Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
In the previous posts, I discussed what I feel to be the tension between academic study and religious learning, and I expressed my uncertainty regarding whether reaching historical truth or attaining religious inspiration is more important. Obviously, this dilemma rests upon the belief, which I possess, that being Jewishly inspired is a good thing! It is my belief (and, I hope, that of my readers - otherwise, this blog is not for you) that Torah and Judaism is a force for good in the world. Thus, it is good for people to grow in their Jewish inspiration.
However, there are certain aspects of certain sectors of Orthodox society which are extremely harmful - perhaps to the extent that they cause that sector of Orthodoxy to be fundamentally problematic. I am thinking right now of the approach in the Charedi world to demote economic self-sufficiency from being a value.
In one of the yeshivos that I learned at, the Rosh Yeshivah (with whom I was very close) would regularly mock those parents that tried to encourage their children to leave yeshivah and join the workforce. One of his peeves was the parents' telling their son that "Imagine if everyone were in kollel - then where would we be?!" As he would point out, if everyone were a dentist or a lawyer, we would also be in trouble, but you don't find parents of prospective dentists or lawyers using such an argument.
It was only much later that I realized that this was facile, for three reasons.
First of all, what the parent is really saying is that being in learning and not acquiring employment skills or employment is not responsible. The saying "Imagine if everyone were to do that..." merely serves to dramatically illustrate that point. And it is indeed true that dentists/ lawyers are usually financially self-sufficient, whereas people in learning are dependent on charitable support.
Second, the son who desires to stay in learning rather than enter the workforce is usually doing so not because he considers this to be his personal choice, responsibility and niche in society, but rather because he believes that basically everyone is obligated to do this. There is no mass-movement for vast swathes of society to become dentists - if there was, then parents of prospective dentists would be equally concerned! Hence, the point behind the challenge of "Imagine if everyone were in kollel - then where would we be?!" is that the notion that most people should be taking this path is ludicrous and dangerous.
Third, this son is not just making a decision about his own path in life; he is simultaneously choosing a path in life in which all his children will likewise take the same route. They will attend schools in which there is little in the way of secular education, and a strong message, accompanied by peer pressure, that they should be in yeshivah/kollel long term rather than train and enter the workforce.
Why do I bring this up? Because in the last few days there have been a spate of articles illustrating the extent of the problem with the economic situation and the outlook of the charedi world. See this article from the Israeli Yated Ne'eman which dismisses the importance of going to work as a way to emerge from poverty, this critique by Brooklyn Wolf (while I think that some of his readings of the article are a little uncharitable, overall he makes excellent points), this article in the Jerusalem Post about the problems facing Israel, and this article from Vos Iz Neias about the increasing number of charedim who are not in the workforce (at least, that part of it which is on the books).