Friday, December 19, 2008

The Upcoming Census - Can we count on it?

Rabbi Yizchak Mordechai HaCohen Rubin, Shlita

The Census is coming.

Last Friday night, HaRav Yitzchok Mordechai HaCohen Rubin (some friendly commenter in a recent post identified him as RYMHCR) gave his dvar Halacha between Kaballas Shabbos and Maariv at Kehilat Bnei Torah on the subject of the census.

If any of you blog-readers are loyal readers of mine, you may recall that we have discussed this phenomenon before. On page 124 of my book, I lodge a formal complaint against Noah J. Efron for having the audacity to declare exactly what percentage of the population is chareidi. My main point is that if you don't define a chareidi with any clear-cut criteria, it is hard to decide who lives up to the criteria that you don't present. Unless one has a "scientific" definition of a chareidi, one cannot determine who is or isn't one and certainly cannot count how many (of us) there are.

My second point, expressed in footnote #4, was that, in any case, the only quasi-accurate way of determining what percentage of the population is of any given persuasion is to take a census. And do it right. I noted that our last census was in 1995 and the next one is scheduled for 2008. His book was written in 2003 (a full and fruitful 8 years after the last census), so on what authority can he present his "objective" population figure?

Well, 2008 is here and before this issue makes it into the "Chumra of the Week" Club, I want to nip it in the bud. So, let's get back to HaRav Rubin's dvar Halacha.

The question is whether it is permissible to participate in the census due to the issur of counting that is mentioned in Yoma 22b and Rambam Hilchos Temidim uMusafim 4:4. In a typical census, the respondents fill out a form where they write the number of people in their household. Is counting on paper the same as counting orally?

He said that the prevalent opinion among the poskim is that writing the number of people is another form of physically counting. However, here in Eretz Yisroel they gave a twist. In the census form, one merely names the members of the household without writing actual numbers. The tallying is done by strange unseen forces (aliens?). Though this makes it less direct, it is not clear if it alleviates the problem.

He continued to say that Halacha L'Maaseh, there is no problem with the census that is being currently conducted for two reasons. (Here is where the ignominious geirus controversy comes to play.):

The first of the reasons is that the prohibition is only to count up a population of Jews. The census is not counting up Jews. It is counting up citizens. Though it may strive to provide a figure for the population of Jews, nevertheless, due to long standing liberal policies of the government as to what is a Jew, as well as conversion standards that do not match up to those who abide by the Rambam and the Talmud, a strong percentage of citizens that are included in the population of Jews are nothing of the sort. Consequently, the census is not counting Jews but a population of citizens that are labeled as Jews but who are not really all Jewish. There is no problem with this.

The second reason is that, on this occasion, they are not actually conducting a census. They are merely conducting a "population survey". This means that they will not be approaching every single household for infornmation but that they will choose samples from various regions and population centers and obtain partial data sets from which they will calculate the projected figures. The prohibition is only to take an actual count.

Why aren't they taking a real honest to goodness census?

Well, the reason given, and it is probably the true reason, is that the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) is facing budget restraints just like everybody else. In order to carry out an accurate census, they would need to hire about 15,000 temporary census-takers (or recruit volunteers). They are not budgeted for that so we will just have to make do with the wonders of high-tech data processing techniques.

As I indicated, I don't doubt that budget constraints are the main player here. Still, it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Here in Eretz Israel we have surveys and polls for lots of things. How many people want this and how many peolple want that and how many seats will this party get and how many seats will that party lose.

Here is Israel, we do not append a poll with a "margin of error". We append it with a "margin of truth." Like "Kadima will get 33 seats in the next election - with a margin of truth of negative 50%" or "72% of the population thinks we should talk with Syria - with a margin of truth of next to nothing..."

Here we never know the real numbers. and when you don't know the real numbers, you have to guess. Odds are that my guess is not going to be the same as your guess. i think that my guess is better than your guess, but you think that your guess is as good as mine.

I am reminded of a story of a businessman who was looking to hire an in-house accountant. A number of qualified people applied for the job. The first one comes in for an interview. The boss asks him, "How much is 2 plus 2?" The applicant answers "4". The boss says, "I"ll call you."
A second applicant comes in for an interview. The boss asks him, "How much is 2 plus 2?" The applicant answers "4". The boss says, "I"ll call you."
A third applicant comes in for an interview. The boss asks him, "How much is 2 plus 2?" The applicant pulls down the window shades, locks the door, comes close to the boss and whispers, "How much do you need it to be?"
The boss says, "When can you start?"

Some people are absolute wizzes with numbers. They get the answers first and they do the math later. Of course, they don't bother counting. That could throw them off. They guess at the answers. And the answers are always right because they are such good guessers.

Just ask Uncle Bernie.

So, we can participate in the census because it's not really a census. It's a sophisticated mathematical equation that will be calculated by the best guessers in the business.

And how many chareidim are there really?

That's anybody's guess.

1 comment:

YechezkelsFriendInTheHouseOfSun said...

How will you deal with the fact that the census counts many people as Chareidi that you believe are not truly in the category of Chareidi? I refer to people whose self-image is that of chareidi, but who in fact do not reach the standards of behavior and belief that you describe.

This is very important, since your entire answer to a lot of things that people think of as problems in Chareidi society by simply saying that those people are not chareidi. If the problem-causers, who you say are not chareidi but who call themselves chareidi, are a significant number, then the entire census is meaningless from the perspective of 1A7B.