The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Growing up, I was taught the value of self-reliance. Dire straits may force a person to ask for financial assistance from his family, friends or community, but ordinarily, a self-respecting individual should not accept charity. “Better that one’s Shabbos meals resemble one’s weekday meals than to rely on others for help,” the Talmud quotes Rabbi Akiva as saying (Shabbos 118a).
This value, however, has apparently vanished in the ethical weltanschauung of many contemporary young Orthodox Jews. Acquaintances of mine have told me point-blank – without a trace of embarrassment in their voices – that they live in Section 8 housing and buy groceries with food stamps.
Are these individuals ill? Have they been fired from their jobs? Hardly. Most are newly married, as healthy as can be, and could easily afford housing and food if they worked for a living. But they prefer not to work. They study Torah all day long instead.
Leaving aside the debate between the relative value of studying Torah versus working, how does studying Torah justify taking charitable funds? Living off a generous father-in-law who wants to support his daughter’s family is understandable in certain circumstances. But living off the government dole is another matter entirely.
“We qualify for these programs,” argue some young Orthodox welfare recipients. Some do, that’s true. But even so, programs like Section 8 housing and food stamps were clearly never intended for able-bodied men who choose not to work. These government programs are essentially charitable funds set up by society for people who work hard to support their families but can’t make ends meet.
Some Orthodox Jews sponging off their fellow citizens concede this point but then argue, “Many undeserving Americans receive welfare benefits, so why shouldn’t we?” Yes, welfare fraud and associated crimes unfortunately do exist. But how does this fact justify taking charity without truly needing it? What exactly are these people arguing – that because some Americans take charity unjustly, they, too, can take charity unjustly?
Even supposing these charity recipients were right – and they’re not – where is their shame in subsisting on other people’s money? The Talmudic sages assumed normal people would feel ashamed to accept charity, which is why they praised anonymous donors and donors who don’t know their recipients’ identities. They also lauded people who employ poor men, thus saving them the embarrassment of living off donations.
How is it, then, that many young Orthodox Jewish couples today don’t feel any shame in taking charity? Indeed, in some communities, they even boast about how many government programs they benefit from. Where is the shame, the sense of honor, the pride in being self-sufficient?
Unfortunately, the problem runs even deeper. The sad fact is that many of these young newlywed Orthodox Jews don’t even really qualify for government welfare programs. They cheat and lie to receive their money. Some of them have part-time jobs – the women almost certainly do – and make too much money to qualify for government benefits. To avoid such “technical” obstacles, they ensure that a portion of their salary remains “off the books,” sometimes funneled through non-profit organizations.
Another trick I just learned about involves couples remaining unmarried – from a secular legal point of view. By marrying religiously under a chuppah but not civilly in city hall, some couples can continue to receive government benefits they would lose if legally married.
How do they justify their behavior? “We’re simply living together like so many other unmarried American men and women do,” they say. This excuse may fool the government, but what of the Lord sitting on High? God commands us to be honest and holy and to “walk in His ways.” Does God employ chicanery?
I’m no fan of government. I’m a conservative/libertarian and dislike many government programs. If I were president, I would urge Congress to phase out welfare, Medicare, social security and all the other major social welfare programs starting tomorrow. (Believe it or not, this country did quite well without any of these programs for the first 150 years of its existence.) In the meantime, however, these charitable programs exist and one cannot steal from them simply because one finds it convenient.
Some people argue that by living off the government one is simply benefiting from the tax money of one’s parents who would love nothing more than for their own children to benefit from their tax dollars.
But this reasoning is fallacious. Taxes are not voluntary and individual citizens can’t decide how they want their tax dollars spent. If they could, the whole tax system would fall apart. Every American would steal from the government, claiming he or she was simply using his or his family’s portion of the nation’s tax revenue. Most Americans would probably simply reroute their taxes straight back to their own checking account. I know I would.
Section 8 housing, food stamps, and similar programs exist for a very specific purpose – a charitable one. Taking money from these programs’ coffers without truly needing it is dishonorable, at best. Lying about one’s income or other matters in order to qualify for government benefits comes awfully close to violating the eighth of the 10 Commandments: Thou shall not steal.
The last Mishnah of Meseches Pe’ah states, “Whoever does not need to take charity but does so anyway will not die of old age until he becomes dependent on others. And whoever needs to take but doesn’t will not die of old age until he supports others from his own possessions.”
Alas, many in the Orthodox community have completely forgotten this dictum.
About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
The contrast between a Dem pretending to love Israel & a Dem who truly loves Israel is CRYSTAL CLEAR
Pentecost, derived from the Greek word for 50, is celebrated 50 days after Easter.
U.S and European demands for the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank is world hypocrisy.
During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai
20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse
Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise
Many Black protesters compared Baltimore’s unrest to the Palestinian penchant of terrorism & rioting
She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes
Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times
Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program
“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me
Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.
The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.
The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.
Jews are an anxious group – understandably, given the millennia of persecution – and want to have no trouble.
Mitchell Bard is nothing if not prolific. He has written and edited 23 books, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East” and “The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East.” Bard, who has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, is also the executive director of both the […]
You have to understand that Ukraine was really a very, very Jewish place for many years.
What I think is going on here is the Midrash is making a comment about Rut’s love for Naomi being some sort of reflection of how we have to love God.
I can tell you that Cablevision has been astonished at how high we rank.
HarperCollins’s omission was especially egregious because it is a major general and educational publisher.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/societys-proud-parasites/2010/04/08/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: