Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Charedi Dog Tax

This is a post which was first conceived as a critique of charedi MKs, but as I researched the topic further, I decided that the charedi MKs actually overall have a good point!

United Torah Judaism has submitted a bill to raise the registration fee for owning a dog. It currently stands at 50 NIS, but UTJ wants to raise it to a massive 3500 NIS! The alleged reason is to "help the environment," since, as MK Moshe Gafni said, dogs eat large amounts of processed meat that emit carbon, and their droppings are picked up with environmentally harmful plastic bags. Aside from reducing the amount of dogs, the funds raised by the tax can be used to help the environment.

Now, it's pretty obvious that this is not actually the reason for the bill. Charedim are not exactly at the forefront of concern for the environment - in fact, they are generally hostile to such concerns, seeing them as "goyish." And they are the greatest users of disposable plastic. So what is this bill actually about?

You might think that it's about hostility towards dogs. Certainly, dogs are not generally found in charedi neighborhoods (though it is not as unthinkable as it used to be - there are even dog owners in Kiryat Sefer). About twenty years ago, I was in a small private va'ad with Rav Moshe Shapiro and he declared that "anyone who knows anything understands that dogs are the very essence of evil." (It was already at this point that I began to be uneasy about him - having studied quite a lot about dogs in Judaism, I knew that the picture was much more nuanced.) So is this bill about enshrining charedi sensitivities into law? I saw people jokingly ask if a tax on jeans would be next! 

But in fact, it's absolutely nothing to do with antipathy towards dogs. Like absolutely everything in charedi politics, it relates to the interests of the charedi community.

As mentioned earlier, charedim are the largest consumers of disposable plastic. They were therefore particularly stung by a new law that went into effect recently, which placed a very high tax on such plastics. Charedim perceived it as a deliberate effort to harm their community. The dog tax is their shot back.

Personally, I don't believe that the plastics law was remotely a deliberate attempt to harm the charedi community. There are many people who sincerely care about the environment, and disposable plastics are a real problem. According to one shocking study, by 2050 the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than ocean life. Several countries decided to entirely ban disposable plastics. But Israel has been one of the worst offenders. On a per capita basis, Israelis consume the largest number of plastic cups in the world. And the amount of waste along the beaches of Israel is the highest in the world. The quantities of tiny plastic particles off Israel’s coast are nine times higher than the average in other Mediterranean countries. It's clearly a serious problem.

Still, while the plastic tax was not targeted at charedim, it certainly affected them disproportionately. The reason why charedim are the largest consumers of plastic is simple: large families, and large get-togethers. It's simply extraordinarily difficult to run a family of ten people without using disposable plastic.

Making a sacrifice should, and can, be done. Indeed, as a result of the new taxes, the usage of plastics this Pesach dropped by 50%. But charedim are entitled to ask why it is specifically their community which has to make a difficult effort to help the environment, and not other communities.

It's relatively easy for a secular family to avoid using single-use plastic. But they harm the environment in other ways. Cars, and especially planes, are highly damaging to the environment, and are used far more by non-charedi families. 

And then there are dogs. Gafni might have been disingenuous about his motives for the bill, but his given reason was absolutely correct: dogs are indeed damaging to the environment. Their diet alone accounts for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact from all animal production. Owning a medium-size dog can have a similar carbon footprint to a large SUV. Dogs rank third in their ability to disturb other species, outdone only by cats and rodents; they have driven 11 species into extinction, and they threaten another 188. If people want to enjoy the benefits and pleasures of owning a dog, it is reasonable to ask that they offset the environmental damage.

I would like several lessons to be taken from all this. First is that we really do all need to take environmental concerns more seriously (including me). Second is that it's all too easy to point at shortcomings in other communities, but we need to be more aware of our own shortcomings. And third is that the instinctive reaction to a headline is not necessarily the correct one!

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43 comments:

  1. Israeli charedim are also very high users of public transportation. In fact they have made a communal choice to rely on buses and coordinate with the government to improve their bus service, rather than buying cars. They also tend to live in crowded apartments. All of this makes their carbon footprint much smaller than that of the average Israeli. The same is true of American charedim, who overwhelmingly live in large dense cities which means their housing and car emissions are much lower than the US average. Environmentally speaking, a low carbon footprint is much more important than the amount of plastic used.

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    1. "All of this makes their carbon footprint much smaller than that of the average Israeli." Nonsense. Haredim choose to have larger families than the average Israeli and humans have a massive carbon footprint regardless of lifestyle choices regarding dogs, buildings or cars.

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    2. I think you have to measure carbon footprint PER PERSON. Otherwise you can just say "there's more chilonim than charedim so there's more environmental harm by chilonim."

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    3. Charedim don't not have cars because of an environmentally-conscious decision they've collectively made. They don't have cars because they can't afford them.

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    4. Israeli charedim made a "communal choice" not to buy cars the same way I made a "communal choice" not to get a private jet.

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    5. American chareidim living in lakewood and Monsey live in very large houses with multiple cars. They are not big public transportation users.

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  2. it is my belief that dogs dream in German

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  3. מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה.

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  4. Living more or less the charedi lifestyle in Israel, I'm also often shocked by the way the community doesn't respect the very soil they're supposed to love.
    But when I discuss things with them, I usually realize it's a lot more related to ignorance than to ''hostility to goyish concerns''. These people just don't know and don't realize that the plastics their kids throw will stay around for some hundreds of years, if they do not end in small particles in our bodies or in huge ''continents'' in the middle of the ocean. They do not know that in a few years there will be more plastics than fish in the Mediterranean. They do not know that insects play a great role in pollinization and fertilization, indeed sometimes they don't know that most fruits can only grow out of fertilization, natural or otherwise. For them, nature just produces crop, and that's it. Ironically and tragically, by isolating themselves from the outer world and technology, charedim have actually built a society which is extremely estranged from nature, and utterly dependent to technology. But what is needed is pedagogy, not shaming, because on the other hand, the carbon footprint of a big charedi family in Israel probably doesn't remotely approach that of a one-child american middle-class home. And they're not trying to make it bigger, in opposition to the broad israeli society which, while better educated on those issues, doesn't seem to care so much as they're running to close the gap with europeans, buying SUVs etc...
    Even the EVs wich have started to appear on the market don't change much, as electricity in Israel is still mainly produced from coal.

    And, while I'm all for stopping disposable plasticware use altogether, I think it's not crazy to believe the bill was actually really an attempt to get at charedim. Liebermann ran his last campaign on chareidi-shaming (because it was fashionable, he wasn't the only one, but that's not an excuse) and therefore he has to deliver so he can say he did what he promised.
    That bill came in the 2021 budget together with the one on childcare, which was clearly and self-admittedly a blow against kollelim, and the plan to abolish subsidies on public transit, which not only was against charedis and poors from all sectors, but was also clearly an anti-ecologic move, thus destroying the (little) credibility the man has on ecologist stances.
    https://vinnews.com/2021/08/04/lieberman-displays-ignorance-of-public-transport-bus-cards-as-he-cancels-subsidies-on-them/
    (the plan that was finally adopted in last february does go in the right direction, but Lieberman of course markets it mainly as the abolition of special prices for charedi routes).

    So if the Israeli governement really wants to embark charedi society on a fight against climate change, a little respect and pedagogy will go a long way. But if they just use it as a tool to get at them, then the results could be catastrophic.

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    1. "But what is needed is pedagogy" - and who would provide this pedagogy? The implication seems to be that non-haredi society has the skills to supply such 'pedagogy' but there are no channels through which to provide it. In theory -- this is how the MO world interprets it (when they want to, they also tend to have a laissez-faire tendency on environmental issues) they can interpret torah imperatives on the natural world into concrete actions -- the haredi world by and large lacks the contextual skills to do so and the trust in the message.

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    2. Just a note, Israel electric generation has been converting to natural gas ever since the large fields have been discovered and the infrastructure has been installed. Per megawatt, Nat gas produces 20% less carbon emissions than coal..

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    3. @Unknown
      You're right, my info was a bit old (I was aware of the shift taking place, but not of the pace, hence the word 'still') and I stand corrected. But the coal is far from having disappeared, and natural gas is not exactly green energy.

      Quite a lot of people are helping charedi society to grow awareness to these issues, but harsh public policies which clearly use ecology as a pretext, are not exactly helping.

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  5. I doubt that a list of top 10 suggestions for environmental policy implementations would include a dog tax. Unfortunately, imho, the classic NY political algorithm ("Where's Mine?") seems to be getting more popular.
    kt

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  6. This subject, although not you necessarily, is highly misleading. There are two different tax rates for dogs. For neutered/spayed dogs, the rate is NIS50 per year. For unfixed dogs, it is at least 2500, and may even be 3500. It is basically a tax on breeders, or those who intend to breed their dogs. Raising the tax on fixed dogs makes some sense, but equalizing the two, when the higher tax is essentially another type of business tax, is hardly justified in the name anything, even the environment.

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    1. Interesting. I wonder if there’s an issue of lfnei iver/msayea in voting for an incentive for Israels to spay their animals
      Kt

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    2. The spaying is usually handled by Arabs.

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    3. It's 50 for neutered, 350 for unneutered

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    4. As a dog owner, Anonymous, perhaps I know something you don't? I was shocked when I heard the registration fee for unfixed dogs and the wild price differential between them and fixed.

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  7. The largest pile of discarded disposable utensils I ever saw was not in a Haredi neighborhood, but in a national park, on Yom Haatzmaut.

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    1. Yes, generalize based on one day of the year.

      The same park where we barbecue on Yom HaAtzmaut was, on Chol HaMoed, packed to the gills with charedi families doing the same. Guess what it looked like.

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  8. I would like more information about this: "Dogs rank third in their ability to disturb other species, outdone only by cats and rodents; they have driven 11 species into extinction, and they threaten another 188." What species? Where can I read about this?

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  9. Unofficial editorApril 26, 2022 at 1:54 PM

    That should be "the number of dogs", not "the amount of dogs". Unless you buy them by the kilo, that is.

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  10. No, this is stupid and childish. "Oooh, the chiloynim hate me! What do they like that I don't? Dogs, that's it! Let's tax them! That will show them!"

    My opinion of all politicians is kind of low, but charedi politicians in general seem to all be a bunch of twelve year olds.

    All that in addition to the fact that added taxes and fees are never right, no matter how "pure" the cause.

    And let's be honest here, the environmental impact of a dog as a house pet has got to be very, very low.

    Oh, and a family of ten means that there are twenty hands to help wash the dishes.

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    1. Here comes the alt-right american ideologist!
      I find that ALL israeli politicians behave like children, which shows it's no use having an especially democratic system, if it doesn't come with good civic and ethic education.
      Taxes are a tool, sometimes good and sometimes bad, depending on their goal and effects. Taxing efficiently environmental damage is the only way to effectively put a price tag on destroying nature.
      I have no idea on the environmental impact of dogs, so I'm going to believe the one who actually knows something about animals till you bring proof to your belly hypothesis.

      Twenty hands to wash the dishes? Only if you have ten sinks. Otherwise it means one person will have to wash the twenty or more plates and sets of cutlery for every shabbos meal, and that takes time and effort, even if you evenly distribute shifts. Of course it can be done, but with such arrogance and disdain, no one is going anywhere.

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    2. "Twenty hands to wash the dishes? Only if you have ten sinks. Otherwise it means one person will have to wash the twenty or more plates and sets of cutlery for every shabbos meal,..."

      As I try to teach my kids... Or each person can wash their own dishes.

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    3. "Here comes the alt-right american ideologist!"

      Oh, no! We can't have any ideology here, nosireebob, apart from yours, of course.

      And I live in Israel, proudly so. And I wash my dishes.

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    4. The fact you live in Israel doesn't make you not american. If it wasn't sufficently clear already, I don't use any disposables at all, I have dishes and wash them. But I can't stand that counterproductive contempt.
      I happily don't know what you're calling me, so no offend, but did I write I have no ideology, or that you can't have one? I just called it by its name, which seems to be enough to anger you.

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  11. "Their diet alone accounts for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact from all animal production. Owning a medium-size dog can have a similar carbon footprint to a large SUV."

    Can you please clarify the first sentence? Clearly, dog food does not account for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact from all animal production. And for some perspective, can you gives us the carbon footprint of an average family compared to an SUV?

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  12. Why not use paper products instead of plastic? Also, why don’t Haredi families use dishes? Wouldn’t it be cheaper overall?

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    1. Paper is mostly less practical and less pretty. Most charedim don't have a clue why plastic is bad.
      Dishes require one of two things. Time to wash them, or money to buy a dishwasher. Most charedi parents feel they have neither (but really domestic dishwashers running on coal-powered electricity are a bad idea if one really wants to lessen his impact on the environment).

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    2. Lieberman, of course, doesn't understand any of this:
      https://vinnews.com/2021/10/21/fm-liebermans-new-tax-on-disposable-plastic-targets-chareidim-let-them-use-a-dishwasher/

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    3. There are other materials, such as cellulose, that could be used as a replacement for plastic. For one time use, cellulose is as good as plastic, though I don't know how it compares on price. After disposal, it biodegrades.

      Would the charedi community be amenable to substituting cellulose tableware for plastic if introduced to them?

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    4. domestic dishwashers running on coal-powered electricity are a bad idea if one really wants to lessen his impact on the environment

      Depends on how you quantify it. Dishwashers use far less water to clean dishes than hand-washing does -- so there is a big environmental benefit there, and possibly an energy-related one too, as generating potable water and treating wastewater cost energy too.

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  13. Personally, I don't believe that the plastics law was remotely a deliberate attempt to harm the charedi community.
    Are so naïve, or just pretending? Whatever Lieberman does has only one goal of harming charedim.

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  14. Thank you. I loved this post for its logic and calm tone. Having slipped on a plastic cup going down stairs in Neve Yaacov and fairly severely injuring my ankle, I welcome the efforts to curb plastic use. As an aside, I have always been surprised by the amounts of trash that you see on the streets in Israel. As someone who was happily chided by my mother to make sure I emptied my pockets from assorted wrappers and papers, I was especially surprised as I thought as a child, this was a "Jewish" thing.

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  15. I find the concerns about single use plastics and the environment someone tendentious given the last two year mask charade

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    1. Well, you certainly aren't hiding your bias with the word "charade."

      But let's all be aware, in the face of the threat to life and health, many environmental (and other, such as psychological) issues were sacrificed. Supermarkets in the US that had been doing away with plastic bags suddenly brought them back in order to better do curbside pickup or delivery.

      Now that the pandemic is dying down, many of those stores are reinstating their plastic bag bans.

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    2. No one stopped you from using a washable cloth mask

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  16. A few years ago, during a period of inflation, Rush Limbaugh made a point of declaring "Just don't participate" in price increases. He pointed out that he bought his dinnerware years earlier, and so he would simply use them during his barbecues rather than purchase disposable stuff that had become more expensive.

    Now, granted, Mr. Limbaugh was rich and so probably had a lot of extra plates and could afford to buy replacements if some got broken while being used outside, but it is still an interesting point. Use things one already owns and are washable rather than things one has to purchase fresh each time...

    This is not chareidi bashing but is rather based on basic understanding of frum marriage in general: don't all frum Jews try to get dinnerware at the time of their wedding for chametz and Pesach, milk and meat, for daily use and "the guests"? Theoretically, we should never be buying disposable stuff!

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  17. I never heard that the tax dogs. Do they tax other animals also? This is, by the way, totally crazy.

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