Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Answer is Nine To Five

Jonathan Rosenblum has a new article on Cross Currents entitled "Can We Talk Seriously About Poverty?" He describes how the chareidi community in Israel is suffering from terrible poverty -- about how families are now receiving only between a quarter to a third of what they were receiving from the government earlier and are now facing even further cuts.

He also goes on to discuss that aside from the obvious consequence of not having enough to pay the bills/put food on the table/put clothing on the family's backs, he also describes the less-than-obvious consequences of the crushing poverty -- the disruption of shalom bayis, the fact that poverty increases the incidence of "at-risk" teens, presenting severe challenges to people who want to live their lives in honesty, etc.

After outlining the problem, he lists three possible solutions:

  • increased government aid
  • increased charitable contributions from Jews living outside of Israel
  • adopting a simpler lifestyle
Esther, over at Debt and Life in Ohio, notes that Jonathan Rosenbloom seems to have left out the most obvious solution of all -- get jobs. As she states:

Then I get to the end, to the part where it is supposed to say that it's time for everyone to get jobs, right? I mean, that's the whole point of saying that we need to get out of poverty and stop relying on others.

Shockingly, he doesn't even say one sentence about getting jobs! His conclusion is "What the solutions might be I do not know. But it is clear that we cannot afford to hide our heads in the sand and not address the issue."

Um...How does not getting jobs address the issue????

While Esther managed to hit the nail right on the head, she has, at the same time, missed one very simple point. I don't think that Jonathan Rosenblum is looking for a real solution to the problem of poverty among Israeli chareidim. What I think he's looking for is a solution to the problem of poverty among Israeli chareidim while keeping the current system in place. In other words, if chareidim went out to get jobs, then they wouldn't be chareidim (at least not in the same sense, anyway). If they didn't spend all day learning, then the raison d'etre of the entire system would be destroyed. Of course if they went out and got jobs that would solve the poverty problem, but they would lose who they were.

The problem, in my estimation, is that the chareidim that currently exist never before existed in Jewish history. At no other time since the generation of the Wilderness has an entire community had their needs provided for in such a way that no one had to work. No Jewish government before the current state of Israel -- not under Joshua, David, Solomon, etc. provided for an entire community to be able to sit and learn and do no work -- and certainly no non-Jewish government did either. Throughout all of Jewish history you either had gedolim and communal leaders who worked for a living as did everyone else, or else you had a select few who were supported by the community so that they could continue their studies and, in turn, become the future leaders of K'lal Yisroel. Never did you have a situation where the government simply handed out money to so many people so that they could sit and learn all day.

The problem is that such a situation is simply unsustainable. In discussing the possibility of securing increased government funding for chareidim, Jonathan Rosenblum writes:

Even representing a crucial bloc in the fragile government coalition, Shas has been unable to make any headway on its number one legislative goal: increasing child allowances. And Shas’s demands are exceedingly modest – no more than 30 shekels per month per child, or 240 shekels for a family with eight children. That does not even cover the (reduced) tuition for one son in yeshiva.

And that's the end of the matter. Not once does he discuss the propriety of having the taxpayers (since, in the end, the "government" isn't some magical entity with the ability to create money -- every shekel that it gives out has to come from a taxpayer) fund the chareidi lifestyle. I always wondered (in a morbid sort of way) if the chareidim took control of the government and imposed massive tax hikes to allow chareidim to have decent incomes while not having to work, how long it would be before the chilonim and non-chareidi Orthodox Jews either (a) left the country in droves, eliminating the tax base or (b) started a massive tax-revolt.

Putting aside the issue of the propriety of forcing working Jews to pay for the chareidi lifestyle, let's assume for a moment that they can get the votes and increase the child allowance. At some point, the bubble has to burst, because the chareidi population growth is faster than the working population growth. The situation is, in some ways, analogous to Social Security here in the United States, where the population collecting Social Security is growing at a much faster rate than the population that is paying for it. So, even if they could get the votes for an increase in the child allowance, it is simply a short term solution. In the long run, government aid is simply not the answer to running a system that is unsustainable.

So, what is to be done? Personally, I agree with Jonathan Rosenblum in that we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the problem does not exist. The problem has to be addressed now, before the system crashes (although, based on some of the descriptions in his article, I'm beginning to wonder if the system hasn't begun to crash). The real solution is simple -- it's not throwing more money into the system. The real solution is to change the system into something that is more sustainable. The real solution is to realize that we are not in the Wilderness, that it wasn't ever intended in Jewish history that the entire community should learn and not work, and that we have to identify who should be learning all day and who should be working and learning on a part-time basis. The real solution begins with identifying the real problem. The real problem isn't the poverty -- that's just a symptom. The real problem is the system itself.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

The real problem isn't the poverty -- that's just a symptom. The real problem is the system itself.

Excellent point. To put it in a slightly different way: a symptom is how a disease manifests itself in the body.

SuperRaizy said...

Great post. Of course Esther is right, these people should work to feed their families, just like everyone else does.
But you wrote-
"if chareidim went out to get jobs, then they wouldn't be chareidim... If they didn't spend all day learning, then the raison d'etre of the entire system would be destroyed."
I don't agree with that statement. People are identified as chareidim because they make strict adherence to halacha the main focus of their lives, not because they learn all day instead of working. Somehow, the (wrong) assumption that working violates halacha has been accepted as truth in the chareidi community. If only the Rebbeim would debunk that myth, there would be no reason for chareidi men to stay out of the workplace. I think that this is another example of a community being led astray by its leaders.

BrooklynWolf said...


I agree with you. My point (which I obviously did not make clearly enough) was that they wouldn't be chareidim *in the way they view themselves*. IOW, if they all went to work, their entire community would change to the point where they wouldn't be who they are today.

The Wolf

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Good post, and I agree. But even if the chareidim were to go out to get jobs, what jobs could they possibly get? Blue collar at best. They have no education and no skils. Maybe they could replace the Arab workers doing menial jobs like waiting tables or driving delivery trucks or buses, but I frankly don't see that happening.

G6 said...

I couldn't have said it better myself! I've often wondered why this realization and subsequent change is taking as long as it is, and I've come to the conclusion that the Roshei Yeshiva realize that less boys sitting and learning means less need for as many Roshei Yeshive and THEY want to keep their jobs!!! so they continue to perpetrate this fiasco.
Such a pity....the next generation will suffer greatly.

Dave said...

Remember also that in Israel, if they don't sit and learn, they have to go into the IDF.

Moshe said...

But working is against the Torah! It says that G-d rested on 7th day. 7th day is actually right now since creation has been already completed and 8th day will be the time of Moshiach. And you're not allowed to do any work on the 7th day. Put all of these together and you'll realize that it's actually assur to work and people who work are obviously apekorsim.

Bartley Kulp said...

"At some point, the bubble has to burst, because the chareidi population growth is faster than the working population growth."

Correction, the bubble is going to burst because the non tax paying Israeli Palestinian and Bedouin(The Bedouin actually have the highest human birth rates on the planet) populations respectively are going to rupter the country with their social burden. Child tax is not a good thing in this country. It is actually a very bad thing.

zach said...

Before even reading your comments, I thought "No mention of jobs??" Rosenblum's article disgusts me not so much for what he has written but for the fact that his attitude is so widespread in the chareidi world.

eli a. said...

here's a firm conviction I have FWIW, and that is that when some of these so-called “gedolim” (i have trouble describing them as such)of our generation come to “beis din shel ma-aloh” they will be taken to task for the hardships and extreme privation that they have caused to fellow jews with their ill-advised attitude to not give children a proper education to compete in this day and age world.

Pesky Settler said...

I agree with you. My point (which I obviously did not make clearly enough) was that they wouldn't be chareidim *in the way they view themselves*. IOW, if they all went to work, their entire community would change to the point where they wouldn't be who they are today.

True, they'll revert to how their Chassidic ancestry lived their lives - a minority of exceptional Talmidim who learned and were supported by the community while the rest worked.

Funny how so many take pride in wearing the same styles of clothes their Gedolim wore in Europe yet ignore the lifestyle/work ethic that went along with it.

Rafi G said...

I think this statement is brilliant, What I think he's looking for is a solution to the problem of poverty among Israeli chareidim while keeping the current system in place."

It is extremely accurate

mother in israel said...

Wolf--You left out the main point, as Dave pointed out. It's not that charedim don't want to work. They do. But they don't want their sons to go into the army. They prefer living in poverty to risking their children's exposure to the outside world. Or at least the gedolim prefer it for their subjects.

Anonymous said...

I had the same thought when I read the article. I kept on waiting for the obvious solution #4. Nobody else here thinks that he is implying that they have to get jobs, but didn't want to say it straight out? I don't think working is taboo for Yonason Rosenblum. I believe he's mentioned it before in other articles.

Anonymous said...

this could be part of a change communications campaign to the charedi public, readying them for the ultimate shoe drop.
Joel Rich

ProfK said...

Everyone, "stiff necked" or not, eventually has to bow to economic reality. There is no way that the Hareidi system can sustain itself further structured the way it is. Nor is it enough to simply say they all have to go out and work. The infrastructure needs changing so that work skills are taught. The schools need changing. And care must be taken to identify precisely how this situation arose to begin with; otherwise the cycle will just keep repeating itself further on in time.

Da'as said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Da'as Yosher said...

profk, the situation arose as a result of the compromise between the Chazon Ish & Ben Gurion regarding yeshiva boys in the army. (This was referred to by "Mother In Israel".) You are correct in that this situation needs to be dealt with first for a solution to arise/ (Whether it is a wider accpetance of Nachal Charedi by the Charedim or a restructuring of laws to allow Charedi boys an "out" similar to Charedi girls or the forming of Sherut L'eumi [a path many Mizrachi girls follow] structured forCharedi boys...)

Once that is dealt with, the economic realities will push people in the direction that has started on a lower scale... i.e. the forming of more Charedi trade schools etc...

Neither the Chazon Ish, nor Ben Gurion, intended the compromise to last long-term and neither intended to create a sub-culture of second class citizens who are poor and impoverished... (In fact, Ben Gurion thought the Charedim would be gone within 10-15 years... so ... {shrug})

Fred Komarow said...

Excellent post- but one question is rarely, if ever, asked and the topic it relates to is almost never broached: why do chareidim - in particular those who are experiencing such difficult economic turmoil- continue to have more children whom they have no ability to support?

How on earth can anyone who cannot even pay the rent, who cannot afford to put proper food on the table, buy clothes, diapers, medicine, etc- actively have more babies that will only make them more destitute ?

And doesn't the enormous amount of stress associated with this bizarre behavior greatly affect shalom bayis?

Comments from anyone with a modicum of sense would be most welcome.

Zach Kessin said...

You will notice that there is always one or two posters explaining why in great detail it is totally impossible for haradim to go to work, and therefore the rest of the world needs to solve the problem.

Head -> Desk

Binyamin said...

I think that J. Rosenblum has clearly promoted going to work as the correct solution in other articles. The point of this article was 1) to raise the issue of poverty again, and 2) to reject the solutions which are popular in chareidi circles. He rejects his three proposed solutions, leaving the problem open to a different solution. I think that in this particualr article he did not want to push further, and just wanted to stress the problem, and that is has no solution in the current framework.

G said...

Re: The IDF issue...
A comment left on a couple other posts about this same article:

The army issue, while real, is IMHO a fig leaf. Many Dati Le'umi women legally avoid army service by performing Sheirut Le'umi instead. Although the Chareidim are strongly against national service for women, they in theory have no issue with national service for men.

If the Chareidi leadership was interested in getting people working, they could propose a simple compromise, whereby Chareidi men could do something similar to Sheirut Le'umi. There is plenty of room for non-military national service for men, and it seems likely that such a compromise law could pass the Knesset. To the best of my knowledge, however, no Chareidi party has even suggested such a possibility.

And so, I claim that the army service issue is a convenient excuse. By not solving it, the Chareidi leadership ensures that even in the face of financial hardship people don't go to work.

ProfK said...

There's a great book written by a rav/professor at YU that deals specifically with work from a Jewish viewpoint and it could add a lot to our understanding. All the publishing info and a synopsis is up at my blog titled A Morsel on Work.

TheAnswer said...

Having read JR over the years and spoken with him personally when he visited our city last winter, it is clear to me he recognizes the real solution is for people to make more money through JOBS. Unfortunately there is no to way to change the social system over night.

When I suggested to him that "The Gdolim" should do something he remarked that the whole thing is a fiction. There are no Gdolim in charge; people will not listen en masse; and a Godol who goes against the public in such a way will jeopardize his ability to influence his congregation. Thus the status quo continues.

Change may be happening in E"Y, witness Nachal Charedi and more vocational training, but at a snail's pace. There is at least 20 years of suffering ahead before things get turned around.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Very well said! I for one have decided to completely "relocalize" my charitable giving - not one more dime for cheredi in Israel to sit around contributing nothing toward their children's next meal or their family's financial well-being. When they get hungry enough, they'll get a job. As long as we keep giving charity for them to sit around, they'll keep sitting around. We must stop being enablers. There are plenty of other types of charitable organizations to give to that don't encourage moral hazard.

Anonymous said...

while i agree with you that people should work if they want to eat, dont the chareidim use the argument of yissachar and zevulun, while one worked he supported the other one studying.

about 35 years ago, when i was twelve or thirteen i remember going into frum grocery on coney island betwen ave j and k and saw a kid with peyos giving the grocer food stamps,
i was completely in shock since i for some reason had been raised to beleive that jews dont take charity we give it. (i guess i never really thought who we gave the charity to) but it blew my mind since i never thought of jews as begging or living off of others rather trying to be independent

Anonymous said...

Can anyone please tell me, how many type of jobs can support a lifestyle that requires a family having 10 plus kids ???

Just as RJR avoids the topic of jobs,
the ones who "shout from the rooftops" about jobs avoid mentioning the topic of charedeim having so many kids !!

What's wrong with a family having a somewhat manageable 2-4 children ?

Both sides are terrified and not honest enough to say and admit the actual truth !!!

cipher said...

I'm a little surprised that, aside from Wolf's statement, "Putting aside the issue of the propriety of forcing working Jews to pay for the chareidi lifestyle," no one here has mentioned the inappropriateness of Hareidim expecting - demanding! - assistance from a state they refuse to recognize and which they excoriate in the most hateful terms, and from secular Jews whom they regard with contempt. "You're all going to burn in Gehinnom, but, before you go - these bills came the other day... !"

There are innumerable problems within the Hareidi subculture, and it's crumbling from within. I agree that the "bubble" is about to burst; let it. It's completely unsustainable, and I can't believe that anything of value will have been lost.

aaron from L.A. said...

Things charedim never learn in School: "Yafeh Talmud Torah im Derech Eretz"........................... "Al shelosha Devarim Ha'olam Omed;al HaTorah,al HaAVODAH,v'al Gemilut chasadim."...................... Sheshet Yamim Ta'avod".........B'zeat apecha Tochal Lechem"....................All right,the last two are only from the chumash(,sometimes known as Hagahot Hakadosh Baruch Hu al Ha Shas),but the first two are from Masechet Avot!As in Gemara, I mean Gemooreh.