Monday, September 04, 2017

Relying on Miracles to Sustain the Unsustainbable

Typical look of a Kollel
The handwriting was on the wall. Now it is a sad  reality as demonstrated in Rafi Goldmeier’s  blog, Life in Israel. The idea of creating a society where men do not work – and rely on the generosity of others to survive is how the current Kollel system in Israel works. 

This is a universal system. Meaning that all men are encouraged to follow the  path of full time Torah study for as long as they can. In many (probably most) cases they continue to do so well after they are married and have many children. Families consisting of ten children or more are not uncommon. All of which are encouraged to do the same. Men are encouraged to study Torah full time and women are encouraged to marry them as the ideal mates.  And then to help support them by entering the workforce instead of their husbands.

As I have said many times, this kind of system cannot survive. It is unsustainable. And as families grow exponentially with each generation this becomes even clearer.  Women are asked to not only support their families, but to do so at lower pay than men doing comparable work. While that is clearly unfair and even sexist, it is a fact of life that cuts across all segments of society in the civilized world.  

Women are also asked to raise the children and do all the other household tasks expected of women. This is certainly true in the Charedi world. To say this is an unfair burden is an understatement. Nonetheless, most of these women are indoctrinated to do all of this willingly as a sacrifice enabling and even encouraging their husbands to continue their full time Torah study without any distractions or interruptions. For which they will share with their husbands an eternal reward.

Obviously the income that these devoted Kollel wives provide is no where near enough, Especially since some rabbinic leaders have discouraged them from seeking the kind of higher education that would give them better jobs and more income. Many of these women settle for jobs as religious school teachers for girls.  

How do their large families survive? There are other sources of income. Such as government stipends. But that is not universal and in any case not enough of a supplement to sustain them. So they depend on private sources.

In the past, (and in many cases still) parents and in-laws provide a young couple with a stipend for a few years. But that is not indefinite. And an unfair burden on parents that hoped to one day retire - but must now keep working to support their children. Not to mention the fact that these parents and in-laws usually have more than one child they want to help out in this way. 

While some parents can afford to help (barely in many cases) others have to strain to do so, doing things like second mortgaging their homes or cashing in their life insurance policies. Retirement becomes an elusive dream as parents must work well past retirement age until they are physically unable to do so.

Another means of support is through the philanthropy of wealthy Orthodox Jews who have bought into the system.

As I’ve said many times, I don’t see this as a viable model. A system that relies on so many intangibles and uncertainties while growing exponentially with each successive generation cannot survive.  

Charedim in Israel are beginning to realize this as they are leaving Kollel in greater numbers and beginning to enter the workforce. Many of them seek the education and training required to enable them to better support their families. 

Most of them are able to catch up to their non Charedi counterparts who have had the advantage of getting a good secular education (of which they have none). Unfortunately many of them can’t catch up, and therefore are relegated to dead end jobs that don’t pay much.

What about philanthropy? Is there not enough wealth among Charedi Jews to help solve the problem? Are there not many multi millionaires and even billionaires that can come up with the necessary funds to help sustain them – and thereby enabling them to stay in Kollel longer? 

I don’t know. But my guess is that there aren’t anywhere near enough. But even if there are, there will not be a parallel exponential growth of philanthropy dollars to exponential growth of the Charedi population itself.  It is also an unfortunate fact of life that some philanthropy dollars are sourced in legally questionable business enterprises.

Which brings me back to Rafi’s post. Therein he describes the financial plight of one Kollel system that may be a harbinger for the future of other Kollels: 
The chain of kollels in Israel led by Rabbi Weissbord has been in big trouble for a long time. They have not paid their avreichim for 10 months. Some kollels have closed, some avreichim have started to leave their kollels for other places…
A week or so ago it was announced that Rav Shteinman helped bail Weissbord out and helped find a donor to cover all his debt and pay the avreichim what he owes. it was hailed in the Haredi media as a tremendous salvation and a miracle. (emphasis added)
A source of Rafi’s involved with that Kollel reported the following: 
A day or two later they were told the money has been held up in the USA on suspicion of money laundering. This guy wired all the money (about $4,500,000) in one shot and it was stopped… 
(He) also tells me that the kollel is still in trouble because while this, even if the money ever gets released and comes through, will cover the debts from the past, they have no idea how he will pay their stipends in the coming months. 
Ein Somchin Al HaNeis. Relying on miracles is not the way Jews are supposed to lead their lives. That this ‘miracle’ is now under a cloud – and will not even help sustain  these Avrecihim even if that cloud is removed is surely a demonstration of this principle.

Unless and until the Charedi rabbinic leadership relents and finally allows some form of preparation for the workplace to take place in their schools (as most of the Charedi schools in America do)… and changes their attitude to a more favorable one about working for a living, this problem will only get worse. Relying on centenarian rabbis (no matter how great those rabbis are) to put in a good word with God may be a legitimate means of seeking miraculous relief. Prayer certainly helps. But it should certainly not be relied upon as a solution for the future.