The Biggest Problem Threatening The Jewish People Today
What is the biggest problem threatening the Jewish People today?
It's not intermarriage. It's not Conservative or Reform. It's not Open Orthodoxy (whatever one's views of that movement, at the end of the day it's a relatively tiny number of people). It's not the Agudah Convention's condemnation of Open Orthodoxy. It's not open-mindedness or closed-mindedness. It's not the singles crisis or even the terrible problem of child abuse.
The single biggest problem threatening the Jewish People today is probably Iran. But that's something that most of us are not in a position to do much about, save for voting for those who adequately recognize the threat. So I'd like to move on to discussing the second biggest problem threatening the Jewish People today: the economic crisis in the Israeli charedi world.
This is something that the Israeli charedi world itself is screaming about being an unprecedented catastrophe - a banner headline in the Israeli Mishpachah magazine described it as nothing less than the utter financial collapse of the charedi world. There are children who literally do not have enough food to eat. And abject poverty brings all kinds of problems in its wake. Mishpachah reports that there are hundreds of girls who are not entering shidduchim because there is no money to marry them off. Poverty in the charedi world leads to illness, to loss of shalom bayis, to theft.
But it's worse than that. Much, much worse.
The charedim blame this problem entirely on government ministers Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, and also on wealthy Americans who are not adequately bailing them out of this crisis (see this article at The Jewish Worker). But of course the real cause is that so many charedim choose not to work. The charedi community sees it as their right and even duty to largely avoid work and to be supported by the rest of Israel (see this letter explicitly making this point). But the rest of the country cannot endlessly support a community that is underemployed and rapidly growing. The longer that it takes for the government to put on the brakes, the greater the eventual catastrophe.
The consequence of the charedim failing to correctly identify the cause of the problem is that things could get vastly worse. As far as the charedim are concerned, there is no need to solve this by looking for employment, or by giving their children the schooling and desire to work for a living. Instead, this is a problem that should be solved in the next national elections. If Lapid loses seats (which will probably happen), the charedim can again join the government, offering to go along with whatever policies the next prime minister wants, provided that he gives lots of money to them. In the short run, whoever runs for prime minister finds this very helpful. In the long run, it's a disaster.
The economic crisis in the Israeli charedi world does not just threaten charedim. It threatens the entire State of Israel. It's not just a problem of poverty, as the charedi world claims; rather, it's a problem of people not being employed. This is bad enough when the charedim number about 15% of the population. But what happens as their numbers rise, with their far higher birthrate than the general population?
At the moment, fully one-third of the first-grade students in Israel are charedim, and it's a proportion that rises every year. What happens further down the line, when this is not one-third of first-graders, but one third of adults? What happens when a third of Israel's Jewish population not only does not serve in the IDF, but also lacks professional employment and does not even have high-school matriculation? Does anyone think that the economy and the country itself can survive?!
I've heard several people argue that this problem is declining with the rise of charedi college programs. But a frightening article at The Times of Israel entitled Deceptive Statistics on Charedim shows otherwise. The rise in the share of charedim who are studying towards a degree can mostly be attributed to women, who are in turn mostly only in the field of education. Most men don't attend college and don't even have high school matriculation. In the last decade, the proportion of charedim whose secular education goes no further than primary school rose from 31% to 47%. Even if such people want to acquire training and professional employment later in life, they are almost entirely incapable of doing so. Their parents have crippled them.
All this is not only a terrible problem from an economic perspective, but also from a Torah perspective. Chazal wrote about how it is better to seek a lowly trade than to cast oneself on the community for support. Chazal states that one is obligated to teach one's child a trade such that he can be economically self-sufficient. The charedi world started with a temporary override of these principles in order to rebuild the losses of the Holocaust, but has now proceeded to entirely dismiss these directives and to adopt fundamentally opposing values. They have completely deviated from the mesorah.
It's not at all easy to figure out how to solve this problem. But the first step is to acknowledge its severity and cause. Does anyone know if it was discussed at the Agudah Convention?