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

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


This week's Mishpacha Magazine had two remarkable articles on poverty. One was an opinion piece by Yonason Rosenblum (available here) and the other was a "true story" written by the brother of a mechanech who died of a heart attack at a young age purportedly from the stress of the debt he incurred in marrying off his daughters.

That Mishpacha, a "progressive" Chareidi magazine printed these articles is a good thing; a society won't change unless it admits that all is not well.

What disturbed me, however, is that Rabbi Rosenblum's article did not go far enough.

He skillfully described the scope of the problem:

The poverty figures are well known. What is less frequently discussed, however, is the toll that crushing poverty takes on individual lives and our society as a whole. I would not go so far as the talmid chacham who recently told me that poverty underlies every one of our problems as a society. But I would say that poverty exacerbates, sometimes greatly, every single problem from drop-out youth to marital discord. Speak to any chareidi social worker, working mainly with low-income clients, and you will quickly understand all the multiple consequences of never-ending financial stress.

Every expert in the field of "at-risk" youth, for instance, will tell you that learning difficulties are a leading predictor of later drop-out. Many early learning problems can be overcome. Tutoring, different forms of remedial therapies, and sometimes drugs or alternative medicine remedies can all play a major role. But tutoring is expensive, often prohibitively so for a family struggling to put food on the table. And even where therapies are covered by health plans, stressed parents, with multiple children to attend to and no car to easily transport the child in need, may simply not take advantage.

If lack of money is the subject of perpetual discussion, not to mention fighting, between parents, then chareidi life may come to be associated in the children's minds with deprivation and strife. No matter how much genuine mesiras nefesh the parents have made for Torah, the children may focus more on their own deprivation and reject the way of life that they associate with being constantly denied.

Severe financial stress intrudes in many intangible ways. Constant money worries present challenges to one's ehrlikeit in financial dealings. It makes us, as a society, extremely vulnerable to con men offering unbelievable returns on one's money. And the long-term dependence on others for support – often given grudgingly or not at all – drains self-respect.

Considerations of money have distorted the shidduchim process beyond recognition and led to many ill-suited matches. Even where a young couple is well-matched, early financial pressures can make it difficult for them to get their bearings and establish a firm bayit ne'eman b'Yisrael in which to raise children.

And those pressures take their toll on our health. When I read a glossy flyer in shul about a family in which 13 kids are sitting at home because they cannot afford school or yeshiva tuitions, it is no surprise that the family breadwinner has collapsed under the strain. Illness, it has been said, is the vacation of the poor.
But he did not go far enough.

He concludes:

The widespread poverty in the chareidi world – according to government statistics 18% of Israelis living below the poverty line are chareidi – will only worsen, as the parental resources to assist each successive generation become thinner and thinner. What the solutions might be I do not know. But it is clear that we cannot afford to hide our heads in the sand and not address the issue. (emphasis added)
"What the solutions are I do not know"?


The solutions are obvious. Achieving them will take courage and leadership, something appallingly lacking in the Chareidi world.

I hope to focus on solutions in my next couple of posts.



  • At 9:55 AM, Blogger Still Wonderin' said…

    The first in a string of face-saving softball solutions will be to label the current tragedy as the "Paranassah Crisis."

    Doing so will effectively defer any blame for the criminally wrongheaded social engineering chareidi families are subjected to from those who caused and perpetuate the problem -- namely irresponsible rabbis and spineless educators -- to some nebulous force unleashed by the internet, talking during davening, and the purported lack of women's tzinus.

    Orthodox Jews used to be smart. Today, Orthodoxy is mostly a Ponzi scheme. Whether those responsible will ever admit it or not, hoodwinking a generation into glorifying no work or education, and vilifying independent though is coming home to roost.

  • At 10:22 AM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    While I mostly agree with your conclusions, and am very cynical, I am not quite as cynical as you.

    I think there are some well-intentioned, forward thinking chareidim who would like to see fundamental, systemic changes.

    It is difficult to walk the tightrope of calling for these fundamental changes while still remaining a member of the team.

    However, we are faced with an "ais la'asos". Brave leaders are needed.

  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said…

    Brave Leaders? I don't know of brave Chareidi leaders here in Israel.

    In fact, when it was proposed to annul the draft so that Chareidim could go to university and get JOBS, Shas and Aguda screamed bloody murder that it was all sham to encourage bochrim from learning in yeshiva. The Chareidi politician twisted logic is that the draft serves to force bochrim into yeshiva -- instead of allowing them to study for parnassa.

    Haven't they been saying for years that the army is treif? It's all a sham to keep the yeshivot going...and the emperor is truly naked.

    Maybe the US will have better luck.

  • At 12:19 PM, Blogger ThePeoplesChamp said…

    sw's got it right.
    It's a simple solution, GO TO WORK.
    The Tannaim they study all day (or supposedly study all day), most held jobs and happened to have enough time to leave a mesorah that's over 2000 years old.

  • At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I still can't figure out how the Roshei Yeshivos convineced a generation of bochurim that they should have 10 children, a stay at home wife, and no education or plan to go to work. I assure you they didn't get this mesage from their hard working parents.

  • At 2:11 PM, Blogger Still Wonderin' said…

    It's perfectly legitimate to call me cynical; I am cynical, though, I contend, with good reason.

    Now, at the risk of sounding defensive, would it be fair to say similarly, and with less latitude call attention to Yonasson Rosenblum's woefull cynicism for filling 8 paragraphs with the short- and long-term horrors of chareidi poverty, continuing on to suggest three outrageous "solutions":

    1. Glom more money from the gov't
    2. Glom more money from American Jews
    3. Advise families that are unable to buy food to curtail their lifestyle

    ... then laying a guilt trip on American Jews who are already being sucked dry by the chareidi non-profit misery industry, only to end with a hopeless shrug having never once admitting that charedi poverty is not a problem so much as a symptom, and that the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the chareidi community's catechistic ban on education, vocational training, or gainful employment.

    As for the existence of inner-ear challenged would-be Chareidi activists, I don;t doubt it, but if that's the case, then the solution is LESS tzedaka, not more. The chareidi "pay for play" lifestyle is killing all of us.

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    I think you misconstrue what Rosenblum said. This is what he wrote:

    "THREE SOLUTIONS ARE commonly offered to the destructive poverty in the Israeli chareidi community (though the problem is hardly limited to Israel): greater government support; increased contributions from rich Jews abroad; and adopting a simpler lifestyle. Each is a thin reed upon which to pin hopes for a solution".

    He then went on to explain why each of these three proposals was bound to fail.

    While I would still rather that he offered realistic alternative solutions, it is misrepresenting what he said to suggest that he supports the three solutions that he shot down as not being viable.

  • At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The People's Champ writes that the solution is just to "GO TO WORK"- like the solution is so simple.

    What are they qualified for? The charedi yeshiva system- in America also- shuns college. So bochrim stay in yeshiva until it's time to find a job- or after they found a shidduch- and it's often too late for them and they don't have proper guidance of how to go about- getting an education and proper job training.

    As someone who grew up MO and then ended up learning in Kollel for a few years- I would be nervous for the direction my children will be led in this issue. However, I'm not (so much) because by"h I plan to influence them regarding the importance of getting an education, working, etc.

  • At 4:34 PM, Blogger Still Wonderin' said…

    True, Rosenblum doesn't take credit for the "solutions" to himself. And, yes, his points to follow certainly do explain why chareidim shouldn't rely on these "solutions."

    But he tips his cards by taking the time to provide a point-by-point analysis of why these solutions are untenable, without offering a whiff of the possibility that just maybe, the root cause of chareidi poverty isn't an unfortunate, albeit random, confluence of political and economic forces.

    Rather than validate that toxic mentality, he could have bluntly put to rest any credence to solutions like these by declaring that chareidim need to start looking inward to alleviate the breathtaking poverty that surrounds them.

    I suspect that deep down, if only the physics of finance were different, Rosenblum would be just fine with grubbish "solutions" such as these.

    No wonder he's at such a loss to offer a solution. He has no idea what the problem is.

  • At 5:48 PM, Blogger ThePeoplesChamp said…

    I write "go to work" more as a rant than a solution, but in it's implest form, it's the only solution.
    I have friends (from the darkest depths of the charedei world) who are trying from within to help people learn vocations (the greatest for of tzedakah). They have helped place over 300 people to date in various jobs. They have the support of their rebbe, who started the program (Stoliner).
    While it sounds simple, it truely is. No reason why you cant learn a trade while also learning. The problem really is, many of these people are in the system because they are either afraid to go out and work and its easier (on some levels) to sit and learn and let the Ribbono Shel Olam take care of them, or they feel peer pressure to leave their little world and go out and work for a living. Somehow some of our greatest torah leaders had a job while learning. Why it's looked down upon now is the problem. SW hit it right on the head.

  • At 8:17 PM, Blogger Jordan said…

    It is inaccurate to speak of the Chareidi world as one thing or another. There are many groups of Chasidim who expect all but the most learning talented of their adherents to go out and get jobs. And many are willing to do the dirty work that the MO world turns up their noses at. I think that over the next generation, the prospects for gainful employment within the Chareidii world will improve as some forms of education and job training are starting to make inroads in the society.

  • At 10:19 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    I think Yonason Rosenblum knows full well what the solution is. He went to Yale Law School. He isn't stupid.

    The solution is, at it's heart, simple. People do need to go to work. How to get there is the trick.

    Jordan is right. There is a difference between many of the Chassidic sects, where men do leave the kollel and go to work after a few years, and the Yeshivish world, where everything is hefker. In Israel, even the Chassidim are hard pressed to work because they refuse to serve in the army. More about all this soon.

  • At 10:52 PM, Blogger ThePeoplesChamp said…

    Like I said, the Stoliner Rebbe started a program to teach people vocations. The Belzer Rebbe started a similar program and all but made the elite learners go into the workforce. We need similar leadership across the board.

  • At 10:53 PM, Blogger ThePeoplesChamp said…

    Last post I meant,all BUT the learners learners go into the workforce.

  • At 12:55 AM, Blogger Fern said…

    Oh, oh, oh, I know the answer to this one without reading the other comments: teach the majority of young men and all women a marketable skill so that they can get jobs instead of learning full time. And encouraging people to have a job and a bit of savings before getting married wouldn't hurt.

  • At 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "There is a difference between many of the Chassidic sects, where men do leave the kollel and go to work after a few years, and the Yeshivish world, where everything is hefker". Ten years ago I was part of that yeshivish world and there were two segments of society. A)"tz'gut and tz'lat (torah u'mada) b)Lakewood. I spent my later yeshiva years at two well known institutions in Flatbush. There were many good learners attending BC or the trade school on ave J. I look around in those same yeshivas today and going to school has simply gone out of fashion.

  • At 10:20 AM, Blogger Still Wonderin' said…

    Yale or no Yale, I'm not equating Rosenblum's public portrayal of chareidi poverty with stupidity.

    I'm suggesting his article is either irresponsible, maddeningly naive, or strategically omitting a definitive position.

    So he's either brainwashed, naive, or secretly hoping to spawn forums like this.

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    I vote for the third. Yonason Rosenblum gets the joke. He just needs to suck it up and go the next step. I predict that will come.

  • At 10:33 AM, Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said…

    I vote for the third. Yonason Rosenblum gets the joke. He just needs to suck it up and go the next step. I predict that will come.

    אשרי המאמין...but here's to hoping!

  • At 10:56 AM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    If guys like that won't step up, we are doomed.

  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said…

    I thought we were doomed because of the music ban.


  • At 1:57 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    That is scary.

  • At 4:14 PM, Blogger Gila said…

    I actually got the feeling that he was putting out that "gosh, I don't know what the solution might be" with false naivete--he knows exactly what the answer should be (GET A JOB!) but is not allowed to actually say it. So instead, he writes an article which basically forces the reader to come to that conclusion.

    It makes sense--he did not write the article for us. He wrote it for a Haredi audience, no?

    Of course, once the Yeshiva Bochurim are allowed to all hit the workforce without doing the army or some alternate form of service-oy--the sh*t is really going to hit the fan.


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