someone wants he can choose to remain bunkered down and avoid life. If it becomes a problem that they cannot live in such poverty and remain bunkered down, they will have to make the choice of her putting herself into what might be a risky situation, or maybe the husband going out to work which is really the way the world is supposed to turn....

  12. bohr,

    be careful, your argument is leading to the direction of the gemara where the hubby will have to get a job.

  13. shaya

    My argument is leading to the direction where nobody will have a job. Temptations are an equal opportunity factor.

  14. I like it bohr.. I hate having to work.. I would not mind a general issur on holding a job... the only problem I can foresee is my bank not approving and foreclosing on my apartment...


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