The Hidden Costs of Poverty

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Though the economic crisis of the chareidi community in Israel is much discussed subject, that discussion typically focuses on the threat to our yeshivos or trumpeting the percentage of children under the poverty line to demonstrate the failure of the government’s social and economic program. Much less frequently discussed is the impact of poverty on our homes and families.

I know of no authoritative statistics on the number of gittin (divorces) in the chareidi community, but each one of us is privy to plenty of anecdotal evidence of the rise in divorce, in particular among young couples. Prior to the Gaza withdrawal, the black humor in at least one community with a high concentration of younger couples went: “Yehudi aino m’garesh Yehudi, aval Yehudi megaresh Yehudiah — A Jew does not expel another Jew, but a Jew does divorce a Jewess.”

Economic factors are rarely the only factors behind divorce. But no one would deny that economic pressures are adding new stresses to marriage, and that many marriages are not standing up to the strain. As Chazal say, “Arguments are not found in a man’s home, except as a consequece of [a lack of] grain” (Bava Metziah 59b).

One of the leaders of the generation recently asked a respected talmid chacham to undertake a kollel in a community with many young couples. He couched his request not in terms of limud HaTorah (Torah learning), but rather in terms of pikuach nefesh (saving lives). The gadol told him that he personally knew of 12 cases of gittin in that community in which economic pressures were a major factor. In many of these cases, the problems begin soon after the wedding, when the husband is unable to secure a place in Kollel. The areas to which young couples are attracted by virtue of relatively lower housing costs are also furthest removed from major population centers and good jobs. As a consequence, many young married women find themselves with little or no work.

Even if the husband in such a situation spends most of the day in a beis hamedrash — by no means an easy matter, if one is not a member of a kollel — the young couple inevitably find themselves too much in one another’s company. Too frequently, each feels that their spouse has somehow failed him or her, either by failing to secure a place in kollel or to find a job, and as the pressures caused by a lack of incoming income mount so do the mutual recriminations.

The economic pressures on young couples are only one aspect of the problem. Unfortunately, those pressures do not abate with time and the growth of the family. A rosh yeshiva of a yeshiva ketana recently told me that even families in which both parents work, are often unable to pay full tuition, especially if they have already married off one or two children and are heavily in debt. By that time, of course, the marriage is on a much sounder basis than for young couples but daily, grinding pressure takes its toll on the ability of even the finest people to deal with the challenges that all married couples face.

NOT UNRELATED TO THE STRESS ON MARRIAGES from a lack of money even for basic necessities is the adverse impact on children. We would like to think that the simplicity with which we live conveys to our children a message of mesirus nefesh for Torah. And that is no doubt true in many cases.

But where there is constant discussion in the house of a lack of money or squabbling between parents over monetary matters, the children may end up receiving a message far different than that which the parents intended to convey. The message for many children in such a situation is that money is the solution to all problems and that Torah learning is the cause. And that may be true even where the parents mesirus nefesh is in fact extraordinary and a reflection of both parents’ sincere desire to sacrifice for the husband’s growth in Torah learning.

Someone close to one of the leaders of the generation once told me of a young boy just a few years after bar mitzvah, who came into the gadol’s house and demonstratively threw down his kippah. The gadol asked him to explain his dramatic act. The boy’s reply: “Everything is no, no, no. We can’t afford that because Tatte learns Torah. Even when all I want is a cheap candy, the answer is still, “No, because Tatte learns.” That teenager viewed Torah study as a source of deprivation, rather than of the greatest imaginable joy, with predictable consequences for his future learning and mitzvah observance.

During his years as a rav in Tzitevian, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky was very poor. His salary was collected from the members of the town in the smallest possible coins. Reb Yaakov and his Rebbetzin possessed only one pair of galoshes between them, and he had only one shirt to wear. Yet whenever the children asked for something, Reb Yaakov was careful not to tell them that he could not afford the item in question. Instead he always explained why the item in question was not really necessary.

Better that the children should see him as a tightwad, Reb Yaakov felt, than that they should feel that their father was unable to provide for them. Not only do too many of our children lack the security of feeling that their parents are able to supply their basic needs, but they feel that they too are destined for a life of even deeper poverty.

In the end the hidden costs of rampant poverty on the quality of our marriages and our children may turn out to be even greater than the more obvious consequences of poverty.

Published in Mishpacha Magazine, Dec. 29.

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30 Responses

  1. Yeshoua says:

    JO,
    I am still hoping that Reb Jonathan’s weighs in on this big problem. I mentioned about putting a ban on money in the comments on Marvin Schick’s article about the internet ban.

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    I was being facetious (chutzpodic?). My point is that there is no argument that having money is a good thing. And we also know that that the derech hateva way to way to get it is by working. The question is, why is it the medinah’s fault that people aren’t working? (I would like to be able to blame them for the Knicks’ woes this year).

  3. Yeshoua says:

    JO,

    I am not sure I understand what you are getting at but I would like to hear from Reb Jonathan what the solution is because I think people will opt out from being Charedim.

    kol tov

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    I agree with JR’s thesis that not working is a key cause of poverty. I tried it for a while and found that less money was coming in. I was further convinced that I was right when I resumed working and money started coming in again. I am confident that I perceived a direct connection between the ma’aseh hishtadlus of melacha (act of working) and chalois kabolas kesef (the receiving of money). I do agree that kabolas kesef b’chinom (getting money for free) is also a way to avoid poverty. I personally have not succeeded in shichnua hanoisnim (persuasion of the donors) in the ma’aseh nesina (act of giving) to me. I would say that poor people would be wise to employ a two-pronged approach:

    – ma’aseh melacha (act of working)
    – shichnua hanoisnim (persuasion of donors)

    Love :-)

    – JO

  5. Joshua says:

    Moshe,
    Hopefully you will have girls yet and by then these problems will be solved. Thanks again for your advice its nice to know that I am not alone on these issues. I want all those people who are considering aliyah don’t look at these problems as reasons for not making Aliyah look at them as part of the challenges of making aliyah and having the merit to live
    in Eretz Yisroel. Those of you keeping up with this thread and are in addition
    considering aliyah please feel free to contact me as well at sonofnathan at gmail.com.

    Kol tov,

    Joshua

  6. Moshe Feldman says:

    I don’t have girls, so I can’t really express an informed opinion. However, I can make suggestions based on what I’ve heard. First, you might wish to find out which high schools girls from this elementary school are going to. You might be surprised to find out that many of the girls who are dressing less tzniusdikly are still going to some of the better schools (for example, there are girls in my neighborhood who dress less tzniusdikly and go to the Ulpana in Kiryat Arba, which has a very good reputation). If so, even if it were to turn out that your girls became friendly with less-tzniusdikly dressed girls, you still can send them to the frummer schools.

    Secondly, I’ve spoken to a number of people in chinuch and it seems that a lot of girls who are otherwise frum are dressing in tight-stretchy clothing during their adolescence, yet are turning out to be tzniusdik later on. Unfortunately, the tight-stretchy look is “in” and many girls who are otherwise frum are taken in by the need to look cool. It is possible that some schools do not push the girls too hard on this, figuring that this is a stage they’re going through and that they’ll come out of it once they mature.

    BTW, my wife went to a wedding in Benei Beraq and was shocked how many charedi women there were dressed in very tight clothing. Charedi schools, of course, do not permit such clothing, but that does not mean that girls do not wear such clothing outside school. While the charedi system officially has a lower drop out rate than dati leumi, various people on Areivim claim that this is not necessarily the case because the charedim push this all under the carpet (in July, someone wrote on Areivim that frum social workers in Jerusalem told him that the Charedi teen dropout rate in Jerusalem is 30%!!).

    In general, I have been told that graduates of ulpanot are on the whole even more frum than graduates of yeshivot tichoniyot. You might wish to speak to parents of ulpana graduates, and mechanchim in ulpanot, and ask their opinion.

    You might also wish to consider that if you believe in Torah U’parnassa and send to schools where parents do not believe in that, then your children will be more at risk to dropout because they will sense the disconnect between school and home and feel that they don’t fit in school (and may even be ostracized by certain girls in school). It is a fact that Anglo charedi olim have a higher dropout rate than Israeli charedim, and many claim that this is because Anglo kids feel that they don’t really fit in to the charedi world. In Israel, for better or for worse, it is important for kids to feel that they fit in to a particular group.

  7. Joshua says:

    Moshe,

    The problem if I wait until high school the girls will want to go where there friends are going. My daughters are doing very well at the mamad Torani my wife is concerned of the way some of the olders go dressed she would like to see a stricter dress code other wise we are very happy with the school. I guess people here have more faith than me and still choose to send the charedi system and I guess they take the approach will worry about things later or that everything will work out but I am not on that level. I very much dislike the word charedi and dati leumi I find it very upsetting that they say you have to pick one way or the other. I think that you have find bnei torah in both camps and I think that has to be away that we all be in one camp. Perhaps if more Americans will come and make aliyah then the things will change.

    kol tov

    Joshua

    PS Perhaps Reb Jonathan will weigh in on this.

  8. Moshe Feldman says:

    Joshua–

    I too live in Israel and send to a mamad torani (Orot Etzion in Efrat). Most of my relatives in Israel are charedi, and I agree with Jonathan Rosenblum’s assessments.

    In my opinion, if you are looking for a frummer atmosphere for your girls, you should consider: (1) Chardal (=charedi leumi) institutions (e.g., affiliated with Mercaz HaRav), or (2) wait until high school and find a chardal ulpana for them. In general, the word on the street is that the girls in ulpanot have even a better success rate than the yeshivot tichoniyot in terms of frumkeit.

    In general, other than the issue of viewing Rav Kook as their gadol, the chardal in Israel parallel American charedim in terms of viewing Torah as paramount yet preparing most talmidim to enter the work world (if they are not cut out to be rabbanim or mechanchim).

    Feel free to contact me at moshe.feldman at gmail.com.

    Kol tuv,
    Moshe

  9. Harry Maryles says:

    A tween is basically a twelve year old. IOW, someone who is too old to be considered a child but not yet a teen.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Joshua-I have a solution but I doubt that it will ever be implemented. The shift from kollel being a place for future Gdolim to
    everyone as a finishing school for every frum couple was a reaction to the changing facts on the ground. The Torah world was almost completely devastated by the Holocaust and that required the emergency measures of rebuilding that world from the ground up with as many fulltime learners as possible. That goal was a complete success. The question is whether today’s circumstances warrant that strategy or an additional solution -yeshivos that provide a total yeshiva education and allow or permit one to
    develope a skill or career option outside of that world. I think that any proposed decision will necessitate much thinking. It will have to balance and decide who stays in the Beis Medrash and who will leave-an enormously tough decision for a Rosh Yeshivah and avrech. While there are no serious intellectual challenges to Torah today, the cultural and moral milieu of today is a challenge. In other words, while not everyone is cut out to learn 24/7, not everyone is cut out to place himself in a place of religious danger as well. I think that Touro is providing part of the answer. Despite recent rhetoric to the contrary from YU, the simple facts are that YU’s greatest recruiters today are its Roshei Yeshiva and Kollelim. Like it or not, this is a complex problem and there is a need for thinking out of the box, as opposed to recasting old rhetoric in today’s language.

  11. Joshua says:

    Steve,

    I am still waiting for someone to tell me what the solution to the problem and how do I
    avoid this from happening to my children.

    sincerely,

    Extremely Perplexed

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    This article was timely and once again, Mishpacha, deserves all the kudos in the world for publishing it. I wonder whether the Yated , Hamodia or the Jewish Observer would publish such an article.

    That being said, the article raised a series of issues that cannot be ignored and that should be discussed before children are either “out of the
    freezer” or “in the parsha.” The bottom line is that while we emulate our Gdolim, one cannot expect all kollel families with financial issues to be
    able to deal with them as ably as R Yaakov Kamentsky ZTL. I agree that much of the so-called “shift to the right” and the phenomenon of MO youth entering the yeshiva gdolos and seeking the purity of kollel life is admirable. Yet, those who encourage this way of life to the exclusion and legitimacy of all
    others, bachurim and seminary graduates should understand what they are getting into and that money issues shouldn’t be dismissed as a lack of btachon or emunah.

  13. Steven says:

    Joshua,

    In retrospect, I should not have stated the Reb Yaakov supported lying to children. He may well have believed that the items asked for were not necessary. However, even if that is the case, he still supported concealing the truth. His stating these things aren’t necessary, even if true, was an attempt to conceal from his children that they were deprived of things they otherwise wouldn’t be deprived of, but for the fact that their father learns. There is no way that you will hide from kids that truth. Reb Yaakov thought that it was a problem for children to realize that it is the truth. The only way to correct the problem is to change the reality, not attempt to change children’s perception of reality.

  14. Steven says:

    Tween is a term that marketers use for people between 10 and 12. To quote a marketing website about them, they are “No longer little children, and not yet teens, tweens are starting to develop their sense of identity and are anxious to cultivate a sophisticated self-image.” “By treating pre-adolescents as independent, mature consumers, marketers have been very successful in removing the gatekeepers (parents) from the picture.”

  15. Joshua says:

    Steven,
    I don’t think Rav Yaacov was lying he honestly believed the things were not necessary.

    Jonathan,
    This article paints such a gloomy picture I question whether I want to be part of so called Charedi world. At the moment I have 2 daughters in a mamad torani school and my wife is not happy about some of the girls are allowed to dress ( my daughters do dress in a very modest manner but there is the worry that they will learn from their surroundings) and is considering putting them in the beit Yaacov but after reading this article I have my reservations. Please tell me the situation is not as bad as you paint.

  16. Gershon Seif says:

    what is a tween? At first I thought it was a typo for teen, but 3 times is a chazakah! so I ask… what is a tween???

  17. Steven says:

    — whenever the children asked for something, Reb Yaakov was careful not to tell them that he could not afford the item in question. Instead he always explained why the item in question was not really necessary. —

    My mom grew up in a very poor but prominent Litvish family. She had the same experience, where if she asked for something, her parents said she did not need it, rather than admit that they could not afford it. She always felt that this was a big mistake on her parent’s part.

    Reb Yaakov’s approach is wrong for two reasons.

    Firstly, it’s a lie. Apparently Reb Yaakov had no compunction about lying to his children. However, children often pick up more than adults realize. When children realize when their parents lie to them, and that can cause them to be very disillusioned.

    Secondly, it causes the children to feel that their parents cannot relate to them or how they feel about things and is more likely to alienate children. Imagine a tween complains to her parents that she needs new clothing because her clothing are old and unfashionable. In response, the parents tell her that clothing is not so important. Whatever reason they provide for why that is the case, it will not be convincing to a tween, because she is at an age when peer pressure is great, and tweens tend to care about such stuff. Reb Yaakov probably overrated his powers of persuasion if he thinks he was always successful in convincing his children that what they wanted was not important.

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Yitz,

    In those previous generations there were LESS yeshiva students. Maybe it is better if the Rabbis that teach in a Yeshiva concentrate on a few really talented students, rather than try to educate everybody.

  19. yitz says:

    I think that although the easy solution to poverty is to tell all those who suffer from it to go to work, I feel that at least one should take into consideration the effects of such a move. As is with all topics the more one studies Torah the greater the scholarship. We live in a generation where our great Torah leaders can not even be compaired to those of the previous generation. We lack the greatness that once was. To send more people away from learning might make the situation even worse. Now it certainly is not either they all stay learning or they all leave, but I imagine the more learning and growing the better. Be it as it may, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to support them, to go through hardships to keep the level of scholarship as high as possible?

  20. Danny S says:

    You wrote:
    “the young couple inevitably find themselves too much in one another’s company.”

    If this is a cause for divorce then we have another problem besides for the financial one.

  21. Ori says:

    After the Holocaust, it was arguably necessary to rebuild the world of Torah study by having everybody who was capable of it spend as much time as possible in Yeshiva. The need was so dire that even a secular Jew like Ben Gurion decided to exempt a few hundred Yeshiva students from service during the Israeli was of Independance.

    That was then. Now, two generations later, there is no shortage of Yeshivas and no risk that Torah will be forgotten from Israel. Instead, there is a growing chasm within the Jewish people.

    I don’t know Charedi society, but from the Chiloni (= secular) side, this is caused by two factors:

    1. Many secular Israelis see Judaism as a way to escape the normal duties of protecting the country and earning a living. Even if they are wrong, having such a prevaling opinion is a Chilul Hashem.

    2. Those same secular Israelis are not working side by side with Charedim, especially in higher skilled, higher paying jobs. This means they do not have as many personal examples of Mitzvot observance (they have some, since the Dati-Leumi people work and fight along side them).

    Is the cost of alienating a large portion of the Jewish population of Israel worth it? I’m not observant, so I can’t presume to judge – but it is a big cost to Judaism.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I recall hearing once that the zechus of Zevulun’s supporting Issachar is not split 50/50, but 100/100.

    Find me a gadol who is on record for steering good baalei midos without the zitsfleish for full-time learning toward solid careers combined with a seder for learning.

    There remains 24 hours in a day and I’d love to see a spreadsheet on how to spend it all and manage to squeeze in learning, earning a living, spending time with wife and children, and affording to live in a Torah community whose schools won’t be seen as an impediment to a “good shidduch”.

    Has anyone ever reconsidered the benefits of returning to shtetl life, fleeing the urban filth, to relocate to towns where there is affordable housing, minimal crime, healthier “family values” environments, and where making a reasonable living suffices to enable one to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor at the end of the day with time to enjoy one’s spouse and family and where it might be possible for young married couples to afford to live near their families? If those who worked in chinuch lived in communities where homes went for $150k and not $500k and the infrastructure for buildings and schools were a fraction of what they are in cities, wouldn’t that be a step back in the right direction?

    Wouldn’t 20 mini-neo-Lakewoods be preferable to the high cost (material AND spiritual) of urban Torah life where baal habatim have to work overtime to afford anything and end up delegating raising their own children to others?

    Real scholars are rarely made. They’re usually born. Geniuses recognize a compulsion toward a subject before they’re 10 years old. I don’t see the haredi community generating fewer gedolim if there would be less emphasis on learning in kollel. Instead, what we get is akin to what a college degree has become, a kind of post-high school requirement that loses its value 2-3 years after completion. The value of an Ivy degree is not in the education–no, a Michigan State student is not quantitatively less gifted than a Penn student–but in parental bragging rights.

    Are we truly thinking about al pi darko in pushing our children toward kollel life? Or is it for our own egos?

    Can anyone find me a haredi rosh yeshiva or rosh kollel who would found a Beis Zevulun track that started in junior high school that didn’t stigmatize the students in it? (I won’t hold my breath.) Or is haredi necessarily synonymous with being on the dole?

    Can the haredi world reclaim R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch from the MO as a role model for the vast majority of haredi husbands / fathers? Where is a neo-Zevulun movement coming from the right?

  23. Harry Maryles says:

    Rabbi Rosenblum’s article is uncannily similar to my own blog entry on Emes Ve-Emunah posted Monday December 26th entitled: The Tyranny of the Modern Day Kollel System

    Here is the opening paragraph:

    One of the biggest problems facing the Torah world today is that of Avreichim spending far too many years in a Kollel. Instead of spending a year or two post marriage they can spend double or triple that amount of time. The problem of course is the purity of Torah study demanded of these young Kollel members. They are forbidden to do anything accept learn full time. The result is that when they finally do leave the walls of the Beis HaMedrash, they are ill prepared to find a decent job.

  24. Mordechai says:

    Rabbi Berel Wein shlita has spoken about this inyan as well.

  25. Yaakov Rosenblatt, Dallas says:

    One of the most effective ways to overcome this is for Kollel families to make it clear to their children that they have a choice: choose the same lifestyle of great sacrifice and great spirituality, or learn a skill, be a frum yid and achieve greatness through community service.

  26. ron mann says:

    It is amazing to me that the article never mentions the concept the maybe young married men should actually consider working. It also fails to mention the terrible failure of our yeshiva system to provide education at a level that would allow young married men to get quality jobs. Never mind the societal pressure that discriminates against young men that might be interested in working.

    I heard a charedi Rosh Yeshiva from Yerushalayim comment recently that the current economic situation results not only in increased marital pressures but presents a challenge to the yashrus of the community as well.

  27. Joshua says:

    I wrote that the girls are not eduated properly it probably can be said about the boys as
    well.

  28. Joshua says:

    Jonathan,
    So what is the solution to this problem? I believe there is a problem in the education system girls are taught to marry someone learning full time and they are not taught that for that to happen one has to make sacrifices. I personally don’t think that everyone is prepared to live a live of poverty most people are not Rav Yaacov’s. many people are living beyond their means. In yerushalyim I am amazed how many people have cars things that at one time were considered luxuries are today considered necessities. I think the reason there is a high rate of divource because people are not prepared to work to make things work. People glorify the olden days in Europe where there was not a lot of money but yet people did not get divourced.
    .

  29. Marty Bluke says:

    Maybe, instead of bemoaning the poverty we should address the root cause of poverty, the lack of secular education and the expectation that all men should learn in kollel. In today’s modern society it is very very difficult to make a decent living without a good secular education. Most of the jobs that pay well require a University degree. In addition, it is not realistic to expect everyone to sit and learn in kollel.

  1. November 19, 2008

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