Thursday, April 29, 2021

Dirt vs. Rocks

Sometimes, sociological insights come when you're not expecting them.

With the vastly larger new premises of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, it's become necessary to find a serious solution to cleaning the floors. Obviously it's a very low paid and not especially prestigious job, but it has to be done. The administration team brought in various companies and people to try out the role. One day I walked through the exhibit halls to notice a pair of charedi men cleaning the floors. When they realized that I am the museum director, one of them eagerly stopped me to engage in intricate discussion on the identities of the Shemonah Sheratzim!

It was a great and stimulating discussion, but I left it saddened. This guy presumably had a wife and children to support. And he was brilliant. He had an amazingly sharp mind and a thirst for knowledge. Yet all he could do to make a parnasah was to clean floors!

We then had another applicant submit his resume for the same position. He'd attended a proper high school in chutz l'aretz. But then he'd spent fourteen years in yeshivah and kollel, and now could seek no more advanced career than cleaning floors. I am pretty sure that when he was first brainwashed into not attending college and devoting himself to learning, he did not see his life ending up that way.

I was commenting on these cases to a rabbinic mentor of mine and he told me to look on the bright side. It could be worse! At least these men were finally looking for an honest job, even if a lowly and very poorly-paid one. Better that, than just staying in the kollel framework and going knocking on doors to collect charity.

הפגנת חרדים על אכיפת תקנות הקורונה בבתי ספר ובתלמודי תורהA disturbing article that I just saw in the news demonstrated that there are other, even worse alternatives. Among those engaged in violent, racist anti-Arab protests last week were numerous young charedi men who have dropped out of the regular yeshiva framework. While I was not surprised at the phenomenon, I was very surprised by the numbers. The article stated that according to a study conducted by the Knesset Research and Information Center, there are more dropouts from ultra-Orthodox educational institutions than other schools; in 2018, the drop out rate among Haredi students was 4.6%, compared to 1.4% among the general public. But it noted that "experts say the real numbers are much higher and estimate that at least 20% of Haredi students do not complete their religious education." The article continued:

The coronavirus pandemic has also played a role in the increased disenfranchisement of Haredi youth.
Lockdowns and health mitigation directives forced the closure of yeshivas, sending students onto the streets - where drugs, alcohol and other deviant anti-social behavior were prevalent.
The youths, who found themselves cast adrift from the strict environment to which they are accustomed, often suffered from depression. Many of them came from poverty-stricken homes, often from families who transitioned to ultra-Orthodox lives but remained on the sidelines of Haredi society.
Having left their education, they struggled to be productive members of society and instead became an added burden for their parents. The Haredi educational institutions could not (and perhaps would not) provide a solution to this phenomenon, and without an alternative, the young dropouts found solace in far-right organizations and joined in their violent activities.

All this should remind us that the stereotypical images of charedim, those who remain in learning forever, are not the only types of charedim who exist. And nor do all those who leave that path end up in high-tech. Some of them can do nothing other than clean floors. And others don't even make it that far.


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41 comments:

  1. Why is it so tragic for a man to spend much of his day learning torah and have a simple job such as cleaning floors to make ends meet? He isn't "wasting" his brilliant mind, he is dedicating it to the study of torah, a very worthy endeavor (at least in the eyes of most of us). It kind of reminds me of all the great sages who learned torah and on the side were blacksmiths, shoe makers, shop keepers, farmers etc. - not exactly what you would call prestigious occupations.
    Josh

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    1. Good point. There are two separate conversations. 1) The need to make and 2) how you go about making a living.

      Both issues are addressed in the Talmud. For point 2, the talmud states that if necessary to make a living, one should strip a carcass and not hold back due to pride. This is not to say that one shouldn't make money through methods viewed as more prestigious. The point is that there is nothing wrong at all with any decent form of income.

      What you do for a living does not define you. If it does, then you are superficial. You need to do certain things to maintain your health and to make money to live. But with that in place, its the spiritual things that really matter.

      When you are buried in the earth it won't matter if you cleaned floors or signed legal documents. What will matter is how well you served Hashem.

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    2. Shoe makers, shop keepers, farmers are a combination of skilled artisinal service, middle-class entrepreneurship and - in this day and age - a skill requiring significant technical and other skills (farming). Those are also full-time jobs where a wide range of skills might be required. It's not about prestige - it's about being able to bring food to the table as well. A brilliant, educated man is more likely to be more cash rich AND time rich.

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  2. The milkman in Sha'arei Chessed was a major Talmid Chacham, and people would come to him to ask their questions.
    Reb Aaron Kotler would say that Yerushalayim is עתיד ליתן את הדין for allowing him to become a milkman, and not supporting him to learn, perhaps get him a position.

    The perspective of a Talmid Chacham.

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    1. I guess so, but how about the perspective of another talmid Chacham?
      "It's good to combine Torah study with work, since the hard work involved in each makes one forget the urge to sin." (Avos).
      "A father must teach his son a trade, or he has taught him to steal." (Mishnayos Kiddushin). And the proof? All those tent makers, shoe repairers and water carriers among our Tannaim.

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    2. And yet it's better to "flog hides in the street" (or clean the street) than take charity.

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    3. maybe the crusades and iranian persecutions were punishment for having made tannaim work...

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    4. zfriend - context is key. See Tashbatz, Avkas Roichel, and later the Mishna Berura.
      Those shoe repairers may not have existed.

      Snag - I wasn't talking about charity. Supporting Torah study isn't charity.

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  3. In the outside world, a person's job is his entire prestige. Success means career success.
    In the world of Torah, a job is a job. It is a way to support the family and pay the bills. A person's life's goal is not his job, he does not measure his success by his job.
    He is a Talmid Chacham? What a great thing! He is the person we should respect, whether or not he sweeps floors or shnorrers money to support a museum. He is the honorable person, by dint of his knowledge of Torah. A banker with a suit and tie is an embarrassment, if he does not know Shas.

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    1. I'm not sure that the thrust of the article is prestige.

      These men with brilliant minds are wasting their minds on mundane tasks like cleaning floors instead of using them as the wonderful tools they are, in medicine, in law, and yes, in business. If they could bring a Torah perspective to the world of business, don't you think that would be a great thing?

      The potential Wealth or "wealthiness" (if I may coin a word a la Stephen Colbert) is not the thing being lamented on the money front. It is the loss of higher earning potential of a "creative" job - and one that enables a man and his family to not need to take tzedaka.

      Of course, if the floor cleaner man says that he chose that "profession" in order that he have specific hours and no "homework" so that he can learn, then that's his choice, I guess.

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    2. Exactly. These brilliant minds could be put to brilliant use. As such, it is an all-round waste.

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    3. Their brilliant minds are being put to use. They are learning Torah. They spend a couple of hours working, but their focus is Torah. Just like some scientist who also goes skiing.

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  4. I know a chassidishe yid, who when needing to make a living after his marriage, started an office cleaning business. The work was at night when the offices were closed and in the beginning he and his partner would do it themselves. Soon they hired a staff and were managing the operations. They both are shtrimel wearing charedim, who went on to other business enterprises and were very successful. Incidentally, the yid has 11 children and had provided for everyone. Now, having an education would be nice, but there are great dangers lurking on that path and I wouldn't seek to impose it on everyone.

    As far as paying these workers, the correct thing is to pay a decent living wage and not the cheapest rate that one can get on the market. It may not be always possible for business that competes under prevailing labor conditions, but a museum, existing on donations should be able to do so. וחי אחיך עמך or in it's modern version עבודה עברית - dignified Jewish labor.



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    1. This sentence of yours is ridiculous: "Now, having an education would be nice, but there are great dangers lurking on that path and I wouldn't seek to impose it on everyone." A much greater danger is being desperately poor, unemployable, and dependent on charity or crime.

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    2. Yitz, it's the question of priorities, there is no perfect approach. רובם בגזל educated or not. We a have a pediatrician on out shul, a very respected and erlicher yid, ten kids, nice house, buys maftir Yona every year. When I would take my 3 girls to him to fill out a medical form for the summer camp, he would perform a blood test and bill insurance $800 for every possible thing he could think of doing with it. That's $3,200. Obviously insurance wouldn't give him the full amount, but you get the picture. It's life, evolution, the survival of the fittest. This is very simple. There is no difference between him and a charedi benefitting from various government programs. The worst crooks are the highly intelligent and educated financiers, layers and politicians. Not many salaries can be sufficient for a frum lifestyle. Jews had evolved to survive and prosper under adversary circumstances. Charedim have great ability to manage and prosper. In israel they are no more corrupt then the Knesset, the courts, the army or the police. It's the same people genetically and they act in predictable manner. Liberman, the great fighter against charedi malfeasance, is a corrupt politician himself.

      So you have to decide what constitutes the lesser evil to you and where you fit better. I prefer charedi society, shortcomings notwithstanding, to any other because my primary commitment is to Torah. You think spending years in college is a better way to live? Your choice, but I wouldn't want my decendants to enter those places.

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    3. Yiddishkeit and technological development historically hasn't been compatible. It's been either or and it doesn't matter for what reason. It's a fact. R. Israel Salanter's son was a professor of physics at the S.P. University. Where is his posterity today? I chose Judaism over technology, humanism or anything else. Charedism until now has been a safer and more reliable way. This is all very simple, just follow the genealogy of the rabbinical families and their secular decendants.

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    4. Yakov, if yout paediatrician 'billed insurance for every possible thing he could think of', I really don't see how in the same breath you can call him an 'erlicher yid'

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    5. Chareidi who can do mathApril 30, 2021 at 9:12 AM

      Hi Yakov - you make an excellent point. Even so, $800 multiplied by 3 daughters would not come to $3200. All the best

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    6. @Baal Haboss

      The lomdus is the potential benefit to the patient. Every living creature wants to live and live well, if possible.

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. Hahaha - R' Slifkin advocates the opposite of (stereotypical) 'Leftism'. Abject poverty and reliance on charity is supposedly a 'Leftist' mentality, in which case the Yeshivah system is the ultimate epitome of 'Leftism'.

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  6. 'Having left their education, they struggled to be productive members of society and instead became an added burden for their parents.'

    My dear friend, it doesn't take that much education to learn a trade and you are a productive member of society. Get a job and do a few small jobs on the side and see where it goes. There are tons of opportunities in life. My Israeli chareidi son in laws has zero education, but operates a successful bussines and more then provides for his family. Considering the dangers of the exposure to the secular world, if I had to do it all over again, I would go again with the charedi education. The dangers are less.

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    1. Good think most people don't agree with you, or we'd still be living in the Dark Ages, and pretty much all the technological developments that have greatly improved life would not have happened.

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    2. The Dark Ages weren't that dark, but yes, I agree with you that technology is good.

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  7. Regarding the dropouts, the Haredi leadership would say, "We told you so! We told you that this would be the result of forcing the yeshivas to close!" And the truth is, they were right about that.

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  8. I can only say that the Haredi educational system intellectually castrates boys and young men and, as we know, castration is a sin. If an individual has intellectual gifts they should use them. Torah learning should not mean the suppression of other abilities. And individuals should not feel they are doing "less" by pursuing secular studies in addition to Torah learning.

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  9. Wait, I thought the minds of the bachrurim were so sharp from all that shteigin that they could make up in three months what takes us mere mortals years to learn

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  10. "Experts say the real numbers are much higher and estimate that at least 20% of Haredi students do not complete their religious education." What do they mean by "complete their religious education"?

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    1. I taught in a yeshiva that consisted of guys that either were thrown out of, or simply weren't compatible with, standard yeshiva learning. There's a certain level of tolerance that the הנהלה will have, but, if they see that a bochur is influencing other bochurim negatively, they eject him from the yeshiva. And it's a problem finding another educational framework for such guys.

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  11. You use the anti-Arab protests as a horse to beat without acknowledging the continued unprovoked Arab (tiktok et al) violence towards Jews that precipitated them.

    Perhaps in that light, your point about dropouts and "deviant anti-social behavior" would be blunted somewhat? Perhaps you would have to concede some level of idealism or self- preservation at their core (even if - in your opinion - misguided!), and it wouldn't be quite as good a rhetorical point in your argument's favor?

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    1. The tick tock incident was really disgraceful. I don't think the cure for racial violence, lawlessness, and violence is more of the same.

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  12. I feel this article sports my point about the daati leumi bring defined by socio-economic class snobbery.

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  13. I've always admired the candor and frank admissions of this blog, but I've come to see it has nothing to do with honesty, but only ignorance. You really have no idea, do you, of what a hypocrite you appear to other people beyond your echo chamber?

    In the past you wrote about violating lockdown rules to visit your mother, even as you criticized others. Just recently you wrote about swimming with sharks, even as you attack others for what you deem unsafe acts. Today you not only denigrate manual labor, you also admit to paying your employees less than a living wage, and stereotype their intelligence based on (in your view) their lowly profession. And yet you have no compunctions in criticizing what you view as the ethical failings of others.

    Of course, I haven't even mentioned your continued anti-semitics slurs, all while you accuse others today of "racism" and "anti-arabism". The condescension and ignorance of other perspectives was always telling, but the hypocrisy is truly the sign that your slide to the left is complete.

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    1. Visiting my 84 year old mother during lockdown was a matter of balancing her needs with Covid responsibility.

      Swimming with sharks was not particularly dangerous - less so than driving and texting. It's only dangerous if a lot of people start doing it.

      I did not denigrate manual labor. I observed that some people have the potential for more advanced careers and it's a pity that they are unable to develop this potential.

      There are standard amounts that are paid for various jobs. I have to responsibly run an institution and I can't pay more than those amounts merely because the person who wants the job has greater financial needs.

      As for your charges of "anti-semitism"... I guess you're referring to critiques of charedi policy and behavior. So I guess you believe that charedi society is perfect.

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    2. I have to warn you, you're treading pretty close to "Whose ox" territory here, in almost every paragraph.

      Also, please try not to be so glib. A time is fast approaching where many people will be unemployable. To an extent, it's already here.

      And if it's not too much of an elephant in the room, may I ask the level of formal education yoh received?

      Oh: "violent, racist anti-Arab protests"

      You could have simply written "anti-Arab protest" and been more factual in a few ways.

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    3. "violent, racist anti-Arab protests" No comment.

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    4. 'There are standard amounts that are paid for various jobs. I have to responsibly run an institution and I can't pay more than those amounts merely because the person who wants the job has greater financial needs.'

      Not only you can, but one should and how much more so rather then paying taxes.

      Delete
  14. For those recommending going into business because of the very real dangers of many secular college courses, remember that going into business has many spiritual pitfalls as well,and in many cases it is very difficult to make much money without "bending the rules", sometimes leading to massive chillul Hashem, the worst avaeira in the Torah. Those nisyonos as well as the fact thaat not everyone has the acumen needed to successfully start a lasting business, is why secular education is the lesser of the two evils for many.

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    1. This is all very true, but כל באיהש לא ישובון is still largely true if not in the first then in the second and third generation. Charedism i.e. יהדות הפנימית is a more certain path, albeit not for everyone.

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  15. This last sentence is totally insane. "the young dropouts found solace in far-right organizations and joined in their violent activities."

    What about all the blm riots this summer? Antifa doesn't exist now?

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    1. Correct. Antifa does not exist. The FBI and even Bill Barr yvm understood that it is a word for a wide variety of people and groups whose only common characteristic is opposition to Nazism and fascism. It is a term coined by Nazis during to 2930s to describe all organized opposition.

      Likewise BLM is a slogan for the very simple idea that Black people's lives matter as much as anyone's and that the police shouldn't brutalize or kill them.

      Delete

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