Ultra Orthodox Jews are almost wards of the state in Israel - How did they get by in the past?

In looking at the online news reports re the protests in NYC the other day against Israeli Ultra Orthodox men being conscripted to serve (as all Israelis are required to do) in the Israeli military for a time, many Israelis (and a number of American Jews) left comments attached to these stories disparaging Israeli Ultra Orthodox Jews as “wards of the state” and spongers who rely on the state to support their large families while they are devoted to studying scripture.

How did Ultra Orthodox members get by doing re studying scripture exclusively before the advent of social safety nets? I can see how a pre-Industrial society might support a limited number of priests but we are apparently talking about entire communities of thousands of individuals devoted to this lifestyle.

In my mother’s case (her father was a ultra orthodox rabbi in Poland before the war) the women ran businesses, like stores, to support the family.

I’m picturing in my mind, that ultra-orthodox but poor Jews in the shtetl would have to work for their hard-scrabble living, but spend time fantasizing about how they’d love to spend all their time studying scripture.

See: Tevye singing “If I Were A Rich Man”.

Look at the ultra-orthodox Jews in other countries…

Most worked, and a very small number of the smartest and best were supported by the community to dedicate themselves to studying scripture.

In Israel, due to a mixture of historical reasons and the political situation, it became a status-quo for the entire ultra-orthodox community to not conscript, work, or study non-religious studies. And this irks many on the other Israelis.

I’m surprised they tolerate this even now. Surely the Ultra Orthodox know the scenario is not sustainable to have large a large and growing population devoted to being economically non-productive.