Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Adina Bar Shalom and the Aguda Poverty Video

Cross-Currents    by Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein

[...] Twenty-five years ago, a philanthropist handed Rav Ovadiah a blank check to create a modality for haredi women to receive the secular education they needed to earn enough to take their families out of poverty. Her father said, “Not yet,” which she says means that there were not yet enough people to teach the classes in a manner that would not conflict with the Torah concepts with which the young women had been nurtured. Bar-Shalom kept asking about the idea, and thirteen years ago got the green light from her father to create such an institution. At the time, she could identify only about 60 haredim in the entire country who held degrees. 

Today, there are about one thousand students in the Haredi College in Yerushalayim. About two-thirds of them are women, many married with children. (Day care is available on campus.) The men have their own, separate program. Both have access to a variety of specialties, all of them geared to finding jobs in areas that are more lucrative than what is available within haredi society. Programs in more purely academic areas are not unthinkable, said Bar Shalom, as long as they will win the approval of the rabbonim who guide the college. But these are things of the future. At the moment, the thrust of the college is empowering people to become fully employable, and help bring haredim into the general work force, and hopefully easing the friction between the haredi and secular worlds. [...]

Committed as she is to providing real options for haredim to enter the workforce, I was curious to hear about her reaction to the video shown motza’ei Shabbos at the Agudah Convention. Produced by Hamodia, the video showed the effects of poverty in the haredi community upon its children. It is emotionally charged, and appeals for funding to help alleviate the crushing poverty that is taking a toll on the health of young, innocent victims.
The video sparked controversy and backlash in some circles. Some argued that applying band-aids to the situation is ultimately cruel, because it allows the system to limp along, without confronting the real cause of the poverty. People ought not to give in to maudlin sentiment, but to apply pressure severe enough that the community will make the necessary changes.[...]

I asked Adina Bar Shalom what she thought about those calling for tough love. If Americans cover the shortfall caused by the recent draconian cuts in support for families, won’t this impede or slow the very process of change she has worked so hard for? She shook her head. “It won’t. There is no greater happiness than being able to support one’s family. There is a process to make this happen. But we must support families during this process.”


  1. my comment there:
    It is simply not the case that it will be too late for them.
    WADR IMHO the logical continuation of your approach is not this but rather, "and if a slower internally driven transition results in a large number of the current economically at risk generation not having an opportunity to gain economically valuable skills, that is a price the chareidi community is willing to make them pay for the appearance of community manifest destiny"

    BTW while many would agree the children shouldn't suffer, does this mean that the parents and/or leadership should not be asked to make a greater contribution by diverting other family/community resources to the children's needs?
    Joel Rich

  2. I don't know about the latest discussions, but the Mishneh says, "All Torah that is not combined with working will result in waste and sin." The exact translation is not "waste and sin" but "waste and growing sin." See Rabbeinu Yona how one sin leads to another when one does not have proper income. And yet, guess what, umm, I forget what I wanted to say.... Anyway, while I try to recall my remark, I will add that the Zohar Chodosh in Beraishis goes on at length about this, and says that anyone who does not work but only learns "takes paganism to himself." Anyway, one day I will remember what I wanted to say. Also, in that Zohar, there is a hint that those who are prepared to really sacrifice can learn and not earn. But who is prepared to starve and be thirsty today as the Zohar mentions? We are raising a generation of destruction, and it is all from the "gedolim", say, maybe I can recall what I wanted to say after all.

    1. does the zohar talk about the children starving and being thirsty so that abba can learn?

    2. Eiruvin 22a talks about being cruel to one's family in order to learn

    3. "We are raising a generation of destruction, and it is all from the 'gedolim', say, maybe I can recall what I wanted to say after all."

      Chazal suggests that our emunas chachamim should be such that we accept the leadership of the sages of each generation even if they say right is left and left is right. (Sifire, Devarim 17:11, I believe). So despite the numerous statements of Chazal that one must work, some gedolim of the last generation or so have turned this on its head -- one must not work, but only learn.

      Chazal also tell us, in a place where there are no men, you be the man! Yet the Israeli charedi gedolim are afraid or unwilling to advocate for the return to work -- perhaps they are afraid of the reaction by hardliners? And this is despite the fact that the return to full-time learning for life instead of work was only enacted as a temporary measure to restore Torah study after the churban! Hasn't this been enough time for Torah study to recover?

      All of this does not mean Charedi judaism, or Orthodox Judaism, is wrong, c"v's, only that we don't always have the right leaders we need. And when we do not have good leaders, then someone needs to step in to say the truth -- and that is incumbent upon all of us.

    4. yeshaya,
      I beg to differ. I studied in Lakewood Yeshiva under Reb Aharon Kotler and I spent a lot of time talking to him. I was a young bochur when the first Lakewood Yeshivas for youth were opened in America and people began coming to Lakewood. I was a young man when the Viet Nam War destroyed colleges and Johnson's poverty programs began flowing into Yeshivas. I noticed what was happening and I didn't like it. After Reb Aharon died there was no gadol who said everyone should learn. What happened was that it became a style, because people could not go to college with the drug addicts and radicals, and did not want to go to Viet Nam, and Lakewood became fashionable. None of this was designed by people, gedolim or not. And today there is nobody to change it. I raised my children to utterly despise the way people did things, and yet, my children are top learners and mechanchim and married the top children of Rosh Yeshivas and rebbeshieh families in Israel and America. A rebbe who was my mechuten once asked me how I had such good children. I told him we are careful about our money. He agreed enthusiastically. I raised my children to realize that after Reb Aharon and his generation, it is Torah with mirrors. And that is not Torah. Just look at the Rosh Yeshivas and rabbonim signing letters to force a GET that is clearly invalid. That is the power of treifeh money, as the Bnei Yisochor says, that Torah survives in a family only when the money is beyond reproach, not the flood of funny money from programs,etc. Treifeh money produced treifeh "gedolim" and you aint seen nothin yet. The mamzer factory Rosh Yeshivas are just getting started. Stay tuned. And try not to marry your children to a mamzer. It is not as easy as you may think. And tomorrow? HaShem yerachem.

    5. R' Dovid, thanks for your thoughts. I think we agree on the lack of leadership (though not on gittin and agunos but that's another matter). I never said anything about the American gedolim -- it's the Israeli ones who were speaking against work.

  3. The idea that Adina Bar Shalom met with Abbas shows the lack of reality that the Yosef family has towards Arabs. Since Chacham Yosef lived for years in Egypt he always had a warm & fond relationship with that country. It took his many twists and turns especially after the several terror attacks on residents of Emanuel before he arrived at that community and asked forgiveness for the Oslo truce.

    Reb Adina is a strong supporter of women's rights and encouraged "Charedi type' women to run for political office in Israel. Whether she can be considered a spokeperson for the Charedi world or the Charedi woman is questionable.

    The film was produced by Hamodia and fitting with the Editor's POV, one of the goals was "Bash the Israeli government". Quite easy to do bashing just do not remember any compliments ever coming from the same mouthpieces when Yeshiva grants, Avrechim stipends and child benefits were higher than high. Wouldn't you consider that a bit hypocritical??!?!?

  4. The idea in Eruvin of being cruel is not talking about letting children starve. There was food in the field even though it was a minimum. In those days men left home for many years to learn, and the community where the father was learning and the community where his family remained needed help to eat and survive. Those who helped the father and family had great reward, as we find many times in the Talmud. When I was young in Baltimore Yeshiva there was a Hungarian cook who told me of the few scholars in the community who did not have enough, and he said, "And we check their pots" meaning, the community helped out to make sure they did not starve.

  5. To continue my remarks from above, I just recalled that near Radin, where the Chofetz Chaim lived, there was a city Ashishak, or something like that, where the Chofetz Chaim and others would come, stay in the Beis HaMedrash, and learn for a few weeks or more. The community made sure they had what they needed.

    1. Interestingly, though, the Chofetz Chaim always had his own parnassah -- his store he ran with his wife.

      The Lubavitcher Rebbe authorized his chassidim to inflict poverty on themselves by learning instead of working, or by having only the woman work, but only if the husband and wife both agree (since after all it's violating the ketubah.). Today, R' Shalom Arush (in his shalom bayis guide) is adamant that people must work if necessary, as the ketubah requires.

  6. No one is starving. There are soup kitchens & chessed organizations that give out free food to the poor… “Starving charedi children” is propaganda…

    This is entirely self-inflicted. The Charedi Gedolim insist on no secular subjects being taught in charedi schools. They promote the universal kollel for life system. This is the inevitable result. Now it’s time to face the music & live with the results…

    The Israeli modern charedi kollel system has only been around for about the last 30 years — since Menachem Begin. As long as the Israeli government propped up charedi society with cash and subsidies, the charedi “leadership” insisted on perpetuating and perpetrating the unsustainable status quo. They will never agree to change the “system”.

    Now that the medina is finally cutting off the welfare and subsidies for the charedi community, change will come, as long-term kollel for-the-masses crashes on the rocks of economic reality. Now that the UTJ politicians & Litvish Rosh Yeshivas are no longer able to bribe the charedi rank-and-file to stay in kollel forever, the kollel lifestyle won’t be nearly as attractive. In short, the kollel system is collapsing … and with it, perhaps, the entire charedi society — the shidduch system, social pressure and norms, the entire social structure etc…

    The Israeli charedi tzibbur may not like it…but the budget cuts that went into effect in August are just the tip of the iceberg; more cuts are coming in January; and in a few weeks the Knesset will pass a new charedi draft law…

    Let me end off on a practical note: Charedim can work in construction, work in diamonds, learn how to be an electrician, a mechanic, a carpenter, a truck driver, stock shelves in a supermarket etc… You get the picture… There is no shame in working with your hands… They can be mekayin divrei chazal: “A person should hire himself out for alien work rather than requiring assistance from others”. If they don’t like it, then they can give their children an education, and the children can be white-collar professionals working on a computer in air-conditioned offices…earning middle class salaries…

    1. Haredim are NOT responsible for Israel's economic problems!

      The core of Israel's economic problems is that she is desperately poor in resources and the poverty in natural resources is well known. Only about two-thirds of an acre of arable land is available per inhabitant, and yields on most of this are exceedingly poor unless it is irrigated at great initial and operating costs. Although there are traces of many minerals, the only large known deposits which give firm promise of being commercially workable (even assuming that real wages demanded by both labor and management are significantly less than at present) are phosphates, potash, salts of the Dead Sea, limestone, gypsum, sands and clay. Israel is for all practical purposes without forests, save for those miserable and poisoning pine forests planted by the JNF as a means of obliterating demolished Arab villages; pine is not a useful lumber for construction, etc. and the nearby accessible fishing grounds are extremely poor.

      Less commonly recognized but no less important is Israel's poverty in human resources, if it be accepted that in an economic context the labor force must be assessed in terms of its ability and willingness to make use of the other available factors of production. To appreciate this aspect of the problem one must glance back.

      The economy of Palestine during the mandatory period could be divided into the Arab sector and the Jewish sector. Nearly two-thirds of the Arab working population in Palestine in 1946 were farmers. They tended sugar, fruit trees, raised sheep, grew bread grains, picked olives, and, in general, tilled, by arduous and primitive methods, the hillside farms. Over half of the Jews gainfully employed in Palestine at that time provided services of one kind or another --professional, merchandising, financial, communications, etc. Less than one-fifth were engaged in agriculture, and most of these were on large, heavily mechanized farms in the fertile plains and valleys. A small number of both Arabs and Jews were busy at industrial and craft occupations. Together, the two groups created a rough sort of national economic balance in the area at a low, and partially subsidized, level of consumption.

    2. Between 1947 and the present something like 900,000 Arabs left the area now included in Israel, and over 800,000 Jews entered. But most of the workers leaving were farmers and most of those entering were producers of commercial, personal and professional services. Less than 5 percent of the newcomers who had been working had been engaged in agriculture. Further, the incomplete data available indicate that less than one-quarter of the immigrants had been gainfully employed at all before coming to Israel--the percentage of aged and of children in the total was high. It must also be kept in mind that most of the immigrants brought little or no productive capital with them and that over 95 percent of them came from the Arab States, Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and Central and Eastern Europe--areas where the services performed and the commodities produced were often not of the type requiring labor talents which could be easily transferred or made use of in the Western European-North American type of economy which the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency, the old settlers, and most of the foreign investors have been trying to create in the new homeland.

      The hostility of the surrounding Arab States has added greatly to the burdens resulting from Israel's poverty, including the resulting costs of maintaining a larger military establishment. Equally burdensome have been the costs associated with the policy of the occupation which involve heavy expenditures on housing, irrigation, roads, farm machinery and equipment, as well as the use of men's time, which would have yielded more goods had they been in other parts of the country.

      A third major group of costs has resulted from the Arab economic boycott. This has not only denied Israel nearby markets and sources of supply, but has forced her to pay out many millions of dollars extra each year on transportation.

      If Israel is to survive economically, she must make peace with her Arab neighbors and this will mean leaving the territories.

      My father was a consultant to World Bank in the 70s and said this back then.

    3. The 70s is the 70s.... Forget the past. The new economy is based on technology, medical innovations, and that is where ISRAEL is supreme. With brain power, medical know-how and technological advances, there is no comparison.

      The social services and entitlement programs are eating away at a budget that is needed to counter the Arab hostilities surrounding the country-- there is no peace partner now, in the past and unlikely in the future.
      The expenses used for life in Yehuda and Shomron which is an agricultural center for Israel are needed and essential.
      In addition to providing cheap housing for Religious and Charedi Jews, sorry Jersey Lady your ideas are antiqued and biased.


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