I believe it was none other than Rav Moshe Feinsten who warned a generation not to say "It is hard to be a Jew" saying such sentiments killed a generation. It might seem ironic that a blog dedicated to examining the economics behind the Orthodox Jew is hear to say that we need to be careful not to fall into the same trap and say, "It is too expensive to be a Jew."
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach recently made such a statement in his most recent column opining that being a frum Jew is both too expensive and too lonely (also see comments at VIN). Too lonely refers to his comments on the so called shidduch crisis and too expensive refers to the following named culprits:
- Day school/Yeshiva Education, "the killer"
- Cost of Kosher Food, including restaurants
- Cost of Jewish Festivals
- Cost of Jewish Ritual Article
- Cost of Smachot
- Cost of Housing in Jewish neighborhoods
- Cost of Shul Membership
He proposes the following solutions vis a vis the financial issues:
- School voucher should be the #2 political issue for the Klal, after political support for Israel.
- Marketing Kosher as mainstream to take advantage of economies of scale.
- Communal norms for smachot to bring down the level of competitiveness.
- Moratorium on capital projects
I'll ignore tuition during this post, although I do believe tuition is the single issue that we as a community need to take by the horns (and, no vouchers are not going to materialize in our hour of need. . . . which is NOW). We've beaten this horse, and will continue to beat this horse to death on this blog. In the meantime. . .
Rabbi Boteach, please get a hold of yourself and repeat after me: I have choices and I can choose to make living an Torah observant life significantly less expensive by
exercising free choice and free thought. A little free thought would go a long way in alleviating some of the shidduch issues too.
Let's look at Kosher food. If you base your diet around the proteins, kosher can easily cost a fortune. But, if you base your diet around grains, legumes, and produce, adding the proteins as enhancements, it will not cost that much more more than a non-kosher diet. And, I'm not going to claim that seeing uncertified cheese on sale at around half the price, e.g., doesn't get me a little hot on the collar. It does. But, as kosher consumers we can make choices. We can choose to eat different foods. We can choose to make more by scratch. We can learn to be a smarter shopper. We don't have to go out for pizza regularly. (Note to some of the Yated letter writers: the cost of pizza is where it is because people are willing to pay the price being charged. . . . . can someone please incorporate a basic microeconomics course into the high school curriculum in our Yeshivot and Bais Yaakov classes?) And, dare I say this a month before Pesach, but perhaps not every strictness is appropriate for everyone? I do know of a family that experienced a lay off and well paying employment was replaced with low paying work. They did speak with their Rabbi and ended up dropping many a strictness. It was hard for them, but getting their food budget where it needed to be allowed them to stay afloat.
Like Rabbi Boteach, I do believe that our communal organizations can help to promote kashrut as the rule rather than the exception. Truth be told, a great deal of progress has been made in the past 15 years. Today we have so many national products with certification (E.g., remember when Oreos were treif gamur?) Store brand products increasingly boast certification. Long gone are the days when Hunt's tomato sauce was the only choice. More work could be done in this area. It would be nice to see more vegan restaurants and bakeries go under the certification of the main city Va'adim. It would be incredible if a major brand of cheese (one that hits the weekly circular) would 'go kosher.' And perhaps we need to express our desires more strongly to local va'adim and national kashrut organizations. But, in the meantime, we need to remember that we hold the purse string and we can make choices.
Let's talk about the holidays. This family spend over $250 on a Purim seudah for 12 people (7 adults and 5 kids), **not** including wine or liquor. One poster thought $25 per person seemed about right. Another agreed. Perhaps we just don't eat that much. But my guess is that their seudah doesn't quite look like our seudah which cost significantly less. Festive meals can be brought down in price. It can be done. Perhaps the next kosher cookbook that goes out on the market should be titled Frugal and Kosher Cooking! In fact, let's start writing the cookbook right here. Send me your inexpensive Shabbat menus and I will feature them right here on Orthonomics (at gmail dot come). I know many of my readers are interested in what is cooking in your frugal and kosher kitchen.
On the note: Pesach is Coming. If you are putting Pesach on a tight budget, consider yourself invited as the next guest poster (also see here and here). Don't join the group of post-Pesach slaves: Avadim hayinu l'Mastercard b'America.. You can make a budget Pesach, but you will have to skip the non-gebrochts pasta that tastes more like paste than pasta.
Smachot could easily be brought within reason considering much of the excess. We've beaten the chatunah to death already. So, I'll turn my attention to the brit milah. A popular caterer is advertising a bris special package that runs over $1,200 (mohel not included!). A brit milah seudah simply shouldn't cost that much. And, it doesn't have to. If you don't want to fork over that much money, order your own bagels, send your parents/in-laws/friends/neighbors to the grocery store to pick up some items for a simple seudah. One of the nicest brit milahs that I've ever been to was organized for a family that was flat broke. The coordinator asked families in the community to contribute one item to the seudah. Quite frankly, this seudah was the best brit milah seudah I've ever been to (I guess I'm not too keen on the regular tuna and egg salad fare). What if community catered brit milahs became a norm and the kashrut barriers could be overcome? What would happen if a family where to slice some bagels and set out store bought cream cheese and some cut up fruit, vegetables, and dips on the side. Before crying out that smachot are unaffordable, perhaps we can look for alternatives. Rabbi Boteach wants the Rabbis to take the bull by the horn. I don't know when I'm going to make my next simcha, but I don't plan to spend money I have no business spending. No Rabbi need to involve themselves. The laws of physics and the laws of economics apply in our household. Scarcity of resources is the main principal of the study of economics. I'm not embarrassed that such a truism reigns true in our household. There are alternatives beyond liquidating savings or turning to a HELoc. Simchas need not be spelled $imcha.
As for the price of ritual objects and shul membership, I look at this as the price to join the club. Perhaps if we weren't Orthodox Jews we would look to join a social club or pursue a pricey hobby. But being part of a Torah observant community is a top priority, and as a top priority we can't expect it to be free. But while we choose to make ourselves a part of the Orthodox community, we can still choose to live more than 3 blocks away from the shul.
Rabbi Boteach, I agree that we need to get the cost of living a Torah observant life under control. Let's not forget that we aren't helpless. Now, off to bake my own challah. Savings: at least $150 annually. Probably more.