Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It’s about Poverty - Not Statistics

I usually don’t bother responding to Yechezkel Hirshman ’s blog posts. They are what one would call Leitzanus. He prides himself on a humorous approach to defending Charedism. But it is nothing more than ridicule of another Torah viewpoint with which he disagrees.

He commented on a recent post of mine in that way. He completely dismisses a poll that showed 65% of Charedi men don’t work. He does so by showing how polls like this cannot possibly be accurate – and concludes that that statistic is false.

Although I don’t usually respond, I decided to do so in this case because his view is largely based in denial. Denial of a serious problem like the perpetuation of poverty does no one any good, not his Charedi community or the Torah true community. Here is my response to him:

You think the problem is statistics? You think if we get more accurate statistics the huge and growing poverty that permeates your 'perfect' Charedi society in Israel will be eliminated? You think that the masses of Charedim who sit too long in Kollel and then can't get decent jobs for lack of training will suddenly be better off if we get more accurate statistics?!

This is the problem with die hard Charedim like Mr. Hirshman - or whatever his real name is. Especially those like him from modern Orthodox backgrounds who have done ‘Teshuva’ and become Charedim! There is no Charedi Kanoi like a reformed MO.

It is apparently the Hirshman way to just discard the facts as a bunch of lies when they don't suit you. But let’s go with his revisionism - and look at the real problem – which is Charedi poverty. The poverty among Charedim in Israel is massive. I don’t think even he would dispute that. And it isn't because they choose to be poor for some made up 'Torah true' idealistic reason. It is because they can't get good jobs. Poverty causes Shalom Bayis problems which often leads to children going off the Derech. The excuse about the army no longer washes since Charedim can now serve in Nachal Charedi or do a Charedi version of Sherut Leumi in place of army service.

Once they 'get up' from learning - not every Charedi can 'speed learn' the job skills required in the market place (although some can). The skills needed in the work place are different than the skills learned in the Beis HaMedrash. They are two different skill sets. And while there is overlap which is beneficial to a Yeshiva student if one is relatively bright - there is still a lot to be learned. The bright ones can and do learn them very quickly.

The fact happens to be that not all Yeshiva students are geniuses. Many are actually of average or slightly above average intelligence. A few are actually below average. Not all that different from the rest of society. Many Yeshiva students can therefore not learn those skills so quickly if at all without a proper education in Limudei Chol that Charedim like to vilify.

That's why there is so much poverty - which is the real issue, not whether the actual statistics are accurate or not. Does it really matter if the unemployment rate is 65%? Let’s even turn it around and say that it is ‘only’ 35% of Charedi men that don’t work. That sits well with him? How many Charedim are there in Israel? A half million? That's 175,000 Charedim that do not earn a dollar. Let’s even cut that in half and say there are 87,000 Charedi men who don’t work. That's fine with him? The Charedi system works? All is right with the world? This is what God wants for his people? …to not work and be poor? Torah Jews are expected to sacrifice their children's future in that kind of system?

I don't think so. You want your child in this system, Mr. Hirshman? That's fine. I'm sure they are all brilliant and will do quite well. But what about the rest of Klal Yisroel? Where is the responsibilty of your Charedi leaders? How can they just continue to perpetuate a system that produces a mediocre Torah scholarship class of impoverished Charedi Jews? Why support a system that provides no financial preparation for the future?

You might be tempted to challenge my assertion about mediocre Torah scholarship but that happens to be the case. If one is not brilliant, highly motivated, and very dedicated – with a family willing to sacrifice their own material well being, one will not ‘shteig’ and end up with a mediocre level of Torah knowledge. Most people in the Charedi yeshiva system cannot follow the model for achieving greatness in Torah. There are very few that can. They are the elite. The vast majority are simply going to end up trying to find jobs and most of those will be unprepared.

This is the system that you, Mr. Hirshman defend. But you and your fellow travelers are deluded. Time will eventually prove that. It is only a question of how badly the system will crash before it begins to see the handwriting on the wall. Statistics or no.