Sunday, April 03, 2011

Does Hishtadlus Mean Giving More Tzedaka?

Hishtadlus – a Hebrew word loosely defined as maximum effort - working as diligently as possible towards achieving a goal. When used in the area of following the will of God it is a requirement of every Jew to do what is physically in his or her power to achieve that goal. Even if one thinks that all their Hashtadlus won’t achieve their goal - that does not free them from trying. The belief is that as long as one put’s in their Hishtadlus - God will see to it that it comes to a successful conclusion. That is where Emunah and Bitachon take over.

Providing sustenance for one’s family certainly comes within the purview of what God wants from his people. But so does learning Torah. If one believes that the latter surpasses the former and that in our day it requires our full time attention - how does one come to support his family?

This issue has come to dominate the thinking in the Charedi world as it searches for ways to fund a lifestyle that promotes the ideal of learning full time. The solution thus far has been to rely on Tzedaka - external support from generous Baalei Batim who are currently being stretched to their limit.

But is it working? Is that our future? Are we going to become a nation of people that don’t work? … a nation that is supported by Tzedaka of its second class citizens? Is that even a possibility?

I don’t think so. The economy has caused diminishing donations all while the Charedi world is growing – right with along with their needs to be funded in this way. Cries for more Tzedaka won’t help. Baalei Batim are already being squeezed for as much as money they can give. There is just not enough money out there.

Unfortunately we have yet another indication of what the future really holds for the Charedi world if the paradigm doesn’t change. An article in the JC (excerpted at YWN) synopsizes a study of poverty in England’s Jewish community. It paints quite a picture. And it is not a pretty one.

It is clear to me that the current Charedi ethic that does not encourage working for a living as anything other than a second rate option is surely a contributory factor. As are many other lifestyle choices this community has made defining them as the ideal form of Judaism. Their Hishtadlus of pressing for more funding via donations is in the wrong area.

The current paradigm that mandates learning Torah full time - uninterrupted by the study any other discipline means that preparing for a career is frowned upon if not outright forbidden! There are other problems that impact on the current level of poverty that will almost certainly increase the problem in the future.

But rather than repeating many of the things I have said about this problem in the past, I present a comment about this report made by ‘J’ a reader and frequent commenter who apparently lives in the United Kingdom (UK).

D’Vorim HaYotzim Min HaLev, Nichnasim L’ Lev. I believe his words come straight from ‘J’s heart and expresses the thoughts of many of our people, including many Charedim. Hopefully his heartfelt thoughts will penetrate the hearts of those who have the ability to do something about it. What follows (with some slight editing) are his thoughts upon reading this report:

It discusses child poverty amongst Jews in the UK, and particularly amongst the Charedi community. As I read it, I can't tell you how angry I became; not because the report is biased; indeed the report made the front cover of the staunchly Charedi Jewish Tribune, which claimed that we must put more effort into our hishtadlus, but because the situation it describes, which is reallly, truly, sad, is so avoidable.

All this deprivation didn't have to happen. The causes are so familiar. Low levels of education, low levels of employment, families with more children than they can cope with, expensive kosher products etc etc.

Don't the rabbonim who set the curricula for schools (with almost no secular education) care about what their piety leads to? How many children have to go hungry before they take their heads out of the sand? For how long will we announce that our financial irresponsibility is based on bitochon alone - real or imagined? For how long will parents who cannot make ends meet be told that they have to push themselves (and their poor, innocent children) into ever deeper poverty by having more children when they can't even provide for those they have?

As I listened a few weeks ago to operatives from a Charedi hechsher announce about how proud they were to incorporate every chumra, which inevitably drives up the price, ‘but what can we do - we always have to adhere to the most mehudar standards' (oh and by the way, if you are affiliated with our kehilla then you MUST buy our meat),

I wanted to get up to the dais and scream. For how long will you sacrifice your kehilla's children??!! How many of them will not eat meat in a week because of your chumros??!! Where are the rabbonim who care??!!

It's all very nice them working hard for organisations which try to help people, but they have to realise that by their policies they create the problem in the first palce! As a community, we have to take a stand. As the report notes, all the chessed and tzedoko organisations don't solve the problem; they ameliorate it.

This is going to get out of control over the next few decades if we don't do something.