Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Voting with their feet - sort of.

Long time readers may recall the three articles that I wrote for the UOJ Group (and cross-posted here on my own blog) a couple of years ago describing things that are wrong in the world at large and within observant communities, and what we can do about them.

In the first article, some long term outside issues were discussed, such as globalization, peak oil, and climate change. These issues will impact observant communities whether they believe in science or not.

The second article discussed serious social problems in observant communities that are prohibiting families from adapting to the new economic realities. It describes the Rabbis rejection of secular academic education and the promotion of the idea that a "real" Jewish man should never have to have a job.

...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...

In the third article, towards the end, the issue of economic support for families in observant communities was also discussed:

Our own dysfunctional communities are going to hit globalization, peak oil, and climate change and the education crisis head on in a serious claustrophobia of circumstances. In a way, there is a chicken and egg problem here, because in order to solve the financial problems that are coming, the social problems will have to be solved. And in order to solve social problems, financial problems will have to be solved. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop – the worse one side gets, the other follows and in turn worsens the first side. Somehow the cycle must be broken.

To combat globalization, we need to re-localize. But in order to do this effectively, we cannot be splintered into little cults. We cannot be judgmental or intolerant of lenient practices within the halachic framework. We need diversity of practice to revitalize our ability to cope and function. Relocalizing will create vibrant and sustainable economic systems that will be able to withstand the coming trough in the business cycle. This ought to also combat one of the most nefarious side-effects of globalization: neglect of the moral and ethical obligations of employers to provide what we in western society consider decent and reasonable working conditions. We have to bring back the “social contract” – no more hiring illegal aliens and other goyim so they can be paid less and mistreated and suffer unsafe or toxic working conditions with no Sabbath or vacation or whatever. We must be accountable to each other.

Relocalizing will involve taking the following steps:

1. We must, as a community, learn how to manufacture, make, repair, restore, and produce everything we need for daily life. This means small scale, sole proprietorship “manufacturing” businesses need to be set up. We can no longer afford or rely on imports from outside our area. We can no longer afford to enrich the transnational robber barons at the expense of our own community. In practice, the young men must begin learning these skills, trades, and crafts. What ones, you ask? Look around you. What is in your house? The young men need to learn to make every single item: every bit of furniture, every ceramic dish, glassware, metalwork, pots, pans, baking sheets, metal and wood utensil, toy, game, widget and whatnot, - everything from the picture frames to the upholstery and rugs.

2. How about small appliances? Even big ones? Instead of throwing away old stuff, we’re going to have to learn to repair what we already have – or make our own new ones. This means some young men need to study electronics and repair, even metalworking.

3. And young women have a role, too: sewing clothes, curtains, tablecloths, bed sheets, plain and decorative pillows, placemats, napkins, making candles, soaps, lotions, treats, candies, pastries, hand paint pottery and knickknacks, Judaica - things they can do at home, just like their grandmothers did. All that stuff we used to buy at Wal-Mart we need to learn to make for ourselves, keeping the money in the community. The women can contract their work out to retail shops run by other women – their own small businesses co-ops.

4. Food production, besides treats and candies, is going to have to get a lot more local, too. This will be a national trend – small sustainable home victory gardens, community gardens and greenhouses, and organic family farms are going to be springing up like mushrooms, and some of them need to be ours. That means the young couples are going to have to learn sustainable and organic farming – and work together with other couples to keep the farm running. We need our own fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown on our own farms - sort of like our own kibbutzim. One of my great grandfathers owned a dairy – we need these, too. We need to make our own local cheeses and butters, ice creams, yoghurts and kefir – without the extortion racket of corrupt rabbinic supervision hovering over them all. Instead of buying unhealthy factory farmed meats from giant agribusiness firms, we need smaller herds on the small farms, even individual pairs of animals in large yards – the girl animals supply milk, the boy animals grow up to be dinners, mostly, from our own small suppliers of beef, sheep, goats, chickens and eggs - instead of big conglomerations far away. That means we need more kosher butchers and cheese-makers, too – properly trained young men.

5. On the more urban side, we’re going to have to stop the “divide and conquer.” The focus should be on family businesses just like the old days – right down to the shop/store on the first floor and the family living above, so the family isn’t paying two mortgages and two sets of utility bills each month. The wife and children are involved and contribute as their schooling and duties permit. Homes will have to be multi-generational, and extended families will be the norm, not the exception...

23. As for formal education, modern secular educational studies are going to have to receive a much greater emphasis. Those with professional career aspirations and apparent ability need to go to college or trade school and learn a professional career in a market-rate employment field – and this needs to be done without saddling the young man with interest paying student loans. For someone with true aptitude, the community needs to try and put scholarships together for tuition.

24. Only the most brilliant and astonishing students should be maintained in yeshiva or Kollel, as decided by the community at large as to how many they are willing to support.

25. Every other young man needs to be apprenticed learn a skill, trade, or craft for a small shop/store or business or small family farm, whatever his interest appears to be – starting as a teenager. [Ditto for girls.] An apprenticeship and journeyman training system, similar to that of Europe, needs to be developed that provides men employment and job skills. Some of this would be in Torah scrolls and T’fillin, of course. But mostly the skills and crafts would be in household goods, furniture, wood and metalworking, and all that...

The Powers-That-Be in Jewish Orthodoxy, however, have a complete and total disdain for those they call am-ha'aretz, people of the land - meaning those who actually work for a living. We discussed this attitude a lot in the "Decline of the West" series, too (see lower right sidebar). While many rational and intelligent writers within orthodoxy are calling for a return to more sane family values where earning a living is concerned, the Ravs are dead-set against it - primarily because of the loss of control over these people's daily lives that would result. Harry Maryles recently posted this blog on the reaction of the "gedolim" to the voices of reason:

Emes Ve-Emunah
blog post dated Sunday, October 10th, 2010

"Take pity on your children's souls, and do not allow this veiled deception, claiming the message is intended for the chareidi public, to deceive you and ensnare your souls in these matters, which are detached from the path of Torah and are liable choliloh to destroy efforts invested into teaching children to earnestly aspire to greatness in Torah and avodas Hashem, based on a pure hashkofoh and obeisance to gedolei haTorah."

What deception is this referring to? The idea that one can be a Ben Torah and still learn a trade or profession and then provide for his family.

If anyone has any doubt about the mindset of much of the Charedi world in Israel the above excerpt from the Dei’ah veDibur should completely erase it. This website promotes itself as the legitimate voice of the Charedi worldview. It is the above singular and narrow Hashkafa that it constantly espouses – often saying – as it did in this article – that it has been asked to express the views of ‘Gedolei Yisroel’in saying these kinds of things. And therefore the only legitimate view of Torah...

This idea that no Jewish man should "sully" himself by having to do anything all day other than sit and learn is not, of course, historically accurate Judaism. It is a recent innovation by the Chereidi who look with particular disdain on the am-ha'aretz (those who labour with their hands).

If you follow the link in the quote above, you'll find paragraphs like this one lambasting several recent articles and blogs urging married men to step up to the plate and take responsibility as husbands and fathers for their family's economic well-being.

..."Recently they [various publications] have taken their evil a step further," reads the letter, "by providing a respectable platform to those who lead the battles against kodshei Yisroel, and who made use of this platform obsequiously to convey their poison. They also lead the trend to weaken the Jewish people's most sacred walls, the botei medrash, by ennobling and praising the forces that drive members of the community to enter the job market, and glorify the working world over the halls of Torah and those who devote all their energies in the tents of Torah."

They claim that having a job will destroy, yes DESTROY, Judaism.

...No one, least of all me [Rav Harry] – wants to destroy the great Yeshivos of the world. What is needed is not that but an attitude adjustment among their Roshei Yeshiva that will recognize that sitting in learning is not for everyone. And that perhaps an American style Charedi educational system that teaches both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol that has been all but condemned should be revisited as a possible alternative for many of their young people.

The weight of history is on the right side of this issue. The great Yeshivos of the past were never intended for the masses. They were intended for elite students and it was only the best and brightest with great potential in Torah learning that were recruited and accepted. The rest of the Torah world worked and supported their families – and those Yeshivos. That is the direction we should be going in – back to the future.

R. Maryles is, of course, correct. "Learning" all day was never for the common Jew - only for the best of the brightest scholars. Suggesting otherwise is an innovation that is dangerous and destructive to Jewish communities, not to mention individual families. Some men, however, are beginning to realize that a secular education and a job are not bad things.

Ynetnews feature: Haredim heading to college
As opposed to stigma, more haredim seek to join workforce, enroll in special academic program
Hagai Einav
Published: 10.07.10, 12:23

..."The way to make a dignified living – study and work," is the name of a special academic track for haredim offered by the Zefat Academic College and reflecting the new perception among haredim. The program aims to allow the ultra-Orthodox to combine Torah and academic studies in the aims of securing desirable jobs in the areas of economics, human resources, and business administration.

One haredi who embraced the change is Ariel Ashkenazi, a 36-year-old married father of three. "There is great difficulty in finding work among the haredim," he told Ynet. "In every interview I speak about my experience, which includes the successful management of workers. Yet when I'm asked about an academic degree, I understand that I have no chance. Doors would close…because I am a haredi without an academic degree."

Well, it's not exactly community self-sufficiency yet, but it's a start.

(An excerpt of the YNET article with additional Chereidi commentary also was posted at Vos Is Neas.)

It appears that more and more young men are voting with their feet - or at least thinking about it. They may not be "ready" yet to learn to live in self-sufficient communities, but at least they "get it" that money doesn't fall from the sky - unlike the Ravs who berate them for acting like responsible adults.

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