The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Poverty: A Tale of Two Friends

This is a true story about two friends.

One lives locally and the other in Jerusalem.

The one who lives locally is a young, but successful businessman. He is a very sincere and devout Eved Hashem. He used to travel all over the country as part of his job but, more recently, switched jobs in order to have a more normal lifestyle. (Don’t get me wrong; he still works extremely hard but he just doesn’t have to travel constantly). He gives away huge amounts of money to a variety of Jewish causes. He is involved in communal affairs. He is a huge talmid chacham. Scary, even. He gives a weekly gemarah shiur to a bunch of friends. He studies esoteric seforim that I can’t even pronounce.

My other friend lives in hovel in a chareidi neighborhood in Jerusalem. He is a very sincere and devout Eved Hashem. He learns in kollel while his wife, who has a newborn baby, ekes out a very meager living. They live from hand to mouth with assistance from friends and family. He has no particular marketable skills, no training and no education beyond high school. As far as I can tell, he is no, and never will be a, talmid chacham. He has been in Kollel at least five years with no immediate plans to leave.

Which of my friends should be the role model?

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  • At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We give up Mr. Smug, care to enlighten us?

  • At 1:03 PM, Blogger Still Wonderin' said…

    What you're trying to do is get people to contemplate that there are two sides to this issue, and ultimately conclude that neither lifestyle is right or wrong.

    But the subjects you use to make the case are inappropriate for your exercise.

    Your businessman friend would be vilified (he, mind you not his money) were he to move to Mea Shearim and attempt to enroll his kids in the local school or marry into a local chareidi family. This despite his apparent and considerable qualities.

    Your kollel friend, on the other hand, is unlikely to be an organic product of the mea shearim chareidi culture of de facto dependency.

    He sounds sincere, probably American born, and chose his holy lifestyle, rather than being born into it. Contrast this to those born into this society, who are purposely left uneducated and deprived of an upbringing that promotes the emotional preparedness and marketable skills self-sufficiency demands.

    In fact, i'd be hard pressed to believe that your kollel friend closed his gemarah to throw stones and torch dumpsters to protest last year's gay pride parade. I doubt he is in favor of violence perpetrated in the name of preserving tznius, and I'm willing to bet he would be appalled to learn of a twenty-something thug with payos, after being acquitted for the brutal beating of a local women accused of "promiscuity," was danced down the streets of Geula on the jubilant shoulders of other brainless, jobless goons.

    Skewing the argument further, the "go to work" sentiment directed at impoverished chareidim is due less to the realization that many chareidim have become intrinsically parasitic, and more to growing fury at a system of leadership that promotes and perpetuates the poverty in the name of a artificial virtue, that similarly demands others to pick up the bill.

    As far as I'm concerned, Am Yisroel needs a million more non-talmidei chachomim like your friend in kollel. And it would be zchus for a million Jewish businessmen to support them. As for the rest of the do-nothing dreck, I say it's time we roll their gravy train to a halt.

  • At 3:38 PM, Blogger David said…

    Still Wondering: no really, tell us what you REALLY think...

  • At 12:54 PM, Blogger RAM said…

    You can't have a nation composed of identical people, so you can't expect identical life paths either.

  • At 2:37 PM, Anonymous megapixel said…

    HEy, I have a great idea. How about you propose a Yisachar/Zevulan partnership bet. the two of them?

  • At 3:29 PM, Anonymous me said…

    sitting in kollel is not all bad - there is intrinsic value in learning regardless of whether or not a person is destined to greatness. The question may be how long and at what expense?
    and the answer according to ME is that there should be a five year limit. A frum family at that point is about to encounter a big increase in their $$ needs (namely, tuition). Up till that point, if both husb and wife are on board, and want to live simply, they can do it.
    After the five year mark, only the 10-15% you talk about- the ones the community should support- stay on.

  • At 4:08 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…

    Let me be clear. I have no problem with young married couples doing the kollel thing for a few years. I think there is great intrinsic value. But the system is not sustainable if there is no time limit.

    As far as Yissocher Zevulan...I'm also all for that except that IMHO, my kollel friend is not the type of guy whose learning should be supported for more than a few years. (He's already been in the kollel for at least 5 years).

    SW, I totally don't get your comment. What difference does it make where he canme from or that he's sincere? He is still dirt poor and his children will be even poorer.

  • At 10:52 PM, Blogger Still Wonderin' said…

    "SW, I totally don't get your comment. What difference does it make where he canme from or that he's sincere? He is still dirt poor and his children will be even poorer."

    My sense, based on how i read your post is that your friend went to great lengths to devote himself to a life of learning, possibly sacrificing another standard of living for his ideals.

    Compare this to a society that, as a matter of course, goes to great lengths to UN-educate its youth, discourages employment, encourages dependency, and presents no options for the future beyond sitting and learning and subsisting on government subsidies and charitable donations.

    The difference comes down to a commitment to sacrifice and a sense of entitlement.

    The former is admirable, the latter is reprehensible.

  • At 5:17 PM, Blogger Gila said…

    SW--I am not sure why you are reading him as an American-born and BT. A lot of those BT's davka have the college education and are trainable. I really don't see how he is particularly different from the home-grown versions.

    Whom, for what it is worth, I am heartily sick of supporting. I am all for supporting the cream of the crop, though I do not know if I would go so far as 10-15% and I certainly would not limit the support to Haredi tracks. Whatever--take the very best students--and give them enough support so that they can live with kavod. As for the rest--as my old boss (born and raised Haredi) put it--go drive a truck! And pay taxes with the rest of us!


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