Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Is secular education and work a viable answer for Charedi poverty?

Everyone who discusses Charedi poverty proposes as a solution secular education and work for Charedi men as the solution for Charedi poverty. I also used to believe this, however, I have changed my mind on this for the reasons below.

One of the tenets of Charedi society is large families. There is a Mitzva D'Rabbanan of ולערב אל תנח ידיך to have as many children as you can. Therefore the average non-Chasidic Charedi family has 6 kids and when you take away all of those couples with fertility issues that have 0, 1 or 2 kids the average goes up closer to 8.

Large families are not economically sustainable in a modern western economy, period. Here is a fascinating article Children aren’t worth very much—that’s why we no longer make many which details the reasons why. Basically children have gone from being valuable assets to being financial drains. The cost of raising a single child to the age of 18 in the US is estimated at well over $300,000. These numbers are for the general population, raising a child as a religious Jew is much more expensive due to the cost of education. When you multiply that by 5,6,7, or 8 it simply impossible on the average or even better then average salary in a Western economy.

The average salary in the US is about $42,000, in Israel it is about 7200 shekels a month. Lets assume that the Charedi man can get a job at double the average salary, $80,000 or 15,000 shekel a month (a dubious assumption but lets use it just to highlight the issue) and has 8 kids. Income taxes eat away at least 25% leaving $60,000 to live on. All of the kids are in school together at some point. Tuition in the US is at a minimum $5000 and generally much more, but even at $5000 a child that is $40,000, 2/3 of the net income. That leaves just $20,000 for everything else and everything else includes clothes for 8 kids, shoes for 8 kids, books for 8 kids, etc. Feeding 8 kids is not cheap either. Food is expensive especially things like meat and chicken. Then of course you have the summers where everyone needs to go to camp which again is another few thousand dollars a child.

In Israel the numbers are similar bad, taxes are higher so the 15,000 shekel gross is at best 10,000 shekel net and then tuition is half of that and you have food, clothing etc. again.

The numbers just don't add up even with much higher salaries then $80,000.

If the numbers are so bad how does Charedi society survive today? In truth, I don't know exactly but here are a few reasons

  1. Government programs - Both the US and Israeli government have a whole host of programs that are available to poor people, food stamps, section 8, medicaid, property tax reductions, subsidised day care, etc. The Charedi population takes full advantage of all of these and lives in large part off of them.
  2. Generational money - The post war generation was able to save up money for their descendant who are living off of it. This will not clearly not last much longer.
    1. They worked in a economic good times
    2. The cost of living was low
    3. Smaller families
  3. Poverty and sacrifice. The Charedi population especially in Israel is very poor. 
  4. Community help
Unfortunately these don't translate to working families. As soon as you make a decent salary, you lose all of the government help, if you make $80,000/15,000 shekel you are considered rich and get nothing from the government. The same goes for community help. People are willing to give Tzedaka/help out someone who is sitting and learning, but are much less willing to help someone who is working for a living. 

There is another factor which comes into play. When the man is sitting and learning, the wife is willing to sacrifice because she has been taught all her life that sitting and learning is the most important thing her husband can do and that she should sacrifice for it. As soon as the husband leaves kollel and goes out to work, that dynamic changes. It is much harder to sacrifice when your husband is working, when he is not doing the most important thing in the world. Additionally, there is an expectation of a higher standard of learning if the husband is working rather then learning.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that education and work is not the solution for Charedi poverty, because the Charedi lifestyle, specifically large families, is simply incompatible with the modern western economy. The western economy is set up so that salaries can support a family of 4 (2 kids), and even that is difficult these days. Charedim with large families working simply cannot bring in enough money to support the family without additional help.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Every day Hashem cries for people who can't learn Torah and try anyway

The Gemara in Chagiga (5B) states that Hashem cries for 3 people every day.
1. A person who could learn Torah but doesn't
2. A person who can't learn Torah but tries anyway
3. A leader who is haughty with the people

We can understand why Hashem cries over the first person, he should be learning Torah and isn't, but why does Hashem cry over the second person? At least he is trying to learn.

R' Schacter explained the Gemara as follows. Every person is unique with his own set of talents and abilities. Our mission in life is to figure out how to best use those talents in the service of Hashem. Some people have talents that can be used in learning while others have talents (art, music, business, people skills, etc.) that can be used to serve Hashem in other ways.

Based on this it is clear that Hashem is crying for the first 2 people for the same reason. They are not using their talents to serve Hashem. Just like the person with the talent to learn should be serving Hashem by learning, and therefore Hashem cries because he isn't learning. The person who doesn't have the talent to learn, should be serving Hashem NOT by learning but by using his talents to serve Hashem in other ways. Therefore when he does try to learn Hashem cries because he is not using the talents Hashem gave him.

This Gemara is telling us a very important principle in life that a person needs to understand what his talents are and based on that figure out what his particular mission in life is and we can't force everyone into the same mission.

IMHO this is the biggest problem in the religious world today on both sides of the spectrum. The real modern world (e.g. schools like Ramaz, Frisch, Yeshiva of Flatbush) causes Hashem to cry for person 1. People with the talent to go into learning are encouraged to do other things instead. How many modern parents encourage their children to sit and learn Torah? The Charedi world on the other hand causes Hashem to cry for person 2. In the Charedi world every boy is supposed to sit and learn no matter what his talents are and if your talents lie in other areas you are in big trouble in the Charedi world.

What we need is to allow people to serve Hashem based on their talents rather then simply pigeon-holing everyone into 1 thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What are the challenges of a Kosher Parnassa?

The Mishpacha Magazine in English had an article this past week that people who earn a living need to make sure that they put fear of heaven before parnassa. While the overall message is a good one, I believe that the examples used were very poor and showed a complete lack of understanding of the real challenges a frum person has when working.

The 2 examples given of challenges were davening mincha with a minyan and not shaking women's hands. IMHO the author completely missed the point with these examples.

There is no doubt in my mind that the biggest challenge when working is the issue of stealing. I don't necessarily mean directly stealing money (although unfortunately that happens a lot as well, see for example Ocean County attorney admits role in Facebook scheme), what I do mean is stealing indirectly. For example, not working the amount of hours that you are being paid for, taking long lunch or Mincha breaks, wasting time at work, misusing company resources, etc. Chazal were very concerned abut this issue, so much so that they said (Berachos 14a, Shulchan Aruch Siman 90) that workers who worked high up in trees should daven mincha up in the tree so as not to waste their employers time by climbing down and then climbing back up.

If I had to suggest something related to arayos, it would not be shaking women's hands. I follow the psak of my Rabbeim that if a woman extends her hand you shake it as quickly as possible. I have found that in these situations, I am so nervous about this (thinking whether she will extend her hand or not) that this totally occupies my mind and I have no pleasure at all from the handshake, in fact it is almost painful. If there was an issur related to arayos that I would bring up it would be the issur of yichud. So many of the sexual abuse scandals that have come up in recent years would have been prevented if people simply kept hilchos yichud.

As with many things, it seems that the Charedi mindset is a chumra is always better especially if it is Bein Adam Lamokam. However, the fact is that many chumras are kulas in a different area. The 2 mentioned in the article are good examples.

While davening mincha with a minyan is an important thing, it is at best a chiyuv midrabbanan while stealing from your employer however, is an issur d'oraysa. If it takes you 10 minutes to walk to Mincha 25 minutes to daven (because after all you need to daven slowly with kavana etc.) and 10 minutes to walk back (45 minutes) you are probably stealing from your employer, as he may be willing to give you 10-15 minutes for mincha but not 45. We see this message clearly from Chazal as they permitted workers to daven mincha up in the tree so as not to cheat the employer and allowed workers to skip parts of bentching for the same reason. You see clearly from the Gemara in Berachos (14a) that Chazal were much more concerned about not cheating your employer which is a sin of bein adam lchaveiro and therefore has no kapara until you pay the person back then mitzvos bein adam lamakom like davening and bentching where they instituted leniencies for workers.

Regarding not shaking hands with a women, again the issue is not as clear cut as the author makes it out to be. While the Chazon Ish is machmir other poskim are lenient and they are lenient in part because of the concern for embarrassing the woman. If a woman sticks out her hand and you refuse to shake it, it can be very embarrassing especially in a public setting. Embarrassing someone is a very serious aveira, Chazal equate it to killing someone. In Parshas Vayeishev, Tamar is willing to be killed in order not to embarrass Yehuda and Rashi quotes Chazal who praise her for this. So in fact, you can say that someone who shakes a woman's hand is machmir in bein adam l'chaveiro.

Finally, I would like to take issue with the first story that the author wrote. He wrote that he was in a shul in Yersushalayim for Rosh Chodesh bentching davening next to a kollel avreich and while the avreich had kavana when he said חיים של פרנסה he had much more kavana when he said חיים שיש בהם יראת שמים. The point being that יראת שמים is much more important then פרנסה.

IMHO, you see from Chazal that they thought פרנסה was very important and in fact a prerequisite for יראת שמים.  The Gemara in Kiddushin (29b) states explicitly that a father who does not teach a son a trade is teaching him to become a thief. Unfortunately, today we see this too often where people have no way of making a living end up resorting to less then honest means to make money.

There is an obvious question that we can ask about davening for חיים שיש בהם יראת שמים. The Gemara states that הכל ביד שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, that יראת שמים is the one thing that is for sure in our hands and not in Hashem's hands. If so, how can we daven for יראת שמים?

The Maharsha asks this question on the Gemara in Berachos (10a). The Gemara tells a story about a group of thugs who were bothering R' Meir. R' Meir was going to daven that they should die, however his wife, Beruria, told him that instead he should daven that they do teshuva which he did, and they did teshuva. The Maharsha asks our question from above, how could R' Meir daven that the thugs should do teshuva, isn't that under the rubric of יראת שמים?

The Maharsha asks this question on a Gemara at the end of Moed Katan(28a) (that was just learned in Daf Yomi) as well. The Gemara states that Rava davened that he should become an ענו like Rabba Bar Rav Huna (his prayer was not answered). The Maharsha points out that ענוה should fall under the rubric of יראת שמים and therefore how could Rava daven for it?

R' Moshe Feinstein in Iggros Moshe (as well as others) answers that you cannot daven directly for יראת שמים, that is only in your hands. However, you can daven that Hashem should remove any obstacles that you have that may prevent you from achieving יראת שמים. Interestingly enough the example R' Moshe gives is parnassa, he says that the thugs were thugs because they had no parnassa, once R' Meir davened for them and they received parnassa they did teshuva. We see that Parnassa is a key blocker in achieving יראת שמים.

In fact, based on the above, it makes more sense to daven for parnassa then יראת שמים because יראת שמים can only come from you, while parnassa comes from hashem and is a prerequisite to יראת שמים and therefore it makes sense to daven for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bobov45 Rebbe: Gedolei Yisroel will decide whether we accept the psak of the Beis Din

For those who haven't been following the story after the previous Bobover Rebbe died, both the Rebbe's son-in-law and brother claimed the throne. This caused a split in Bobov (Bobov48 and Bobov45) and they even went to court to resolve the dispute. The judge (a religious Jew) sent them out of court to a Beis Din which has been working on the case for 9 years. The Beis Din just released a psak in which Bobov48 came out the winner.

You would expect that a Chasidic Rebbe would respect the psak of a Beis Din win or lose and move on, but no, he doesn't like the psak so he is consulting with Rebbes in Israel on what to do.

Many are claiming that the Beis Din was corrupt and that the psak is one sided. It is no wonder that many religious people have no faith in the Beis Din system. If the Bobover Rebbe (45) can't get a fair hearing and is thinking of ignoring the Beis Dins psak what should the average person think and do?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Hamodia reader was very upset that the newspaper referred to the Israeli Army as כוחותינו, our forces

Here is the letter from Hamodia.

"The Real Power"

As subscribers to your important newspaper, Hamodia, the newspaper of Charedi Jewry, I was very surprised to see time after time during the military operation the words, "our forces" ...
It is important to point out that we never relied on or put our trust in flesh and blood and our true forces are -- only Torah learning and the students who learn Torah.

IMHO this letter is idiotic for a number of reasons:
  1. The fact is that whether you like it or not, the soldiers are fighting for every Jew who lives in Israel and if given the chance Hamas would slaughter the Haredim just as much as they would slaughter any other Jews.
  2. Did Moshe Rabbenu not raise an army to fight Amalek, Midyan, etc.? Did Yehoshua, Dovid Hamelech etc. not fight wars? Why didn't they just sit and learn? The answer is very simple, we need to do our hishtadlus when it comes to war (just like anything else) and that means having an army and fighting. Why does the writer see a contradiction between our army and faith in Hashem?
  3. Why can't the writer show a little hakaros hatov to those who are putting their lives on the line so that he can sit and learn?
Source: Kikar Shabbat

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Yeshiva Gedola with secular studies planned to open in Israel - fierce Charedi opposition

The yeshiva is supposed to be modeled on YU where the boys learn Gemara in the morning and secular studies for a degree late afternoon and night. However, it is meant to be a Charedi yeshiva appealing to the Charedi world. The reaction in the Charedi press has been swift and fierce as expected.
The following are from today's Yated:

There are a number of questions that need to be answered about this new Yeshiva.

  1. How will it work with army? Will the students still get an exemption?
  2. Who is it aimed at? The logical target crowd are the American Charedim who send their kids to high schools like Maarava and get a bagrut. The question is will it be able to expand past that group.
  3. Does it have any Rabbinic support? 
It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Misleading statements in the name of Achdus

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote a column describing the efforts of Mrs. Sharon Issacson a member of the "Charedi" community in Ramat Bet Shemesh, to help out women whose husbands were called up to the army to fight in Gaza. The point of the article was to show how the Charedi community has stepped up to the plate and is showing achdus with the soldiers and the Israeli people.

There is only one problem. Mrs. Sharon Issacson is not your typical Israeli Charedi. In fact, it would be hard to call her Charedi at all given her background and life today. She was raised in a Modern Orthodox home in NY and attended a co-ed elementary school and YUs Stern College. Her husband is a graduate of MTA and YU and has a law degree from Columbia NYU. He is currently the Rosh Yeshiva of Mevaseret, a 1 year American Yeshiva for modern orthodox boys in Israel. Her 2 sons went to Maarava for High School. There is 1 even more startling fact that is missing, her son is currently serving in the Israeli Army in Nachal Haredi. 

Given all of the above is it not very misleading to simply call her "Charedi"?

It seems that every time the Charedi world tries to appeal to more moderate Americans they bring examples that fall into one of 2 categories:

1. Baalei teshuva
2. They grew up in modern homes

A few years ago, Aish Hatorah published an article Women at Work which claimed that Orthodox women can work at any job that they want.

Let's get something perfectly clear: Jewish women work. One of my neighbors is a nuclear physicist. I'm a zoo veterinarian.
And nowadays, like women all over the Western world, they work in every field. Some run their own businesses or are part of a larger corporation. Here in Israel one of my neighbors is a nuclear physicist. Another is a school principal. Several good friends are lawyers. One's a pediatrician. Two are successful artists. I'm a zoo veterinarian.
My point is, little is forbidden to us. We work in the fields we want. We have open choices. We can choose to work part-time or full-time.

As I pointed out then (See Misleading statements in the name of Kiruv) if Aish Hatorah was a Modern or Centrist Orthodox institution then these statements would be perfectly true and not misleading. However, Aish Hatorah is a Charedi institution and it's goal for it's students is that they join Israeli Charedi society. The fact is that if Elizabeth had been born to a Charedi family she would not have had a choice to be a veterinarian, a nuclear physicist or anything other then a school teacher. University study is strictly prohibited. In Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak even getting a high school diploma is prohibited (see this post No Bagrut for Beis Yaakov girls?).

I find it very offensive when Charedi institutions use examples of Baalei Teshiva or people who were brought up in a more Modern home, as Rosenblum does in this case, to try to make a point about the Israeli Charedi community. It is simply not true, the are not really in the same Charedi community. A "real" Israeli Charedi would never marry any of their children for example. Americans, either Baalei teshuva or those coming from a more modern home, have a very different world view and certainly do not represent Israeli Charedi society.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The role of human initiative and action

The article that I quoted yesterday  It's not Iron Dome [saving us] it's Hashem, where Chaim Cohen claimed that Hashem is diverting the Hamas rockets to non-inhabited  areas and that our hishtadlus (Iron Dome) has little to no effect, started me thinking about this question. The article is perfect example of the current Charedi approach that a leaf doesn't fall without it being decreed from heaven (see my post Hashgocha Pratis, what does it mean? for an elaboration of this). I believe that this shita has taken over the Charedi world in the last 50 years for the following reasons:

1. It is theologically simple. It is a very black and white answer which fits into the current Charedi mindset and it promotes emuna peshuta
2. It is as the Chinuch wrote far-removed from the intellect, which fits the current anti-intellectual climate
3. It fits very well with a Torah only mindset. If everything (even a leaf falling) is from Hashem then Torah only makes a lot of sense. Everything else doesn't count anyway.

While this shita is certainly legitimate and has it's sources, it creates a lot of serious questions about man's role in the world. Basically, according to this shita, man has no real role in the world. This world is simply a test and nothing that man does has any real effect (see R'Dessler). The problem is that we see with our own eyes that this isn't true. Of course R' Dessler says that we are simply mistaken and it is all a test, but I think that most people have a very hard time with this. We see that people take initiative and do things and do have success. People work hard and get promoted for their hard work, get good grades and based on that get high paying jobs, etc. While this shita may have made sense for people in earlier times when man had basically no control over anything, today, when we do have limited control, and we can see the direct results of our actions this shita is much more difficult to accept.

In fact, even in the real Haredi world we find that this shita is not accepted when it comes to certain things, medicine for example. Haredim many times move mountains to see the top specialist in the field (for a famous case see Should we go to the best doctor?).  However, according to R' Dessler (and the Chazon Ish) this really should be considered too much השתדלות and a lack of בטחון. After all, Hashem is doing the healing not the surgeon and once we have done our השתדלות, going to the doctor and having the surgery, why should it matter whether the surgeon is the best in the world or simply Joe surgeon who is competent? As long as we do our השתדלות to avoid requiring a נס, the rest is a גזירה מן השמים. If the גזירה is that the surgery will be successful, then it will be successful even if done by the average surgeon, and if the גזירה is that it won't be successful then it won't help that you have the best surgeon.

In fact, what does it actually mean that someone is considered the best surgeon? After all, הכל בידי שמים, our success is actually an illusion to make it look like it is our skill. In fact, our success in worldly matters is simply a גזירה מן השמים so the fact that he successfully operated is not due to his skill but due to the גזירה מן השמים. This is essence Chaim Cohens claim against Iron Dome, all hishtadlus is simply an illusion and doesn't really matter.

There is however, a different approach, that while there certainly is hashgacha in the world, man also has the ability to take initiative and accomplish things. As I pointed out yesterday, the Ran in his Derashos (10) explains that in truth a person can say that כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה as long as he recognizes that his raw talents come from Hashem. because we see that different people have different talents and some people are truly gifted. With this approach, Hashem has given every person certain כוחות and it is up to us to use those כוחות in the world. According to this approach, Iron Dome itself is from Hashem because he gave the designers and implementers the intellect and skill to build it. However, it didn't just come down from heaven, people had to actually use their initiative and skills to make it happen.

This is much more theologically complex position, but ultimately one that fits in much better with the way we see the world working and I believe gives more meaning to what we do in our lives.

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's not Iron Dome [saving us] it's Hashem - Updated

So writes Chaim Cohen in a column on the Charedi website Kikar Shabat. He is upset that all we hear about in the news is praise for Iron Dome and that no one gets up and says that we are being saved by Hashem in the merit of our Torah learning and mitzvos. He even claims that Hamas believe this quoting an interview on CNN where he claims that someone from Hamas said that their rockets are very accurate and that 80% of the rockets are diverted to uninhabited areas by your god.

I have a few issues with this article.
1. Why is it that when it comes to the good things done by the government they always come from Hashem but yet the bad things are always from the government? If you really believe that Iron Dome has little to no role in protecting us, it is all from hashem then where is that faith when it comes to other things like government money? Why scream, kick and yell when the government cuts funding, after all that also comes from Hashem? Why bring in the top heart specialist to treat R' Elyashiv (see Should we go to the best doctor?) when everything is from Hashem?
2. As many people pointed out in the comments on Kikar Shabbat, there was no such interview on CNN, it looks like he simply made it up. The claim that their rockets are accurate is laughable and ridiculous. Everyone knows that their rockets are very inaccurate especially the home made ones and therefore 80% landing in uninhabited areas is perfectly reasonable.
3. Where is the Hakaros Hatov to the soldiers and the defense establishment? Soldiers are dying in Gaza protecting him and his family and is pontificating about having faith.
4. His argument is silly. He can claim anything but he has no way to prove it.

Updated 10:30PM

R' Aviner has what I believe is a much truer Torah perspective. He says that we need to understand that Iron Dome is from Hashem. He quotes a Ran in his Derashos (10) where the Ran explains that in truth a person should be able to say that כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה because we see that different people have different talents and some people are truly gifted. However, the Torah tells us that we need to remember that these כוחות are from Hashem and therefore ultimately it is all from hashem. This is the way that we need to look at Iron Dome, Hashem gave the Jews who built the system the intelligence and skill to build it. Therefore, Iron Dome is itself a נס  and worthy of praise.