Monday, September 1, 2008

Does Working Work? - My Cross-Currents Comment

As usual, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum presented an exemplary critique of the economical crisis within contemporary Chareidi society. Midway through, Rabbi Rosenblum enumerates the potential remedies as follows:

“THREE SOLUTIONS ARE commonly offered to the destructive poverty in the Israeli chareidi community (though the problem is hardly limited to Israel): greater government support; increased contributions from rich Jews abroad; and adopting a simpler lifestyle.”

Commentor #4 voiced the thinking of the masses with this note:

How can you possibly say you want to talk seriously about poverty and not even mention the only real solution: WORKING FOR A LIVING. There is no other solution.

Comment by Seriously — August 31, 2008 @
1:26 pm


The editor confirmed that this is the thinking of the masses with this insertion:

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Within an hour of receiving this comment, perhaps another fifteen came in, all making the same point. We suspect that there will be many more. We remind our readership - and those who take the trouble to respond - that we are trying to avoid posting comments that say the same thing. There is no question, however, that many of our readers all have the same solution in mind - and reacted extremely quickly, and emotionally. All comments received so far, including some strong ones, were civil and appropriate. The only reason you are not seeing them is the policy on needless repetition.]


As usual, I see things dfferently. for two reasons:

  1. I live in Israel.
  2. I don't think like the masses.

Here is a comment I submitted to Cross-Currents (note that Cross-Currents' moderation system is painfully slow. This may take some time to appear - if it isn't canned totally):


I hate to swim against the tide, but I guess that is what I am [in]famous for. I am not speaking for Rabbi Rosenblum nor did I discuss this matter with him, but my acute understanding of Israeli society and the Israeli workforce - of which I am a part - leads me to surmise that the reason Rabbi Rosenblum did not offer what everybody calls “The Obvious Solution” is because it is not an obvious solution. This “solution” is presented as some magic all benefit/no cost just-get-up-and-do-it fix that is more elusive than realistic.

The details of this are too complex to articulate in a blog comment and I am gathering material for a chapter in my book project about this issue that I can assure you will not be brief.

One earlier poster (ZB #9)touched on some of the issues. A few additional points - the work environment in Israel is not chareidi friendly both in terms of tznius in the work place (worse than the US IMO)and work hours. Even shabbos is a problem especially in International concerns - true, the law requires compliance to Shmiras shabbos but, in practice, a Shomer Shabbos worker will have a hard time competing for a position against one who is not (likewise, the chareidi worker who must leave his job at 6 pm to be home for his kids and to maintain a seder will have a hard time competing for a position with an unmarried chiloni who is willing to work late). To debate poster 11, low paying unskilled jobs are not an “obvious solution”. Nobody has time to wait till Rome is built. As my father always says, “Even before you arrive at the tavern, you already need a drink.”

The system is also not large-family friendly. There is no such thing as deductions for dependents for a working man (there is for women). A man who works in Israel with 12 children pays the same taxes as a bachelor. Not a penny less. That is why there are child allowances.

Israeli living is expensive for everyone. The average Israeli secular Jew with only 2-3 kids that go to public school can only maintain a decent standard of living because both spouses work with all the accompanying social hazards. For a chareidi lifestyle where the mother cannot work and the father gets no tax breaks and the average salary is currently between 6-7000 shekels/ mo ($2000 BEFORE taxes) even working does not get the job done. Of course it’s better than nothing but now we return to ZB’s points.

Most posters are unaware or ignoring that only a limited segment of Chareidi family heads (bet 40,000-60,000) learn full time. And even those, if the wife can work, she does. Ironically, many of these are in better financial condition than the working ones.

I could go on and on but all I really need to say is this: for all non-Israelis who fantasize that “working for a living” will answer Chareidi poverty in Israel, please take your lucrative skills that you developed for years and pick yourselves up and come over here to live and work for a living and see how far it gets you.

My contacts at Nefesh B’Nefesh are standing by for your applications.

See you soon.

Chezkel

12 comments:

Baruch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G said...

Of course it’s better than nothing

Right, so what's your point?

G said...

I am curious.

In you opinion, does "to be chareidi" by definition not allow for one to work to provide for one's family?

G said...

Most posters are unaware or ignoring that only a limited segment of Chareidi family heads (bet 40,000-60,000) learn full time. And even those, if the wife can work, she does. Ironically, many of these are in better financial condition than the working ones.

Is the implication here that all those Chareidi heads of households who are not learning full-time are in fact working?

e said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons that Chareidim who are working do not make much is because they have little training and don't start working until they are in their 30's. If they would plan for a career and train appropriately when they are young, they will be able to enter lucrative fields.

As to the objections about the workplace, there are PLENTY of datiim in the workplace who manage to work around any problems with Shabbat and families. That's just a red herring.

Jewish Atheist said...

Birth control.

triLcat said...

J.A. That was a little blunt, but yes, there is something to be said for not having children you can't provide for.

And if you can't work someplace because the women there wear slacks, then you're not really living the kind of Judaism that I believe in... but then again, I'm a bit of an apikores.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Halevai all the secular Israeli women in the work force would wear formal looking slacks! Any extra professionalism in the office atmosphere (like there is in the USA) would be a welcome improvement over the current situation.

ProfK said...

No problem you have mentioned for why it is difficult for hareidim to work is without a fairly simple solution, if solutions are really what is being looked for. A better educational system and more skill training facilities. Learning how to negotiate and legislate with employers about appropriate work conditions. You can't change anything nor make things better when there is no attempt to try. The hareidim have the choice to sit and to continue to cry or they can get up and become activists on their own behalf. But it is their choice. If they continuously make a choice that offers no benefits to them, that does not ameliorate the situation they find themselves in, there is no one to blame but themselves.

Anonymous said...

Torah scholars and their - usually large - families have nearly always been poor. The problem nowadays is the attitude towards such poverty, and the feelings generated by it. It used to be that the poor lived among a society or community who were as poor as they were, and where the poverty was seen as more of a given and unchangeable situation - it was hoped to be relieved somewhat, but few dreamt of making the major change from poverty to wealth in their lifetime.
Nowadays people feel frustrated and guilty, with material conditions and consumer goods, etc., flaunted before their and their children's eyes, aggravating their sense of deprivation.
People should understand that the price of having a husband and father learning full time is poverty - to a greater or lesser degree. But full time learning has become so "de rigeur" in all self-respecting haredi circles that not all those who want the kudos, have the spiritual/emotional stamina to be able to cope with such a situation.

Harry Maryles said...

I could go on and on but all I really need to say is this: for all non-Israelis who fantasize that “working for a living” will answer Chareidi poverty in Israel, please take your lucrative skills that you developed for years and pick yourselves up and come over here to live and work for a living and see how far it gets you.

There's no magic bullet. But working will get them more money than not working.

The only probelm is not so much workinf but getting good jobs. That requires a sea change in educational attitudes by Charedi leaders about an educational system that avoids secular studies like the plauge!

They not only need to the learn basic kownlegde and skills in a secular study curriculum. they need to re-eaxiame higher education in good universities. The big comanies with the high paying salaires are not looking for a resume that says studied Gemarah for 15 years. They wasnt the best and brightest people they can get and they start looking at the top. like gradustaes from ive league schools. and they go down from there till they hire the best most eductaed indivdual in their repective fileds for the job. Those are the good psaying jobs that garedi will rarely if ever see.

The army obstacle is easily over-come by Nachal Charedi.

And then there is the matter of large families. I wrote about that on my blog today.

One thong is sure, the status bquo won't work!