Friday, June 26, 2009

Repost Part II

The first part was a bit boring, I know. But this ought to rile a few feathers.

PART TWO – WHAT’s GOING ON IN HERE?

Among Jews, there are several trends that will affect how we can react to the above issues.

First, let’s talk about our immigrant parents and grandparents or perhaps great-grandparents:

A. The older generation of M/UO Orthodox men had k/1-8/12 grade regular secular educational studies and college degrees, or training in trades, crafts and skills which allowed them to earn a living for their families. Some were working in factories and secular businesses, but mostly they worked in sole proprietorships – their own family businesses in manufacturing domestic/cultural items, food shops, consignment retail shops, etc. run on the first floor of the same building where they lived. They had both Jewish and secular customers, so they brought in money from “out there” into the community. If they “learned,” it was in the evenings and on Shabbat. The picked up English enthusiastically, knowing that their economic future, and their kids future, depended on integrating economically not just with fellow Jews but with the wider urban environment. They cooperated with each other, in the form of various “societies,” to meet the unmet needs of the community as a whole.

B. The former generation of M/UO Orthodox women were also relatively educated, worked either at home (alone or in partnership with other area women), in the family business with their husbands, or, when older (that is, when all their kids were school age), outside the home to help bring in income. Some of their clients were also from outside society. They raised their young children themselves. They often also gardened in their own yards (what we now call “victory gardens”) and preserved food. Women also had social “societies” to deal with community needs. And, they cared for the sick, their elderly relatives, and grandchildren free of charge, lessening the economic burden on their parents and children.

These people built this country and Jewish success in this country, frankly. From them several sects of Jews split off. But today’s UO generation, converts, BTs and some MO Jews are being indoctrinated in an entirely different paradigm from their immigrant forebears. You will recognize that these descriptions apply far more (so far) to UO communities than MO ones, but the ongoing drive to de-legitimize MO will drive more people into the UO sphere, where their children will be thoroughly indoctrinated into some dysfunctional paradigms.

1. There is a growing trend among k-12 day schools to downplay or even shun regular secular educational studies, especially for young men. Even girls are told that secular colleges are too dangerous and result in contamination from outside society. This leaves these young adults incapable of making informed decisions about pretty much anything. For example, they vote pretty much how they are told to vote. They don’t research an issue and decide what’s truly in the best interest of the community. They are ignorant of current events, history, science, health, and economic issues. Therefore they don’t understand how things are related and interact. We might call this “functional social illiteracy.”

2. The young men are taught to look down upon those gainfully employed in market rate ordinary jobs, and told a destructive half-truth that they are performing a better service to their family and community by “learning” than they would be by “working.” They therefore must rely on parents and other relatives, in-laws, charity (incl. the stipend they get, which is from donations), and get-rich-quick schemes.

3. The result among young men in these yeshivas is that they are basically unemployable, contribute little or nothing to their own financial situation – much less that of the community as a whole - and couldn’t find adequate work to support their families if they wanted to, which they don’t - having been taught that “learning” is supposed to be what they do all the time (Pirkei Avot notwithstanding). Even those who aspire to “Torah” jobs such as teaching Torah, being a rav or Rabbi, making Torah scrolls or T’fillin have no real chance. There are far more bochurim than there will ever be market-rate paying positions of these types. Some barely speak, read, or write English. They may receive a small stipend from their yeshiva or Kollel, but it is not enough to support their families. They are able-bodied young men who are a burden and a drain on the community – refusing to pull their weight, draining the resources of their parents and other relatives who feel obliged to support them and their children.

4. Those who are employed, especially the upper-levels of “gedolim,” work in day-schools, yeshivas, charities, etc., where many have appointed themselves a considerably large salary at the expense of their other employees and the students or those who rely on the charity for part of their support. Those who work in real estate or insurance or investment houses often do likewise – living the high life themselves (even sometimes while preaching poverty to their followers) instead of dividing the school/business proceeds equitably. This has resulted in an incredibly stratified society which can no longer deal with the income gaps and social divisions between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” This also contributes to the marriage crisis (later) because a young man who expects to be supported in kollel by a father-in-law is not going to choose a wife of limited or modest means, regardless of how intelligent, skilled, or spiritual she may be.

5. Their wives, meanwhile, go one of two ways:

A. Some are farmed out to work in secular society or for other Jewish “businesses,” (read: ponzi schemes, “charities,” day schools, as daycare workers, etc.) because, after all, somebody has to earn a living, and the young men certainly aren’t going to. A very few are set up in businesses of their own, such as dress shops or beauty salons. Their children are raised by strangers first in daycare and later in day school, and finally sent off to Israel or yeshiva. Many must apply for government welfare or Medicaid benefits even if employed – some honestly, some by claiming to be unwed (see below). They try, but they can never get ahead. It is extremely stressful and a hazard to shalom bayit for a woman to be in this position.

Since a woman, especially one that is forced to forgo a secular professional degree, can never earn as much money as a man in any field (due to maternity leaves, scheduling conflicts due to children, etc.) the family is perpetually behind where it could be if the husband worked full time. Instead, the family’s costs are actually increased with child care bills, elder care, work clothes, extra vehicles/gasoline or more mass transit costs, pre-packaged foods and so on. Even if the husband works part-time in a “Torah” profession, when all is said and done it’s not the same as having the husband employed full time in a market rate position.

(There’s also a good book out there called “The Two Income Trap,” which you can get used at Amazon.com for about $10 the last time I checked. It is rarely a good economic outcome for both parents of young children to be outside the home, if you want more details. The increased taxes, costs of child care and other work-related expenses almost invariably ends up costing more than a sub-professionally degreed woman actually brings home in take-home pay – and this is true even for many professional women. And that doesn’t even cover other issues, such as other people’s values and philosophies being taught to children instead of their parent’s, and the fact that teenagers get into trouble being home unattended while the mother works outside the home, etc.)

B. Or, women are treated completely like second class citizens. They are told the family finances are “none of their business.” Their husbands, brothers, father, father-in-law or whatever might be involved in some shady dealings, tax evasion, fake charities, fundraising scams, insurance fraud or who knows what – but they have no idea how precarious their situation is. They are unprepared for the inevitable day when the police will show up. They are left out of the decision making process, and are also excluded from making sustainable and viable contributions to the family and community economies.

Some women are instructed to go to the government welfare office and claim to be unmarried and receive benefits (since they don’t usually have a legal wedding, only a religious one). Some communities don’t allow the girls to even graduate from high school, so their welfare is increased. Some know their finances are a mess, but they’re proud of it! They’re doing it to “hasten redemption” or some such why-its-ok-to-take-advantage-of-goyim-and-government philosophy they’ve been taught.

Now, the UO/BT/convert crowd at least has one thing going for it (and to a somewhat lesser extent the MOs) – they live in communities where Jews are a majority, if not the majority. They are in and near populations that can, if rightly motivated and educated, pull together. Among the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Cultural or Secular Jews, the population is much more spread out. There are more of them demographically, but the assimilation rate is high. They are generally better educated in and are involved in more professional trades, and have fewer children to support. They may have resources such as savings and a 401k, IRAs, private health insurance, etc. But, their “separateness” – the independence they’ve been taught to value - means than when economic push comes to shove, they have no “community” to fall back on. Sure, there are Jewish federations all over the place – conservative synagogues and reform temples - but when people have to tighten their belts, their contributions will drop. Those who used to donate will be requesting services instead (there was a story about this recently in Chicago, I think it was?). Many if not most will end up falling away from the Jewish community entirely.

In spite of the bad press that kiruv has received, a real kiruv that brings in BTs and real efforts to bring in sincere converts is going to have to take place to minimize the number of Jews who fall away from the community. This is a broad brush statement, and frankly I am concerned that as the conversion scandals and “black-hat” kiruv efforts that alienate extended families continue to spread, BTs and their sincerely converted spouses and friends are going to be driven away, not closer, from halachic practice. The continual imposition of stringencies and the drive to de-legitimize modern orthodoxy is destructive, to say the least, to the future of Judaism.

But until the “powers-that-be” decide that lenient halachic practice is just as acceptable as stringent halachic practice, more people will fall away from Judaism than will return to it over the long haul. There are only so many gullible suckers of Jewish descent out there. Once that crop is roped into the poverty trap that ultry-orthodoxy has become, there will be few to follow. Educated intelligent people simply aren’t going to throw their children’s future in the trash. In fact, some communities are now questioning bringing in BTs and converts simply because they do have a secular education and real life financial experience and can not therefore fit in perfectly with communities of people who have been controlled and indoctrinated since birth in the present power and financial structure that the Rabbis have imposed to support themselves and their unemployed bochurim at the expense of the wider Jewish community.

But the economic stress to come will cause some out there to “get religion.” They will become BT’s and re-connect with observant family members, or just come back to the communities and re-join shuls with their friends and distant relatives. This will bring a temporary influx of money and goods into the cheredi communities. However, either these newcomers will get fed up with being treated like second class citizens for the heinous crime of having a job or getting their kids a real education, or they will drop the jobs and education to be accepted fully into the community. The former will leave. The latter will end up producing another generation of useless loafers, daughters sold into slavery, and emotionally detached grandchildren raised by strangers.

In other words, more of the same is simply going to place a burden on already strapped communities, either in the short or long term or both, unless serious changes are made – more on that later.

So beside the entirely dysfunctional economic paradigm of cheredi communities, there is the elephant in the room, a serious social issue: the continual piling up of more and more stringencies. These things are increasing the cost of living of orthodox families through the roof – literally. And part of that problem is that everyone is absolutely convinced that their own preferred stringencies are actually requirements and that everyone who doesn’t practice them is a wanton sinner. The competition to out-frum everybody else has resulted in a fierce competition between ravs to see who can make the most ridiculous rulings (though they don’t see it that way, of course) and see who can gather the most followers. It has degenerated into cults of personality – held together by a deep and intense fear of being ostracized, having the kid’s shidduch prospects shunted to a “lower quality” level or negated entirely, and even, in many places, by threats of vandalism and violence, intimidation and harassment. There is no respect for diversity of practice whatsoever – and this has resulted in everyone making some bad decisions.

One example of this is housing. Orthodox families pay way to much for housing, both owned and rental, to be near the “correct” shul and spend far too much on transportation costs to the “correct” day schools. The ravs, shuls and the day schools also have a captive audience and milk the situation for all it’s worth. Memberships, tuitions, fees and “voluntary” donations are bankrupting people, literally.

These families are often far away from relatives who could offer free babysitting and other non-financial support – furthermore, many are urged to shun those wanton sinners, you know. These neighborhoods are also often so secluded that they have little or no access to streetcars, trolleys, light rail, or other non gasoline/diesel transportation sources. If they do have any access to mass transit, it’s usually busses or trains that run on gasoline or diesel instead of electricity.

Most families are entirely dependant upon their personal automobiles (plural!) to get anywhere and everywhere they need to be, and to obtain groceries, medicines, and other necessities. If they have bought an SUV or other gas-guzzler in the last several years, they probably still owe more on it than they can get selling it – if there was a market for SUVs! Unfortunately, the time for getting rid of a used SUV without doing so at a loss is past. Even dealers can’t sell them.

The stringencies imposed on families often involve food and beverages – making the grocery budget outrageous by any normal standards, since the ravs require special products with no mass market potential that are far more expensive than ordinary kosher brands. They require certification of products that historically never needed it – such as fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, whole grains, milk, household cleaners, laundry products and such. Not only do these drive up costs for the grocery budget, but since they deter people from eating healthily, they drive up medical costs and costs of caring for children and the elderly and contribute to obesity and other illnesses.

Another offshoot of our health problems stems from the bizarre rulings of late banning just about anything that can be contstrued as healthy physical exercise – especially for girls, but even for boys in many cases, often due to a neurotic aversion to the uniforms or sportswear or reasonably modern clothing required for such simple things as hiking or biking, even though these things can be done in perfectly modest clothing by any normal intellectually honest standard.

Another problem is the mistaken belief that “kosher” = “healthy.” Things are certified “kosher” that have been clearly shown to be damaging to people’s health, such as hydrogenated oils, bleached white flours, processed white sugar, artificial chemical preservatives, additives and colorants. Our “kosher” meat and dairy products are pumped full of artificial chemical hormones and excessive antibiotics, the animals are mistreated and held in pens where they never see the light of day, then fed ground-up other animal remains and grains needed by the poor instead of natural grasses and pasture, and to add insult to injury our fruits and vegetables have had genes from other species, including unclean animal species, inserted into them – then these GMOs have been fed to our livestock and to us. And as we have seen lately, a lot of the meat we thought was healthy and properly slaughtered has in fact been sick, deformed, diseased, and improperly slaughtered. Our food is killing us, physically and spiritually, but since it’s “kosher” people keep eating it. And our health continues to deteriorate.

One thing about health I hesitate to mention, but I feel I should – it involves the marriage issue. To be blunt, Jewish communities are horribly "intra-married," even in the generations prior to the rush to be as exclusive as possible with the stringency-du-jour. Health problems not just due to exotic recessive genes but to very ordinary ones: recessive genes for heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity, etc. are running rampant in our communities. My late husband died of cancer – at age 28! And yet many have bought into a mythology that any hint of a BT or convert or Reform or Conservative or whatever parent or forebear is somehow a terrible stigma to be avoided at all costs (ben niddah, anyone?). HaShem forbid that a FFB would marry a BT, much less a convert. Another result is an incredibly high rate of mentally and physically handicapped children above and beyond the general deterioration of our health due to excessive inbreeding – there’s just no polite way to put it. There it is. I read an article that many of these poor babies from Jewish mothers are abandoned at the hospital – the ones who are brought home are an incredible financial burden on the family. Yes, they are loving and sweet and delightful children – don’t get me wrong. But neither can we afford to ignore the reality that the prevailing philosophy about marriage is going to have to change. We can’t afford to be narrowing the gene pool with idiotic cults of stringency. We need to be broadening it with diversity of practice and acceptance of BTs and converts.

And speaking of marriage, more and more young people are not finding a suitable match simply because their idea of “suitable” involves stringencies not shared by people who attend different shuls or live in different communities. Often a match is broken off without a second glance if the prospective mate differs in practice even slightly from what the searcher has been taught is “non-negotiable” practice – in spite of the fact that the prospect’s practice is within the halachic framework. No diversity of practice is even considered. The searcher may also have terribly unrealistic attitudes about where money is going to come from in the marriage and very wrong-headed ideas about education and employment, which put off prospective matches who have some understanding of economic reality. With impossible standards such as these to meet, it’s no wonder there’s such a crisis in the marriage department. This sort of thing must stop.

Another problem in our communities is the idea that it’s apparently considered ok to exploit non-Jews. Our businesses hire illegal aliens and other goyim in order to avoid paying living wages and having to follow the ethical and moral business practices that are required when hiring fellow Jews. We even avoid hiring our fellow Jews to work in our own homes and small businesses. We locate large industries away from our own communities to avoid scrutiny and avoid employing our own people. We allow inhumane conditions to exist in our large industries, especially food processing, and pretend there’s nothing wrong with it. We give both ourselves and Hashem a bad name in doing so, not to mention making our communities poorer and more reliant on outside employers who don’t necessarily respect our religious needs for sabbaths and yom tovim.

As consumers, we have bought heavily into the something-for-nothing myth. We buy the cheap, made in the third world products offered by the robber barons – knowing that in doing so we are taking away job opportunities and income from our own friends, neighbors, and children. We forget that we still end up paying the costs those robber barons externalized from their products – we just pay it in taxes and benefits to the injured and exploited instead of paying it in the purchase price, and think we’re getting a bargain! We turn a blind eye to the needs of our community and instead enrich the robber barons who will contribute nothing of value toward our real, long term needs.

And last, but not least – the crime and corruption problem is undeniably huge. People’s lives are being ruined by abuse (physical, psychological, and sexual), and by every sort of fraud, swindle, scheme, and even outright theft. The Mafia could hardly have done it better – everyone is terrified to go to the authorities, either because of some sort of residual hang-up from the Holocaust generation or due to the power-mongering of the Gedolim. By imagining ourselves above the civil law we have actually made ourselves below it – we don’t have basic protections that ordinary citizens enjoy. We live in a permanent underworld of graft and coercion, abuse and neglect. In a very real way, we don’t have freedom of speech, assembly, or religious practice. We aren’t safe, because those who make us unsafe are our own people that we can’t “tell on” or “turn against,” – as if racial or religious solidarity somehow trumps justice. Women are chained, kids are molested, people’s livlihoods are ruined – and there is no recourse for them. In the end, this will drive people away from the communities. People can’t live in fear forever – eventually they realize they can, in fact, walk away from it. Increasingly, they have been and will continue to.

To summarize Part Two – What’s going on in here? We have this list:

1. Today’s young men do not know the skills, crafts, and trades necessary for the manufacturing of domestic items and the service jobs that would make MO/UO/Cheredi communities nearly or completely self-sufficient.

2. A considerable percentage of the community’s money is sent away out of it – by shopping at places like Wal-Mart, where the profits go to benefit the Walton’s kids and the Walton’s kids schools and the Walton’s community instead of ours. The inadequately employed local families are forced to buy the cheapest junk they can just to survive, goods made in third world countries, instead of keeping the income within the community. Those resources are lost – gone forever, and will not return.

3. Families are divided and therefore conquered, basically. They go their separate ways all day and the emotional and spiritual effect has been very bad on the children.

4. Women’s contributions to the UO community are seriously misdirected – either focused on trying to be the main breadwinner or focused on trying to disappear and not be a participant at all.

5. Knowledge of basic gardening, food preservation, home maintenance, and related skills is lacking in both young men and young women.

6. Financially, there is no self-sustaining community economy to speak of. Those men who do work are swamped with responsibility, those men who refuse to work are sucking resources dry.

7. The cost of living for UO families will never be quite as low as secular society, but it is far above what it needs to be due to indoctrination into stringencies – far above sustainable levels, especially where food is concerned. Household items needed for observance are usually imported or sold at inflated prices or both, because it’s a “captive audience.”

8. People are too afraid to do anything “differently” from what their rav teaches, eliminating uncountable creative ways to fulfill halacha without incurring increased expenses – and increasing the power-mongering and control the ravs have on the divided communities.

9. The process for arranging/facilitating marriages is in shambles due to intolerance of perfectly halachic practice and irrational ideas of religious and racial purity that have never existed historically and never will in the future.

10. Housing prices are also outrageous in part due to divisiveness and intolerance (of course, the wider deflationary spiral has had the largest effect) – not to mention day school tuition to the “correct” school. People have made very unwise choices and bought houses far away from family support and public transportation, both of which they will need badly as the peak oil crisis deepens.

11. Young couples lack the basic education needed for good stewardship of their home finances, their children’s upbringing, the community economy, and their civic duties as voting citizens: at the local, county, state, or national level.

12. Because of unhealthy diets, bad genetics, and lack of vigorous exercise, our health costs are rising exponentially with no end in sight.

13. The rate of kids going “off the derech” will continue to rise – eventually equaling that of the other sects of Judaism. The kids, all suffering from benign neglect and seeing the crime, hypocrisy, and injustice around them, will simply leave when they’ve had enough.

Some of these problems, such as crime and molestation, have been treated very briefly, because we all know that these are wide-spread and deeply entrenched issues that a paragraph simply won’t address. These things appear on UOJ and other blogs almost daily – but as long as people fear the consequences of outing the criminals and perpetrators then not much can be done to stop the situation. What we must recognize is that the fallout from these issues affects not just our minds and spirits, but also the functioning of the broader community – and right now, it’s not funcitonal, it’s dysfunctional. This fear is killing our ability to help ourselves and take control of our lives in ways that is perfectly well within the halachic framework and works with economic reality instead of the control-and-power-mongering of a regrettably large number of our current leaders.

Stay tuned for part three.

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