Thursday, July 04, 2013

Parnassa Comes From God

Typical Charedi Classroom scene - Photo: REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen
The gauntlet has been thrown. It’s war! Charedi MK, Rabbi Moshe Gafni has exploded at a bill sponsored by MKs Ruth Calderon and Yafit Kariv that would codify the inevitable. Funding of Charedi schools to continue at present levels the evil subjects math, Hebrew and English must be added to the curriculum.

Only evil people would sponsor a bill that mandates evil subjects in order to get government funding. From the Jerusalem Post
During the session, senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni was so incensed with the proposals that he denounced committee members MKs Ruth Calderon and Yifat Kariv as “evil” who came to the Knesset to do evil.
Gafni said during the hearing that if the bill was passed he would recommend that exempt institutions cut off all contact with the Education Ministry, while Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev said the bill represented a “culture war” being waged against the haredi community. 
MK Ya’acov Asher, also of UTJ, said, “We’re talking here about a process of elimination, not a gradual process. The purpose is to eliminate the [exempt] institutions, and there is no intent here to find common ground or to help [the haredi community].” 
A culture war?! Yes. This is how they see it, despite the fact that the MKs sponsoring the bill are from a party that clearly states that it is not their goal. And despite the fact that math, English and Hebrew are not in any way subversive to a Charedi lifestyle. Charedi MKs see any attempt at change no matter how sincere or accommodating to their sensibilities as evil. An evil that must be fought in a battle of a culture war.

What is different about these proposals than what is in place now?

Well, currently Charedi schools are required to teach 6 hours per week of secular studies. Those studies can be comprised in part of gym class. The current bill requires 11 hours per week and must include the above mentioned evil subjects. The government would then fund them at a 55% rate (compared to 100% rate of the government schools system.) If they refuse to implement that plan, their funding will be reduced to only 30%.

What Charedim want here is to perpetuate the status quo of sheer entitlement without any responsibility. They want their independence and want to get paid for it. What is at issue? Less than an hour a day of additional secular studies that can only benefit their students in the future. To call evil  those people who  desire to correct a financial situation that is quickly deteriorating is itself evil! And it is precisely the kind of rhetoric that fuels the extremists among them to protest in violent ways.

Furthermore, whose fault is it that there is no common ground sought? Not the government. Not Yesh Atid. Not the MKs who presented or support that bill. It is the fault of Charedim who refuse to even meet with a Charedi MK in the person of Dov Lipman whom they vilify as ‘sleeping with the enemy’!

And what kind of compromise do they seek, anyway? Do they want to negotiate down an extra 55 minutes a day to 30 minutes? 5 minutes? Do they want to eliminate the study of English? Or math? Or the Hebrew language? The truth is they do not seek compromise at all. They seek victory. They demand it all - educational freedom and the money to pay for it.

Although there are some in the Charedi world who would like to see change, the majority of this community constantly points out the unfairness of even the current arrangement that does not fully pay Charedi schools at the 100% level that a government schools get. ‘Unfair’ they say.  Why should Charedim be treated as second class citizens?! And now this?! They are apoplectic with anger and outrage.

What they apparently refuse to see is that in a secular democracy the high value they place on Torah studies is not shared by the public. They simply do not understand why Torah study is so important. The public may grant some importance to it, but secondarily to the study of subjects that will make them more financially productive citizens instead of relying on other people’s money to survive - much of it coming from the taxes collected from the working pubic.

Just to be clear. I am not the one making this argument. I agree with the primacy of Torah study. I am simply trying to reflect what a secular Jew in Israel sees.  But just as I agree to the primacy of Torah study, I also see an inherent value in secular study – not to mention the practical value of preparing them better for the workplace.

Unfortunately Charedi rabbinic leadership – as reflected in the outrage expressed by Rabbi Gafni sees little to no value in secular studies… at least not enough to take away even a moment of time from studying Gemarah.

True, as many moderate Charedim have been claiming - the facts on the ground have been changing. But only in peripheral ways. More Charedim are working. There are even programs being set up to train Charedim - helping them transition them from the Beis HaMedrash to the workplace.  But this is like scratching your right ear with your left hand... when your whole body itches.

The argument by Charedim that this new bill is anti Torah does not wash.  They see it as taking away control over their own education. They interpret any attempt at it - no matter how slight or even beneficial - as a blow to Judaism itself akin to what happened in Czarist Russia. They will fight it tooth and nail. And they will call out the troops to help them resist it - screaming at the top of their lungs the worst kind of rhetoric to vilify good people. Some of those troops have been shown time and again to be violent.  

The bottom line for me is - I have no problem with any community to teach whatever they want… and to not teach what they don’t want. As long as that does not contribute negatively to society at large.

But in the case of the Charedi school system. It isn’t only about teaching what they want. It is about getting paid to do it by a society that does not understand or value Torah they way Charedim do. Added to that is the fact that the continuation of a school system that does not prepare its students for the work place does affect society at large negatively. It lowers the tax base while increasing the welfare rolls.

I know that there are plenty of Charedim that do work. Some of them have good jobs. Some are even university trained professionals… doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. But my uneducated guess is that none of them are native Israeli Charedim who have gone through their educational system. They are either American Olim (immigrants) or Baalei Teshuva. 

But the fact that no Charedi who has gone through their system has had the minimal secular education that every non Charedi in Israel automatically gets. Which enables them to get further training for better jobs. 

The Charedi has to ‘catch up’ with his secular and Dati counterparts before he can do that. Not every Charedi is capable of it. Studying secular studies is nothing like studying Gemarah. New skills have to be learned… skills that others have learned in non Charedi schools from their very first day in school. Those who can’t catch up are the ones who get the low paying jobs and struggle to make ends meet even at the poverty line level.

This is what Rabbi Gafni and company wants to preserve. The future financial welfare of their children is not their concern. They want them to know as much Torah as can be studied full time without any distractions. That is their ideal.  

Parnassa (livelihood)? Well… the Eibishter Vet Helfin. Don’t worry about it, they preach.  God will provide. Your job is to Shteig …(accomplish greatness in Torah)!

Yes, Parnassa comes from God.  No question. But maybe… just maybe this new bill is God’s way of helping provide it!