Thursday, May 20, 2010

The One World Economy


It seems my previous post about the "findings" of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel was off-the-mark enough for Rabbi Harry Maryles to take out the time to set me straight. Evidently, it's not about statistics, it's about poverty.

And from his perspective, he is right. But from the perspective of the few people who have followed my writings and understand the hashkafos of the chareidi world - the ameilim b'Torah - as I have described them, it becomes clear that we are dealing with a different set of issues. It's not about poverty and it's not even about statistics.

It's about Emes and its about Emunah.

I will deal with the Emunah first.

The Emunah that we have is the Torah's perception of social economics and this does indeed address the issue of poverty. But, more accurately, it addresses something else Rabbi Maryles emphasized in his post - what is it that G-d wants?

I don't know if there is any point in discussing the issue of poverty. There is nothing new to say about it. I have discussed it so many times in so many previous posts. Evidently, it's a much different perspectve than the secular-minded world - which includes Rabbi Maryles and Professor Dan Ben-David - can relate to. It is based on a few principles as follows:

  • The learning class is going to be needy. Period. This is for their benefit and for ours (for this discussion I will include myself in the non-learning class). The benefits that they enjoy I discussed in detail in a very recent post. The benefits that we enjoy (if we choose to) I discussed at length in several other posts (HERE and HERE).
  • G-d wants us to implement a highly interdependent system so as both classes can mutually reap the full scope of benefits.
  • The "takers" are actually the givers because it is their ameilus that brings us sustenance. Only, that the sustenance that they bring is delivered to us (the mach-"givers") first. Our job is to forward to them their share.
  • Since we all stand to benefit from this system (and the "takers" are in actuality the "givers"), there is no limit to how many people can or should be on the "receiving end" since, as I said, that they are really on the supply end. In fact, the more "receiving end/givers" there are, the better off we are. The more we receive for ourselves.

  • There is really no such thing as a chareidi community. Chareidi means living up to the standards of the Torah (as explained in my book) and all Jews are required to meet the standards. Non-chareidim are chareidim who don't understand that they are supposed to uphold Im B'chukosai telechu (and the rest). Thus, when we say that G-d wants the working class to be the support base for the learning class, He doesn't mean "Orthodox" Jews of which there are probably no more than 2 million in the world, He means all Jews of which there are about 12 million in the world. (In truth, the 2 million is more than enough to get the job done.

I have repeated these principles on numerous occasions but they can only be appreciated by people who take the words of the Torah and Chazal at face value. People who believe Moshe Rabbenu when he says (Devarim 8:3):

וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת-הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי ה' יחיה האדם:

HKBH can send us mahn to eat if He wants. In our day, He doesn't allow us to subsist by supernatural means but He is sending us the mahn all the same. He requires us to seek "physical" means to find our bread but no matter what we do, we only get our עומר לגולגולת. "The one who collects more does not have a surplus and the one who collects less does not have a shortfall." (Shmos 16:18). And also by people who believe that for those who keep the mitzvos, there will always be what to eat: נער הייתי וגם זקנתי ולא ראיתי צדיק נעזב וזרעו מבקש לחם.

This is what we call Emunah. Yet, Rabbi Maryles and Professor Ben-David do not subscribe to these principles.

Oh, and one more principle:

  • The future of our children lies in their adherence to Torah and Yiras Shamayim and not to their earning power. We are more concerned about their welfare in the eternal world than their welfare in this temporary one.

So this is our Emunah. Poverty is a test and an opportunity both for the "haves" and for the "have nots". The "poverty" of the ameilim b'Torah is our opportunity get a piece of the action. And even so, at the end of the day, there doesn't need to be any real poverty. Chazal gave us a "system". It's up to us.

And so many of us pass up the opportunity!

That's not what G-d wants. G-d wants all Jews to be chareidim l'dvar Hashem. He wants all Jews to contribute a mere 10% of their net income to help support the learning class and to help boost their own net income.

But, the non-chareidi Jews don't play along. They are too busy reading Harry Maryles's blog and reading the hawkish statistics from the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel and are convincing themselves that (1) a majority of members of the chareidi world are abjectly destitute, (2) this is twice as much as a generation ago, (3) they (i.e., Rabbi Maryles and his chevra) are entitled to judge whether any learning can be called "mediocre" and thus unworthy of support, and (4) ushering the few Jews who can linger in the beis midrash to the exit is the best way of combating this well documented poverty.

And so, what is the Emes?

The Emes is that it is only the working class chareidim who implement the system. And to a large extent, it works. With a mere 10%, we contribute heavily toward the learning class, and, lo and behold, it hasn't been making us any poorer.

Both the Taub Center and Harry Maryles seem to be complaining that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are not financially independent. The numbers are not important. It's the picture that they want to paint with the numbers. They are predicting some kind of a "crash" and pretending that it is twice as bad as it was a generation ago.

But a generation ago it was worse than it is now, and a generation before that it was even worse than that.

Ever since the fall of Beitar, the land of Israel has been a place of financial hardship. By the decree of our exile, the Jewish people were required to sojourn throughout the four corners of the Earth and HKBH gave us a special gift of survival. מלמד שהיו מצויינים שם . Wherever we have gone, we have been outstanding. We have been the leaders in commerce and industry and we were blessed with success and affluence. Except in Eretz Israel. HKBH didn't want us coming back too quick so He made sure that there would be no wellspring of wealth. And that it would require a great deal of mesiras nefesh to live in Eretz Yisrael. But the Jewish people always had to have a remnant in Eretz Yisrael. And so, many centuries ago, the Jewish people of the diaspora took upon themselves to support the brave Yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. In this way, the Jews of the diaspora were able to be מקיים the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel from many miles away.

In the early 1800s this sytem of support became more modernized and it was given a name: Chalukah. Perhaps the name was modeled after the original distribution of Terumah to the Kohanim in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. The gemara calls it: החולק בבית הגרנות the distribution from the grain silos. The funds were managed by the various Kollelim al shem R' Meir Baal Haness: Kollel Chibas Yerushalyim, Kollel Shomrei HaChomos, Kollel America, and others.

The concept of the Jews of the diaspora supporting the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael still exists today and it will continue to exist until the true geula. It is the network of the religious Jews to the diaspora Jews throughout the world that keeps the economy alive, and not just for the chareidim. The State itself relies on foreign funds to stay afloat. They have always relied on Jewish philanthropies and State of Israel bonds for ready cash and are still handcuffed by their reliance on American foreign aid. But they also need the economy of the Chareidim. The average chiloni (or American) doesn't understand this, but if all the chareidim in Israel would be rounded up and "sent back to Poland", the economy of the state would go into a tailspin.

For as much as they put up a show that they are so generous to the chareidim, they benefit far more than they give. Because the chareidim are magnets of foreign money.

We can start with the Yeshivos. The great Yeshivos of Mir, Ponovizh, Chevron, and Brisk attract students from the four corners of the earth, most of them bringing piles of dollars, pounds, and euros to spend and taking very little from the state. They remain in Kollel and and bring in the money from their well off parents who come to visit and spend more. The yeshivos themselves subsist on tuitions and donations from overseas that far outshadow the subsidies of the State. The same goes for the great Mosdos of Belz, Ger, Vizhnitz, Tchebin, Slonim, and Chabad. Imagine if these institutions did not exist, where the Israeli economy would be?

Now let's add to the pile the great Baal Teshuva yeshivos of Ohr Sameach, Aish HaTorah, Neve Yerushalayim and many smaller ones. The Kiruv organizations are an industry in itself. Aside from saving many Jewish souls, they bring massive foreign donations to this country and the students themselves spend their dollars and euros and those of their parents. As a bonus, some of these students who have higher educations stay on within the chardeidi community (and society at large) and provide professional services and revenues.

After that, let's talk about Judaica and tashmishei kedusha, Sifrei Kodesh and STA"M. And of course, Esrogim and hadassim (Lulavim are regulated by the government) produced here and sold here and abroad.

The shops on Malchei Yisrael and Meah Shearim bring in so much foreign money that it is worthwhile for the city to provide brand new garbage cans on a daily basis.

Now, let's take into account the staggering amount of money over the decades that the chareidi community has pulled in from abroad to pay for the real estate that they live in and use as shuls, schools and yeshivos. There is no HUD in Israel. No subsidized housing in the haredi centers. And it is the realtionship of the local chareidim with those abroad that saves the government from having to provide it.

And the state gets a good deal from the chareidim in other areas too. Even though everyone likes to complain about that chareidim get educational funding and don't teach a "core curriculum", the education expenditure is still less per capita than those who attend mamlachti schools. We save the state money. Of course people complain that most charedim don't join the army. From a social standpoint there is what to debate, but from an economic perspective it saves the state a bundle. Do you know what every soldier costs the state? The chiloni who goes to the state schools and then the army and then the stae subsidized colleges cost the state tons of money up front. The expectation is that they will produce a high return on the investment but this is not always the case. Conversely, the chareidi who goes to the less subsidized chareidi school, doesn't go to the army and state colleges cost the state a lot less up front. The conventional wisdom (from the Taub Center) is that then they are permanent complete parasites, but many of us do just fine without a college education and those that need assistance get more from the chareidi support system than from the state.

And now we will add some social services that the chareidim provide on a volunteer basis thus saving either the state or the consumer (secular or otherwise) from having to pay for them. These include ambulance services (Hatzalah, Chovesh Har Nof and other local branches), medical equipment (Yad Sarah), referrals (Ezra LeMarpeh), and disaster relief (Zaka). Of course we can add all the general charities (Yad Eliezer, Chasdei Naami, Vaad HaRabanim) that reduce the need for state welfare.

Can you imagine the financial state of the state without the charedim?

And after all this, there is still a limited but potent modern trend for the chareidim of Eretz Yisroel to be more cosmopolitan now that they are powerful enough to do it on their terms. Thus the success of Nachal Haredi and a blossoming of chareidi vocational schools both innovations of the past decade. As such, I feel that, proportionately, there is less dependence on the "chaluka" than there was 3 decades back.

The megillah about the Chaluka and about the "magnetism of foreign money" is meant to point out something that the Taub Center - and I daresay, Rabbi Maryles - do not understand. There is no such thing as the Israeli chareidi economy. The chareidi economy in Israel is and always has been totally interactive with the chareidi economy of the diaspora. The chareidim of the diaspora are far from destitute and, for some Heavenly ordained reason, the chareidim of Israel are. But the two economies interact and balance each other out. For the chareidim, it's a one world economy!

That's how it works now and that's how it worked 3 decades ago and that's how it worked 3 centuries ago. The "system" was never flawless but the system has always functioned. Mr. Emes Ve-Emunah can participate in it or he can disassociate himself from it.

But reports of a "crash" are greatly exaggerated.

1 comment:

Y. Ben-David said...

I am not going to get involved in this argument about the merits of the kollel system that is being argued here. I simply don't have enough information to make an informed opinion. However, the question needs to be divided into two parts:

(1) Is this system good for those who live in it? In other words, do the people there have fewer social pathologies than other parts of society, i.e. is there less divorce, broken families, child abuse and neglect, children giving up religious observance, and the such ,than other religious and non-religious communities? I have made anecdotal observations but that is not enough for me to draw conclusions. I need to see statistics.

(2) How much is the Israeli taxpayer being asked to contribute to the maintainence of this system? This is a legitimate question and we Israeli taxpayers are entitled to a say in this matter.

Now, some comments about what is written here:

(1) You state "the learning class is going to be needy and this is for their benefit". This is a very puzzling reminds me of your comment in an earlier thread about how the Holocaust was supposedly for our benefit. I simply can't understand what you mean by this. In Europe, wasn't it the policy to try to marry off young talmidei chachamim to the daughters of wealthy men? If poverty is so beneficial, why would these young scholars want shidduchim of this type. The fact is that Torah study did not flourish in poverty-stricken communties in the past, as I understand it.

(2) Your comment that the state of Israel is "reliant on foreign funds" is unclear to me. If you mean that Israel needs foreign trade....well, every country including isolated, pariah states like North Korea and Myanamar (Burma) also need foreign trade to get foreign currency. No state is a completely self-reliant island in the world today. Israel sells bonds, but so does the US to maintain its gigantic trade and budget deficits (China and the oil-rich Gulf States are the major customers for these bonds, without which the US economy would collapse). You also state that Israel is handcuffed by the aid it gets from the US, but it is NOT "reliant" on this aid as you state. It makes up a small amount of the economy and the government's budget. It is given for political reasons, the "handcuffing" you are referring to. The US can always jerk our chain as Obama is doing by saying "you had better do what we want because of the all the money we give you", but it is also in the interests of the Israeli gov't to have this "handcuff" because it gives them an excuse not to act because they can say "Uncle Sam won't like it if we fight against terror"...Sharon used this a lot to justify not taking action against Arafat and his terror gangs during the suicide bomber war. Sharon even went so far as to call us a "beggar" state which is simply not true in order to justify his lack of action. Israel doesn't need the aid and we would be better off without it.

(3) Your statement that the Haredim are doing the state a favor by not serving in the IDF because they are saving the state money is also quite odd. I am reminded of the Battle of the Emek HaBacha on the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War in which a mass of hundreds of Syrian tanks charged into a small group of Israeli tanks. Most of the Israeli tanks were knocked out and yet the handful that remained were able to stop the onslaught. Do you seriously think the crewmen in the tank were thinking "I am really glad the Haredim are not here because it is saving the state money" or were they thinking "we could use reinforcements and some more tanks and their crewmen here"? Quality in an army is not enough...numbers are also important. That's why the Germans, who were man-for-man the best soldiers in both world wars still ended up losing both of them.