Tuesday, January 13, 2015

the pie isn't getting bigger

I don’t know why I am surprised that our community is no less prone to making the same mistake as the rest of the world when it comes to thinking about allocating resources to new programs.  The President recently proposed a program that would provide free community college tuition to anyone who wanted.  How can you oppose that?  Who wouldn’t want people to have access to better education?  But then they do the next round of polls and ask whether people want their taxes raised to pay for new programs and of course, no one is in favor of that.  One cannot happen without the other.  The pie of government resources does not magically get bigger (despite what Democrats think – sorry, could not resist); money must come from somewhere (i.e. you and me) if it is to be allocated to somewhere else (e.g. a potential college student).

The same holds true in our community.  Who could be against opening another yeshiva, another kollel, another community institution?  Great idea!  There is no hasgas gevul on yeshivos.  But the pie is only so big.  If current institutions are in debt and are having trouble, where are the resources to open a new organization or institution supposed to come from?  I’m afraid I do not have much faith in Rabbinic knowledge of economics.  When Rabbi X or Y endorses a new project, I do not believe they think that that means they are taking $$$ from their own institution.  I am sure if you ask them, “So how much from your monthly budget are you giving up so that program X can start?” they would look at you like you are nuts.  The assumption is that no one has to give up anything – just find raise more, squeeze harder, knock on more doors, and the funds will be there.  No one ever has to give up anything because through magic, the pie always just gets bigger.  

Reality doesn’t work that way.


  1. My son, Rav Mordechai, just opened a Kollel in Marlboro, New Jersey. It is something that has not been done yet in the US- he recruited (and eventually had to close the doors to over a hundred qualified applicants) from the metzuyanim of Lakewood to commit to a four year program of learning be'iyun for psak. Not to learn halacha alone, but learning as he was taught in Brisk and Staten Island and Telz, in order to pasken halacha from the mekoros. He also has stars like R Avi Shulman teaching public speaking, Rav Horowitz on other important issues, experts on marriage counseling, and so forth, and very, very tough bechinos that require creative thinking. (One of the worst grades on the first bechina was by the biggest baal kishron there. He's gifted, though, and he has is picking it up quickly.)
    Fund raising is extremely hard, both physically and emotionally. Some say "Kollel? Who needs another kollel???" Some say "Halacha kollel? That's not really learning." It's hard to get people to actually pay attention. But he is driven; he believes that what he is offering will change lives, of individuals and communities, so he is willing to sacrifice a great deal to make it happen.
    So I would say that if you're motivated by a need to do something, or to have a mossad that will give jobs to your children, then it's a costly waste. But some new "Kollelim" have a great deal to offer. And when Reb Mordechai finally gets this through to the philanthropists, some of them get it, baruch hashem. I don't know if that makes the pie larger, but innovation can be vital to survival and growth.

    1. >>>but innovation can be vital to survival and growth.

      I'm not saying we shouldn't open new places or start new projects, especially if they are innovative and do something important. All I'm saying is that we need to be cognizant of the costs involved and weigh the benefits vs those costs and see if it's worth it.

      I hate to get into such a specific case, but to use your example, the benefit of your son's kollel may be so great that it may be worth it to take x% of funding from Lakewood or some other institution and give it to him. In the risk/benefit analysis, he wins -- he is innovative and has more to offer. If that means 100 less guys can learn in Lakewood, so be it. Just like in the world of business, where a finite amount of $ is being competed for and there will be winners and losers, so too here.

      But to bury our heads in the sand and think the pie will automatically expand and there need not be losers is wrong.

      Let me give you the example on my mind that I did not put in the post: Last night someone called me from a very worthwhile institution asking for my support in the form of a much larger donation than usual. The person explained that they had enormous debts and were having trouble raising the money. When I got off the phone I asked my wife in bewilderment whether I was wrong in remembering that the community that institution serves is one and the same community in which funds are currently being raised, with all kinds of Rabbinic endorsements and approvals, to start a new mossad. How can the community fund a new institution when the existing one(s) are barely able to stay afloat? How do you rob Peter to pay Paul? The answer is willful blindness that you are in fact robbing Peter, that there are consequences to raising money for multiple institutions from the same pool of people. There will be winners and losers.

      My po

    2. I understand. I would also be ok with Mordechai siphoning dollars from Lakewood donors, but lechatchila I hope that his innovation will awaken the charitable interest of people who were jaded with things as they are. One thing for sure- there are people who are giving more than they really can, and there are people who are hoarding it or wasting it on frivolities. Come to think of it, the Pesach Program ads are starting to sprout. Anyone interested in a cruise down the Nile for Pesach? With feather-fan waving Nubians and grape-peeling Norwegians and daily barbecues and eternal tea rooms with boxes of chocolates you can squirrel away to take home so the money you paid won't have been wasted, and elephant rides, and ostrich races, and a private audience with General Sisi?

  2. current Rabbinic knowledge of economics: if everyone gave ma'aser, there would be no problem financing everything.

    Chazal knowledge of economics: אין הבור מתמלא מחוליתו

    Dovid Hamelech's solution: לכו פשטו ידיכם בגדוד

    current Rabbinic solution: לכו פשטו ידיכם

    ultimate reality: TANSTAAFL

  3. Why are the grape-peelers Norwegian? Does that make them more exotic, or am I missing some allusion here.