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Thursday, May 14, 2009

RCA Resolution Calls for Modesty, Responsibility, and Tzedakah

A yashar koach to fellow blogger and small town community Rav for publishing this RCA resolution. The purpose of these resolutions is not particularly to solve problems, but to articulate a Torah viewpoint regarding modern day issues.

I'm a bit timid in accepting the Rabbi's thanks for some of the ideas contained in the resolution. But I do have to say it is exciting to see a discussion of modesty that encompasses more than just girls' and womens' clothing.

The text is as follows:

2009 Convention Resolution: Modesty, Responsibility and Tzedakah A Moral Call for Reducing Spending in the Jewish Community.

May 12, 2009 -- Even in ripest times, the Jew is commanded by Torah and tradition to "Walk modestly with G-d," eschewing ostentation. The Jewish citizen is further required to measure the arc of his financial steps with responsible care. Tzedakah, too, is a fundamental Jewish imperative, conveyed in both lore and law; our righteous ancestors defined their well-being not by the number of possessions they acquired, but by the number of mouths they fed.

Today, in the midst of an international economic crisis, our tradition demands that we re-commit ourselves to these values of modesty, responsibility and tzedakah. Modesty, because the Talmud teaches that we may not enjoy luxury when others suffer, let alone when we, ourselves, are suffering. Responsibility, because the bite of personal debt inflicts pain upon the entire community. Tzedakah, because since the days of Devarim we have been instructed to employ our wealth as a weapon against the poverty of others.

Were the financial crisis to end tomorrow, our community would, nonetheless, be required to live modest, responsible and generous lives; we can do no different when surrounded by unemployment and economic despair.

Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America resolves that we must turn to Modesty and Tzedakah, as a community, in part through the following practical measures:

We call upon our communal institutions to join forces, pooling purchasing power as well as resources, and avoiding duplicate efforts;

We call upon our yeshivot and summer camps to eliminate expenses wherever possible, to enable more families to afford tuition;

We call upon our simcha vendors, including caterers, florists and photographers, to offer low-cost, modest options for weddings and other celebrations. At the other end of olam hazeh, we call upon funeral homes and cemeteries to likewise offer low-cost, modest options for their services;

We call upon our rabbonim and poskim to continue to be sensitive to the current financial she'at hadechak in legislating for our communities, as well as to look out for the welfare of the neediest among us;

We call upon every Jew to opt for modest choices and lower costs, to guard against deficit spending, and to direct some of the consequent savings toward assistance for others.

And we ask those who can afford more to purchase less, in pursuit of modesty and responsibility and in recognition of the social pressure that their luxury brings to bear upon others.

May Zion soon be redeemed with justice, and may her children return to her with righteousness.

35 comments:

Ezzie said...

The bigger question is if it will move from words to action. This is just Step #1.

One of the other resolutions was anti-charter school - any opinion on that, or the one about institutional transparency?

SephardiLady said...

Ezzie-I haven't read any resolution but this one, as I was asked for my input.

I will put the other resolutions on my reading list.

Lion of Zion said...

"We call upon our rabbonim and poskim to continue to be sensitive to the current financial she'at hadechak in legislating for our communities"

how does this comport with the resolution rejecting charter schools in favor of the same old suggestions

shabbat shalom

Commenter Abbi said...

"May Zion soon be redeemed with justice, and may her children return to her with righteousness. "

Uh, we're open for business 24/7. I notice that it's "return to her with righteousness" rather than "speedily". Guess that wouldn't really play well to this crowd.

rosie said...

Avoiding duplicate efforts might result in more joblessness and lots more politics. For example in any given town there might be kiruv efforts from Chabad, Aish Ha Torah, B'nei Brith Hillel, and other groups. I doubt that any of them will voluntarily close up shop and let the others take over.
In some communities there are shteiblach on every corner. If they are crowded and full, why should they merge?
If two day schools with a similar outlook merge, where will all the surplus teachers go?
Wedding vendors could cut costs but then, they also pay tuition and give tzedukah in the community. They are not interested in charging less any more than the kiruv worker is in closing his operation.
The only way to make funerals cheaper is to have graveside services and make a smaller metzaivah. At least in America, graves are no longer dug by hand and some states require a vault to be placed in the grave. Usually the cost of the plot includes perpetual care, which needs to be available long after the deceased's descendants can no longer manage it.
Some things I totally agree with. Camps could make shorter sessions so that more kids could at least attend for 2 weeks at half the cost of a month long program.
People could certainly cut their personal spending.
Simchas can be made more simple.

ProfK said...

Rosie,
"If two day schools with a similar outlook merge, where will all the surplus teachers go?" They'll have to do what other employees in the non-education sector do when firms merge, as many, many have done over the past few years: they'll have to look for other teaching positions in other types of schools, they may need additional training to get those other teaching positions or, in the case of limudei kodesh teachers, they may need to look at other fields of endeavor to make a living in. You can't ask yeshivas to operate in a business-like fashion according to accepted business models and then yell if layoffs have to be made. That, too, is the cost of doing business.

Anonymous said...

Rosie - you raise good points for the short term, but ultimately, this is setting up a house of cards for the long term. More people in the community need to be educated for and working in the larger u.s. economy so that money is being brought into the community. Under your system, where everyone in a closed system just keeps spending a lot of money on each other's goods and services could collapse, particularly since we also, of necessity are sending money outside the community -- whether it is buying cars, paying for electriciy or buying food (the local shopkeeper only gets a fraction of the grocery bill, the farmers, shippers, etc. all take a share). In other words since we spend money that goes out of the community, we also have to bring outside money in. If everyone thinks they can just get a job at the yeshiva, Jewish day school, Jewish Kiruv organization, Jewish wedding hall, kosher food store, etc. there is no outside money coming in.

Anonymous said...

Sepharidlady - check out the NYTIMES magazine article this weekend - My Personal Credit Crisis - scary! and this guy reports on economics. Its not just the Jews.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/magazine/17foreclosure-t.html?_r=1&em

Offwinger said...

I applaud this call for modesty in how we handle our finances.

At the same time, I wonder about this last part:

"And we ask those who can afford more to purchase less, in pursuit of modesty and responsibility and in recognition of the social pressure that their luxury brings to bear upon others."

The torah teaches us lo tachmod. Some have pointed out that this might be one of the hardest mitzvot to keep! While it is true that we ought not to create stumbling blocks for others (lifnei iver), I dislike the implication here that the primary responsibility for avoiding "keeping up with the Goldbergs" behavior falls on the Goldbergs, rather than other people.

To quote just about every teacher I ever had: Keep your eyes on your own work!!!

Sure, the Goldbergs should not call attention to themselves. At the end of the day, though, judging favorably also applies to things that might not look like "modest" choices to us. Who is anyone to judge what is a luxury for someone else or what choices/sacrifices someone else might choose?

One family might go away for pesach every year. How are you to know if this is the only way the family can get together with siblings, cousins, grandparents, etc. while still keeping shalom bayit? Those Goldbergs shouldn't have to explain to anyone the politiking of in-laws & inter-family "kashrut" disputes or other private matters.

One family might go to Israel every single summer. How are you to know if they are investigating aliyah for the future, brushing up on their Hebrew, or even just believe that bringing $ into the Israeli economy is something they believe in as an important component of being a Jew living in chul?

You could imagine these scenarios for many items commonly identified as luxuries in our community.
We are not a school scholarship committee. We do not need to get to the "bottom" of any other family's finances, because we are not distributing limited communal funds.

A better message is to tell everyone that these are personal choices, and that we need not all follow one 'uniform' way of being. Once you get past the basics of food, housing, and shelter, these are all wants, not needs, anyway.

By shifting the blame of social pressure to the Goldbergs, you give excuses to people who make fiscally irresponsible choices. That's the part that bothers me here.

Chaim B. said...

I'm not sure these platitudes will have any effect. Perhaps I'm too skeptical, but I doubt if any shul Rabbi going to approach one of his wealthy ba'alei batim and say that the shul is just not going to host his kiddush or simcha unless the spending is cut. Resolutions without teeth mean little.

JS said...

"We call upon our yeshivot and summer camps to eliminate expenses wherever possible, to enable more families to afford tuition;"

Isn't this ironic? It's this overwhelming push that EVERYONE has to go to sleepaway summer camps that is pulling money away from the yeshivas. However, I do agree with the sentiment and would love someone to explain why 4 weeks of sleepaway camp costs $3,300 (http://www.moshava.org/info/prices.asp).

"We call upon our simcha vendors, including caterers, florists and photographers, to offer low-cost, modest options for weddings and other celebrations."

Again, would love to know why a bagel and lox spread for a bris costs around $600. Or why a small kiddush in most shuls is around $1000.

"We call upon our rabbonim and poskim to continue to be sensitive to the current financial she'at hadechak in legislating for our communities, as well as to look out for the welfare of the neediest among us"

Just had the rabbi in our shul say something to the effect that even though times are tough and people have lost their jobs, everyone must attend a mikvah event. I understand mikvah is important, but everyone already pays membership and a per use charge, a little sensitivity would have been nice.

rosie said...

Like the closing of Chrysler dealers and GM dealers, closing yeshivas is a matter of push coming to shove as I said before about other things. Places usually don't close unless they really do go bankrupt. No one is altruistic enough to give up his own job to save the community.

Thinking said...

Are all the RCA rabbis' committed to ensuring the implementation of these resolutions? After all they are all rabbis with congregations and have the ability to get this done.
Will they encourage their own congregations to join forces and share expenses? Share administrative staff? Share assistant rabbis?
Will they recommend certain schools and camps and discourage others?
Will they not officiate at weddings that are not deemed "modest" in terms of cost?
Not sit on boards or endorse organizations deemed "duplicate"
?

This starts at home. If you make the resolution than you are the first ones that need to keep it. Everyone else will follow.

rosie said...

Thinking, you make a very good point!
Otherwise, it is just a recommendation that will most likely be ignored so let someone else worry about it.
It is kind of like recycling. The city of Toronto charges for garbage collection beyond a certain limit so anyone who does not want to pay to throw away trash must recycle. In places where there is no limit about how much trash we throw out, let someone else worry about the environment.

Tamar said...

Commenter Abbi said:
"May Zion soon be redeemed with justice, and may her children return to her with righteousness. "

Uh, we're open for business 24/7. I notice that it's "return to her with righteousness" rather than "speedily". Guess that wouldn't really play well to this crowd."

Beautifully put, motek. Unfortunately, it's not playing well with ANY crowd in America. Take heed, Teaneck and Monsey and Baltimore: better to be pulled than pushed. And don't think you WON'T be pushed out, by whatever means Hashem devises.

Anonymous said...

Offwinger - The torah teaches us lo tachmod. Some have pointed out that this might be one of the hardest mitzvot to keep![space]

For me, this is the most difficult mitzvah to keep. And it's been that way since I was a child.

JS - However, I do agree with the sentiment and would love someone to explain why 4 weeks of sleepaway camp costs $3,300 (http://www.moshava.org/info/prices.asp).[space]

Because the camps are full at $3,300/4 week session. If they weren't full, the price would likely be lower.

Again, would love to know why a bagel and lox spread for a bris costs around $600. Or why a small kiddush in most shuls is around $1000.[space]

Again, because people pay these prices. I guarantee you that if a shul has no brisim for a few months, the price would suddenly drop. Same for kiddushim.

Mark

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

SephardiLady-
Thanks!

Ezzie, Lion-
You might take a look at my Friday post on charter schools here; that could illuminate matters somewhat.

Commenter Abbi-
Looking a fight where there is none? We quoted a straight pasuk from Yeshayah, because it deals explicitly with a call for mishpat and tzedakah. No implicit comment on aliyah there.

ChaimB, Thinking-
That is my major beef with Resolutions. But we did the best we could to articulate a meaningful message on a subject that matters, and we hope the membership - and their memberships - will put it into practice.

Commenter Abbi said...

I'm not looking for a fight, I just think in this context, such a quote is ill chosen at best and tragic at worst. I'm sure there were other quotes from Tanach or Toshb'a about modesty and justice that would have been more appropriate.

The answer to all this handwringing about out of control tuition and suffering caused by a tanking economy is really quite simple and elegant: aliyah. Universal healthcare, free Jewish education, a banking system that knows how to say "no" and a basically decent economy are the answers to the massive economic problems facing frum families today. If the RCA is truly dedicated to ensuring frum Jewish survival and Jewish education, it would be pushing aliya. But I see no mention in any of these "resolutions" of the most obvious answer. So much for Yeshayahu.

Why is there no joint initiative with NBN for RCA communities to help families find jobs and appropriate schools and communities in Israel? Why is there no youth aliyah initiative, encouraging post high school students to form garinim and make aliya together after their "year in Israel"? Why is there no initiative helping college graduates who have no hope of finding a job in the US get settled in Israel, where the job prospects do seem at least a little bit better, and, again, they won't have to suffer the tuition bills their parents currently do?

These are the practical solutions that are desperately needed, not weak-kneed calls for "modesty". I'm sorry, if families who are burdened by mountains of debt can't figure out that it's time to spend less money, no RCA resolution will convince them of that.

Tamar said...

Yay Commenter Abbi! I love this blog because I believe in responsible fiscal practice -- we all seem to be a like-minded community on that issue. But these regular doomsday posts, accurate and alarming, calling on folks to think outside the box, aren't getting the American Orthodox Jewish community anywhere. Posters keep on regurgitating the same old, same old, wringing hands and placing blame. Young families in America: before your roots are struck too deeply and your kids are teenagers, give aliyah serious thought. Don't dismiss this wonderful, logical option because of fear of the unknown and anxiety about change.

As per tuition, I've said it before on this forum and I'll say it again:
My kids are receiving a great (public school -- torani) education at a FRACTION of the prices being bandied about on this blog. Why don't you want that for yourselves? (Not to mention the myriad other benefits of living a Jewish life in Israel...)

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Commenter Abbi, Tamar-
We didn't pass a resolution promoting aliyah because we wanted to deal with new areas. The RCA already passed a resolution promoting aliyah - and especially for rabbis - a few years ago.
You can find it here.

This aside from the on-going efforts of hundreds of RCA rabbis to promote aliyah in individual cases, both through teaching and actual funding.

I trust you will track down all of the people to whom you have said that the RCA does not promote aliyah, and you will correct the impression you left them.

Tamar said...

Sorry, Rebbetzin's Husband -- I don't buy it. I was in the States for the period that the RCA aliyah resolution came out, and it amounted to a bunch of hoo-hah. No pulpit preaching, no widespread call for communal aliyah, no teeth whatsoever because the rabbeim couldn't get behind it with any kind of enthusiasm (hard to promote communal aliyah when your livelihood depends on a sustainable diaspora community).
What we're talking about here is a tenable solution to the economic desperation that will fast become a part of orthodox Jewish life in America (although as an avid reader of this blog, seems that it's already arrived). Half-hearted attempts here and there to support individual aliyah make no waves in the community. You need to get up in your pulpits and promote this to the masses who will suffer when the day schools fold. It should not have come to financial straits for the american rabbinate to promote aliyah loudly and forcefully. The rabbinate should have been doing this as soon as NBN came onto the scene, if not earlier.

SephardiLady said...

1. Modesty in spending applies in Eretz Yisrael as much as Chutz L'Aretz.

2. There are numerous Modern Orthodox families and Rabbis that make Aliyah every year. Aliyah is being encouraged by the Rabbinate. Modern Orthodox shuls do host Nefesh B'nefesh informational seminars. Numerous families do consider aliyah.

3. I know fathers who come to work in the states for large amounts of time, leaving behind their wife and children while they come to America to work. It does not appear that aliyah offers the perfect economic solution for all, although if they are happy with the decision that is great. But, it must be difficult to have to continually travel back and forth.

rosie said...

I have seen numerous people make yeridah. They either had high hopes of raising children in Israel and couldn't swing it financially so they left or they were born and raised in Israel and did not want their own children to deal with the poverty that they experienced. Are there lucrative job opportunities in Israel? There must be numerous low paying service jobs because illegal immigrants from Darfur have those jobs. There are also numerous other foreign workers working legally. If it is so easy to live in Israel financially, why are there so many Israelis living in America? Florida may as well be little Israel as well as NY and LA.

Commenter Abbi said...

A few years ago, most frum Jews were flying high on the housing bubble and aliyah probably sounded like a quaint idea. I want to know why there is no push for aliyah as a solution to the current economic and tuition crises.

Again, your point that individual rabbis encourage individuals to make aliyah is simply meaningless. There will always be individual families inspired to make aliyah, with or without the help of their rabbi who happens to have an RCA membership. I'm talking about initiatives, like the three specific ones I mentioned in my previous comment that you conveniently ignored, that are directly promoted by the RCA as an authoritative Orthodox body.

Times of crisis call for bold answers. I don't see anything in these resolutions that comes even close to bold.

When the RCA calls for communities to make mass aliya as a solution to the tuition crisis and offers more substantial solutions than "Be modest", I will retract my statements.

Also, what does your last statement even mean? Am I supposed to ask SL for all the IP addresses of everyone who reads this blog? Seriously, you sound very petty. Instead of getting defensive, why don't you encourage the RCA to get more proactive.

Tamar said...

Sephardilady:
1) "Modesty in spending applies in Eretz Yisrael as much as Chutz L'Aretz." Well, of course! That's why I love reading your blog so much!
2) "Numerous" families making aliyah, alas, comprise is a tiny fraction of the orthodox Jewish community in America. We are nowhere NEAR tapping the potential, l'tza'areinu harav.
3) No, as has been stressed often in this blog and elsewhere, aliyah is not a perfect solution. But it seems that it's not being given its fair share of consideration along with vouchers, public schools, charter schools, homeschooling, etc. And considering the perks of aliyah extend far beyond a ridiculously tiny tuition bill, then it behooves the orthodox Jewish community to AT THE VERY LEAST pay it lip service. Wait -- we do that already in tefillah. So now that Am Yisrael is gifted with opportunities the likes of which have not been seen since Shlomo HaMelech, let's start knocking down NBN's doors and turn lip service into a real option for the masses.

And Rosie --
Over the past year unprecedented numbers of expat Israelis (yordim) have come Home, realizing that there's no rosy economic future in the USA for their families. Yes, there are many opportunities here, and not just for commuting husbands. But you have to explore, have vision and emunah to discover them.

rosie said...

In the past when people made aliyah, they were given help from the Israeli government in terms of ulpan and also the expense of bringing their belongings from overseas. That still seems to be the case but at present there are only about 3000 olim a year from America and I am not sure how many immigrate from Russia every year as well as other countries. If there would be a mass aliyah, including the infirm elderly who are currently drawing social security in the US, would the Israeli government be able to handle it? Also when talking about heredim, the secular Israelis are not exactly looking forward to supporting more of those. It would really be a stretch of reality beyond the mass aliyah to figure that these heredim will want to go out and work and put their kids in the IDF. Maybe they could open a bunch of moshavim just for them in parts of the Shomron where there now just exists a bunch of rocks but the government is not likely to do that.

Tamar said...

Oh Rosie, halevai there would be a mass aliyah of American Jews to Israel. I'm certain Hashem would make E"Y k'tzvi to accomodate all of us, in all aspects necessary for our existence as a variegated Am b'Artzeinu. Why don't we have the bitachon to give kibbutz galuyot a try?

rosie said...

I have seen people here argue that we shouldn't have bitochon when it comes to having one more baby so at least with these bloggers, bitochon does not seem to be a big seller.
To me it is just one more example of push coming to shove. As long as people have jobs in America (or wherever they live)and they have extended family here, there is not the push to leave what they have. I know some my age who have merited to still have living parents but they can't leave them and make aliyah. The old folks would have quite an adjustment. My generation has children scattered all over, but admittedly that includes Israel. For many people, aliyah would mean distancing themselves from important people in their lives.
I think for some people there is fear. I know of yordim that will not even allow their children to study in seminaries in Israel. They are so afraid of terrorism. Americans and others who were never in the military are frightened of the possibility of losing children in battle chas v'sholem. If they stay in the US their children are currently not likely to be drafted. If a US draft was reinstated however, I would be the first to send my sons and grandsons to the IDF.
You need lots of bitochon to live in Israel as well as the ability to drive like an Israeli and eat like an Israeli and hang your laundry outside!

Commenter Abbi said...

Commuting was a boom time phenomenon. My brother "commuted" for 3 years and lost his commuting job right after the crash in October. Thank Gd, he had a friend who had wanted to team up with him for a long time and now he is doing the same type of work, also servicing American companies.

Intel, Microsoft and many other big tech companies are still hiring. There are many outsourcing companies hiring American doctors and lawyers for research and "teleservicing" capacities. My husband's startup is hiring, my startup is hiring.

All I hear about in America is that people have started putting their resumes on windshields. What's going to become of all college graduates at the end of the month who majored in "business" and "economics" and planned on Wall st. careers?

I don't claim aliyah is for everyone. But given the current economic situation, to not even give it serious consideration on both an individual and a communal level is incredibly foolish.

Rosie, it's good to know we can count on your sons and grandsons only when Uncle Sam has them by the throats.

BTW, Brooklyn drivers are way worse than Israelis and I don't own a clothesline. And yes I enjoy the year round fresh fruits and vegetables that haven't been shipped thousands of miles.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Commenter Abbi-
I fully agree that we need to do more. I was only responding to your statement that the RCA hasn't issued resolutions promoting aliyah.

Regarding the last line - I just wish that posters would think more about the human beings they hurt when they thoughtlessly write comments like "Guess that wouldn't really play well to this crowd."

Tamar said...

Rebbetzin's Husband:
Let's call a spade a spade and owe up to the fact that that "line" doesn't play well to this crowd. Neither do whole swaths of Sefer Chaggai, for that matter.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Tamar-
Sorry, I disagree. YMMV.

Tamar said...

Your Mileage May Vary?

Lion of Zion said...

ROSIE:

"I have seen numerous people make yeridah . . ."

wow. for once we are on the same page.
i too have brought up this point before when aliyah has been presented as economic salvation. i don't think that american aliyah comes close to balancing israeli yeridah, and most of those (as far i can unscientifically determine from conversations) come to america for economic reasons.

(this is not at all to take away from abbi and tamar's arguments that we should be considering aliyah more seriously, but i think it's ridiculous that we should do this for economic reasons.)

rosie, but alas our detente must come to an end with your rejection of aliyah as a solution because:

"Also when talking about heredim, the secular Israelis are not exactly looking forward to supporting more of those . . ."

tough luck. and they should be working, whether they remain in america or make aliyah.

Lion of Zion said...

ROSIE:

"I have seen people here argue that we shouldn't have bitochon when it comes to having one more baby so at least with these bloggers, bitochon does not seem to be a big seller. "

2 good points today