Poverty as measured in Israel as well as in most developed countries is relative. Someone is considered poor if they have less then the people around them. It is not an objective standard.
Given the above, the Gedolim in Eretz Yisrael 60 years decided on a Torah only program to restore the Torah world. They knew that this would result in poverty but they felt that the benefits outweighed the negatives. There are a number of reasons why the Gedolim made this choice.
- No one in the Charedi world is homeless or starving, when we say people are poor it means they have no disposable income, they don't have new clothes, etc. Many of these people who the government considers poor don't consider themselves poor. In any case, the poverty is nowhere near the poverty of pre war Europe. The poverty is considered manageable.
- Poverty creates Gedolim. It is easier to become a Godol growing up poor if you are given the opportunity (which in the Charedi world they are).
In the last few years however, the situation has changed for the worse for a number of reasons:
- Families have become larger
- This is the second or third generation doing this. There are no more parents or grandparents who worked who could help out their children who were sitting and learning
- Israel as a whole got richer, in the 1950,-1970's Israel was a relatively poor country and therefore the gap was not great. The average person was not very materialistic. Israel has gotten much richer and more materialistic and so has teh Charedi population. We can see this in many ways, here are a few examples:
- Cell phones
- Air conditioning at home
- Vacations - open up any Charedi newspaper now and you will see pages and pages of ads for vacations during Bein Hazmanim
The Charedi population has been influenced to a degree by the materialism of the surrounding society and finds it much harder to live in poverty
- The economy has changed to a services type economy where secular education is very important, it is hard to find a blue collar type job
- Government budget cuts. The chiloni population is not willing to support an ever growing number of people (almost 50,000) sitting and learning.
In short, the poverty in many cases is no longer manageable.
The above has caused a change in Charedi society. If you look in the Charedi newspapers you now see ads for all kinds of programs where Charedi men can learn some kind of profession and get a degree. These did not exist 10-20 years ago.
I would like to conclude with the following story. In the early 1900's there was a fierce battle between the old Yishuv led by R' YC Sonnenfeld against using Hebrew as the language of instruction in the schools, with R' YC Sonnenfeld insisting on Yiddish. In the 1940's someone wanted to open a Talmud Torah teaching in Hebrew in Bnei Brak. Many opposed this citing the battle that R' YC Sonnenfeld had faught against hebrew. They went to the Chazon Ish to ask his opinion. The Chazon Ish answered that they should open the school in Hebrew. What about R' YC Sonnenfeld and his fight against Hebrew? The Chazon Ish answered that Hebrew vs Yiddish was the previous war, we have to fight the current war. Times have changed and Hebrew is no longer the battle that we need to fight, we need to save our strength for the real battles that are important today. This message applies just as much today as it did then.