Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Praying for Charity

Crushing poverty in Israel among Charedim continues to increase. And this may only be the beginning. I’ve written about the financial crisis facing Charedi Jews in Israel before. Things are pretty bad there. And as I predicted they are getting worse. What I didn’t predict is how fast this would happen. Ha’artez reports that Charedi leadership is so worried about it, that they have declared a day of prayer.

What I didn’t know when I last wrote about this issue was the financial turmoil the US and the rest of would be in. That has resulted in a significant decrease in charitable contributions to these families and their educational institutions.

Eleven prominent rabbis have approved a day of prayer after which they will be sending out a delegation of rabbis to solicit funds in the United States for the Yeshivos in Israel .

I do not begrudge them their charity dollars. They certainly need money to survive. Those who are able to should contribute. The idea of a religious family dedicated to the ideals of learning Torah struggling to pay for the most basic of needs is heart wrenching. From the article:

…some six thousand families have been hit hard by the crisis and were short on food and diapers for their children.

They can’t afford food! And yet religious leaders refuse to even consider allowing ‘choice’ into their system - the choice to earn a living and to get training for it. Everyone must stay in Kollel for as long as possible and then - if they leave - they are on their own. Is their any wonder that Charedi poverty is so great?

There ought to be a basic secular education in elementary school. But there isn’t. Charedim learn only one secular subject even in elementary school. Arithmetic. That’s it. Unless you consider Hebrew grammar to be a secular subject. That would make it two secular subjects. And after 8th grade - zero secular subjects are taught.

Yes, many young people learn a lot of Torah by the time they are 18. But at what price? And what is the quality of their learning? Are they all budding Gedolim? Are we about to have 20,000 poor Gedolim on our hands who will in one generation grow to over 100,000 Gedolim if current family trends continue? I doubt it. There won’t be 100,000 Gedloim. But there will be over 100,000 impoverished Charedim, if current trend continues.

A major solution to this problem is so simple and so right that it makes me angry that it is considered so wrong in their circles. It starts with a basic secular education in the early grades and through high school. That will give them the tools they need to learn a profession. And there ought to be more pro-active encouragement for most Charedim to do just that rather than to discourage those who need a parnassah from leaving full time learning.

Will it eliminate the poverty cirisis? No. But it will reduce it significantly. Not every one is cut out to be a Gadol and it does a disservice to the vast Charedi community to forbid all students from studying anything but Torah 24/7! But -the idea of working instead of learning is near heresy in this world.

Self help is not an option. Their solution instead is to extrort the government for more money by selling religious party votes to the highest bidder… and to rely on foreign largesse – mostly from the US Charedi community. And so now - they pray for success.

I hope that my Charedi brothers do not starve. I wish them success in fundraising. But my own prayer is for something else. I pray that they finally realize that B’Zayis Apecha Tochel Lechem. Man must work in order to eat. And that the best way out of poverty for the majority of Charedim is to get a job and work for a living. And for those who truly have the potential to be Gedolim, they can then be supported by their own community with honor and dignity.

How much longer can they survive with their current approach?