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Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Only As Expensive As You Make It

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
If Rabbi Boteach was the only person saying being Torah observant is simply too expensive, I'd ignore it. But, he is not alone in singing this refrain and I feel the need rebut with the following:

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.

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. . .

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.

53 comments:

Commenter Abbi said...

"But, if you base your diet around grains, legumes, and produce, adding the proteins as enhancements, it will cost more than a non-kosher diet. "

I think you meant it will NOT cost more than a non-kosher diet.

I agree with you that everyone has choices. Unfortunately, not everyone has the backbone to make the right choices for their families.

SuperRaizy said...

Terrific post, really well written.
You're right that personal responsibility and intelligent budgeting should play a major role. But there are some people who may have difficulty breaking free of social constraints. In some circles, parents who refuse to fork over a large amount of money to make a wedding run the risk that their child's engagement will be broken off by the other side. In some communities, inviting 400 people to a simcha is so expected that those who don't can be ostracized. And Commenter Abbi has a point- not everyone has the backbone to opt out.

SuperRaizy said...

I meant to add-
And so it is necessary, in some cases, to go beyond a call for personal responsibility and enlist the help of Rabbis and community leaders in modifying these expectations and making it acceptable to spend less.

SephardiLady said...

Commentor Abbi-Thanks. I made the correction.

Super Raizy-Our Rabbonim should certain be speaking out, and more importantly, leading by example. I've been to more than one Rabbinic wedding that have been above and beyond. I suspect that in some cases the Rabbis were able to secure the same venue that would cost you and I a fortune, for the same price as a venue for the average man. Anyways, I don't really want to go there. . . . . I do agree we need Rabbis and community leaders to help the rest of us. But, we have to let them help us too. And I suspect the job isn't so easy for them. I'm thinking back to the takanot put out in the yeshiva community about 8 years ago that certainly didn't gain the momentum they could/should have.

tdr said...

And perhaps we need to express our desires more strongly to local va'adim and national kashrut organizations.

Awhile back the Star-K sent out a link to a survey asking what products are not kosher that people would like to see with kosher certification. I'll see if I can find the link. They are definitely open to suggestions and apparently willing to contact companies.

Anonymous said...

I agree that personal responsibility and making the hard choices is key. However, community leaders and Rabbis certainly can help by setting an example and preaching that modesty does not just refer to sleeve or skirt length. If leaders were to encourage smaller weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc. then people wouldn't have to worry so much about offending people who aren't invited or disappointing their children. The example of a family calling off a wedding because the bride's parents wont bankrupt themselves is disturbing.

Lion of Zion said...

"We can learn to be a smarter shopper . . ."

i agree with everything you wrote in the post except for this section. how could you make a proposal that would deprive jewish merchants of their parnasah?

nuqotw said...

LOZ - a business makes money sustainably when people want to patronize it, not when they patronize it out of some sense of providing for the owner(s) and employee(s). One does not deprive someone of a living by not patronizing that person's business. One deprives oneself of a living by selling something that consumers won't buy.

For now, the kosher food store owners are selling what people want to buy, but if demand shifts toward less expensive choices, it is their responsibility to respond to demand, not the other way around.

SephardiLady said...

Who is denying Jewish Merchants of their parnasah? They can compete. They can market products outside of the daled amot.

Kosher grocers can advertise sale prices. They can make an effort to get me in the door with a discounted bulk order. They can print coupons for large orders. They can get their ads on their website BEFORE the sale takes place. They can tell me if an item is in stock before I drive over, rather than telling me I need to drive over if I want to find out. . . where I discover the product has been bought out and I'm left with a bitter taste towards their operation.

The study of economics is predicated on scarcity of resources. If I decide to only or mostly patronize kosher grocers, e.g., my grocery bill will double, in which case the difference will have to come from somewhere.

JS said...

I don't think I've ever disagreed more with one of your posts - which is shocking for me to write since I agree with 99% of everything you've written.

While there's a place for personal responsibility, one can't deny the overarching societal costs of being frum.

You mention eating legumes, grains, etc. Yes, on an individual basis one can choose to follow this diet to save money. But are you really saying the onus is on each of us to each beans and produce if we want to be frum and economical? Why should a frum person HAVE to eat this way if they want to save money? Why should it cost a fortune for a frum person to eat the same amount of meat/chicken as a non-Jew?

Why isn't the onus on the kosher slaughterhouses, kashrut organizations, butchers, and local stores to explain why kosher meat costs so darn much? Why is kosher hamburger meat (ground beef) 3-5 times as expensive? This CANNOT just be economies of scale. Similarly, why is kosher cheese so much more expensive?

Why shouldn't our community leaders actually lead and at the very least EXPLAIN why the costs are what they are? You almost seem to be giving a license to all those who overcharge to do so, the onus is on the little guy to just not buy it and scrimp and save by changing their diet.

Why do prices rise before every holiday, especially pesach. Before Christmas and Thanksgiving there's higher demand and yet every supermarket runs crazy sales. Only the frum stores raise costs.

Although this isn't a cost issue, every non-Jewish store goes out of its way to have good customer service for fear they will lose business. No frum store cares, for the most part. Would you say the onus is on the customer to just suck it up or find another store?

Why should the pizza store or other restaurants (or caterers) raise costs just because there are no other options for people? Where's the yashrut there? We try to eliminate competition in frumkeit so people can make a living and instead we get overcharged and ripped off. Why are rabbeim not addressing this?

Similarly, with the seudah. If I want to throw a big lavish meal, why should it cost me SOOO much more just because I'm frum? If I'm frum I have a sign on my back that says "overcharge me"? Yes, I could scale back and scrimp, but why should I have to? Why should I have to feel anger every time I am forced to pay more?

It's not just an issue of budgeting and saving money and it's not just an issue in our bad economy or for those who were laid off. It's an issue for everyone, even those living very comfortably.

Another point is that everyone jumps to the defense of the kosher grocer or caterer or photographer, etc. Everyone wonders how they will ever make a living if they have to reduce what they charge or if we change communal standards. What craziness! A handful of people should hold the whole community hostage? So in a worst case let them find new jobs. Who's looking out for the many that have been laid off? They don't deserve our concern? Only the jobs of those who make a living off of the community matter? Financial and societal realities change and, like the rest of us, they should have to adjust to them as well.

Points I agreed with:
1) Eliminating community standards which make people feel like they have to spend beyond their means.

2) Eliminating stringencies that people can't afford.

3) Getting more mainstream products to become kosher

ProfK said...

I agree with SL about the kosher groceries. They are running a business, not a tzedaka project. Either they learn to operate in a competitive manner or they will go under, and the fault is not mine. Where I live most people do not do the bulk of their shopping at the kosher grocery--it's reserved for products that are "heimish" and may not be carried elsewhere. However, all the local branches of the major markets that are in our area carry huge varieties of kosher products, and these products go on sale just as all the regular products do. From a shopping point of view the markets make better economic sense then the kosher grocery does.

Re the comments about getting more national brands under kosher certification, I'm a bit puzzled. At least in the tri-State area there is virtually no major staple that is not under such certification. Looking in the market at staples this morning I found: all sugar brands under hashgochah, all flour brands under hashgochah, all oils under hashgochah, all canned fish, with the exception of those carried in the imported niche area, under hashgocha, all spices excepting those imported from Poland and Thailand under hashgochah, all cereals under hashgochah, all breads under hashgochah with the exception of one specialty brand, all dairy products excepting hard cheeses under hashgochah (and they carry all the heimish kosher brands), all pastas except for one imported brand under hashgochah. What was not under hashgochah or only had one or two brands under hashgochah? Prepared pasta sauces,chips/pretzels/snacks, frozen vegetables, frozen prepared foods, imported specialty products, hard cheeses and many of the organic or vegan products. Just how much variety is necessary? Is anyone seriously arguing that keeping kosher is harder or economically challenging because one doesn't have a choice of every product in the market, only some?

qsman said...

Sephardilady,

Did you get any of my emails?

Esther said...

I would also add the following choices:

1. Choose not to take on chumras that you can't afford, just becasue "it's frummer" or "everyone is doing it." Top of the list would be starting to keep chalav yisrael if you do not currently do so. Another example is Pesach - there are enough expenses already, why add more just because you want to look holier? And if you already took on a chumra that is causing you hardship, talk to your rav.

2. Eat all hechshers that are kosher. I'm not talking about a plain K. But there are hechshers that are "politically incorrect" in certain areas even though they are kosher according to recognized authorities such as Rabbi Eidlitz of Kosherquest. Do research on your own to find out what is acceptable and speak to rabbis, don't just ask your neighbor.

By being willing to eat the widest variety of kosher food, you can take advantage of more sales, shop in cheaper stores, etc.

Now, some people say, "but there might be people who won't eat in my house." Who are these people? Are they real people that regularly eat in your house now (your rabbi or parents)? Then MAYBE that's a consideration. But if it's just the idea that there could possibly be some person somewhere who wouldn't eat at your house, forget it.

Lion of Zion said...

NUQOTW:

i was being sarcastic.

SL:

i sent you an email. no response is necessary, but look for it when you have a chance.

SephardiLady said...

qsman-Please resend.

LOZ-I figured you were being sarcastic. But the question is still out there, and I'm peddling my answer in the free marketplace of ideas.

JS-I hear you and I can guarantee that if an entire community when on our diet for 1-3 months, the kosher grocers would hear loud and clear, their suppliers would hear loud and clear, and the prices would start to fall. The devil's advocate asks why a photographer, grocer, sheitel macher, or clothier should voluntarily lower prices when people are paying them? I refuse to be held hostage.

Esther-And those people that won't eat a certain vegetable despite washing and checking or who won't eat a certain hashgacha, may still eat in your home on your kelim. I used to worry a bit about these standards. Now I don't. If the Rav says X product doesn't need hashgacha or Y heksher is acceptable to him, I'm not too worried about every else's standards.

SephardiLady said...

JS-P.S. I might use your response as my next post.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

As my BW said in a comment above, chumrahs are one of the killers we can all choose to drop. We used to buy shmurah matza at nearly $20 per pound and bought about eight or ten pounds per Pesach, spending nearly $200 just on the matza. Now, we buy Yehudah Matzos, which have an OU on them and are certified kosher for Pesach. Good enough for the OU, good enough for us. Now, we buy ten pounds for a total of about $20, 10% of the price of the shmurah.

We've just about stopped eating beef, except for ground, which is cheaper, and Deckel on special occasions. Brisket only if someone else offers to buy. And any meat or poultry we DO buy, we now buy wholesale from a local wholesaler. We've saved hundreds of dollars per year this way for the last two years. I see no reason to support the local stores if they want to gouge us. THAT'S a choice we make.

Purim: Garlic bread, spaghetti and meatballs. Total cost: LESS than ten dollars for four people. And we have enough leftover for Shabbos dinner tonight.

Challah baking: for me, it costs about $15 to bake about twelve pretty nice-sized loaves of challah. That's $1.25 per challah. That includes all baking materials and the electricity used to operate the oven and the water and soap I use to wash the loaf pans. Challahs at the stores cost about $3.50 EACH. That's a pretty hefty savings. My challahs freeze well, and they last quite a while.

Eating gebrokhts on Pesach, along with not wasting money on Shmura matza, has completely changed how much we spend. I think last year we managed to spend out $300 or $400 less than in previous years. That's a really good start.

Again, buying wholesale, especially if you have a large family, or if you just hate paying way too much at the kosher stores that price-gouge, especially when the holidays come around, is a huge money-saving tactic.

But I still agree with Rabbi Boteach: Being frum IS too expensive. Just the housing situation alone justifies this statement. Yes, it's a choice. But it doesn't HAVE to be an expensive one. The Jews just MAKE it an expensive one...

Al said...

Given that America has a MASSIVE obesity problem, probably because of the meat-heavy diet, a more vegetable heavy diet would be good for Kosher consumers.

One of our local Kosher markets, an Israeli market, gets product locally and is half the price as the local supermarkets (though more than a fruit and vegetable market by my office that I hit). I have run in there to buy produce only, not buying a single "Kosher" product, just normal stuff, because the prices are good.

The local Butcher Shop has cut meat prices a bit, but is still more expensive than this store. Yes their cuts are a bit better, but they have a $10 minimum credit card order. If my wife or I want to run in and get chicken for dinner, I go into the supermarket that doesn't have this policy of violating Mastercard and Visa card rules. They are complaining that they are losing business... well, change your practices and we'll come back.

I'm sorry, I have ZERO obligation to provide "Parnassah" to fellow Jews by overpaying them for services... pretending otherwise is fake Halachah. I'm out there fighting to earn a living in a TOUGH market, and none of them seem to think that they should undercharge me because the economy is tight.

Guess what, build a balanced diet... out for pizza is NOT a balanced diet. Have a starch, two vegetable sides, and a NORMAL portion of meat and your children will live a healthier life. Have 1-2 vegan meals a week and you'll lose weight, feel better, and save money.

USDA guidelines are for 4-6 oz. of meat as a portion, Americans routinely eat 8-10 oz. it's not healthy...

Now, Rabbanim that make up issues to make vegetables assur are infuriating. It makes us less healthy and makes life more expensive. Expand acceptable Kashrut supervision. Any Rabbi involved in a Shul should NOT be involved with Kashrut, because there is a conflict of interest. Their authority over their members gives them an incentive to reject Kashrut symbols.

Publish WHY a hashgacha is unacceptable... this hiding behind Lashon Harah to not declare is disgusting, because you are prohibiting competition and raises our costs, and the accused can't defend themselves. Claiming "non recommended" isn't Lashon Harah but "this group permits this practice that we oppose" is is absolutely absurd... the former denies people Parnassah, the latter gives them an opportunity to make changes.

Excessive chumrot and the frummier than thou attitude is a personal weakness that should NOT be encouraged by the "establishment."

concernedjewgirl said...

JS:
Are you kidding? You really can't figure out why kosher meat and cheese cost more? It seems that Jews have this inherent nature to kvetch.

For Pete's sakes, if you think something is expensive use your head! Don't buy it!

Why are orthodox Jews Sheep? Because everyone is doing it, you should do? Can we please matriculate out of high school mentality! Do what is right for you and your family.
THINK!
I cannot understand this idiotic mentality to follow the leader. Because someone is going to look down upon you for not having a simcha for 400 people and going into massive debt, you do it? WHAT?
What values did you teach your children? What values did you learn? Why are your children choosing mates that will cancel a wedding because you don't go into massive debt? This is what happens when you don't teach children the value of money!

Eating meat every day is BAD FOR YOU. There is enough research and publications on this topic. Eating red meat is bad for you, eating chicken is not that much better! Eating fruits and vegetables is what your body needs.

Making more from scratch you will save a ton of money. Blaming someone else because you paid for pizza isn't going to save you anything, don't buy it, make it. Or don't eat it!
Think about living a healthier lifestyle. Ever notice the Kosher L'pesach aisle at the supper market, over 80% of it is snacks, and treats. Like for one week it should be matzah and an all you can eat binge on high fructose garbage!
Just because you've lived to follow the leader doesn't mean that you should continue to do so???

Take a stance and just say no!

tesyaa said...

Even for those who don't give up shmura matza (which is required for the Matzas Mitzva of the Seder), there is machine shmura matza. We have never bought hand shmura because my husband doesn't like it. We use machine shmura for the sedarim at $7 or so per lb. and the cheap stuff for the rest of Yom Tov. Occasionally we have had a gift of a pound or two of hand shmura. Only problem is then next year the little kids remember and ask for "round matza."

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

And $7, when you still don't have the money for it, is just too much. Sorry, but if buying the shmura for some fantasy of matzas mitzvah is going to cause excessive hardship, my answer is, no way. Last I checked, matza, regardless of how it's made, as long as it's not chametz (and if the OU certifies it as kosher for Pesach, again, who am I to argue?), is made of flour and water. All the matza available for Pesach has exactly those two ingredients and no other ingredients. If the matza bakeries want to way overcharge for their "watched" flour, my answer is, screw them.

JS said...

SL,

No problem. If you'd like I can put together a more formalized post. You can contact me at jsdbblog at gmail. That's the address I use for guest posts over at dovbear.

tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ProfK said...

Am Kshe Oref,
If you don't want to or can't afford hand shmurah matza all that is really necessary to say is just that: I can't/won't buy it this year. It is far from necessary to justify your personal decision by "paskening" on the flour/water-ness of all matzah or by dumping on those who do use only hand shmurah for Pesach. Our minhag is to use only hand shmurah, and the price is built in to our Pesach expenses. If your personal choice is not to use this matzah, then kol hakovod on your personal decision. Ours is to use this matzah. There is no right or wrong involved here, only personal choice.

Re the beef/chicken versus vegetarian meals, that, too, is a question of personal choice and does not require a smarmy "I eat healthier than you, so there" justification. Again, what you eat is a matter of personal choice and individual finances.

If we want to argue that many kosher products are overpriced and that price gouging takes place before yom tov, fine, I agree that kosher purveyor business practices need to be changed. But if you're going to reduce this to a "I eat better than you eat and cheaper too" duel, count me out. That happens to be my business, no one else's.

Anonymous said...

LOZ - "We can learn to be a smarter shopper . . ."

i agree with everything you wrote in the post except for this section. how could you make a proposal that would deprive Jewish merchants of their parnasah?


Ahhh, but it improves their parnassah! Why? Because competition spurs them (and others) to provide better products and services, which attracts more customers, that spend more money because they are happier with the product and service.

Yes, I knew what you meant, and read your later post :-)

Mark

JS said...

concernedjewgirl,

Please tell me why it costs so much more? Personally, I believe it's because there's tremendous waste in the system in addition to fraud and corruption. And add in a little price gouging and unfair profit-taking to boot.

I'm not sure why your answer is "don't buy it." Am I supposed to become a vegetarian or vegan because the powers that be decide that they have a right to rip off members of their own community?

To clarify my position, I fully agree with SL's budgeting, healthy diet, not keeping up with the Cohens, etc. However, it should be my personal prerogative based on how I want to live my life, not based SOLELY on someone else pricing me out of the market.

My point was not that I want to eat meat 3 times a day, 7 days a week and this was too expensive. My point was that kosher meat consumption in GENERAL is too expensive.

I'm not sure why you think I'm a sheep. I think this is the first time I've ever been accused of that. My attitude and my wife's has always been to do our own thing and if others don't like it, we don't need to be friends with them. We're both quite frugal and don't live lavishly or beyond our means.

The problem with your attitude is that requiring everyone to give up meat and make their own pizzas, etc (which is just another form of herd mentality), is just the beginning. Next, people should stop complaining about tuition and just home school or make aliyah. People should stop complaining about simcha costs and just get married in a rabbi's study. It doesn't end and it places the "blame" on the innocent instead of on those who are creating the problem.

Again, I don't think doing any of the above is a problem if someone truly wants to do that. I also don't think spending for the sake of spending or impressing others is good either. However, I don't think the choice should be forced upon people because someone else is overcharging and no one is doing anything about it.

Granted, having meat a few times a week isn't on the same level as throwing a big simcha. But the underlying principles of excessive costs being foisted on the consumer is still there. Just because a person wants to throw a big simcha doesn't provide a license for a caterer, photographer, florist, etc to charge the person more than is fair.

Can things change if every single consumer starts making conscious choices to save more and spend less? Perhaps. Would spending less, in general, be a good thing for our communities. Yes. But, the onus can't be solely on every single consumer to try to effectuate change.

Imagine if all local car dealerships were overcharging and inflating the price of a car. Would it be a satisfactory answer for me to say "Well, you should just walk everywhere, it's healthier and better for the environment too!" Or that "Having a car is being a sheep like all other car owners." Or maybe "Buy a few mechanics books and go down to the junk yard and maybe you can build your own car or fix up a junked car. You'll save so much money!" These responses are absurd! If someone wants to do that, OK. But, the real response is to call up the local government and have an investigation into why the prices are so high to see if maybe something illegal or wrong is going on.

Anonymous said...

About simcha costs - unless I choose to make a simcha in my house, the option of bringing in my own bagels and cream cheese doesn't exist, since most venues (schools, shuls) don't allow catering without hashgacha. I've run up against this in several diverse communities.

Esther said...

I think the heated nature of some of the comments is coming from a place of deep frustration. It's a choice to live a religious lifestyle in the first place, whether you were born into it or chose later in life, and it can be extremely upsetting when making that choice is taking away from your children and your shalom bayit because of financial problems. And some of us are struggling to apoint that others probably can't really imagine. (I know I wouldn't have been able to fully understand until going through it myself.) So just want to remind everyone to be a little understanding to each other when we're talking about such a sensitive topic.

tesyaa said...

Esther, the big driver, I think, is tuition, since there is nothing else required by religious life that is not replaced in the non-frum American's life by something we don't need or want. I would trade off vacations, plasma TVs, SUVs, for the benefits of the frum lifestyle, but there's no expense in the non-frum middle class life I can compare my tuition against.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

JS,

Amen. Preach it, brother.

Prof K,

There was no justification of why we stopped eating shmura matzo. We just came to realize it was another unnecessary chumrah. And I'm assuming the rest of your comment was not addressed to me, as I did not talk about the rest of the content of your comment.

Esther said...

Anonymous - Just a thought with the topic of choices and options. Why does it have to be a school or shul that needs hashgacha? Some other options might be a local community center, outdoors if weather permits, or at a friend/relative's home if yours is too small to entertain. If at shul, could it be a brunch instead of dinner? Dairy instead of meat? And so on. There's always options, based on your personal financial means (not your neighbors'), and personal preferences/priorities.

Same with the meat/vegetarian issue. If you prefer to eat vegetarian, or are willing to try, you've likely just saved a lot of money. if you prefer to eat meat, and you have to cut your expenses, you can look into wholesale, or cheaper cuts of meat, or don't cut your meat budget at all if it is really important to you but instead cut your expenses elsewhere.

As ProfK said above, he builds shmurah matzah into his Pesach budget. If (G-d forbid) this budget had to be cut in half, since the matzah is one of his family's priority, he would have other options like invite fewer guests, eat less meat the rest of the week, cut expenses from other non-Pesach areas, and so on.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

Tesyaa,

You're correct. In fact, it's quite the opposite. In normal society, middle middle class, lower middle class, and working class folk mostly, if not entirely all, send their children to public school. In many cases, those children receive perfectly good educations. However, in frum society, we "HAVE" to send our children to Jewish day school and, on top of paying taxes to support our public schools, we also have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition to put our children through school. In other words, with all these expenses, a frum person is simply expected to be, at the very least, quite well-off.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

BW, Esther, above, is asking to clarify our position about shmura matzo. While an unnecessary chumrah, we also simply could no longer afford it. It's made our Pesachim far more affordable in recent years... :)

Anonymous said...

AKO, you are saying you made no justification for giving up shmura matza, yet you consider it an unnecessary chumra. Sounds contradictory to me. Just realize that most poskim, even MO, do not consider shmura matza a chumra for matzas mitzva, but normative halacha. If you could not afford $35 or so for machine shmura, you are probably living on the edge. You seem to have internet access, so it's more likely that you are making choices, not literally unable to afford.

Al said...

AKOASNP, that is NOT entirely true. Plenty of working class/lower middle class families enroll their children in the local Catholic schools. Those are low cost schools that offer a better environment than the public schools in those area. The public schools are mostly universal amongst the poor, who have no options, and the middle class that live in nice school districts with good schools.

In the upper middle class, 1-2 children through a secular private school is a valid lifestyle choice, requires sacrifices elsewhere, but is doable. I know plenty of doctors/lawyers who send their kids to public schools and live in nicer houses and take nice vacations, and plenty that send their kids to private schools and take more modest vacations and drive a more modest car.

The problem, as I see it, is that there are ZERO Frum schools modeled after the Diocese Catholic schools... low tuition, limited extras, "true believer" staff, targeting poor families with heavy doner support.

The irony being, that WAS the approach taken in the apparently wonderful "Eastern European Shtetl" that us American, German Jews (most American Jews are NOT from Eastern Europe, most Eastern European Jews either moved west and assimilated after enlightenment or were wiped out during the Shoah) are supposed to emulate. In Europe, the wealthy, Jew and Gentile, provided their children with private tutors, and the Jews through charity provided free schooling to the poor.

Instead of begrudging the "extras" that the schools provide that are desired by the full paying parents, I think we need to split the school system up.

The upper middle class could have relatively scholarship free schools (limited scholarship for deserving students... not deserving families, given for achievement in academics, sports, etc... actually FUNDED scholarships, NOT tuition breaks) that are modeled after the Independent Catholic schools and compete with the secular private schools.

For those that can't afford it, we as a community should commit resources to two options for them. Option One: an inexpensive Yeshiva system that would be all day, completely frill free, and employing whoever will work for low salaries... similar to the Preist/Nun teachers at the Catholic schools... this may involve buying a house as a community, housing the Rabbi/Rebbetzen that teach, and running a glorified one room school)... this would let us as a community affordably offer education to those that primarily want their children kept from the secular world, and the best education we can muster in that scenario.
Option Two: after school/Sunday education, offered in rooms in the Shul and/or the local JCC.

Tzedakah and limited payments for this part time role should be able to affordably get children in... The Reform/Conservative Jews manage to do it, and they don't use a Shul except for this Bar Mitzvah training, so it should be doable.

Forget vouchers, it ain't happening... but charter schools with Kosher Food and Hebrew lessons seem doable... that doesn't solve those that want exclusion from the secular world, but would at least take the pressure off after school for Hebrew, which is the hardest part.

This would be "less than ideal" for the poorer members... well, when the system collapses, it will be less ideal as well... guess what, those with less money eat less meat, drive less cars, and probably carry inferior health insurance.

We might be able to preserve SOME of the system by segmenting out, and the smaller Day School system would keep the best teachers, and they would be available for after school programs.

And all children in this system would get more education than in the vaulted Eastern Europe.

Anonymous said...

Tessya states "but there's no expense in the non-frum middle class life I can compare my tuition against." A middle class non-frum family saving to send their children to to a private college or university (approaching200,000 per child now including expenses) probably has the same expense of a frum family who send their children to jewish day school for k-12 but doesn't send them to college or pay for their college. You can also compare your tuition to the middle class family who pays for at-home care for an elderly parent to try to keep them out of a nursing home (100 -200,000 per year) or the family with a severely autistic child who needs to hire lots of at home help to keep the child safe while the parents are caring for other children or doing other ADL's like cooking, shopping. Frum people aren't the only ones with financial difficulties.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

Anonymous,

Not at all. I personally enjoy hand shmura. For some reason, it tastes better. It's just one of the things we shed as we got poorer and poorer. As for internet access, I do have it. I also have a phone. I use for work. Every once in a while, I actually manage to make a little money to get through, just not enough to justify spending so much for so little...

Esther said...

Anonymous (4:06 PM) - That's why I asked AKO to clarify. We were purchasing ALL our matzah for Pesach as hand shmurah. If I'm not mistaken, we've found ways to have shmurah at the sedarim. (Going to someone else's seder, or one of our guests bringing it.)

But interestingly, the remarks to AKO are illustrating why people are afraid to view anything to do with frum life as a choice. Someone is going to question your decision to, say, not keep chalav yisrael, or homeschool instead of go to day school, or eat vegetarian, or have a small simcha. People don't like to be questioned and don't know how to respond when someone (who is not their rav or parents) tells them that you are "supposed to" do something.

But that's what making choices is about. Consult with your rav and/or parents and/or another trusted person (depending on what is appropriate for the situation). Then be confident that you decided what is right for your family. You can't make decisions based on what "people" will say. (Besides, anyone who makes rude remarks about how simple your simcha was is violating halacha anyway.)

Ateres said...

I actually find that the pesach chumros my family keeps make us pend less, not more.

My parents do not keep any chumros/ True, they save a lot of money on matza but make up for it with all the ridiculously expensive prepared pesach goods.

We do have to spend for hand shmura matza (the only thing we eat all pesach), but do not use any processed foods on pesach so we save a fortune overall. Last year for pesach I spent about $50 on fruits and vegetables, $100 on chicken (no meat), $25 on fish, $40 on wine, $20 on dairy, $7 on eggs.

These numbers were for five adults and two children.

Seems quite reasonable to me.

Shoshana said...

I agree. Our chumros keep the cost down. The problem comes in when people claim to keep chumros and then fill their carts with all kinds of chumra-certified fake Pesach foods that cost a fortune. I think this is emblematic of many problems in the klal these days. So many people claim to be in one camp but then exhibit behaviors and preferences that completely undermine the original intentions.

Commenter Abbi said...

"However, it should be my personal prerogative based on how I want to live my life, not based SOLELY on someone else pricing me out of the market."

Welcome to unbridled, free market capitalism, the lifeblood of the American economy. If people are willing to pay the high prices that others charge, you're out of luck, no matter how unfair you think it is.

I can safely say from the sidelines here in Israel that the comfortable frum American dream that I grew up on is pretty much dead- affordable Jewish education, affordable middle class food bills, and affordable housing are simply not a priori assumptions anymore. So if you don't want to make aliyah JS, this is something you and the rest of the community are just going to have to get used to.

You seem to chafe or scoff at the notion that aliyah is the answer for these problems, but from where I'm sitting, I'm having a hard time understanding what the other options are.

You want kosher chicken price wars? We have one here every other week. Other affordable protein options? The supermarkets here have six different turkey offerings that are tasty and much cheaper than meat. Affordable Jewish ed? This has been rehashed over and over. In addition to affordable, single payer HC that is not tied to employment.

Though we are not currently suffering economically to the extent that America is, I'm sure things will get worse here. But I don't think they will reach the point that you are in America because our banks were and are much more conservative in lending, are and our social safety net is stronger, which maintains the confidence necessary to keep the economy going.

I wish you luck in your fight against high prices, but I think it's pretty much a lost cause.

Pesky Settler said...

As for the price of ritual objects

JOOC, where would the $5000 custom sheitals and streimels fall under? The complete libraries of Seforim? The silver lachter and other 'mandatory' gifts fall under?

JS said...

Abbi,

Aliyah is not really an option for us for various reasons.

I agree with what you're saying though about free market capitalism. However, since when was Judaism a free market religion or even a capitalistic religion? Judaism is inherently socialist (or at least more socialist than capitalist).

I'm hoping that our leadership will take action (or be forced to take action) as more and more people get priced out of the market. Unfortunately, the "market" here may be frumkeit.

Anonymous said...

"I'll ignore tuition during this post," - tuition is the one thing we have no choice about - it is the number 1, 2, and 3 problem - all other expenses we have a choice about and are mostly small compared to tuition

Anonymous said...

JOOC, where would the $5000 custom sheitals and streimels fall under? The complete libraries of Seforim? The silver lachter and other 'mandatory' gifts fall under?

Those fall under "Optional". We own and do none of them.

Anonymous said...

Commenter Abbi: If Aliya is the answer,why do so many Israeli organizations need to raise money from Americans? What do you think would happen to Israel if there was no American Jewish community to advocate for her and provide financial and political support? (granted, the evangelicals are doing there share for now on the political front.) Is it really a good idea pre-Moshiach for all jews to be concentrated on a small dot on the map within range of Iran's missiles? Isn't it better to have a healthy, strong jewish community in both hemispheres?

tesyaa said...

I happened upon this article in an acquaintance's house. It's a generally positive view of having household help. I didn't read the whole thing so I don't know if it touches on the financial issues.

http://mishpacha.com/pdfrequest.c/8/132/10/

I didn't know what to make of the suggestion that you keep your help happy by giving her chocolates with a questionable hashgacha that you received as a gift, or old plates that got traifed up. It's a little condescending to think that a maid will always be thrilled to receive obvious old castoffs.

Commenter Abbi said...

Yes, ideally, it might be better to have two strong Jewish communities, but that's not looking to be the case at the present or for the next few years, at least until this recession moves on.

Raising money for tzedaka says nothing about the general health of the Jewish community per se. Plenty of American tzedakas need to raise money, too.


Israeli charedi schnorers might make their rounds in the U.S. but that says nothing about the general health of the Israeli Jewish community, since they create their own problems by refusing to work. Their need to raise tzedaka doesn't change the fact that our education, our food and our healthcare is still cheaper than the U.S. And at present, our economy is probably on surer footing than yours.


As for Iran, my husband worked for Israeli intelligence until two years ago and he says not to worry, so I don't worry. I

Tamar said...

Anonymous of 6:44 wrote:
"Is it really a good idea pre-Moshiach for all jews to be concentrated on a small dot on the map within range of Iran's missiles? Isn't it better to have a healthy, strong jewish community in both hemispheres?"

I would argue that Hashem, who has given us the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael (the mitzvah, of course, is to LIVE here, not to support it financially from afar), would take care of that. Why not let Him, who has given only our generations the gift of autonomous control over our Land and enabled our kibbutz galuyot with relative ease, decide what is "better?"

Anonymous said...

I have to eat beans to stay frum?
PUUULLEEASS.

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