Monday, March 02, 2015

Why is Charedi Poverty Getting Worse? A heartfelt column from a 30 year old Charedi man with no economic future

YNet published a column today by a 30 year old Charedi alumnus of Ponovezh who feels that he was done an injustice by the Charedi educational system. The column is in Hebrew so I am going to translate it because I feel it is a very important statement from a born and bred Charedi. Below is my translation of the column:

Charedim, lets admit that we made a mistake

At the age of 30, unemployed and divorced, I understand that an injustice was done to me. I could have been a doctor or a lawyer but you prevented me [from doing this]. We need to break this cycle.

I am a born and bred Charedi from birth. I attended a Talmud Torah that focused primarily on Torah subjects. "Secular subjects" - that is what they are called in the Charedi world - were only there as "helpers for torah subjects". I will explain in simple terms. To learn Gemara you need some minimal knowledge of math or for example, in order to write Torah novella there is a need to know some elementary syntax and grammar. 

Because of this, we spent very little time on secular subjects. Multiplication tables represented the apex of our mathematical learning, we could only dream of anything further. We didn't learn any English whatsoever, after all, in the Gemara there are no English words.  If anything, it is more relevant to learn Aramaic. History? What does that contribute? The only history that we learned was the history of the Jewish people that is found in Tanach. And with this, the years passed by slowly. I then studied in an advanced Yeshiva where all we studied was Gemara. 

And then at age 20, I got married and to no ones surprise, glad that you guessed, I continued learning in Kollel where there also we studied Gemara exclusively. I received a stipend of 2000 shekel a month. My wife worked as a secretary and somehow we managed. After a year we had our first child and then we started to feel the financial difficulties. After our second child was born, the difficulties become too much to bear. The financial pressure caused tension and fights and in the end to my great sorrow, at the age of 26 I found myself divorced and penniless.

Now that I was obligated to pay child support, I had to go out and look for a job. Luckily, I found work at a Charedi bank that agreed to hire me after a series of tests. Even though I didn't have a HS diploma or a degree, I am quite intelligent. Since this was a Charedi bank, they understood the simple fact that Yeshiva students are lacking knowledge with respect to the secular population but are very smart. In my innocence I believed that I had managed to penetrate into the Israeli economic scene without a HS diploma. I invested myself fully into work. I finished courses with excellence and I surpassed all of my colleagues with degrees. I thought that I was living proof that it is possible to prosper without a HS diploma or college degree, however, it didn't last very long. The economic situation is not great and less then a month ago I was laid off because of labor force reductions.

Again I found myself at a starting point. I am now 30, divorced and paying child support, and I now understand that I was done an injustice.  If I would have gotten a HS diploma at an early age and a college degree after that I would have been able to do whatever I wanted, doctor, lawyer, economist, psychologist. However, now at age 30 I found myself deliberating between working at a call centre for minimum wage and becoming a bus driver at a slightly higher salary. Is this what is appropriate for me? Definitely not! However, I need to support myself and the injustice screams out to the heavens. I am a talented guy, in fact very talented. I have 1 simple question - why? Why am I supposed to work in a job that is not suitable for me only because they prevented me from getting an education? It is a moral injustice to push whole generations into the cycle of poverty. It is not possible to support a family without a college degree, certainly not without a HS diploma.

When you meet a Charedi doctor or architect the first question that you ask him is when did you become a Baal Teshuva? If it wasn't so sad it would be funny. Imagine a scenario where the Charedi population would combine learning for a degree alongside Gemara. Suddenly we would see senior Charedi doctors, and also architects who are alumni of yeshivas. In general, the Charedi population would become a contributing and important piece of Israeli society. This is not impossible. It may be too late for me but it is not too late for all those Charedim who are following the same path. 

I turn to the Charedi leadership: For the future generations, combine torah learning with secular studies. We will continue to learn Gemara but at the same time we will get a HS diploma and degree so that the next generation won't get stuck in the cycle of poverty. Someone has to stop this cycle. It is time to admit the simple truth, we made a mistake.

Yisrael, an Alumnus of Yeshivas Ponovezh

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The value of work in the eyes of Chazal

In certain circles today, the word work is a 4 letter word. However, if we look at Chazal we see that Chazal actually believed the opposite, that in fact Chazal thought work was very important and valuable.

In last weeks Parsha (יתרו), we have the ten commandments with one of them being the commandment to observe Shabbos. However, before commanding us to keep Shabbos the Torah states "ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתיך".  On this pasuk there are many derashos of Chazal on the positive value of work. The תורה שלימה at the end of יתרו has 2 essays on this point and all of the sources below are taken from there.

Work as a Mitzva

There are a number of sources in Chazal that state that not only is work a positive value, but it is a mitzvah.
1. Source: במכילתא דרשב״י
ששת ימים תעבד רבי אומר הרי זו גזרה אחרת שכשם שנצטוו ישראל על מצות עשה של שבת כך נצטוו על מלאכה
Six days you should work, Rebbi says this is another gezera that just like the Jewish people were commanded as a positive commandment to keep Shabbos, so too they were commanded to work [on the other 6 days].
2. Source: ובאבות דר״נ נו״ב פכ״א
רבי אליעזר אומר גדולה היא מלאכה שכשם שנצטוו ישראל על השבת כך נצטוו על המלאכה שנאמר ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך
Rabbi Eliezer said work is a very good thing because just like the Jewish people were commanded to keep Shabbos, so too they were commanded to work as the pasuk says 6 days you should work  

R' Kasher explains the source for saying that work is a mitzvah as follows:

ונראה שיסוד של הדרשות הנ״ל הוא משום שהתורה הזכירה שמנה פעמים במצות שמירת שבת עשיית מלאכה בששת ימים וצריך להבין מה רצתה התורה לומר בזו- הרי בעיקר באה להזהירנו על שמירת שבת, ולמה הדגישה בכל פעם עשיית המלאכה בששת ימים. מזה למדו רבי ור״א שהתורה צוותה בפסוקים אלה על המלאכה בששת הימים ואין זה רשות גרידא. אלא כשאדם הולך בטל ואינו עושה כלום מבטל מצות התורה של ששת ימים תעבד

It seems that the reason behind these derashos is that the Torah mentions 8 times when discussing the mitzvah of Shabbos doing work on the other six days. We have to understand what is the Torah telling us? The main point the Torah is coming to tell us is to warn us to keep Shabbos and therefore why does the Torah emphasise every time the idea of doing work on the other 6 days. From this Rebbi and R' Eliezer learned that the Torah is commanding us to work on these 6 days and it is not optional, rather if a person sits and does nothing he is not fulfilling the mitzvah of working 6 days. 

Work as a positive value

R' Kasher then brings a whole set of statements of Chazal about the positive value of work. What is fascinating is that he only quotes the more obscure ones, the others he doesn't quote because as he says "כי ידועים הם", everyone know them.
Sources: ממכילתא דרשב׳׳י שם מאבות דר׳ נתן נו״ב, ממשנת דבי אליעזר

1. ר׳ אלעזד בן עזריה אומר גדולה מלאכה שלא שרת שכינה בישראל עד שעשו מלאכה שנא' ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם 
R' Elazar Ben Azarya said work is so good that the divine presense did dwell with the Jewish people until they did work as the pasuk says make me a mikdash and I will dwell amongst you.
2. רבי אליעזר אומר גדולה היא מלאכה שאפילו אדם הראשון לא טעם כלום אלא עד שעשה מלאכה שנאמד ויניחהו בגן עדן לעבדה ולשמרה 
Rabbi Eliezer said work is good because even Adam could not eat anything until he did work as the pasuk says he was put into Gan Eden to work and protect
3. רבי אומד גדולה היא מלאכה שכל מי שאינו עוסק במלאכה בני אדם משיחין בו, מניין איש פלוני אוכל, מניין הוא שותה 
Rebbi said work is good because anyone who doesn't work people talk about him, from where does he eat, from where does he drink?
4. ועוד היה רבי אומד גדולה היא מלאכה שכל מי שהוא עוסק במלאכה אין ידו חסרה פרוטה לעולם.
Rebbi also said work is good, someone who works is never lacking for money. 
5. ועוד אמד רבי יוסי גדולה היא מלאכה שכל מי שאינו עוסק במלאכה הדי זה מתחייב בנפשו
 R' Yosi also said, work is good because someone who doesn't work will end up giving up their life.
6. רבי מאיד אומר גמלה היא מלאכה שכל מי שאינו עושה מלאכה בחול סופו לעשותה בשבת 
R' Meir said work is good because anyone who doesn't work during the week will end up working on Shabbos. 
7. חביבה היא המלאכה, שהרי כל בריות שברא הקב״ה בעולמו, לא מסר להן מלאכה אלא לבני אדם בלבד. וכן היה ר׳ מאיר אומר 
ראית מימיך ארי אכר, צבי חייט, שועל כורם, או אחד מן החיות עושה מלאכה. [הרי אינן עושין מלאכה], והרי הן מתפרנסין בלא מלאכה- ובני  אדם אין מתפרנסים אלא מן המלאכה לא מפני שהם קלים, אלא שהמלאכה חביבה- 
Work is valuable because out of all of the creature that Hashem created he only gave work to man. And R' Meir used to say this as well, did you ever say a lion farmer, a deer tailor, a fox vintner or any animal every doing work? [We know they don't do work] they get their food without working while people only get their food from work, not because it is easy but because work is valuable. 
8. חביבה היא המלאכה, שכל הנביאים נתעסקו בה. ביעקב אבינו הוא אומד, אשובה ארעה צאנך אשמר. במשה הוא אומד, ומשה היה רועה. בדוד הוא אומר״ ויקחהו ממכלאות צאן. בעמוס הוא אומר, כי נקר אנכי ובולם שקמים, ויקחני ה׳ מאחרי הצאן.
 Work is valuable as all of the prophets worked. ... (description of their work)

The מנורת המאור ח״ג פרק תלמוד תורה states:

וחסידים הראשונים היו משתדלים לעשות מלאכה, כדי שיתפרנסו ממנה, ולא היו חוששין למלאכה פחותה, ואע״פ שהיו מהם נשיאים וראשי ישיבות וגדולי הדור, כגון ר׳ יוסי, שהיתה מלאכתו שהיה נושא עצים על כתפו, והיה שמח בחלקו ומשתבח במלאכתו, ואמד גדולה מלאכה שמחממת את בעליה.

וכל מי שאינו עושה מלאכה להתפרנס ממנה הרי זה חוטא ומחטיא את הבריות. כיצד הוא חוטא, כיון שאינו עושה מלאכה להתפרנס ממנה, סופו בא לידי עניות וגונב את הבריות. כיצד מחטיא את הבריות, מפגי שמרגנין אחריו וחושדין אותו, ואומדין עליו, פלוני שהוא בטל ואינו עושה מלאכה, מניץ הוא אוכל״ מניין הוא שותה, עכ״ל. 
The early righteous men would try to work to support themselves and they were not afraid of difficult/embarrassing work even though they were the heads of the assembly, Rosh yeshivas and Gedolei Hador ... (descriptions of the various Tannaim and their work). 
And anyone who doesn't work to support himself is a sinner and causes other people to sin. How is he a sinner? Since he doesn't work to support himself he come to be poor and then steal from people. How does he cause others to sin, because he cause people to talk about him, he doesn't work from where does he eat, from where does he drink?

We see from these many statements of Chazal that work is not simply a curse but it is a valuable thing that raises up a person to new heights.

R' Kasher concludes the essay with the following:

הכתוב ,ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך״ שבעשרת הדברות מיחד ותופס מקום כבוד נעלה ורם בתולדות האנושות עד נצח. הערך המוסרי של העבודה קשור קשר אמיץ במנוחת השבת, כשם שהמוסריות של שלות השבת צומחת ויוצאת מעבודת השבוע. ... חג המנוחה חוזר ונרכש ומתאשר תמיד
מחדש על ידי עבודת ימי החול״.
The pasuk six days you should toil and do your work that is in the ten commandments, takes a proud and high place in the annals of man. The moral value of work is tied tightly to the rest of shabbos, the morality of of the peaceful shabbos is derived from the work of the week. 
The holiday of rest is bought every week with the work of the week.

This is not 1 מאמר חז"ל that can be dismissed, this is clearly something that Chazal felt strongly about and emphasised. There are many many more statements in Chazal praising work that I did not quote here. The fact that today in certain circles this is completely ignored is very sad. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why is Charedi poverty getting worse? The kids respond

Mishpacha published a follow up article with 2 main themes:

  1. Responses from kids who are taking money
  2. Suggestions on how to improve the situation
They also mentioned that they received over 250 responses to the original article. 

Below are 2 responses from children, 1 male 1 female. The letters speak for themselves.

My parents pay our rent and we go to them and my wifes parents just about every shabbos, and we also take frozen foods and cans. Yes we are parasites like the ones that you write about with disgust, and all of the older people who read the article probably clucked their tongues. All my life I was taught that I was supposed to sit and learn, also when they married me off, they expected me [to sit and learn] and I expected myself to sit in kollel. In my kollel we get 1000 shekel a month if we get it, sometimes we don't get anything. My wife works and makes 3000 shekel a month. So what do you want? We should die of starvation? We should live in the street? We shouldn't buy diapers? What do you want from us? You know that in the winter electricity costs 500 shekel a month and child care for 2 kids costs 1500 shekel? ...

An irritated/anxious Avreich

They married me off at 18 and three quarters. Suddenly, I learned that 4 pieces of salmon for Shabbos cost 50 shekel and that yellow cheese is much more expensive then regular cheese and that my studies cost so much money that there is no chance that I could ever pay for it myself. My husband learns in a kollel where new Avreichim don't get paid. We don't know exactly when a new Avreich turns into an old one [and starts getting paid]. I go to school and my parents pay for it. We go to my parents practically every day for lunch and we take vegetables for dinner and we also come for shabbos. If someone thinks that this is wrong, he should think twice before he marries off his next child this way. I know that I sound chutzpadik but I am not chutzpadik, I am frustrated.

Chava L. Yerushalayim

These letters paint a very bleak picture indeed. The children are frustrated, angry and upset that they have been put into this situation and you know what I don't blame them, what can they do at this point in their lives? They are married off completely unprepared for life. What is worse is that they are resentful and angry at their parents and Charedi society for putting them in this position. That doesn't bode well for the chinuch of the next generation.  If you read between the lines of these letters, there is a lot of pent up anger with the Charedi system which at some point may simply explode. 

The articles points out that the average Charedi kid who gets married has no clue about finances, home economics, etc. and therefore their big solution is to have classes when they are engaged to teach them these basics. IMHO, this is like a bandaid for a gunshot wound. Even if you have a PhD in Economics, you can't make something out of nothing. As the Avrech pointed out in his letter, you can't support a family on 4000 shekel a month, no matter how economics savvy you are. If 1500 shekel goes to child care and 500 for electricity that leaves 2000 shekel (about $500) for everything else for the month, that just doesn't add up. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The city of Bet Shemesh is running out of money, why is that important?

The city of Bet Shemesh has had Charedi leadership (A Charedi mayor and Charedi politicians in most of the key City Council positions) for the past 6 years and it is running out of money. According to a report on Radio Kol Chai the city has a 40 million shekel budget deficit. The mayor is proposing a budget cut of 25 million shekel, the other Charedi parties do not agree.

Why does Bet Shemesh have such a big budget deficit? In Israel city governments get much of their money from property taxes (arnona), especially from businesses, factories, industrial areas etc. The rates for them are much higher and they provide the money to support the functioning of the city government. Unfortunately, Bet Shemesh in recent years has seen an explosion of building of residential apartments, but NO industrial business areas. The city has grown in population (especially young population) with little to no growth in business leading to the budget issues. All of the children need city services such as Ganim, schools, etc., however there has been no corresponding increase in revenues. In addition, many of the people moving in pay little arnona as they are learning in kollel and get up to a 90% discount.

This is no surprise as for the past few years the Charedi leadership has singled out Bet Shemesh as the place to build affordable housing for the growing Charedi population. This has led to an impressive array of new housing developments but none of the supporting infrastructure that is needed especially in terms of business and industrial areas. As I have said previously (The cash machine that is the Israeli government) Charedim as a group view the government very differently then other citizens. They view the government as a cash machine, give us money and leave us alone. The budget is a zero sum game, whatever we can save and get for us great whatever doesn't go to us is basically lost. This is bad when they are a minor party but is a disaster when they are in power. This is what scares the average Israeli most. In 20 years the Charedi parties may very well be the biggest parties in Israel, and therefore would control the government. What economic policies would they enact (more money for Yeshivos, Avreichim etc.) and where will the money to pay for it come from?

Hat Tip: Life In Israel

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Why is Charedi Poverty Getting Worse? Part 4 - Letters to Mishpacha

In part 3 I quoted extensively from an article in Mishpacha which described how married children are driving their parents into poverty by taking and taking and taking. This week the magazine published 3 letters in response, all agreeing with the article.  One letter in particular is very interesting and reinforces the points that I have been making, here it is:

קשה וכואב היה לקרא את הכתבה של ר" קפלר, על ילדים הנשואים הרוכבים על גבי הוריהם. אך כמה מפליא, יכול להיות שההורים נותנים בכך דוגמא אישית

נאמר זאת, הילדים לא המציאו את השיטה, הם ראו אותה אצל ההורים! אתם עכשיו שבאים בטענות, עשיתם (וחלקם עדיין עושים) את אותו דבר בדיוק! הוריכם ניצולי השואה לא יכלו לחשוב על כך שילדים שלהם יהיו מצוקה ומחסור, ונתנו (ועדיין נותנים) לכם את כל אשר להם. דור ניצולי השואה עבדו כמו חמורים, חלקם בעבודות מפרכות גוף ונפש, וביחד אם הרנטות שהם קיבלו מגרמניה הם חיתנו את הילדים, קנו להם דירות, ועזרו להם לעבור לדירה גדולה יותר, וכן הלאה ככל שיכלו ומעבר לכך.

הדור השני כבר עבד הרבה פחות, רובו למד בכולל (וחלקו עדיין בכולל עד היום), וחי מקצבאות הממשלה, מתמיכות מהכולל, ומעזרה מההורים. וכשהם הגיעו לחתן את ילדיהם (הדור הסחטן של היום) עמדו הם בלא מודעות בפני שוקת שבורה ולקחו את ילדיהם וזרקו לתוך המים הסוערים. והילדים האלו שרגילים לכך שסבתא היא באר מיים חיים, הולכים גם הם לשאוב. ולפעמים מגש העוף שהם גנבו מהפריזר יהיה העוף היחיד שהנכדים יראו במהלך השבוע ... כי כשאין, אזז אין

הורים יקרים אתם אשמים! אם אתם לא מספיקים לילדכם כלים לפרנסה, ואתם כן מראים לו דוגמה אישית של חיים על חשבון הסבים, אז אתם יכולים להאשים רק את עצמכם

It was hard and painful to read the article by R' Kapler about married children who are dependent on their parents. However, how interesting it is that the parents are giving their children a personal example [of being dependent on their parents].

We can say this, the children did not invent this, they saw their parents doing it. You [parents] who are now complaining did (and some are still doing) the same exact thing! Your parents, holocaust survivors, could not bear to see their children lack from anything, and therefore gave (and are still giving) to you everything they had. The generation of holocaust survivors worked like mules, some in  physically and spiritually crushing work, and along with the reparations they received from Germany married off their children, bought them apartments, helped them move to bigger apartments, etc. giving whatever they could and sometimes even more. 

The second generation worked much less, most learned in kollel (some are still learning in kollel) and live off government and kollel stipends, and help from their parents. So when they came to marry off their children they found themselves in a hopeless situation and took their children and threw them into the turbulent waters. The children who were used to their grandparents being the source of all good, are coming back to take. Sometimes the tray of chickens that they take from the freezer are the only chicken the grandchildren will see that week... because when there isn't any, there isn't any.

Parents, it is your fault! If you don't provide your children with the tools to make a living and you provide an example of living off the taxpayer, you can only blame yourselves.

This letter pretty much sums up what I have been saying, the kids ares simply following in their parents footsteps. The problem is that the generational money is running out and there is nothing to replace it.

The fact that Mishpacha published 3 letters in favour of the article (these are the only letters published) says a lot about what is going in the Charedi community. At least some people seem to understand that there is a real issue here, the question is, what will the leadership do about it?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Why is Charedi poverty in Israel getting worse? Part 3

The Mishpacha magazine in Hebrew this past week ran an article about the hidden cause of Charedi poverty. The article detailed how parents are going into debt and collapsing in order to support their married children. Because I think this article is so important and powerful I am going to quote highlights from it. I will sprinkle in my commentary, but truthfully, the article really speaks for itself.

  הוא הבטיח לי סידור מלא, התובע גאה ונחוש עמד מול הרכב בית דין. אשתו לצידו כרעייה נאמנה מוכנה להעיד. אבא שלה הבטיח דירה בירושלים ובסוף נתן דירה בפרוייקט
כך היה המעשה: אב ירושלמי הוזמן להגיע לבית הדין כנתבע על יד חתנו ובתו. הזוג הצעיר דרש את כל מה שמגיע להם לדעתם תחת הכותרת סידור מלא
הסיפור הזה מפורסם ...אבל הדיינים בבית הדין מכירים סיפורים כאלו שזורמים אל שולחנם על בסיס קבוע. גם אליהם מגיעים להתדיין בנים נשואים שתבעו את הוריהם

He promised me a complete arrangement the plaintiff proud and determined stood in front of the Beit Din his wife at his side as a loyal wife ready to testify. Her father promised an apartment in Jerusalem and in the end bought them an apartment in the periphery. 
This is the story: A Yerushalmi father was taken to Beis Din as a defendant by his son in law and daughter. The young couple was demanding everything that was coming to to them under a "full arrangement". This story is famous ... but the judges of the Beis Din see stories like this that come to their desks on a regular basis. Also to them come the cases of married children suing their parents

After I read this I was blown away, married children suing their parents for support? What have we come to? What has the kollel system wrought?

Not everyone takes their parent to Beis Din, some simply come to their parents and take stuff.

להרבה זוגות נשואים יש שוק קטן ופרטי שמכיל הכל: המטבח של אבא ואמא. כמה פשוט קופצים לשבת או לערב, פותחים ארונות נזכרים ששכחו לקנות פסטה או שמן. לוקחים
לפעמים ההורים מזמינים משלוח של קפואים הרבה מגשי עופות והודו, שיספיקו עד ט"ו בשבט. ככה לפחות הם חשבו. אבל הילד שלהם, אבא לשלוש בעצמו רואה שיש להם בפרוזר המון עופות ולוקח כמה מגשי פולקוס. מי ירגיש שהיו כאן עשרה מגשים ועכשיו יש רק שבעה?
סיפרה על יהודי מכובד מאשדוד שבכל פעם לפני שנשואיו היקרים מגיעים, הוא עורם קופסאות שימורים ומעביר אותן לארון העליונה ... מסלקים הכל

Many young couples have they own private little store, their parents kitchen. How simple is it to just come over for a night or Shabbos open the cabinets and remember that you forgot to buy pasta or oil and simply take it. 
Sometime the parents order a large delivery of trays of chicken and turkey that will last until Tu Bishvat, at least that is what they thought. But their child, a father of 3 himself, sees the freezer full of chicken trays and takes a few. Who will notice if before there were 10 and now there are only 7?
Someone told about a respected Jew in Ashdod who, every time his married children come for a visit, moves all of the cans to a higher closet, they hide everything.

This is simply mind boggling. The article mentions as well that this practice in many cases is simply stealing al pi halacha. The question is where does this attitude come from? The article answers this as well:

להבחורי הישיבות של ימינו נותנים הכל מסביר למשפחה הרב צבי טברסקי, מחנך ותיק ומדריך חתנים. וזה טוב ונכון, כי הם לומדים תורה והם חוד החנית של העם היהודי. מפנקים אותם מכבדים אותם על בסיס קבוע: הם צעירים בני שמונה עשרה-תשע עשרה שמקבלים חינם מגורים וריהוט, חשמל ומים ושלש ארוחות ביום. כך צריך להיות ... אבל לפעמים במקביל לכל השפע הזה, קורה שהבחורים מתרגלים שהכל מגיע להם. מתרגלים לקבק. אולי לא מספיק חינכו אותם להכיר טובה אולי לא הבהירו להם שיש מי שעובד קשה כדי שהם ייהנו מכל הטוב הזה

The yeshiva students of today get everything explains Rav Tzvi Twersky, a veteran educator and marriage counsellor, to Mishpacha. This is good and correct because they are learning Torah and they are the tip of the spear of the Jewish people. We pamper them and give them honour regularly: They are 18-19 year olds who get for free a furnished place to live, electricity, water, and 3 meals a day. This is how it should be. ... However, sometimes, with all of this abundance, it happens that the boys get used to the fact that they should just get everything. Maybe we don't educate them enough to have gratitude, maybe no one explained to them that there is someone who works very hard so tha they can enjoy all of this abundance.

I would say not maybe but definitely. IMHO this is the root of the problem. The Yeshiva boys just get and get and get and really feel that everything is simply coming to them. Yonasan Rosenblum wrote a good column about this a few years ago:

The second major reason not to grant draft exemptions from Pesach cleaning is that it fosters a sense of entitlement that can work against true striving in Torah. Contrary to the common impression among yeshiva bochurim, limud Torah is not a general exemption from all responsibilities in life. As one who was zocheh to learn in kollel for nearly 15 years, I view the expansion of kollel learning as the glory of our generation. But nothing will ever come from one who views yeshivah or kollel as life with an E-Z Pass.
But acceptance of the yoke of Torah must come first. One does not demand that one be freed from responsibilities in order that one can learn. Nor does the yoke of Torah provide one with a right to demand from others that they take on one's responsibilities.
More and more, especially in shidduchim, we hear the attitude expressed that a ben Torah is entitled to be spared all life's worries and to be able to live in comfort in order that he can learn in peace. Such an expectation is both unrealistic and dangerous. It is impossible to protect oneself from all worries: illness strikes, fathers-in-laws' businesses go bankrupt, wives who undertook the burden of parnassah find that they are no longer physically or emotionally capable of doing so six children later, or that the children are suffering from having a permanently drained and part-time mother.

The quest for comfort can be inimical to spiritual growth in general and to growth in Torah learning in particular. When the Mishnah in Avos (6:4) describes the way of Torah – "bread with salt shall you eat, water by measure shall you drink, on the earth shall you sleep" – it is hardly describing a life of comfort.
An acquaintance told me recently that her brother had been advised against a certain shidduch by his friends. They had pointed out that the girl's parents were already in late middle-age, and that she had only one sister, so she might end up having to take care of her parents one day. At least her brother was embarrassed when she pointed out: "Oh, so you expect your in-laws to support you for twenty years, but, chas v'Shalom, you should ever have to do anything for them." No doubt such bald-faced selfishness is rare, but the extreme examples often reveal more than we care to admit.

It seems that we are raising a generation of children who feel entitled to everything. It seems that today's Yeshiva Bachurs never heard of the famous idea of נהמא דכיסופא, that Hashem put us here on Earth so that we wouldn't feel shame getting a free ride in Heaven, that rather we should earn it. Today's children have no problem whatsoever with נהמא דכיסופא in fact not only aren't they embarrassed but they want it.

Why is this coming to a head now? Why now can't the parents afford this now? The answer is what I have been saying, there are 2 major reasons:
1. Generational money is gone
2. Large families

פעם היה לנו יותר אפשריות אומרים לי אבות ואמהות לנשואים. מדובר בכאלה שחתנו את בנם הבכור לפני עשור ושניים, והרגישו את עצמם עשירים גדולים: היו להם כך וכך מאות אלפי שקלים בתכנית חסכון, עשרים אלף דולר מהסבא ניצול השואה ודירה קטנה בעפולה להשקעאה. 
את הזוג הראשון חתנו בלארגיות נתנו קנו תמכו. ... היום אם חתונת הילד השישי, הבסיס הכלכלי נשמט מתחת לרגליהם. מאות האלפים נמוגו עם החתונות, הסבה הקשיש נפטר, והדירה בעפולה ממושכנת ולא מכסה אפילו שליש. אבל הילדים הנשואים מסרבים להבין את המצב.

הבת החמישית רוצה לתינוק שלה אותה עגלג כמו שקבלה אחותה הגדולה. 

Parents of married children told us that in the past they had more options. We are talking about people who married off their oldest child 10-20 years ago , at the time they felt rich. They had a few hundred thousand shekels saved up, twenty thousand dollars from their grandfather, a holocaust survivor, and a small apartment in Afula for investment purposes. The first child they married off in grand fashion. and they gave them everything and supported them. Today however, with the marriage of their sixth child, the rug has been pulled from under their financial feet. The savings are gone, spent on the weddings. The grandfather is dead, and the apartment in Afula is mortgaged and the rent does not even cover 1/3 of the mortgage. But the married children refuse to understand the situation. The fifth daughter wants the same (expensive) carriage as her older sister got.

This article paints a very bleak picture of the future of Charedi society in Israel. As I said in my previous posts, the money is simply running out and the second and third generation kollel parents have nothing to fall back to. There is simply no way that they can support the next generation in the kollel lifestyle when they can't even support themselves. What is the father of 3 who takes (steals) chickens from his parents going to do when his parents are dead and he needs to marry off his fifth child while supporting the first four? Where is the money going to come from? 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why people used to have a lot of children and don't anymore

I saw a very good article explaining this Children aren’t worth very much—that’s why we no longer make many.

I had heard this explanation before - children used be an economic benefit, and now they are an economic burden. But this goes a little deeper.

But the fertility decline is not merely the product of a price effect - of people having fewer children because children are more costly. Children are not normal goods...or even inferior goods...they become not goods at all, but rather bundles of claims on their parents. ..Before the fertility decline, resources flowed from children to parents; after the transformation, resources flowed from parents to children.
In each country, before the demographic transition, children were essentially the property of their parents. Their labor could be used for the parents' good, and they were accustomed to strict and austere treatment. Parents had claims not only to their children's labor in childhood, but even to their wealth in adulthood. To put it crudely, marrying a wife meant buying a slave factory, and children were valuable slaves. 
After the transition, mediated by mass education, children were transubstantiated into persons. Their individual status increased, and parents no longer had a culturally recognized claim on their labor. Children's culturally supported entitlements increased, including not only food and clothing, but also study and play time. Their relationship with their parents became more egalitarian and friendly, their treatment less strict.  
But children do not exactly own themselves in the present situation: the government has claims on their future earnings, through taxation and other mandatory payments (and, increasingly, education loans). In essence, mass education is a communist transformation: individually-owned "goods" (children) are brought under national ownership, and returns from children flow to the country as a whole (through tax-based entitlement programs), rather than individually to their previous "owners." When farms are communally owned, production suffers and famine results; when children are communally "owned," fertility decline results.  
There is another, related shift in the direction of resource flow during this time: resources (including labor) stop flowing from wives to husbands, and instead flow from husbands to wives, as a result of Western-style female liberation. This trend is also a result of education, and amplifies the trend toward low fertility.  
So why did people used to have children? It's hard for us even to imagine, but children used to be valuable - they used to be much more like slaves or farm animals, which are both very valuable. They were also treated much more like slaves, with patriarchs (at least) maintaining distance from children...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why is Charedi poverty in Israel getting worse? Part 2 - Updated

Yesterday I wrote about the "third generation effect" as a big reason for Charedi poverty. Today, I would like to discuss another important reason.

In the last 20 years, Western economies (I am including Israel for this discussion), have shifted from manufacturing economies to service/knowledge economies. This has had profound effects on workers with little education. In my parents generation, blue collar workers could make a decent middle class wage and could provide for their family. The 85% of Charedi men who worked in 1979 worked mainly in blue collar jobs and were able to support their families. Those types of jobs are gone today. Manufacturing jobs have moved to low wage countries like China, Vietnam, etc. and automation has eliminated thousands of jobs. On Chanuka, we took the kids on a tour of the Nesher cement factory in Ramle. The factory is huge (it is so big it has it's own power plant) and produces all of Israel's cement. We had to take a bus on the grounds to get around on the tour. And yet, this huge factory only employs some 250 people, many of them highly educated professionals. 50 years ago a plant like that would have provided thousands of jobs to blue collar workers. 

Unfortunately, this trend has negative ramifications for Charedim as well. Charedim in Israel receive little to no secular education and therefore even if/when they want to go out into the working world they aren't qualified to get a job that can support a large family. While learning Gemara may sharpen the mind in some ways, it is no substitute for math and science and computers and English. Without these it is very difficult to find a good job. 

The bottom line is that in today's economy there are very few good jobs remaining that don't require a lot of secular education, something that the Charedi leadership refuses to allow it's children to get. No education = no good jobs = poverty.

Here is a fascinating article about a Charedi girl who would not give up her dream of becoming a doctor and what she had to to do to fulfil it. It shows the sad reality of Charedi society and higher education.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why is Charedi poverty in Israel getting worse?

Mishpacha magazine in English reviewed a report by the Taub Center in Israel which offered some suggestions.

One big reason is the "third generation effect". In 1979, 85% of Charedi men 33-54 worked. In the years that followed the percentage dropped to well under 50%. That percentage plummeted as Menachem Begin and the Likud removed the limits on army exemptions for Yeshiva students allowing the kollel only generation to really take root. The generations that grew up in the 1980's and later were raised with a torah/kollel only mentality Those who became long term Avreichim in the 1980's and 1990's had working parents to help them out and therefore were able to manage albeit living simply. However, these Avreichim are now marrying off their children and have no money to help their children at all. Therefore, the children are having a hard time making it at all even living simply as they simply don't have the money to pay a mortgage, buy food, clothing, etc. for a large family. The next generation will be even worse off as this generation at least has grandparents who worked who can help out a little, in 10-20 years even the grandparents will have been in kollel and will have no money to help out.

In other words, the Charedi community as a whole is running out of money. Generations of not working takes its toll on the resources and the hard earned money (and German war reparations) from 2-3 generations ago are basically depleted.

The report concludes, "this is something that should be worrisome, first and foremost to the charedi sector itself".

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.