Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Collapse of Charedi Society III: The People Respond

A few weeks ago, I posted a guest post from Marty Bluke that rapidly became the all-time most read post on this blog. It was a discussion from Mishpachah magazine on the economic collapse of chareidi society. A follow-up post discussed what the charedim will do about it. Now, Marty informs us that there was another follow-up in Mishpachah. They report receiving over two hundred and fifty letters on this topic (!). Here are two of them, first in the original Hebrew and then in translation:

My parents pay our rent and we go to them and my wife's parents just about every shabbos, and we also take frozen foods and cans. Yes we are parasites like the ones that you write about with disgust, and all of the older people who read the article probably clucked their tongues. All my life I was taught that I was supposed to sit and learn, also when they married me off, they expected me [to sit and learn] and I expected myself to sit in kollel. In my kollel we get 1000 shekel a month if we get it, sometimes we don't get anything. My wife works and makes 3000 shekel a month. So what do you want? We should die of starvation? We should live in the street? We shouldn't buy diapers? What do you want from us? You know that in the winter electricity costs 500 shekel a month and child care for 2 kids costs 1500 shekel? ...
An irritated/anxious Avreich
They married me off at 18 and three quarters. Suddenly, I learned that 4 pieces of salmon for Shabbos cost 50 shekel and that yellow cheese is much more expensive than regular cheese and that my studies cost so much money that there is no chance that I could ever pay for it myself. My husband learns in a kollel where new Avreichim don't get paid. We don't know exactly when a new Avreich turns into an old one [and starts getting paid]. I go to school and my parents pay for it. We go to my parents practically every day for lunch and we take vegetables for dinner and we also come for shabbos. If someone thinks that this is wrong, he should think twice before he marries off his next child this way. I know that I sound chutzpadik but I am not chutzpadik, I am frustrated.
Chava L. Yerushalayim

Marty comments as follows:
These letters paint a very bleak picture indeed. The children are frustrated, angry and upset that they have been put into this situation and you know what I don't blame them, what can they do at this point in their lives? They are married off completely unprepared for life. What is worse is that they are resentful and angry at their parents and Charedi society for putting them in this position. That doesn't bode well for the chinuch of the next generation.  If you read between the lines of these letters, there is a lot of pent up anger with the Charedi system which at some point may simply explode. 
The articles points out that the average Charedi kid who gets married has no clue about finances, home economics, etc. and therefore their big solution is to have classes when they are engaged to teach them these basics. IMHO, this is like a bandaid for a gunshot wound. Even if you have a PhD in Economics, you can't make something out of nothing. As the Avrech pointed out in his letter, you can't support a family on 4000 shekel a month, no matter how economics savvy you are. If 1500 shekel goes to child care and 500 for electricity that leaves 2000 shekel (about $500) for everything else for the month, that just doesn't add up.
The only way that this disaster can be treated is to start giving charedi kids a proper secular education and teaching them that working for a living is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, they are fighting this tooth and nail. Change is happening, but at a very slow place. There are already too many korbanos in the charedi world. The question is, will things change fast enough to prevent them dragging the entire economy of Israel down with them?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pouring Lead and the Evil Eye

Much to my disappointment, the Five Towns Jewish Times this week features an article praising Rebbetzin Aidel Miller and her methods of removing the "evil eye." These include red threads, a vial of holy water from the Baal Shem Tov's well, and the Italian witchcraft charm of ruta sprigs. But the focus of the article, and the primary source of Rebbetzin Miller's fame, is her practice of bleigiessen, pouring lead. As the article describes:
To perform blei gissen, Rebbetzin Miller takes an ordinary looking pot, places a small bar of lead in it, and begins heating it on the kitchen stove. She gives out a laminated sheet with a tefilah on it to read while the lead melts. She does this in a typical kitchen with foods baking and children walking through. When the tefilah is finished and the lead has melted. Rebbetzin Miller casts a thick, off-white sheet of cloth like a tallis over the person. The molten lead is poured from the saucepan into a pot of cold water above the person’s head as the Rebbetzin speaks softly. The lead crackles and pops as it hits the cold water. The sheet is removed. The lead has fragmented into long pieces that look like silver twigs. If some of them have bulbous ends, the Rebbetzin explains, “Those are eyes. There is some ayin ha’ra. We have to do it over.”
Sometimes a curved piece can emerge that the Rebbetzin says is a “bird,” which signifies an imminent simcha. She repeats the process one more time to make sure all the ayin ha’ra is gone. Then, for good measure, she takes the names of a couple of the person’s family members and pours lead in their names. She concludes by pressing a few red strings from Kever Rachel on the subject along with a sprig of ruta in a tiny plastic bag.
At the end of the article, it does say that "it is ultimately tefilah that will make the difference in our lives," and that segulos are "a means of getting us to pray." But, frankly, that seems disingenuous. The point of visiting Rebbetzin Miller, in her tour across the US, is not to pray - it's to pour lead!
So where does this practice of divination via pouring lead come from? The article claims that bleigiessen "has its source in the Gemara." It does not provide the source, and I haven't been able to find any Gemara that speaks about it. Not that it would make it any the more rationalist if it was in the Gemara; after all, there are plenty of non-rationalist beliefs recorded in the Gemara, often relating to demons, none of which are really taken seriously today by anyone. Still, at least one could then legitimately claim it to be a classical Jewish practice. If there is no source in the Gemara, then the author of this article is guilty of misrepresentation.

What is the real source of bleigiessen? Known in English as molybdomancy, it appears to have originated in Ancient Greece, and later became a popular custom in Germany. It is still popular in Germany, where one can buy bleigiessen kits. However, authorities there have tried to discourage it, due to the dangers of lead poisoning, and bleigiessen kits that are sold in Germany today contain tin rather than lead.

In the past, I have written about how I am fairly tolerant of superstitions - one person's segulah is another person's fundamental religious belief. How much more inherently irrational are segulos than, say, tefillas haderech (which I am extremely makpid about)? Furthermore, they can be psychologically helpful.

However, I am gradually becoming less and less sympathetic to them. First of all, I have seen how some capitalize on segulos in order to take advantage of people. Second, the entire anti-scientific mindset is clearly very harmful - just look at the new measles outbreak, which seems to be caused by the anti-scientific anti-vaccination movement. Third of all, this specific segulah is particularly harmful, due to the risk of lead poisoning, which is extremely dangerous.

It's a pity that people can't make use of more traditional segulos. Here is Rabbi Dovid Landesman's list of segulos that are indeed rooted in classical Judaism:

1. Segulah for recovery from illness – go to a doctor [Berachot 60a, Bava Kamma 46b)
2. Segulah for longevity – lead a healthy lifestyle (Rambam, De’ot 4:20)
3. Segulah for marriage – look for a suitable wife (Kiddushin 2b)
4. Segulah for shalom bayit – love and forebearance (Sanhedrin 7a, Bava Metzia 59a)
5. Segulah for children – prayer to Hashem (Shmuel I 1)
6. Segulah for yir’at Shamayim – learning (Avot 2:5)
7. Segulah for spirituality – learning and mitzvah observance (Megillah 6b)
8. Segulah for kavanna in prayer – take it seriously (Berachot 5:1)
9. Segulah for pure faith – don’t believe in segulot (Devarim 18:13)
10. Segulah for parnasa – learn a profession (Kiddushin 30a)

Other posts on this topic:
The Ring of Power

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lethal Woman

The previous post discussed Jonathan Rosenblum's call for charedim to think about the need for secular studies and professional employment. In the comments to Rosenblum's article on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Barak Saffer raises an interesting point:
Who is this article being addressed to? Anglo-Israeli Chareidim? It seems that most Anglo-Israeli Chareidim have these same questions but those that choose to stay within institutionalized chareidi society realize that being part of Chareidi society in Israel means relying on the Gedolim. There is no doubt that HaGaon Rav Shteinman is smart enough to have thought of the issues raised by President Rivlin and Jonathan Rosenblum... What you should be doing if you really want to accomplish something is go and meet with Rav Shteinman and ask him these questions. If you get a meeting then maybe you would be able to publish his plan for the future of Chareidi society... Bottom line, what is your goal in writing such articles, over and over again. Who are you addressing? 
Rabbi Saffer is, of course, entirely correct, within the framework of modern chareidi society. The modern chareidi concept of Daas Torah and the Gedolim is that they are certainly wise enough to understand all the issues facing us. If they decide that the economic collapse of the charedi world, and its increasing effect on the entire country, is a problem to be solved via secular education and professional employment, then they will say so; if not, then obviously they do not feel it should be addressed in this way. From the perspective of contemporary charedi values - which one would reasonably assume is the framework within which Jonathan Rosenblum and Mishpacha are operating - it is simply inconceivable that there should be a catastrophic situation of which the Gedolim are entirely unaware and are not fixing (and are even making worse!).

However, Rosenblum already preempted this objection a few weeks ago. He subtly pointed out that the notion of the Gedolim as being phenomenally wise leaders who are "doubtless smart enough to have thought of the issues" is neatly contradicted by factual history. There was a woman - a woman! - who perceived the most important issue facing Am Yisrael, and it was something that the Gedolim had not realized. To quote Rosenblum:
Sarah Schenirer. From here
"Today, the Bais Yaakov system is so embedded at the heart of the Torah community that it is hard for the current generation to begin to appreciate the revolutionary nature of Sarah Schenirer's movement... Yet Rabbi Chaskel Sarna, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, once said to an audience of gedolei Torah and roshei yeshiva that the person who had done more for Am Yisrael than anyone else is the preceding hundred years was none of their ancestors, and had never even learned a single blatt Gemara. Everyone present laughed until he revealed the name of the person about whom he was speaking: Sarah Schenirer. At which point, all agreed. True, she convinced the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Gerrer to join her revolution, but she was the one who saw the need that had escaped others: For the young women of her native Cracow, Yiddishkeit had become an empty shell that they were eager to abandon. Had matters been left to head in the same direction there would soon have been no Jewish women left eager, or even willing, to marry a Torah scholar. A radical change in women's learning was needed to preserve Torah itself.

I wonder how many people realize that Sarah Schenirer is lethal to the contemporary view of Daas Torah and Gedolim?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rosenblum: We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment

Recently, I highlighted Jonathan Rosenblum's article in Mishpacha magazine calling for wholesale reform in the Israeli charedi way of life vis-a-vis Torah study. However, in that article he did not detail the reason for such a reform, nor what kind of reform he had in mind. In his latest extraordinary column, he spells it out.

Endorsing a speech by President Rivlin, Rosenblum noted that "20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks" (if you just consider first grade, it's over 30%). Leaving aside the question of who will serve in the IDF, the pressing question that he asks is: “who will fund the maintenance of this army if Israeli society is poor?” He also notes that “the modern economy puts a high premium on education, and ever more jobs require academic or vocational training of some kind.” How will the national economy survive, with such a huge proportion of society being uneducated and unemployed?

The dissonance here is staggering. Jonathan Rosenblum is one of the premier spokesmen for the charedi world. He has written countless columns for both Yated and HaModia. Mishpacha magazine is likewise a publication that claims to be staunchly charedi. It would never run anything explicitly critical of the Gedolim, or even challenging the directive to vote for chareidi political parties.

Yet here we have a column by Jonathan Rosenblum in Mishpacha magazine that pretty much explicitly says that the Gedolim are wrong and one should not vote for chareidi political parties. After all, Rav Steinman, the leader of the Litvishe charedi world, came to Ramat Beit Shemesh and spoke out strongly against getting even a basic secular education, let along a university education. And it's not as though the charedi political parties are fighting for more secular studies in the charedi school system - they do precisely the opposite.

Putting this together with the feature article in Mishpachah magazine about the financial collapse of charedi society, we have Mishpacha pointing out the following obvious truths:
  1. Charedi society is in economic ruin;
  2. This is a result of the leadership of the Gedolim and charedi politicians and communal leaders;
  3. As charedim grow in number, this catastrophe will spread to the entire State of Israel;
  4. The solution is for them to start having proper secular studies and professional careers, which the Gedolim and charedi politicians fight against.

They are observing that the emperor has no clothes, but they are simultaneously desperately trying to avoid being seen as saying that! I am not judging them - they are in an extremely difficult position. It's easy for me to publicly point out the problems with charedi society, since I have little to lose. People who live in that world have much more at stake. Furthermore, perhaps this is the best way to get the message across. But personally, I suspect that it would be more effective if they would come out and say it more explicitly.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Chazal Said It First!

Over the last fifteen years or so, I have investigated dozens of claims that the Gemara knew something that modern science only discovered centuries later. Initially I was very excited about such possibilities, but as I researched them, disappointment set in. In every case, I found that it was either (a) something that non-Jews in antiquity also knew, (b) something ambiguous that could be interpreted in all kinds of ways, or (c) something that is not actually true.

I am pleased to report that, finally, somebody has found something! Dr. Jeremy Brown, author of the superb book New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reaction to Copernican Thought, has launched a wonderful new blog called Talmudology. In a recent post, he discusses Rava's statement (Yevamot 97a) that delayed puberty in boys can be caused by their being either overweight or underweight. According to Dr. Brown, this has only recently been confirmed by modern science. So far, ancient sources discussing such a concept have not been found (but feel free to search!) It seems that Rava deserves credit for being the first person to state this fact.

Still, I don't think that Rava obtained this information from Sinaitic tradition, ruach hakodesh, or some talent for deriving scientific facts from Torah texts. (My reason for not believing that it was due to that is that if such possibilities were available, surely they would have been available for more significant matters, such as the basic nature of the universe, the function of different parts of the body, etc.) So how did he know it? I don't know. Perhaps it was a good intuition based on his understanding of health.

*  *  *

In other news, the hot item right now in the world of Jewish scholarship is Dr. Marc Shapiro's critique of Artscroll's response regarding why they omitted portions of Rashbam's commentary to the Torah in their new Mikraos Gedolos. Artscroll justified their omission with the claim that the omitted portions were interpolations by a heretic. (This is a position that we have seen all too much of in recent years, with Rav Yitzchok Sheiner claiming that portions of Michtav Me-Eliyahu are a forgery, Rav Moshe Shapiro claiming that Rav Hirsch's letters on science are a forgery, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman claiming that parts of R. Avraham ben HaRambam are a forgery.) Dr. Shapiro responds by pointing out that numerous Torah authorities - including one of ArtScroll's guiding mentors, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky - discussed the passage in question, and none of them rejected it as a forgery by heretics.  Make sure to read the endnotes!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Curious Case of Beaver Testicles

This medieval illustration depicts a hunted beaver biting off
its testicles to escape the fate that has befallen its friend
Did you know that when you hunt a beaver, it will save itself by biting off its testicles and throwing them at you?

As a recent article in Wired magazine discussed, this was a widespread belief in the medieval period. It wasn't as crazy as it sounds. Beavers were indeed being hunted for their testicles, which were thought to have medicinal benefit, along with internal pouches called castor sacs (which were also thought to be testicles), from which a substance called castoreum is harvested. In the same way as certain lizards will shed their tails as a payoff for predators that want to eat them, it was believed that beavers will sacrifice their testicles in order to escape with their lives.

Reader Akiva M. drew my attention to this belief also being found in rabbinic writings. Yehudah Aryeh Mi-modena (Leone di Modena, Italy 1571–1648) mentioned it in his book of ethics, Tzemach Tzaddik. This fascinating work lists the various character traits of man, both good and bad. For almost all of them, the author gives an analogy from the animal kingdom. His interests were drawn to the extraordinary; the creatures that he mentions include the basilisk, which kills by sight; the mermaid, which lures sailors to their deaths; and the immortal phoenix. But he also mentions many real animals, to which he attributes extraordinary qualities, in line with standard medieval beliefs. In the entry on the quality of peace, di Modena writes as follows:
The castor sacs of a beaver,
often confused for testicles
Go and observe the trait of peace in the animal known as castoro (the beaver, Castor fiber), which instinctively knows that hunters pursue it for its testicles, which possess excellent medicinal properties, as is known. Therefore, when it finds itself hunted with no way of escape in any direction, in order to save itself it severs its testicles with its teeth and casts them down, so that the hunters will take them and he can be in peace.
This is not, however, the only reference to beaver testicles in rabbinic literature. To my mind, it is not even the most interesting reference. That honor belongs to a very brief comment by the thirteenth century French scholar Chezkeyah b. Manoach, better known by the name of his commentary on the Torah, Chizkuni.

In parashas Re'ay, there is a list of ten kosher land animals. Sixth in the list is the yachmor. As discussed in the forthcoming Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, there is evidence that this is the hartebeest, which became extinct in eretz Yisrael long ago. Others identify it as a fallow deer or roe deer. More far-fetched suggestions, proposed in the nineteenth century, include the wildebeest (R. Yosef Schwartz, Tevuot HaAretz p. 364 and Divrei Yosef p. 64–65) and moose (Shalom Yaakov Abramowitz, Toledot HaTeva vol. 1 p. 400). These are indeed kosher animals, but neither of them lived anywhere near biblical lands.

But by far the most extraordinary suggestion is that of Chizkuni, who translates the yachmor as bivra, which means beaver. Quite aside from beavers not living anywhere near biblical lands either, there is a more serious problem. As R. Yosef Schwartz points out, the beaver is not remotely a kosher animal!

Why did Chizkuni identify the yachmor as a beaver? In his comment, Chizkuni refers us to the Gemara, Bechoros 7b, which refer to the "eggs" (testicles) of the yachmor. The Gemara's statement occurs in an extensive discussion regarding whether various animal products are permitted for consumption. Certain animal products are considered to be waste matter rather than food; accordingly, if for some reason a person wanted to eat them, he may do so even they do not come from a kosher animal. Conversely, some products of kosher animals are not permissible for food, if the animal from which they are derived is still alive, due to the prohibition of eating any part of a kosher animal that has not been slaughtered. With these principles in mind, the Talmud discuss the status of certain mysterious secretions produced by the yachmor:
With regard to the clumps (that are secreted) by a yachmorta, the Rabbis proposed that they were eggs (or: testicles) and were therefore forbidden (for human consumption, since they are a detached part of a living animal). Rav Safra said: It was really the seed of a stag which sought to mate with a hind, but since the hind’s womb is narrow it rejected it, and thus the stag pursued the yachmorta, but its seed had already congealed (and is thus excreted as clumps; and since seed is classified as mere waste matter, it is not forbidden for human consumption). (Bekhorot 7b )

The phenomenon described by the Talmud is not recorded in contemporary zoological studies, and it is difficult to correlate it with any known phenomena. Animals such as deer, antelope, and hartebeest have various scent glands that can produce waxy secretions, but these would not appear to be the egg-like “clumps” discussed in the Talmud. The only clumped products from kosher animals that might be used for food are bezoar stones. These are masses found in the stomach or intestines of animals, especially ruminants, and in particular the bezoar ibex. Bezoar stones were used to make antidotes for poisons. However, it is difficult to claim that these are the subject of the Talmud’s discussion, since the Talmud indicates that these objects are secreted by the animal, whereas bezoar stones are extracted from the animal after its death.

In any case, we see that the Gemara talks about an animal called the yachmor producing testicle-like objects that are consumed by humans. Accordingly, Chizkuni presumed that the reference was to the beaver, from which castor sacs are taken for medicinal purposes and as a food additive.

Incidentally, this still occurs today. Castoreum is sometimes used as artificial vanilla flavoring. In the US, it can be listed on a product's ingredients as "natural flavors". This is why food requires kosher certification!

To my mind, the latter reference to beaver testicles is much more interesting than the former. Believing that beavers bite off their own testicles to throw at attackers is merely one of many common medieval misconceptions about animals, that is easily accounted for. Believing that the beaver is a kosher animal, on the other hand, is truly bizarre; beavers were very common animals in France. If anyone has an explanation for it, please let me know!

On a related note, The Torah Encyclopedia of Animal Kingdom is nearing completion. The writing, editing and photograph selection are all finished, the first round of proofreading has been done, and the layout is almost complete. Thanks to the generous support of many people, most of the book is already sponsored, but there are still funds that need to be raised for this extremely elaborate project. If you would like to make a dedication, please be in touch. You can download two sample chapters, on the leopard and hyrax, at this link.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What Will They Do About It?

In only three days, the previous guest post by Marty Bluke, about the financial collapse of charedi society in Israel as described in Mishpacha magazine, has become the all-time most read post on this blog, with over seven thousand hits. This week, Mishpacha published three letters in response, all of which agreed with the account of the problem. Bluke translated one of the letters:
It was hard and painful to read the article by R' Kapler about married children who are dependent on their parents. However, how interesting it is that the parents are giving their children a personal example [of being dependent on their parents].

We can say this, the children did not invent this, they saw their parents doing it. You [parents] who are now complaining did (and some are still doing) the same exact thing! Your parents, holocaust survivors, could not bear to see their children lack from anything, and therefore gave (and are still giving) to you everything they had. The generation of holocaust survivors worked like mules, some in  physically and spiritually crushing work, and along with the reparations they received from Germany married off their children, bought them apartments, helped them move to bigger apartments, etc. giving whatever they could and sometimes even more. 

The second generation worked much less, most learned in kollel (some are still learning in kollel) and live off government and kollel stipends, and help from their parents. So when they came to marry off their children they found themselves in a hopeless situation and took their children and threw them into the turbulent waters. The children who were used to their grandparents being the source of all good, are coming back to take. Sometimes the tray of chickens that they take from the freezer are the only chicken the grandchildren will see that week... because when there isn't any, there isn't any.

Parents, it is your fault! If you don't provide your children with the tools to make a living and you provide an example of living off the taxpayer, you can only blame yourselves.
Bluke concludes as follows:
The fact that Mishpacha published three letters in favour of the article (these are the only letters published) says a lot about what is going in the Charedi community. At least some people seem to understand that there is a real issue here, the question is, what will the leadership do about it?
A campaign poster for UTJ, describing
how they will oppose efforts to enforce
the study of mathematics in schools

It's difficult to talk about the "leadership", because it's not clear who the leadership of the charedi community in Israel actually is. Is it the Gedolim, the politicians, or the askanim? But the answer to the question of what the charedi community in general will do about this enormous, overwhelming, catastrophic, and ever-worsening problem is this: they will try their best to make it even worse.

In the forthcoming national elections in Israel, the charedi community will, for the most part, be voting for the charedi political parties. The overriding goal of these parties is to obtain as much money as possible for people in kollel, and to oppose efforts to give charedim the educational tools and incentives that they need in order to integrate them into the workforce. This will temporarily alleviate the catastrophe described in Mishpacha - but when the money runs out, as it eventually must, and the charedi population has meanwhile grown all the more, the catastrophe will be all the greater. The charedim are their own worst enemy.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mishpacha Magazine on the Collapse of Charedi Society

Guest Post by Marty Bluke of The Jewish Worker

The Hebrew edition of Mishpacha magazine ran an article this past week about the hidden cause of Charedi poverty. The article detailed how parents are going into debt and collapsing in order to support their married children. Because I think this article is so important and powerful I am going to quote highlights from it. I will sprinkle in my commentary, but truthfully, the article really speaks for itself.

  הוא הבטיח לי סידור מלא, התובע גאה ונחוש עמד מול הרכב בית דין. אשתו לצידו כרעייה נאמנה מוכנה להעיד. אבא שלה הבטיח דירה בירושלים ובסוף נתן דירה בפרוייקט
כך היה המעשה: אב ירושלמי הוזמן להגיע לבית הדין כנתבע על יד חתנו ובתו. הזוג הצעיר דרש את כל מה שמגיע להם לדעתם תחת הכותרת סידור מלא
הסיפור הזה מפורסם ...אבל הדיינים בבית הדין מכירים סיפורים כאלו שזורמים אל שולחנם על בסיס קבוע. גם אליהם מגיעים להתדיין בנים נשואים שתבעו את הוריהם

He promised me a complete arrangement the plaintiff proud and determined stood in front of the Beit Din his wife at his side as a loyal wife ready to testify. Her father promised an apartment in Jerusalem and in the end bought them an apartment in the periphery. 
This is the story: A Yerushalmi father was taken to Beis Din as a defendant by his son in law and daughter. The young couple was demanding everything that was coming to to them under a "full arrangement". This story is famous ... but the judges of the Beis Din see stories like this that come to their desks on a regular basis. Also to them come the cases of married children suing their parents

After I read this I was blown away. Married children suing their parents for support? What have we come to? What has the kollel system wrought?

Not everyone takes their parent to Beis Din, some simply come to their parents and take stuff.

להרבה זוגות נשואים יש שוק קטן ופרטי שמכיל הכל: המטבח של אבא ואמא. כמה פשוט קופצים לשבת או לערב, פותחים ארונות נזכרים ששכחו לקנות פסטה או שמן. לוקחים
לפעמים ההורים מזמינים משלוח של קפואים הרבה מגשי עופות והודו, שיספיקו עד ט"ו בשבט. ככה לפחות הם חשבו. אבל הילד שלהם, אבא לשלוש בעצמו רואה שיש להם בפרוזר המון עופות ולוקח כמה מגשי פולקוס. מי ירגיש שהיו כאן עשרה מגשים ועכשיו יש רק שבעה?
סיפרה על יהודי מכובד מאשדוד שבכל פעם לפני שנשואיו היקרים מגיעים, הוא עורם קופסאות שימורים ומעביר אותן לארון העליונה ... מסלקים הכל

Many young couples have they own private little store, their parents kitchen. How simple is it to just come over for a night or Shabbos open the cabinets and remember that you forgot to buy pasta or oil and simply take it. 
Sometime the parents order a large delivery of trays of chicken and turkey that will last until Tu Bishvat, at least that is what they thought. But their child, a father of 3 himself, sees the freezer full of chicken trays and takes a few. Who will notice if before there were 10 and now there are only 7?
Someone told about a respected Jew in Ashdod who, every time his married children come for a visit, moves all of the cans to a higher closet, they hide everything.

This is simply mind boggling. The article mentions as well that this practice in many cases is simply stealing al pi halacha. The question is where does this attitude come from? The article answers this as well:

להבחורי הישיבות של ימינו נותנים הכל מסביר למשפחה הרב צבי טברסקי, מחנך ותיק ומדריך חתנים. וזה טוב ונכון, כי הם לומדים תורה והם חוד החנית של העם היהודי. מפנקים אותם מכבדים אותם על בסיס קבוע: הם צעירים בני שמונה עשרה-תשע עשרה שמקבלים חינם מגורים וריהוט, חשמל ומים ושלש ארוחות ביום. כך צריך להיות ... אבל לפעמים במקביל לכל השפע הזה, קורה שהבחורים מתרגלים שהכל מגיע להם. מתרגלים לקבק. אולי לא מספיק חינכו אותם להכיר טובה אולי לא הבהירו להם שיש מי שעובד קשה כדי שהם ייהנו מכל הטוב הזה

The yeshiva students of today get everything explains Rav Tzvi Twersky, a veteran educator and marriage counsellor, to Mishpacha. This is good and correct because they are learning Torah and they are the tip of the spear of the Jewish people. We pamper them and give them honour regularly: They are 18-19 year olds who get for free a furnished place to live, electricity, water, and 3 meals a day. This is how it should be. ... However, sometimes, with all of this abundance, it happens that the boys get used to the fact that they should just get everything. Maybe we don't educate them enough to have gratitude, maybe no one explained to them that there is someone who works very hard so that they can enjoy all of this abundance.

I would say not maybe but definitely. IMHO this is the root of the problem. The Yeshiva boys just get and get and get and really feel that everything is simply coming to them. Yonasan Rosenblum wrote a good column about this a few years ago:

The second major reason not to grant draft exemptions from Pesach cleaning is that it fosters a sense of entitlement that can work against true striving in Torah. Contrary to the common impression among yeshiva bochurim, limud Torah is not a general exemption from all responsibilities in life. As one who was zocheh to learn in kollel for nearly 15 years, I view the expansion of kollel learning as the glory of our generation. But nothing will ever come from one who views yeshivah or kollel as life with an E-Z Pass.
But acceptance of the yoke of Torah must come first. One does not demand that one be freed from responsibilities in order that one can learn. Nor does the yoke of Torah provide one with a right to demand from others that they take on one's responsibilities.
More and more, especially in shidduchim, we hear the attitude expressed that a ben Torah is entitled to be spared all life's worries and to be able to live in comfort in order that he can learn in peace. Such an expectation is both unrealistic and dangerous. It is impossible to protect oneself from all worries: illness strikes, fathers-in-laws' businesses go bankrupt, wives who undertook the burden of parnassah find that they are no longer physically or emotionally capable of doing so six children later, or that the children are suffering from having a permanently drained and part-time mother.

The quest for comfort can be inimical to spiritual growth in general and to growth in Torah learning in particular. When the Mishnah in Avos (6:4) describes the way of Torah – "bread with salt shall you eat, water by measure shall you drink, on the earth shall you sleep" – it is hardly describing a life of comfort.
An acquaintance told me recently that her brother had been advised against a certain shidduch by his friends. They had pointed out that the girl's parents were already in late middle-age, and that she had only one sister, so she might end up having to take care of her parents one day. At least her brother was embarrassed when she pointed out: "Oh, so you expect your in-laws to support you for twenty years, but, chas v'Shalom, you should ever have to do anything for them." No doubt such bald-faced selfishness is rare, but the extreme examples often reveal more than we care to admit.

It seems that we are raising a generation of children who feel entitled to everything. It seems that today's Yeshiva Bachrim never heard of the famous idea of נהמא דכיסופא, that Hashem put us here on Earth so that we wouldn't feel shame getting a free ride in Heaven, that rather we should earn it. Today's children have no problem whatsoever with נהמא דכיסופא - in fact not only aren't they embarrassed but they want it.

Why is this coming to a head now? Why now can't the parents afford this now? The answer is what I have been saying, there are 2 major reasons:
1. Generational money is gone
2. Large families

פעם היה לנו יותר אפשריות אומרים לי אבות ואמהות לנשואים. מדובר בכאלה שחתנו את בנם הבכור לפני עשור ושניים, והרגישו את עצמם עשירים גדולים: היו להם כך וכך מאות אלפי שקלים בתכנית חסכון, עשרים אלף דולר מהסבא ניצול השואה ודירה קטנה בעפולה להשקעאה. 
את הזוג הראשון חתנו בלארגיות נתנו קנו תמכו. ... היום אם חתונת הילד השישי, הבסיס הכלכלי נשמט מתחת לרגליהם. מאות האלפים נמוגו עם החתונות, הסבה הקשיש נפטר, והדירה בעפולה ממושכנת ולא מכסה אפילו שליש. אבל הילדים הנשואים מסרבים להבין את המצב.

הבת החמישית רוצה לתינוק שלה אותה עגלג כמו שקבלה אחותה הגדולה. 

Parents of married children told us that in the past they had more options. We are talking about people who married off their oldest child 10-20 years ago , at the time they felt rich. They had a few hundred thousand shekels saved up, twenty thousand dollars from their grandfather, a holocaust survivor, and a small apartment in Afula for investment purposes. The first child they married off in grand fashion. and they gave them everything and supported them. Today however, with the marriage of their sixth child, the rug has been pulled from under their financial feet. The savings are gone, spent on the weddings. The grandfather is dead, and the apartment in Afula is mortgaged and the rent does not even cover 1/3 of the mortgage. But the married children refuse to understand the situation. The fifth daughter wants the same (expensive) carriage as her older sister got.

This article paints a very bleak picture of the future of Charedi society in Israel. As I said in my previous posts, the money is simply running out, and the second and third generation kollel parents have nothing to fall back to. There is simply no way that they can support the next generation in the kollel lifestyle when they can't even support themselves. What is the father of 3 who takes (steals) chickens from his parents going to do when his parents are dead and he needs to marry off his fifth child while supporting the first four? Where is the money going to come from? 

See too this post: The Biggest Problem Threatening The Jewish People Today

Thursday, January 1, 2015

R. Meiselman: Rav Soloveitchik Was A Spectacular Failure

No, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman did not explicitly say that Rav Soloveitchik was a spectacular failure. But he has effectively made such a claim. After all, R. Meiselman claims that virtually all of Rav Soloveitchik's disciples are actual heretics!

In the most recent issue of Jewish Action, Rabbi Gil Student reviews two books: Jeremy Brown's excellent book on Copernicus, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's disappointing and disturbing Torah, Chazal and Science. Set alongside the article is an interview with one of Rav Soloveitchik's most prominent disciples on the more yeshivish end of the spectrum, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshivah of RIETS, on the topic of science and Torah. The interview begins as follows:
Jewish Action: Did the Tannaim and Amoraim learn science from the Torah or from the scientists of their generations?
Rabbi Hershel Schachter: The Gemara says in the first chapter of Bechoros that just like the Sages had rules regarding how to derive halachah from the Torah (middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen), they also had rules about deriving science from the Torah. We don’t even know how to use the rules for halachah, let alone for science. But the Tannaim did. However, this does not mean that they learned all their science from the Torah. They clearly also relied on the scientists of their time, as we all do. Sometimes this means that they relied on what was later discovered to be the scientific mistakes of their time.
This position is, of course, perfectly normative. It echoes countless statements by Chazal themselves, as well as being stated implicitly by many dozens of Rishonim and Acharonim (see list here), and most explicitly by Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam and Rav Hirsch. But Rabbi Moshe Meiselman believes this to be utter heresy. Rabbi Meiselman further claims that Rav Soloveitchik's understanding of Rambam's category of makchish maggideha would be applicable to such a position.

So, according to Rabbi Meiselman, Rav Schachter and all those to the left of him - which is virtually all of the Rav's talmidim - are heretics. I wonder how he would account for Rav Soloveitchik's spectacular failure to produce disciples that adhere to the very basics of Jewish belief.

Other posts on Rabbi Meiselman's book:

Is R. Meiselman an Authority on Torah, Chazal and Science?
R. Meiselman: All The Rishonim Were Wrong, Again And Again And Again
Rabbi Meiselman Tries To Hide From The Sun
Anti-Rationalist Mania
A Mistake In Science, Or A Mistake In Torah?
Omitting Inconvenient Sources
When Is A Mesorah Not A Mesorah?
The Limits of Science
Metzitzah and the Rav
Metzizah and the Rav Part II
Mouse Torture
A Recipe for Intellectual Dishonesty
Rambam on Demons and Segulos
Chinese Dinosaurs and Challenging Camels 
That's Bats!
The Bat, The Platypus, And The Echidna 

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