Latest update: November 19th, 2013
I am reminded of the old joke about the child who murdered his parents and then tells the judge, ‘Please have mercy on me, I am an orphan!’
I wish I could laugh. I just watched a video (available for view at the bottom of this post) that made me as angry as I have been in a long time. It was produced by Hamodia and presented at the Agudah convention.
What it shows is the dire poverty conditions of Charedi world in Israel. Indeed watching these people as they try and live normal lives is heart wrenching. It isn’t just a few. It is apparently the vast majority of them. They are among the poorest people in the entire State of Israel. The sheer numbers of Charedi Jews in this situation makes Israel one of the poorest developed countries in the world.
The reasons for this (as stated in the video) are that the incomes of the typically large Charedi families are meager and government subsidies to Yeshivos, Kollelim, social services agencies, the poor, and to large families have been cut.
Food is virtually being taken out of the mouths of children. Merchants can no longer afford to extend credit. Basic utility bills aren’t being paid. Medical care is substandard. Children’s clothing is often used and ill fitting.
Although the women in this community work, the jobs they have often pay menial wages. The husbands who learn full time in Kollel – are paid meager stipends by their Kollelim. The combined income is nowhere near the cost of the basic necessities of life.
I don’t see how a Jewish heart cannot have mercy on what they see in this video. While there is a lot of talk and statistical information published about the dire poverty of the Kollel lifestyle, putting a face on it as this video does – makes it very real.
To see such dire poverty among those whose values are supposed to be the highest among us – makes you question your own values. They have a lifestyle of pure Torah… and this is how they are rewarded for it?! We need to sacrifice a little of our own welfare and help these people live their lives in some semblance of dignity!
So why and I so angry? Because it does not have to be this way. These people are not poor because they are disabled. They are not poor because they can’t find a job. They are poor by choice. But not really by their own choice. It is the choice of a system gone crazy which has indoctrinated them!
Every single Charedi man and woman are educated to choose this lifestyle. Men are not educated for the job market at all. They have no preparation for the workplace.. Not even a basic elementary education. The vast majority of Charedi elementary schools refuse to teach any secular subject other than basic arithmetic and Hebrew grammar. High schools teach no secular studies at all.
The Charedi goal for every student is to become proficient in Torah study. This consists primarily of Gemarah, Rishonim, Achronim and Halacha. That is almost their entire focus.
The Charedi system has succeeded in convincing their people that Torah study of this type is all that matters. The things which have always been part and parcel of the Jewish life – about which Halacha has much to say – are being virtually ignored. Like earning a livelihood and teaching your child to how to do it. Without which you are teaching him to be a criminal. (Not my words. They are Chazal’s words.)
So I can’t blame the individual Charedi Avreich for his situation . It is how he was raised. He was taught to rely on others to make ends meet, like his wife, parents, in-laws, government welfare, and simple charity.
Full time Torah study was never meant for all Jews. While we are all required to perform this most important Mitzvah, we are not supposed to abandon are responsibilities to our families. Relying on handouts from others is not the way to do that. That doesn’t mean that there should be Jews who study full time. Of course there should. We need Talmidei Chacahm as much as we need doctors, lawyers, and accountants; butchers, bakers, and plumbers.
But only the most elite scholars should be studying full time. And they should be fully supported. There ought not to be any impoverished Torah scholar. They are required for our spiritual health. Without them Judaism would not properly be perpetuated.
But for the rest of us, we should be working. Torah study should be done by establishing fixed time for it. Times that do not interfere with our jobs and our responsibilities to our families. And Torah leaders should be encouraging them to do so. Including requiring studies in their curriculum to that end. If they had been doing this all along, this video could not have been made.
There are those who say that even if all the Avreichim were suddenly capable of doing the kinds of jobs that pay decent wages, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs in Israel to go around and the poverty situation of Charedim would not be significantly altered.
That may be true. But had they been properly educated and prepared for those jobs, the vast majority of them would be working at good jobs in similar percentages to their Dati and secular counterparts. And helping to support the elite scholars so that they could dedicate their lives fully to Torah study.
Which is why it is so important to change the Charedi paradigm of full time Torah study as the ultimate goal for everyone.
There must be accountability for the poverty. And it isn’t the government. They can no longer support Avreichim at former levels. Charedim are growing by leaps and bounds and instead of contributing to the tax base, are accelerating the depletion of it.
First let me reiterate that starving these people into change is the wrong thing to do. If you can afford to help these people survive, you ought to do it. But if nothing else this video should strengthen our resolve to support government initiatives to require a core curriculum in Charedi schools.
The condition of poverty must not be allowed to stand. The fact is that it won’t be able to anyway if the current trend continues. Even if all of us send them as much financial help as we can. Their population increase will outpace our ability to help provide for their needs. And the Israeli government will certainly not return to the former level of financial support because they can’t afford it. It will bankrupt them.
I therefore propose that any help given to these poor Avreichim – be given directly to them. They should not God forbid be allowed to starve. But not a penny should be given to any system that perpetuates that poverty by refusing to help prepare them for the workforce. And then blaming others for the poverty that results.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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