Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dependency or Self Sufficiency?

The Charedi communities in Israel are undergoing some very trying times now. They are at the low end of the economic totem pole. Always have been. But the totem pole has not seen such lows in modern times. As I understand it, the situation is dire.

They have always relied on two main sources for their financial support. One is the relatively wealthy ‘American Baal HaBos’ who has been in the past very generous. But that source - with a few exceptions - has virtually dried up. Wealthy Baalei Batim are unable to send Israel the kinds of dollars they have in the past.

The other source is government funding. The State of Israel has been very generous in the past with its allocations to the Charedi world. But that is changing. Partly because Israel suffers from the same economic crisis the rest of the world does - and partly because secular parties are tired of being blackmailed by the Charedi parties to join their governing coalition and are finally doing something about it.

This became evident when a few months ago the centrist secular Kadima party tried to form a government under its leader, Mrs. Tzipi Livni. As I understand it - the religious party Shas demanded too much money – money that admittedly it needed for some of its institutions to survive. This time the secular Livni did not cave. She felt the price was too high and the government just could not afford it. She instead was willing to dissolve the government and call for new elections rather than succumb to what she felt were unrealistic and unaffordable demands.

The elections were held. Mrs. Livni’s party won a plurality. And it looks as though there is now a real chance that there will be no religious parties at all in the new government. Kadima is talking with the ultra nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu to form a collation that will exclude all the religious parties.

This could not come at a worse time for Charedi institutions. They are already in dire straits. Further economic cuts could hurt them so badly that many of their smaller institutions would cease to exist.

Rabbinic leaders will of course turn Heavenward and say ‘We need Siyata D’Shmaya. We need to have faith in the Creator above to help - and not abandon His people.

I don’t think that God will abandon His people. But neither do I think He will drop dollars from the sky.

I agree that we must have faith. But faith is not enough. Salvation will not come by faith alone. It will only come if the Torah world has its own Hishtadlus. Saying ever increasing amounts of Tehilim will not replace the absolute necessity for change - the kind of change that will make the Torah world less dependant on charity and more self sufficient. It knows what it has to do. And there has never been a better time to bite that bullet and change the system than right now.