Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Adopt a Kollel?

Torah study is a vital part of our existence as Jews. It is one of the most important of our 613 Mitzvos. And it ought to be supported. The only questions are how and who? More about that later.

Bearing the importance of Torah study in mind - one of the most upsetting responses to the dire financial situation of Charedim in Israel is the Adopt-a-Kollel project. It is upsetting despite the noble purpose of  a Kollel - full time Torah study. The recent budget cuts in Israel that include drastic cuts in welfare programs where large families are disproportionately impacted  - is affecting the Charedi community more than just about any other community. They are the ones with the large families. And they are the ones getting less money. If one includes the government goal of funding (at current levels) only those schools that offer a core curriculum… that exacerbates the problem immensely.  More mouths to feed and educate via an exponential growth rate and a lot less money to do so.

One can debate whether these government cuts were specifically meant to target Charedim. There is no question, however, that it does hurt them the most. They were in a state of poverty until now. Studies have shown that Charedim are the poorest demographic in Israel. When all these cuts are added –  well it isn’t too difficult to do the math.

The reasons for their poverty are well known. It is self inflicted. The Charedi world in Israel does not enter the workforce (or prepare themselves for any such eventuality) by choice. They are urged to stay in the Beis HaMedrash for as long as possible and to only enter the workforce when the proverbial knife is at their throats. Add to that the former provision that one must serve in the military before being legally allowed to work, and it is easy to see why this community is so poor. If I recall correctly less than half of the entire Charedi world in Israel works. Most of the rest study in Yeshivos or Kollelim. And some of those only pretend to.

Unfortunately Charedim are crying bloody murder that the government is trying to starve them to death. Using expressions about them that are reminiscent of those used to describe anti Semitic Czarist Russia. Where pogroms were once the order of the day.

I do not buy any of that. Although I’m sure that there are more than a few government officials that would like to destroy the Charedi world, I don’t think that this is what’s going on here. The goal of the government is to get Charedim to support themselves. Not to change their lifestyles. The truth is that the truly dedicated Lomdei Torah who are Masmidim are probably not the majority. Although I’m sure that many of those that are not the elite are nevertheless sincere and diligent in their Torah study, that should not take away from their obligation to support their families first. They should instead be working and setting aside some of their non working time for Torah study.

The one thing they should not be doing is depending on others to support them. Not unless they are truly elite Talmidei Chachamim - with the potential to be the leading Poskim, Rabbonim, Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim of our day. They should be supported. But certainly not all of the tens of thousands learning in Yeshiovs and Kollelim qualify for that.

The Charedi world does not see it that way. They encourage every soul to try to stay in the Beis HaMedrash. That is what their Chinuch is geared to do. That should be the ultimate goal for every male Jew. Every single male should aspire to that.

They are of course entitled to see things their own way. What they are not entitled to do is complain about not being paid for it by the government.

Which is what the Israeli rabbinic leadership, their politicians, and their media outlets have been doing since the last election – and before. And they aren’t just complaining. They are vilifying. They use catch phrases like ‘taking food out of the mouths of babies’ to describe government budget cuts. As though they were entitled to the welfare from the start. Which of course they aren’t. Welfare is designed for people who can’t work or can’t find work. Not for able bodied  people who choose not to.

Their American counterparts as always are in lockstep with this mentality. They buy right into the narrative about starving Israel’s Charedi children. With a goal of ultimately destroying the entire Yeshiva and Kollel system as they know it.

One of the ways they are doing this (besides vilifying the government) is by asking people to ‘Adopt-a-Kollel’. The slogan that accompanies their ad campaign for this comes straight out of the Haggadah: SheB’Chol Dor VaDor Omdim Alenu L’Chalosenu. In every generation (our enemies) stand up against us to destroy us. Here is what Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein says about that. From CrossCurrents
One of the worst examples was the marketing slogan of Adopt-A-Kollel: “Shebechol dor vodor omdim aleinu lechaloseinu.” I do not have the words or the stomach to flesh out how terribly wrong this is – and no amount of reassurance will convince me otherwise.  
This illustrate the kind of divisiveness I have been talking about in previous posts. It is the Charedi world at its worst. I cannot protest it enough. Is there even the slightest doubt that the Charedi world even in America sees the slightest attempt at change as evil incarnate coming for the devil? What’s worse is the attitude that – ‘If you’re not with us, you’re agin us!’ ...even if you are devoutly observant! If in any way you do not see what the government is doing as Shmad  - out to destroy us  then you are part of the problem… you are part of those out to destroy us!

What ever happened to respectful disagreement? I guess they never heard if it! No such thing as disagreeing with them without being kicked out of Judaism! Of course I don’t really think they actually believe that. But that is the message they are projecting with slogans like that.

What about the actual Adopt-a-Kollel project. Is it a worthy program? Rabbi Adlerstein thinks it is. But I don’t. He only hates the slogan - not the project. In my view it is not a worthy one. What about all the increased poverty that these new government cuts will cause? That should not be ignored. No one should starve while trying to improve the financial situation of Charedim in Israel. It is not their fault that they have been indoctrinated to eschew working in favor of learning… and thereby completely avoiding any preparation for the work force.

Until an American style Charedi system is installed in their educational system (which is what I am hoping will happen despite the fierce attempts to prevent it) these people have to eat. They still have to feed their families. The vast majority of them are good people who have just been misguided through no fault of their own. But adopting a Kollel is not the way to do that. That will only perpetuate the problem.

In my view we need to help them out financially while they go through this transition (hopefully). I’m not sure what the mechanism for that would be.  But I would urge that a mechanism be found to give these families financial support. Any money that someone might want to give to a Kollel should instead be given to an organization designed to help these families directly.

Not every Kollel in existence deserves to be in existence. Some do and some don’t. If a Kollel can’t survive without this program, it probably shouldn’t survive at all. Kollelim are a dime a dozen in  Israel. Most of them serve no purpose other than to have a few Avrecihim sitting and learning who would better serve Klal Yisroel by supporting their families. There is no accounting for the quality or the quantity of such Kollelim. They exist only to support their Rosh Kollel and the Avreichim he has chosen for his Kollel.

There are of course Kollelim that should be supported. But my guess is that the truly great ones are not the ones the Adopt-a-Kollel are supporting. The truly great ones are probably well funded already. And for those that aren’t, exceptions can be made. For the majority of them - the best thing that can happen to the Avreichim currentkly populating them is to go to work… first getting the training they need for good jobs. Training that is now being made available by the government.

How to determine which is worthy and which is not, is beyond the scope of this post. But suffice it to say that it can and should be done. The bottom line is that the increased poverty that the Charedi world is now experiencing needs to be dealt with. But the Adopt-a-Kollel program is the absolute wrong way to go about it.