Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Else Do These Doctors Have In Common?

Several years ago, someone penned an article to rebut the claim that charedi society in Israel is opposed to higher education and professional careers. The article presented a fascinating case in point: one of the veterinarians at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is charedi! And a woman, no less!

As a neighbor, friend, and colleague of the veterinarian mentioned, I felt that the article was highly misleading. She is a ba'alas teshuvah who received the bulk of her education (and started vet school) before she was charedi. Israeli charedi society certainly doesn't encourage or enable its people to become veterinarians!

I was reminded of this during the current election campaign in Bet Shemesh. Four very fine people, whom I know personally, have been selected by the charedi mayor to be the Anglo face of his campaign. He has offered them various incentives in exchange for their support, and their faces are plastered on posters throughout Bet Shemesh. Now, why is Mayor Abutbol and his supporters so enthusiastic to have these people on his team? The answer is that they are doctors.

Everyone respects doctors. You have to study really, really hard, for many, many years, in order to become a doctor. They are intelligent, men of science, who value knowledge. They are sworn by the Hippocratic Oath to help people - and they do.

And so when the posters declare, "What Do These Doctors Have In Common?" the point is not merely that these four men all support Abutbol - it's that these four men are all doctors, and they all support Abutbol. Nobody would put up a poster saying, "What Do These Four Supermarket Shelf-Stackers Have In Common?" But by presenting doctors, you are capitalizing on all the positive qualities that being a doctor represents.

And here's where the posters are very misleading. Because there's something else that these particular four doctors all have in common: Not one of them placed his children on a path where they could also become doctors.

All these doctors have moved to a very different direction in life from when they became doctors. They all send their kids to charedi schools in which there is minimal secular education. Such schools do not direct their students towards college; in fact, they prevent them from such a path.

And so I don't think that it's particularly significant that these four Abutbol-supporters are all doctors. It is much more significant that all the local doctors who still properly value being doctors, in that they send their children to schools that provide a full secular education and encourage their students towards professional careers such as medicine - are (and I'm guessing here, but I think it's a safe guess) voting for Eli Cohen rather than Moshe Abutbol.


  1. The line that bothered me the most in that link was:

    "This has been put in writing and was conditional on different Anglo doctors and activists actively supporting the mayor now."

    Maybe it's a badly-worded sentence, but if it isn't: Is it really that blatant? I know such things happen, but this openly?

  2. As bad as this all sounds from a 'clean government' perspective, the phrase 'various incentives' is a little harsh, as it hints (to my ear) at actual bribes, which it isn't.

  3. I always wondered about the cognitive dissonance the children have when the father has to channel "Kenny Rogers and say Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done" when those things are what earns the father a place on the campaign poster.

    Joel Rich

  4. Lion, it certainly looks like at least two people will be getting salaries out of this deal. That's not nothing- it's almost certainly a category of bribery l'halacha.

  5. I also know medical doctors and other people with PHDs whose children have a chareidi education. I don't fully understand how they can do that to their children.

  6. Reminds me of choosing speakers for kiruv purposes - people who used to be actors, musicians, athletes, etc. - and look, now they've given it all up to be frum! The thing is, it's what they did BEFORE they were frum which is the main draw, which makes them sound "accomplished", which makes their stories so interesting. And like you say, are any of their kids going to do things even half that interesting in their lives? (Answer: Baruch Hashem, no!)

  7. What I find interesting is that the 4 doctors reject the secular learning. Seems like they don't want their children to have to be put through years of apikorus study.

  8. > They are sworn by the Hippocratic Oath to help people

    I should point out that this specific oath is, at least out here in North America, mostly optional since lots of people are offended by swearing in the name of a Greek "god" (which is how the oath opens up).

  9. Why when it comes to Chareidim is there no critical thinking?!

    Imagine a respected scholar who came about as a result of the Kolel system. Would that make his condemnation of that system be irrelevant?

  10. It's not only veterarians, it's ANY job outside of the traditional doctor-lawyer-accountant-businessman. And it's not only charedim, it's all of orthodoxy which makes it hard, if not actually impossible, to find a job outside of the few I've mentioned and a few more. This is a huge problem, and one of the chief drivers of povery in the orthodox world that is almost never discussed. Being orthodox is simply incompatible for most jobs.

    The Ba'al Teshuvah point is a good one. Orthodox magazines love to highlight people working in odd professions, but most such people [not all] are themselves ballei teshuvah, or were raised by ballei teshuvah. The fact that they are celebrated indicates that, at some deep level, the community is envious of their opportunities and rich life experience. Yet our community and educational system make it literally impossible for regular orthodox Jews to do the same thing.

  11. > Why when it comes to Chareidim is there no critical thinking?

    Sure there is. They think critically of Modern Orthodoxy, Zionism, non-Orthodox Jewish groups...

  12. (1) There is a wide variation in the competency of medical doctors. Having an MD does not make one an authority on anything. Moreover, although MD's have a lot of schooling, for the most part they are technicians who follow protocol and established procedures. They are not research scientists.

    (2) It is interesting to see Haredim trumpet secular academic credentials when at all other times they denigrate science and secular learning.

    But I have noticed that the brandishing of secular academic credentials seems to exist across the entire spectrum of orthodoxy. Torah cafe is always having scientists and medical doctors distort... I mean discuss... science and Torah.

    It is rather hypocritical to brandish academic credentials and at the same time denigrate (true) scientific methods of acquiring knowledge.

  13. What if they went to some Federal penitentiary in the US, picked out some of the frummer inmates, and asked ` What do these men have in common?`

    I leave the last sentence to whoever feels brave.

  14. You imply that the fact that these doctors have compromised the future ability of their own children to follow in their footsteps is somehow contradictory to the weight given to their opinions by the intelligence, respect, etc. that goes along with being a doctor.

    I'm not really sure how you came to that conclusion. These intelligent people are preparing their kids for a lifestyle which is different from their own experiences (and which you seem to disapprove of to some degree). That doesn't mean that they are any less intelligent.

    This reminds me of the John Adams* line: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." Except that the spirit of Adams' sentiment are opposite those of yours.

    * Note: Adams wrote this while in France, while the US Constitution was being drafted by a committee (from about the 1 minute mark).

  15. "Being orthodox is simply incompatible for most jobs."

    Well, in the US. In Israel, I know plenty of frum-from-birth people with lots of unconventional jobs, ranging from plumber to actor.

  16. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzOctober 16, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    "Being orthodox is simply incompatible for most jobs."

    That is simply not true in Israel!
    Frankly it is very difficult to think of ANY profession or trade in Israel which can't be performed by religious Jews.

  17. As Evanston Jew (on his defunct blog) once wrote: For charedim, it's OK to have gone to college, but not to go to college.

  18. Due to unusual circumstances in his life, Temujin is fairly familiar with and close to the world of kiruv and Aish and on this subject he has noticed that the process can work, quite insidiously, in the opposite and unintended direction. A prominent synagogue in his neck of the steppes has become a veritable orchard for young hareidi men and women who appear briefly to scout, obtain intelligence and assistance from cleverly positioned confederates for the purpose of harvesting marriage mates with education, professional status and life experiences from the plentiful crop of earnest baal t'shuva there. Many quite openly announcing that they want a partner with education, skills and life experiences other than acrobatics with rocking and leaning their chair and stender at their yeshiva or outmoded web design or financially irrelevant child care training. The young men in particular, who tend to imagine the young Orthodox ladies as tongue-tied, demure and blushing wall-flowers, appear to be totally unprepared for the sharp and focused young Amazons they are quite properly introduced to and capitulate readily and fairly cheerfully to the unexpected and overwhelming projection and force of an array of psy-ops and tactical measures. In fact, the poor blighters barely put up a struggle and being realistic by nature and temperament, wisely recognize that resistance is futile, leaving them with little to do but to discuss the terms and details of their surrender. Perhaps, in small and often unnoticed ways, the times they are a-changin' for all.

  19. Frankly it is very difficult to think of ANY profession or trade in Israel which can't be performed by religious Jews.

    I'm reminded of the Portnoy character in Philip Roth's classic novel, marveling at the existence of Jewish longshoremen.

  20. > They are sworn by the Hippocratic Oath to help people

    I should point out that this specific oath is, at least out here in North America, mostly optional since lots of people are offended by swearing in the name of a Greek "god" (which is how the oath opens up).

    Jewish doctors (and many Christian ones as well) use the "Oath of Maimonides". My father, a psychiatrist, has it framed on his wall.

  21. Here is an article from Times of Israel about the "New Haredim" in the TOV movement:


    I also wonder about how viable this movement really is, after all the Rabbanim they follow are often strongly opposed to the things they say they want.
    Makor Rishon had an article about this some time ago. They spoke to a "New Haredi" woman who complained that she didn't like the options of Haredi schools for her children but that she didn't want to send her children to the National Religious schools because "she has a problem with Zionism". Well, how can people who have a problem with Zionism claim they want to be more active in modern Israeli society including serving in the IDF since this is all based on Zionism and Zionist values are accepted by most of Israeli society? Aren't these people living a divided life with conflicting values?
    Another article inteviewed a former student at Ponevezh Yeshiva who is helping New Haredim find work and he said how he is trying to figure ways of reconciling working for a living and dealing with modern society. It was pointed out that many people like Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Neriah and others had done much of this work he is repeating decades ago, he indicated that he isn't really aware of them. This is no doubt the result of years of absorbing the negative views in the Haredi world towards those thinkers.

    Thus, I believe that although the New Haredi movement is a step in the right direction, it is only an interim stage and those in it will have to confront an ideological fork in the road eventually and hard decisions will have to be made that they are avoiding at this point.

  22. One can not help but be reminded of the late Chaim Grade's novels, such as the Yeshiva volumes, My Mother's Sabbath Days and otjers. A medieval time capsule, a fantasy world of Mussar disputes, wandering mystics and preachers, beggars and rabbis and yeshivas expecting to live off an impoverished Jewry in a collapsing society, with German panzers rumbling beyond the horizon.

    Temujin was astonished to learn at a recent dvar Torah he was invited to that all of the troubles, the secularism, the social and economic collapse, the Holocaust, Stalin and the turbulent rise of the Jewish state was the fault of the maskilim, Zionists and Socialists. He also discovered that even a mild expression of astonishment at the explanatory hypotheses interlacing this alternate historiography or, Heavens forbid, suggesting a different analytical approach could make many people very unhappy, very quickly.

    This man will, in the future, undertake to control his sophomoric eagerness to debate such established foundational convictions by reducing his intake of the fteely flowing and generously offered deliciously peaty and very smooth golden single malts at such sittings. Assuming he ever receives another invite, naturally.

  23. I wasn't speaking about Israel.

  24. "Being orthodox is simply incompatible for most jobs."

    Well let me assure you that here in Beit Shemesh you can find a frum professional in in just about any field you need, from carpentry to research biochemistry.
    In London too, I know frum people in just about the full gammet of white collar work as well as building, electicians, etc.
    In other words your statement is simply poppycock in both theory and practice.

  25. Temuhin's comment that it is taught that for the European Jewry, everything was great until the Maskilim and Zionists came around must lead to the following question: Why don't those people who propound this revisionist view of history ask themselves "where did these Maskilim and Zionists come from?". The answer is, of course, out of the same traditional Jewish society the Haredim preaching this view of history came from. Which then leads to the next question: "Why did these people born into the traditional Jewish society feel disatisfied with it and turn to Haskalah and Zionism? Maybe something was wrong with traditional Jewish society and its response to the massive changes occurring around them?".

    This should also be a warning to the triumphalists who claim that the Haredim are only going to get stronger and stronger. The fact is that modern Haredi society has been enabled due to the creation of the modern welfare state in the past several decades, something that didn't exist before. This is not just in Israel, American Haredim also get many government benefits. The thing to remember is that the Western welfare state is under increasing pressure and the massive growth in benefits in recent years can not continue (for politicians it is easy to keep giving away money which is why it grew so much). It is hard to predict how this will affect the Haredi community and if pressure builds up within their community, it is hard to predict what the response of the people will be, but it could lead to mass dissatisfaction, similar to what happened in the 19th and early 20th century which brought about the mass defection from traditional religious Jewish observance.

  26. Mr Ben-David will be no doubt relieved to learn that Hareidi social theorists and historians have no trouble whatsoever with answering the questions he poses and that they can do so with great vigour and a sense of absolute certainty not typically encountered in the social sciences. In a nutshell, they will explain to him that the emergence of dissenting and competing trends in Jewish life and thought resulted from a natural decline of holiness through time and a failure of character among the Jewish masses, a failure which led to a loss of emunah and to a Korah-like rebelliousness against the traditional leaders of European Jewish society, the Kehilla, the upper economic strata, the Rabbinate and more recently, the academies and their leaders. These assertions have a certain merit in that the traditionalist theological points cannot…nor should not…be lightly dismissed, especially by religious Jews. Furthermore, these assertions cannot be readily falsified, and one may even argue that they are inherently unfalsifiable, which of course takes them out of the realm of scientific inquiry and renders them immune to critical analysis. Temujin discovered this “in the field,” as it were, at a Shabbat table, when his own cultural materialist angles of inquiry were dismissed as irrelevant to the fundamentally different Jewish condition and the subject was closed with the hullaballoo over the arrival of tea and desserts.

    That being said, Temujin must express his genuine gratitude to Mr Ben-David for introducing him to the welfare state hypothesis. It certainly begs for a close look and generates more questions than answers. Two key questions spring to mind. First, can we find similar conditions among other groups and can they yield useful parallels or is the Jewish condition too different from such comparisons? And secondly, can we find similar examples in history, such as in the effects of surplus wealth distribution in the period of the Second Temple and more recently, in the European Jewish communal organizations? One is tempted here to throw in a speculation that the emergence of “Hareidism” may be linked to distribution policies of the Kehillas and their effects on the clerical/scholarly classes in a background of a lack of economic opportunities and a systemically and socially isolated Jewry. Above all, though, looms the proverbial elephant in the room in the form of the third and perhaps the most important question: How far can we take such inquiries in the face of a serious and formidable claim that tradition and theology have already supplied unambiguous and authoritative opinion on such matters? If reconciling Judaism to modern science is, as we all know, extremely difficult and divisive, reconciling Jewish social history to traditional Judaism is a whole other kettle of fish. Tea and dessert, anyone?


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