On Making Money

letter-447577_1280

Most of us tend to be impressed by talents that we completely lack: the ability to hit a fastball thrown at 100 mph, dunk a basketball, solve differential equations. Me? I’m fascinated by those with the ability to make money.

I don’t mean the young hotshots in bright red suspenders pulling down million dollar bonuses on Wall Street. No, the ones who really impress me are the guys in frock coats who arrived in America without a penny to their name, little or no English, few connections, and the kind of education one picks up in the death camps or Siberia, and who somehow managed to make millions selling one type of shmatte or another.

How does someone with that background end up manufacturing costume jewelry for young Puerto Ricans or Lacoste knock-off sports shirts that he would not be caught dead wearing? What does he know about what will sell in Spanish Harlem or even how costume jewelry is manufactured. And even if he does, what distributor would believe him?

One Holocaust survivor who is rumored to own a fair percentage of the oil wells dotting the Los Angeles landscape could only find a job cleaning out leaves from under houses when he arrived in America. I still cannot work out how many leaves one has to sweep out to purchase one’s first oil well.

This week I was chatting with a new friend. He and his brother took a single failing bridal gown store and turned it into a chain of more than a 100. From his description of his youthful poverty, it is doubtful that his wife could have even afforded one of the stores’ gowns when they were married. In short, he knew nothing about wedding gowns when he and his brother scraped together enough to purchase the first store, and I’m far from clear he knows much more about them today. But in his early sixties he is able to spend all his time on Jewish philanthropy, kvelling about his frum children and grandchildren, and enjoying the King David Hotel when he’s in Jerusalem.

Perhaps the maxim “buy cheap sell dear” is genetically encoded in many Jews. If so, that gene continues to be passed on. My secretary has two young female relatives with thriving eBay businesses.

Of course, necessity helps as well. Many of the post-war immigrants to America had already started families in the DP camps or hoped to do so soon after their arrival in America. They had no choice but to find a way to make a living, and quick. Only in the Torah community in Israel do neither genes nor economic necessity seem to have given rise to a large entrepreneurial class.

That hondling gene has atrophied completely in the Rosenblum family. If someone gave me a million dollars to start a business, I would not have a clue what to do. My first instinct would be to purchase a CD yielding 3% per annum.

Both my grandfathers made enough money to ensure that their children and grandchildren would be able to afford fancy educations so that they could end up as professionals or salaried employees. But as a Satmar Chassid once told me, “An education is helpful for earning a living, but it’s irrelevant if you want to make MONEY.” He made clear that he preferred the latter.

WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE, none of my friends would have admitted that they planned to go into business or that they hoped to become rich. Even doctors and lawyers were vaguely disreputable. Anyone planning to go to law or medical school would invariably add that they were doing so only to save humanity – or at the least the spotted salamander – or to find a cure for cancer.

But as I’ve gotten older, my respect for businessmen has grown and that for professionals waned. Anyone who has ever tried to collect tzedakah from businessmen and lawyers will appreciate the difference. (Please no angry Emails from my doctor and lawyer friends. I know there are many exceptions to the rule, you chief among them.)

Businessmen are far less likely to attribute their success solely to their own abilities. Many of them have been up and down over the course of their careers, and have lost fortunes as well as made them. That makes them a lot more prone to recognize the role of siyata d’Shmaya in their success.

“Hashem has been very good to me,” is a phrase that rolls trippingly off the tongues of businessmen, not of lawyers. The Vilna Gaon comments on the verse (Mishlei 17:13), “[If] one repays good with evil, evil will not depart from his house:” One who has been favored with an extra portion of chesed from Hashem (the Gaon specifically mentions great wealth) has an extra obligation to serve Hashem. Most frum businessmen intuitively understand that.

The aforementioned hondling gene appears later than that for the type of intelligence that gets one into a good medical or law school. One of the community’s major philanthropists jokes that he made a fortune in real estate only because he didn’t do well enough on the exam to become a New York City school teacher, like his more studious friends from yeshiva. Many successful businessmen are remembered from their yeshiva days chiefly as the one who ran the laundry-machine concession.

Because few of them grew up being praised as the next Rabbi Akiva Eiger, successful businessmen rarely view their success as something coming to them as a matter of right. Not so those who always got the best grades. The praise showered upon them in their early years leads them to forget that academic intelligence is also a gift from Hashem, not something they earned.

The late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick developed an entire theory about why intellectuals hate capitalism. He speculated that they grow used to teachers’ praise in their youth, and resent a system that apportions reward according to different criteria than those for praising kids in school. “Why are my stupid clients so much richer than I?” was the most frequently discussed topic in my old law firm.

On second thought, the respect for so many of the entrepreneurs I know derives not from the fact that they can do something I can’t – that would be true of most skills – but from the fact that they have used their business acumen to both make themselves better people and to help those less fortunate.

Appeared in Mishpacha magazine today.

You may also like...

34 Responses

  1. Yaakov Ben-David says:

    I note that Rosenbloom didn’t even relate to people who want an education and profession that allows them to use their G-d-given intellects to understand and appreciate the world that He created. I guess the bottom line for him is the bottom line on the 1040 tax form.
    I went to Univesity because I wanted to study, money wasn’t a prime considertion. I received degrees in Geophysics and now work in Aeronautical Engineering. I became Mitzvah observant while in University. My studies and work to this have greatly deepened my awe at G-d’s creation. B”H my salary keeps us going here in Israel but it is hard to save money, but I enjoy what I do and it influences my thinking and my spirituality. There are always going to be people who have a curiosity about the world and how it works, and I will not raise my children to be satisfied with simply a parnasa(livelihood) if they have the interest and ability to use their brains more creatively. It is a waste and any education system that teaches their students to suppress their abilities is doing a disservice to its students. Not every one has the inclination or ability to learn Torah full-time and, as I said, many want to use their talents in other intellectual directions, and the Torah world must take this into account.

  2. Chaim G. says:

    Why do you limit professionalism to the field of law?

  3. Chaim G. says:

    You missed my point. It was that the ability to throw a baseball @ 100+ miles per hour can ONLY engender admiration but never jealousy as the spectator knows that he will never be able to do it.

    Whereas running a succesful business has the ability to arouse jealousy and a competetive reaction. “hey…I can do that to!”. After all it merely requires Jewish DNA (presumbly somerthing most Mishpocah Mag & crosscurrent readers already posess. More to the point… something that the great masses in Lakewood and Mir eschewing University and trade school already possess) and an abiding faith that HaShem is the source of blessing and success presumbly somerthing most Lakewood and Mirstydents and Mishpocah Mag & crosscurrent readers can easily cultivate if they do not already posess it.

    Forgive my cynicism but IMO the real point of this editorial was to arouse those feelings among the readership and their college age children and to remove any scintilla of guilt that perhaps, just perhaps, these ambitions are fueled more by ta’avas HaOlam Hashafal HaZeh for luxury, for status and for power than by the noble desire to enhance the commonweal.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    “Businessmen are far less likely to attribute their success solely to their own abilities. Many of them have been up and down over the course of their careers, and have lost fortunes as well as made them. That makes them a lot more prone to recognize the role of siyata d’Shmaya in their success.”

    there is something to what JR says here. when you study a field then work within a framework that provides a set salary and expected raises, one can come to think that it’s not coming from g-d.

    Being “downsisized” also provides a dose of that vulnerability / bitachon that businesspeople get naturallly.

  5. Marty Bluke says:

    The Gemara in Kiddushin(30b) seems to prefer a trade/profession over business. The Gemara writes:
    חייב אדם ללמד את בנו אומנות
    A person is obligated to teach his son a trade

    The Gemara has a dispute whether teaching your son business fulfills this obligation. According to R’ Yehuda it does not. In other words, according to R’ Yehuda it is explicit that being a professional/tradesman is preferrable to being a businessman.

    The Mishna later (82a) says
    ר’ מאיר אומר לעולם ילמד אדם את בנו אומנות קלה ונקיה
    A person should teach his sons an easy and clean profession

    The Gemara gives specific examples of trade not business.

    We see clearly that Chazal’s preferred occupation was a profession/trade not business.

    The article says that professionals make a living but businessman get rich.

    The Mishna (Kiddushin 82a) states

    ר’ מאיר אומר לעולם ילמד אדם את בנו אומנות קלה ונקיה ויתפלל למי שעושר והנכסים שלו שאין אומנות שאין בא עשירות ועניות שלא עשירות מן האומנות ולא עניות מן האומנות אלא הכל לפי זכותו
    A person should teach his sons an easy and clean profession and pray to the one to whom wealth and property is his (hashem) because there is no profession/trade that doesn’t have rich people and poor people, as riches are not based on the profession nor is poverty, rather everything is based on your merits

    The Mishna says explicitly that money comes from heaven and whatever profession/trade/business you will get what you deserve.

  6. David N. Friedman says:

    I am surely gratified that Jonathan Rosenblum has written this column and as a small businessman, I think he has aptly picked up on some of the mostly unspoken virtues of the whole history of Jewish business owners.

    I happily copied this article to my brother, a very fine lawyer, who graciously has introduced me to his colleagues as a man who makes an honest living (a self-depricating contrast to his own way of making a living.) I agree with those who have defended JR’s ode to the Jewish businessman as no specific rap against “professionals” and clearly my brother’s own tip of his hat to my ability to employ 10 people, pay extravagant rent, give up tons of taxes and serve hundreds of clients in a community with a great product at a great price–is as sincere as Rabbi Rosenblum’s.

    Regarding Chaim G’s comment, Rabbi Rosenblum expressed no jealousy at all–rather, some honest respect and admiration for an ability he lacks and sees as socially valuable. Indeed, the fact that Jews have so strongly been involved in small business, retail merchandising and buying and selling is reason enough to see that there must be merit in the enterprise. This is a significant part of the success story of America and the Jewish rags to riches story is a part of many of our families. The businessman is a public servant in a way very different than a professional and if so many businesses fail–a far greater number of those owned by Jews succeed.

    I am only one Jewish businessman who so clearly and quickly agrees with Rabbi Rosenblum’s observations that my hard work, talents and insights have come with gratitude to the source of all blessings. Further, I have gratitude to the American system of free enterprise that has enabled me to make both an honest and profitable livelihood.

    I am a bit troubled by those who have responded previously about some kind of alleged conflict inherent in halachic fidelity and one’s life as a businessman. Jacob’s sentiment that businessmen are far more prone to steal from their customers cannot be documented and clearly there is something wholesome inherent in a system of dealing in a real competitive marketplace of buyers and sellers. The admiration that Rabbi Rosenblum expresses comes for good reasons.

    By contrast, a below-average lawyer with a great amount of gall can take a handful of worthless lawsuits and turn them into a personal fortune so that he can run for President of the United States while there is not even a murmur about how he so dishonestly came to have his wealth. If there are shady businessmen, they are much more prone to be discovered and punished.

    Lastly, from all that I understand, there is nothing in Judaism that is opposed to making money and creating wealth. Business acumen is socially-desirable and would benefit from lower taxes and more respect from our society at large.

  7. Marty Bluke says:

    Ori,

    Making a living is a mitzva, your third group, making MONEY is at best in the second group (and maybe the first)and therefore why should we admire someone who wants to make money and not make a living?

  8. Tzvi says:

    Perhaps in his next column Jonathon can write an essay showing why professionals and those who did succeed in school are better than businessmen. Jonathon should make sure to include at least one overly generalized statement that gratuitously disparages businessmen. It would be an extra help if he would make sure to tip the scales: that is, by comparing the harshest negative stereotype of businessman to the most exalted stereotype of a professional.

    One thing I can say for sure. It should be a much easier essay to write.

  9. Chaim G. says:

    out of a desire to have a lot of money,

    Ori-

    WADR the picture you paint is too Black and white. You left out Mitzvahs for ulterior motives, Aveiros Lishma (e.g. miNashim B’Ohel Tevarekh Ya’al)and the strange admixture of pure and impure motivations that are part of the non-static human condition.

    One thing that, to me, is black and white, is that there is no moral neutrality. For those who would translate eved HaShem as “servant” of G-d perhaps. I translate it as “slave” of G-d. Slaves have no time off and no times to themselves. If the Master deems it in his best interests to have the slave “chill” or “work out” so be it, but woe to the slave who is in the gym when he should be pearl diving.

    So, in answer to your question and adhering to your categories, if the one desirous of having a lot of money is playing Z’vulun to another’s Yissaschar or wants to serve as a cash cow for sundry good causes (including of course being mefarnes his own family respectably and even expansively though not indulgently) then it is #3. Otherwise it is # 1.

    Even if you opine that it is #2 I’ve yet to see a post on CrossCurrents extolling the virtues and of “eating Matzah balls to his to her heart’s content on most days” or how it compares with say frugal kugel consumption.

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Chaim G, in theory there are three types of actions in the world:

    1. Forbidden – pork, shellfish, etc.

    2. Permissible – actions that Halacha does not forbid or recommend. If somebody likes eating Matzah balls, he can eat them to his to her heart’s content on most days, but there is nothing particularly laudable about it.

    3. Mitzva – marital relations (at least for couples who are fertile), talmud Torah, etc.

    Dishonesty in business is obviously in the first group. Is making MONEY honestly, out of a desire to have a lot of money, in the first group or the second?

  11. Chaim G. says:

    I’d also like to add a pertinent comment I made on 7.5 from a thread of a DB post wherin DB criticized ArtScroll for naming a new edition after a businessman with less than pristine business ethics:

    “For a change I agree with DB on this one.

    The Steiplers zy”a seforim were all printed with the caveat that nidfas ahl niyar she-ein bo kh’shash khilul Shabbos khas v’shalom = “Printed on paper without the taint of suspected Shabbat desecration G-d forbid”

    Why shouldn’t we be able to study Torah in the Artscroll oeuvre with our hearts and minds at ease that these s’forim were “Printed on paper without the taint of suspected, gezel, oshek, ribis and general Khilul HaShem= name-of-G-d desecration… G-d forbid”???

    IIRC the Ramban provides the following ta’am for the negative mitzvah of esnan zonah = the prohibition of offering a sacrifice from kosher animals and or flour that was bartered for a prostitutes services: We didn’t want to provide the prostitute with a rationalization for her sins and a salve for her conscience. We didn’t want her to be able to say “Well I understand that it’s not the kosher-ist way to earn a living but at least I’m doing it for a good cause”.

    There are Mafiosi who use their ill-gotten gains to build Basilicas and put their priest brother through seminary. Shouldn’t Jewish philanthropists hew to a higher moral-ethical level?

    Honoring these guys at dinners and through naming of buildings and Seforim editions after them sends the completely wrong message to our already under-secular-educated youth. To wit: “You can make it big time as a hustler and wheeler -dealer, even a totally dishonest one. Just as long as you give big money to good causes.” What a deal! I can grow up to be a gonif-a BIG one- keep 80-90% of my ill-gotten gains to myself and live large. Just as long as I give 10-20% to the right causes.

    Sick and perverse..really.

    The Rebbe Reb Binim of Pshiskha zy”a explained the apparent redundancy in
    כ צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף-
    20 Justice, justice shalt thou follow,

    To mean that one should pursue justice with justice not with injustice
    Tzedk B’tzedek Tirdof

    Chaim G.
    The Bray of Fundie

  12. Jacob Haller says:

    Aaron wrote

    “I’ve often thought about the connection between widespread society-crippling microtheft which Parshas Noach describes as hamas and the incessant attacks by Hamas on a nation famous for disproportionate intellectual property piracy that is 50% higher than the US.”

    Hopefully it’s not presumptious to recommend that one should exercise measures of caution before drawing conclusions on Divine judgements.

    David Singer wrote:
    “This post is a perfect illustration why anecdotal evidence is completely worthless.”
    Maybe. However many of the responses that disagreed with the tone and tenor of the post also relied on anecdotal evidence to make their points.

    Jacob wrote
    “Professionals are far less likely to steal from their customers and to defraud the government”
    The professionals who ran Worldcom, Enron, Tyco, etc caused literally tens of thousands of their own employees to completely lose their pensions.

    I’m not a businessman and never have been. From this admittedly inexperienced vantage point I can’t help but think that the businessman has a clearer line of sight regarding how parnassa is received. It could be blurried by their own hubris of couse, but the potential seems greater.

  13. Chaim G. says:

    Most of us tend to be impressed by talents that we completely lack: the ability to hit a fastball thrown at 100 mph, dunk a basketball, solve differential equations. Me? I’m fascinated by those with the ability to make money.

    But as I’ve gotten older, my respect for businessmen has grown

    “Impressed”, “fascinated” and “respectful” are all well and good. What rubs me the wrong way about this article is that its implicit message is to arouse jealousy. Our sages teach us that the midah of jealousy presupposes commonality; ain gibor miskaneh elah b’gibor shek’moso=”The hero/champion is only jealous of his fellow hero”.

    The author transmits a mixed message when first confessing his own apparent lack of the “hondling” gene and then implying that no tremendous intellectual acumen is required so long as one has a deep and abiding faith in Divine Providence extending to their business affairs. This, apparently, is a category we all fit into. Hence sharing common traits with successful all-caps MONEY-makers we too should strive to emulate them and feel th epangs of jelousy when we fail to do so.

    At the risk of sounding like a one note Johnny I reiterate: Is this a Torah-true sentiment? Did our sages teach us that Kinas Sokhrim tarbeh Tzedaka= “Business competition will increase philanthropy” or Kinas Sofrim tarbeh Khokhmah= A”cademic/pedagogical competition will increase wisdom?” Did they not teach us v’lo kol hamarbeh b’skhorah makhkim= “not all who obsess over business will grow wise”? When given the choice did Shlomo HaMelekh opt for riches or wisdom?

    Whose value system is this piece attempting to promote? To my way of thinking neither that of the wisest of men nor that of Chazal.

  14. rescue37 says:

    How about a study of honesty to go alon with this. As my experience as a CPA working mainly in the non-Jewish world, the most flimsy rationalizations and outright ignoring of tax and other laws often come from the frum business man. Maybe their bigger giving is due to their guilt feeling on their business practices? Actually I have never seen one think he did anything wrong, even after proving from tax and case law that he is.

  15. Marty Bluke says:

    A few points that need to be considered:
    1. Why should someone want to make MONEY? Is that the purpose in life?
    2. Many professionals (including myself) have been laid off at some point for no fault of their own. When I was laid off (as part of a general company downsizing) I understood that it didn’t matter how good I was or what I had done, I was still being laid off. If anything professionals have greater emuna because they really that they have little or no influence on whether they will have a job or not.
    3. For every story of a businessman making it bad there are 9 stories of businesses closing down or going bankrupt. 9 out of 10 small businesses fail.
    4. Running a business can be very challenging in terms of keeping halacha and acting ethically. there is a famous story about a shochet who came to R’ Yisrael Salanter and said he doesn’t want to be a shochet anymore the responsibility is too great. Instead he wants to open a store. R’ Yisrael told him that he is making a big mistake. A storekeeper has a much bigger responsibility vis a vis halachic obligations and responsibilities then a shochet.
    5. Running a business is more then a full time job, it can easily take over your life. Many professionals on the other hand are able to devote a few hours a day to learning Torah.

  16. Aaron says:

    “How does someone with that background end up manufacturing costume jewelry for young Puerto Ricans or Lacoste knock-off sports shirts that he would not be caught dead wearing?”

    Oh, gneivas daas (intellectual property theft or counterfeiting) is an admirable business?

    I’ve often thought about the connection between widespread society-crippling microtheft which Parshas Noach describes as hamas and the incessant attacks by Hamas on a nation famous for disproportionate intellectual property piracy that is 50% higher than the US.

    My anecdotal experience is that businessmen are considerably less ethical than professionals. The negotiations I’ve had with clients are beyond depressing. For me, I wish that all business negotiations were videotaped and available for viewing by the clergy, parents and children of the master “hondler”. Somehow, I think the pride of accomplishment might be a bit tarnished if the means and not the ends were examined more closely.

    Here’s my test, follow that multi-millionaire around for 24 hours a day for a month and see how his employees are treated, listen in on a few of his business negotiations and then re-evaluate based on the new data.

    Of course, I’m cynical. Reading British social anthropologist Gerald Mars’ book “Cheats at Work” whereby it’s effectively shown that EVERYONE cheats and that the form of cheating is based on what one does for a living, from dockworker to insurance salesman to entrepreneur to college professor to doctor to lawyer to waiter.

  17. Tzurah says:

    R. Roseblum’s sentiments mirror my own growth in the admiration and appreciation for those who are successful in business. I think there are many of us who come to the realization only after college or even grad school that being successful and doing well in school is not necessarily the same thing.

    However, I’m not sure the dichotomy he makes, between businessmen who are acutely aware of siyata d’shmaya and professionals who are not, is really fair. Read any issue of Fortune or Forbes (aka the Sports Illustrated of business and finance), and you’ll see plenty of businessmen who proudly proclaim, “kochi v’otzem yadi!”

  18. ClooJew says:

    I am, lulei demistafina, a businessman and my father is a professional.

    When I come up to his ankles in Yiras Shamayim I will feel qualified to comment on your essay.

  19. Chaim G. says:

    “An education is helpful for earning a living, but it’s irrelevant if you want to make MONEY.”

    Question: Why should a G-d fearing Jew desire to make MONEY? Especially all-caps money? Since when does G-d require us to do more than “earn a living”?

    v’im timtseh lomar that it’s in order to be able to give not just tsedoka but TSEDOKA…A) maybe the time differential would be better spent learning and davening? and B)G’milus Khasodim b’gufo can be extended absent great quantities of cash. Why IIRC those not just earning a living* but actually making MONEY can even be on the recieving end of such mitzvos.
    __________________________________________

    * BTW a fond but unrealizable goal for many of us who were neither praised for Talmudic acumen nor possess the coveted “buy low sell dear” gene)

  20. Jacob says:

    Funny. I don’t see things the same way. As *I’ve* gotten older, my respect for professionals has grown and that for businessmen has waned. Anyone who has ever been to a minimum security prison will appreciate the difference… Professionals are far less likely to steal from their customers and to defraud the government. Most of them have studied and worked alongside gentiles and therefore acutely realize that they are representing the Creator, the religion and the rest of us. That makes them a lot more prone to honesty. “The Almighty hates thievery,” is a phrase that rolls trippingly off the tongues of professionals, not of businessmen.

  21. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum, may I ask you to clarify?

    It seemed to me that you wrote that piece to say, essentially, “I used to think we professionals were so smart, but now I see that business people are as good, and that they tend to do some things better”. Noam thinks your meaning is closer to “business people are better than professionals”.

    In the interest of nobody feeling offended, which might lead to the Sinat Chinam that already cost us a Beit Mikdash, may I ask that you clarify?

  22. David Farkas says:

    ( This is from a slightly larger comments on Gil Student’s hirhurim blog, where GS criticized this piece) ——-

    JR’s opinion piece just seemed to be an honest expression of admiration for businessmen. Sort of like a frum Ayn Rand shtikle. I too share his admiration, and I say that as a professional. Most of us professionals only exist because of the many needless government laws that make us necessary. We are not first-cause builders of the economy in the same sense that businessmen are. We do not provide jobs like business men do.

    That said, some of JR’s points I thought were wrong, like the idea that professionals were less inclined to give tzedkah than business men. I’ve no idea where he got that from. But on the whole, it was just an honest expression of opinion, agree or disagree. Nothing wrong with that.

  23. concerned says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum accuses professionals in general as having less faith than businessmen. Rosenblum’s claims come from, from what I can tell, a total lack of experience in the corporate world. Or, at least, from experiences that vary dramatically from mine. From what I know, his description of the corporate world is correct for many people in their first few years of working, and maybe for a minority throughout their careers.

    First of all, successful professionals are, essentially, businessmen. Whether we are discussing lawyers or accountants who become partners in their firms, or investment bankers or traders who need to make deals and sell products, or politicans who need to broker agreements, etc. etc.

    Second of all, I personally chose my major (Math) based on my own abilities and the career possibilities. I also know doctors who chose Pre-Med for the same reason. I actually can think, right now, of only one person who chose his career path based on noble reasons, which, to some degree, is probably a sad commentary on me and my friends.

    Third, people in the corporate world lose promotions and jobs, just like businessmen lose fortunes. Some of the computer programmers I know have gone to work every day for the past few years thinking (correctly) that there is a good chance that they will be told upon arriving that they have been fired. Not to mention that, for many, the bulk of their income comes from bonuses which vary greatly from year to year, often based on many factors that are beyond any individual’s control (such as the multi-national company’s overall success in the year).

    Fourth, I do not have the statistics handy but my impression is that the vast majority of huge philanthropists in the Jewish community — think people with institutions named after them — live at the top of corporate ladders.

    Fifth, pardon me for trying to read Rosenblum’s mind but this article seems to me to be an attack on college education. He seems to be saying that people don’t need a college degree to make a living. They can just buy a business and work it to success. That is true for a minority of people in the community. Those who are good at business do not necessarily need a college education. But God gives everyone different sets of skills and those who were not given business acumen will generally not succeed financially without a college education.

    Let me add, and this is only slightly related to the article, that there seems to be an unrelenting attack on balebatim in the Yeshivish world that I don’t think existed 25 years ago. The general impression given at every possible opportunity is that if you aren’t a professional Jew, learning in kollel or giving millions of dollars to yeshivas then you are a bedi’eved Jew, a necessary evil to be pitied and denigrated. In my opinion, this is not only contrary to thousands of years of Jewish tradition, it is unwise because eventually such people will look elsewhere for leadership rather than endure second-class citizenship. The article under discussion here is essentially following this party line, which is understandable given Rosenblum’s position in his community. So I do not blame him. Yet, I sense that this attitude is self-destructive; and that gives me little comfort because, while waiting for this community to implode under the weight of its lack of foresight, I see real people’s lives and spiritual well-beings being destroyed as well.

  24. Jonathan says:

    “”Hashem has been very good to me,” is a phrase that rolls trippingly off the tongues of businessmen, not of lawyers”

    Why is Cross Currents posting this, other than to hurt kiruv efforts among lawyers?

    I am a Jew and a lawyer and I praise Hashem everyday for my blessings and I know I am not alone among Jewish lawyers.

  25. Ben Bayit says:

    Since I graduated university I have quit two jobs to move to other jobs, been fired outright once and been laid off 3 times. In addition I quit a job to make aliyah without a job in hand. I am in awe of the siyata dishmaya I have had in finding a job – and in all of the above instances it was usually just about the time my unemployment/safety net fund was about to run out. Many of these jobs came about due to “quirky” circumstances – not the usual channels. I am certain that I have a much greater appreciation for siyata dishmaya than a person who “hocked”, haggled, schemed and cut corners to get his first million, then lost it all and filed for bankruptcy – leaving a host of employees without back wages and pension plans, and then connived his way via protection into a new venture that gave him his next million. Come to think of it – there is no way that fellow – as described by Rosenbloom – has any sense of siyata dishmaya and when he says “hashem was good to me”. He’s saying it because he knows someone will stroke his ego and make him feel like he’s a better Jew because he says it.

  26. Joe Fisher says:

    In his Kuntrus hachessed Rav Dessler urges us to make our living by no trade other than manual labor. Yagia capecha ci tochel. Because its too hard to know in business whether you’re overcharging or not.

    Pick up a shovel? Now that’s what I call “Hand’ling”!

  27. David Singer says:

    This post is a perfect illustration why anecdotal evidence is completely worthless.

    If you were ask a different group of people im sure they would tell you that succeeding in business requires far more dishonesty and callousness, and requires you treat people poorly. But hey, thats just my experience.

  28. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that the article simply contrasted the difference between the business world, as opposed to the professional world. Someone who owns his or her own business and who has done well therein makes their own decisions and can pass it down to the next generation. Professionals don’t have that luxury.

    I would agree with Noam that in the ideal world, a physician or other professional would see his or her work as helping improve the world. Whether or not the average professional experiences such a state or whether the average successful businessperson does so on a constant state in the course of an average day is a subject for another post.That being the case, I once heard R D Aaaron Twerski, who should have a continued Refuah Shlemah, once state that when he woke up in the morning, the first thing that was on his mind was the then pending Agent Orange cases.

  29. Noam says:

    (full disclosure- I qualify as a member of the ‘intellectual, professional physician’ group)

    I too admire those who started with less than nothing and built something admirable and impressive. In addition, those who have solid faith in Hashem and help others are of course paradigms of virtue. However, I fail to see the proof of how accomplishing the first leads to the second. Certainly one can point to many frum accomplished businessmen who are tremendous ba’alei tzedaka. However, if someone accumulated that much wealth in some other occupation, are you contending that they would not be that generous? Perhaps it is because business is the most common way to achieve very significant wealth(not just upper middle class which is where most professionals reside) in the multi-millionaire range that they stand out as ba’alei tzedaka. They have much more disposable income, and therefore more to give.

    I also fail to understand the need to disparage professionals and intellectuals. The article referenced by Professor Nozick in fact does not address intellectuals in general, but WORDSMITH INTELLECTUALS, which does not include doctors or lawyers, but refers to writers and philosophers. I think that there are much simpler explainations for the phenomena that Professor Nozick is describing, but that is not germane here.

    Over time you have less respect for professionals and more for businessmen, because the businessmen, as you state:

    “… have used their business acumen to both make themselves better people and to help those less fortunate.”

    The logical inference is that you feel that professionals have failed either to make themselves better people, or, have failed to help those less fortunate.(the only other logical alternative is the somewhat absurd notion that professionals deserve less of your respect because they have failed to use their business acumen). This is a somewhat damning indictment of professionals, and I would be very interested to see any data that supports it.

    Another interesting issue is whether a businessman, because of the inconsistancy of the business cycle, develops a deeper faith in Hashem. A doctor’s patients may live, die, get better, or get worse, but according to Mr. Rosenblum, the doctor feels that it is his own prowess(or perhaps lack of it) that is responsible for these outcomes. However, the businessman is able to see the hand of God in the ups and downs of the balance sheet. Maybe I am too much of an intellectual, but this doesn’t make much sense to me. I would add that we could also discuss the issue of emunah peshuta(simple faith) versus an intellectual understanding(which is actually what the Rambam had in mind when he wrote the Ikkarim).

    In summary, we all admire those who accomplish much, especially coming from very little. Givig lots of tzedaka and having a deeply felt faith in God is also tremendously important and basic to our religion. There certainly may be differences in mindsets of businessmen and intellectuals/professionals. However, I dont think that the contrasts that were brought in the article are accurate, fair, or even reasonable. And, I certainly dont see any proof for any of the assertions that were made. My guess(and I hope that I am wrong) is that this article comes from a mindset that sees intellectual accomlishment outside of the strict limits of the Torah world as unworthy, and that this is just another aspect in the debate between the philosophies of Torah u’Mada and Torah im Parnasa .

  30. David Alt says:

    I have no useful comments to add. This column was modest, well thought out, useful, and beautifully stated. Thank you.

  31. Elitzur says:

    Please let us know what percentage of businessman earn enough to send their kids to yeshiva (without tuition breaks) compared to professionals…

    Also please let us know what percentage of successful businessmen (defining success in monetary terms) have undergraduate degrees, MBAs, law degrees, etc.

  32. HESHY BULMAN says:

    Each day, as I read the words “Yiten Lecha Ki’L’vovecha V’Chol Atzascha Y’Maleh, I think of the great kindness of HaShem in even allowing us to think that our schemes have worked, as if – a)we came up with a Business plan. b)followed the steps, and c) voila’- success! As almost any honest Businessman ( I cannot vouch for my own honesty, but I am a Businessman) can tell you, it is very rare indeed for “the plan” to work as originally conceived. And yet, in our T’fillah, we refer to our plans, which are largely irrelevant, aside from the fact that the efforts we extend become the vessel into which Ha’Shem pours His Blessing.

  33. Chaya says:

    My parents (of blessed memory) made a very good living as what I would characterize as shopkeepers. Starting with what my mother had saved in the garment industry in NY, and with what little my dad had left after the Polish police confiscated most of it before he was able to leave that country to come to the US. They worked hard, never made a fortune, but also treated their few employees and all their customers very fairly, and raised and educated two daughters.

    In many cases, those that made fortunes did so by being ruthless and disdainful – both with their non-Jewish and Jewish employees and customers. Not all did this, but many. In some cases by being able to distance themselves from what they were doing. They can convince themselves that they are good Jews by being disingenuous about how they treat others – a la Abramoff. When they retire, they think they are Andrew Carnegie in miniature.

    While I am impressed by the ability of those arriving with little or nothing to overcome those obstacles, I am more impressed by those arriving in the US as teens or adults, who go on to learn English and use it well in their daily lives – this would include my father and maternal uncles and grandfather. I am vastly unimpressed by those families arriving in the US with children, who think they should be educated for years in the language of the country they left behind. Contrast these with the immigrant families (often Asian) who arrive with children in their late teens that complete high school at or near the top of their class.

  34. joel rich says:

    Well said but 2 caveats.

    1. keep in mind statistics – what is the average annual income of each group and how many win big versus lose? (similar to people who gamble – you hear much more often about the big winners)

    2.Remember the story of R’ Yisroel Salanter’s talmid who iirc wanted to quit as a shochet due to worries that he might do shechita improperly because of lack of detailed knowledge of fine points and cause others to sin. R’ YS responded that Shechita involves only a limited range of prohibitions(e.g. neveilah,treifa) wheras business involves many prohibitions (e.g stealing, cheating, inaccurate measurements, dina dmalchuta…..” R’ Nissim Alpert ZT”L taught that the juxtaposition of the asseret hadibrot and civil law in the Torah was to remind us that “a Jew must shake at the cash register the same way he shakes on yom kippur.”

    KT

    KT