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
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.