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The Solution to the Problem of Chareidi Poverty!
What do charedi rabbinic leaders have to say about the problem of poverty in the charedi community? David Lichtenstein has a radio show in which he interviews prestigious figures in the charedi world. In the latest show, he interviews Rav Nochum Eisenstein, Rav of Maalot Dafna, who was part of Rav Elyashiv's inner circle, about the problem of charedi poverty.
Lichtenstein begins by asking Rav Eisenstein if there is a chillul Hashem in the number of charedim who live off government welfare. Rav Eisenstein emphatically denies that there is any chillul Hashem. He explains that the government has a responsibility to its citizens to enable them to live at a certain standard. Rav Eisenstein says that "the Israeli government, as bad as it is, and the American government, as good as it is," recognize that students deserve support. There is no problem to choose not to work and to live off benefits.
(Rav Eisenstein stresses the responsibility of the government to support people in kollel. He does not address the question of whether people have a responsibility to other citizens of their country to try to contribute to the economy rather than to try to drain it.)
The interviewer asks in surprise, "Is the Gemara's statement that a father has an obligation to teach his son a trade not relevant?" Definitely not, replies Rav Eisenstein, the Gemara is talking about a minor... if a father sends his kid to a school where he can learn the basics, to read and write, that's a trade... all those things you get from grade school. Many people got a higher education and still can't feed their large families of ten children. So getting an education is not the solution.
(While of course it is true that there are people with higher education who cannot make a living - especially if they have ten children - it is nevertheless also true that, generally speaking, there is a correlation between having a high school education and one's level of income. Rav Eisenstein's denial of this correlation is similar to that espoused by Rav Steinman in an address that he delivered down the road from me.)
Well then, asks the interviewer, what is the solution?
The solution, replies Rav Eisenstein, is the one given by Rav Chaim Kanievsky. The solution is not to talk about it. Countless families in Israel marry off their children and provide homes for them. It's a miracle, and once you start dissecting it, it won't happen anymore. (Yes, this is really what he says. Click on the link to hear the interview if you don't believe me.)
Rav Eisenstein further explains that the problem isn't even that big to begin with. Hardly anyone in the charedi community needs to collect charity door-to-door, he claims. Most people get by, thanks to the miracle.
So, there you have it. Charedi poverty is not a problem, and it should not be talked about, lest it become a problem!
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