Thursday, January 02, 2014

Like Little Children

Israeli MK, Rav Menachem Eliezer Moses
‘But mommy, I hate getting a shot! ‘It hurts so much.’ ‘Can’t we just keep going as we did until now without it?’ ‘I’m fine!’ I’m not sick’ ‘Let’s go home.’

This is the typical cry of a young child who refuses to get an inoculation against a dreaded disease. What the child does not realize is that this ‘shot’ will possibly save his life. Deadly diseases have been eradicated because of mass inoculations against them. But a child does not understand this and will continue to resist and fight it.

This is how I see the current opposition by Charedim in Israel to implementing a core secular curriculum in order to be funded as they used to be. They are kicking and screaming with all kinds of complaints and accusations about this law.They refuse to recognize that such a curriculum will ultimately save them. Yes, there may be some pain. But like an inoculation against a dreaded disease, the gain is worth the pain.

The dreaded disease here is the extreme poverty that this community has and continues descending into. The fact that they insist on studying only Torah full time and that there is therefore no formal preparation for the workplace is part of the problem. A core curriculum of secular studies will help inoculate them against a life of poverty by giving them some core knowledge and study skills. That will help them should they want to further their education to get better paying jobs. Jobs that will enable them to support their large families.

Charedim claim that such skills are not needed and that those who do want to get into the workplace via training - already have programs that train them for various careers - which offer better pay. And that the skills they get in the Beis HaMedrash serve them just as well if not better than a core curriculum would.

The problem with this argument is that there are not enough of these programs to solve the poverty problem, and that not all Charedim are equipped to enter these programs and succeed without getting some of the study skills that the rest of any civilized society gets. While a valuable asset, the skills they achieve in the Beis HaMedrash are not enough to help them study subjects that are foreign to their learning skills.

If those programs were truly working, there wouldn’t be the kind of grinding poverty we keep hearing about from the Charedi leaders themselves. Poverty they blame on government spending curbs to large families. Which is indeed contributing to their poverty.

Charedim want to have their cake - and eat it too. They refuse to encourage anything other than full time Torah study in Yeshivos and Kollelim that do not pay enough to support even a small family. They have been able to function only because of a generous government that has for several decades funded their schools. And by government social services (like health care) that are either free or very cheap. They also benefit from free loan societies, parents and in laws that send them money (sometimes at great sacrifice) and pleas to American philanthropists for support.

But by severely cutting contributions from their most generous donor, the Israeli government, they will be unable to function as before. They are scrambling for ideas about how to survive by innovating ‘adopt-a-kollel’ and other increased fundraising efforts. But that will be nowhere near enough. And yet the refuse to do the obvious. Which would be to implement an American Charedi style core secular curriculum.

Not all Charedim are acting like children.  The Sephardi political party, Shas, has agreed to implement a core curriculum in its Sephardi school system. They will be fully funded. Their community will come out much stronger than before because they will be able to continue teaching their philosophy all while their people will be enabled as students to later pursue better careers… or if they are truly motivated, will be able to become Gedolim in Torah by continuing full time Torah study despite (or in my view because of) their additional secular knowledge.

But the Ashkenazi Charedim refuse to budge. All they continue to do is vilify, vilify, vilify! As an article in YWN illustrates: 
“A country that abuses chareidim and their children is not democratic as it purports to be called, the only democracy in the Mideast, but dictatorial and Bolshevik” stated MK Rav Menachem Eliezer Moses on Tuesday, 28 Teves 5774. His harsh remarks were in reference to the cancelation of the Nahari Law which obligated local government to take part in funding utility costs for chareidi schools. With the abolishment of the law, local government will no longer pay a portion of electric, and water costs for chareidi schools nor will it pay for janitorial services as was the case in the past. This pleases yet and additional burden on chareidi mosdos.
“Tomorrow is January 1st” shouted Moses, “and it will be inscribed as a dark day for the chareidi children that do not receive electricity, water, cleaning and janitorial services in their schools”.
“These very chareidi schools which are recognized but not part of the official system use a Ministry of Education approved curriculum. Only a Bolshevik state impoverishes large families simply because they are chareidi, because of their faith and their lifestyle or perhaps because they yearn to raise children without violence in their schools, without alcoholic beverages and without hitting their teachers. 
If this situation weren’t so tragic, this rhetoric would be laughable. But it is tragic. It is based on desperation. The same kind of desperation that a small child has trying to get out of a getting a shot. One that everyone but the child knows is good for him.  

I get no joy at all from any of this. It is indeed heart-wrenching to see good and decent people struggling to feed their families because a major source of income has been so severely reduced. It’s quite painful.

I would even urge people to not abandon their Israeli Charedi brethren and help them feed their families, if you are able to.  But this is not the solution. It is a band-aid to tide them over until they can get on their feet via the kind of new educational paradigm that will eventually help them out of their poverty. It will set them on a new path that will not harm their Charedi standards while at the same time improving their financial lot. True it will be painful in at first. Just like an inoculation against disease is. But in the long run they will be far better off from it.

But Charedi political and rabbinic leaders do not see it that way. Like a child - they lash out in irrational ways screaming at the very people that are trying to help them.  Their mindset is ‘How could they do such a thing?!’ ‘It’s not fair!’ ‘They are evil people –taking food out of the mouths of children!’ I guess that’s where the word ‘crybaby’ comes from.