I don't want to beat a dead horse, but wanted to follow up on my post from yesterday in light of some other reactions to the same topic. R’ Yitzchok Alderstein is in favor of providing more and continued support to the chareidim who choose not to work, arguing that, “The children are indeed innocent victims. Our reaction in the past as frum Jews has always been to alleviate pain, regardless of blame.”
I could not agree more that innocent children are suffering due to this terrible situation. HOWEVER, I have to ask, “Mai chazis d’dama didach sumak tfei?” Are the children of those suffering from self-inflicted poverty more deserving of help than children in my own backyard? The yeshivos in my neighborhood need cash. Parents in my neighborhood cannot pay tuition and cannot afford Shabbos meals. These are people, who, as I wrote yesterday, did not ask to be in this situation and most of whom have made every effort to find jobs. But times are tough. It can take months to find a job (been there, done that) and salaries are much lower than in times gone by. These innocent victims of economic downturn surely also deserve our help to get back on their feet.
The question is not, “Shouldn't we help the poor?”
The question is, “Which poor should we help?”
It would be wonderful if we could alleviate poverty for all and children did not have to suffer for their parent’s mistakes – but we can’t. If funds are available, then too I join Rabbi Adlerstein’s call to fund more kollelim and yeshivos, to provide more help and support for all those who are in need. But the money is not there! Unfortunately cuts are needed, and difficult decisions must be made as to how to cope. And unfortunately, rather than foster much needed and meaningful discussion of where to cut corners, how to spread available resources, how to encourage people to alleviate their own situation and how to provide resources for them to do so, instead, the only talk that came out of the Agudah convention was a demand for more money for an ever expanding number of poor.
Giving tzedaka to person A comes at a direct cost to person B, who is also in need. Our community is getting poorer, not richer. There is only so much wealth that can be spread around, and the more it is spread, the thinner the portion will be. Rabbi Adlerstein, if you have one imaginary dollar to spend, but two people who are in need, what do you propose to do? Is it fair to ignore the person who has acted responsibly and made their hishtadlus but has not been blessed yet with success and instead give money to someone who has willfully chosen to inflict poverty on himself and his family?
Rabbi Adlerstein points to the fact that there are 1000 students in Hareidi College as an indication that attitudes are changing, and that we must allow time for the process of change to unfold. But by his own admission, only 1/3 of those enrolled are men. So let’s say there are 400 men currently getting an education that would provide them with skills needed for employment. By comparison, there are about 6000 or so people learning in the Mir, and that is just one yeshiva of many! The change he points to is a mere drop in the bucket and is completely inconsequential in the overall picture.
Rather than prove that change – albeit slow change – is on the way, as R’ Adlerstein posits, the Agudah convention only reinforced the opposite perception. R’ Ephraim Wachsman shlit”a reminded us in a keynote address that Am Yisrael is an “am k’shei oref” – we stubbornly refuse change. Rabbi Wachsman was not decrying the situation and demanding that we do commit to necessary sociological and educational changes -- to the contrary, he was lauding this stubborness as a virtue and reinforcing committment to the status quo.
The implication that those who do not agree with preserving the status quo want children to suffer in poverty or care less about Torah than others is wrong. It is precisely because we care so much that we want to see changes made that will enable those who should be learning to be able to do so without starving, that will enable those who should be working to gain the skills to do so, and that will enable out children to grow up in the safe and healthy environment that they need.