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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Social Ills and Dependency

I have some posts in my lineup on tuition, but I'd prefer a diversion of sorts. (Sorry, it isn't a big diversion).

Rabbi Wein has published a most fantastic article titled No Free Lunch. The economics of human behavior is inescapable and for a long time I've been saying that you can't create a dependency class without experiencing the ill social consequences that come along with dependency. This is why, even if we had unlimited resources, I wouldn't fund my children's every desire, whether that desire be some gedolim card collection or the avoidance of making a living because I simply don't believe it is good for their development. Certainly our sages recognized the dangers of dependency, idleness, over consumption, entitlement, and reversing gender roles.

If I was an Orthodox economist living 30 + years ago when the community embarked upon some of the current practices that permeate the scenery today, I hope that I would have tried to sound the alarm because regardless of the economic climate, many of the practices that are commonplace, certainly aren't commonsense.

Rabbi Wein brings his own touch to the message that you can't have "a free lunch is always present and eatable without later consequences." He touches upon dependency, governmental arm twisting, fraud, dependency, kollel, (lack of) employment, begging, and dysfunction. . . basically all of the Orthonomic subjects we talk about here.

And this story is just so illustrative. Here is what happens when the only "trade" you teach your children is begging:

I am aware of a case where a man who traveled often to collect money solely on his own behalf, when he passed away, the asset that his sons fought about and actually contested in a rabbinic court was his list of donors. A generation brought up to believe that there is no
necessity for it to work in order to make a living for one’s family is doomed to a spiritual and social disaster - and eventual self-destruction. There is no free lunch for anyone in this world.


Heed these words and try to spread the wisdom. You can't escape the ills of dependency anymore than you can escape the laws of physics. Of course, there are those in the klal who think frum Jews can escape all of the above.

And, while I'm at it, I can't help but point out another article that relates directly to the subject at hand. The JPost has an article titled "Most haredim want secular higher education, survey finds." The study quoted basically shows that haredim are interested in higher education under certain conditions. Fine and well.

But the interesting part of the article to me is the disparity in desire between men and women: "63% of female respondents said they would, while only 41% of males were interested. "
Hassidim were more open to secular learning, with 59% answering in the affirmative, while only 42% of the Lithuanian respondents said yes.

Note the 22 point difference between men and women answering in the affirmative. I imagine I can't make any scientific declarations as the study did not concentrate on the disparity, but I can't help but think that the men have become far too comfortable with the gender role reversal and dependency. I believe it is a very natural, masculine quality to want to work and support a family. But it seems that normal inclinations have been broken and many men have been emasculated. I can't help but think about the commentary on what the slavery in Mitzrayim entailed. One commentary, as I recall, states that the slavery consisted on having the men do women's work and having the women do men's work.

Also note the difference between Hassidim (male and female inclusive) and so called Lithuanian respondents, a 17 point difference. Here too I believe we are seeing the effects of dependency.

Comment away.


Child אִישׁ Behavior said...

"Also note the difference between Hassidim (male and female inclusive) and so called Lithuanian respondents, a 17 point difference. Here too I believe we are seeing the effects of dependency."

I would say just the opposite. The Chassidim are more willing to be dependent. They marry earlier.

I actually just wrote a post on this exact same subject
.(shameless plug) If you marry younger, no matter what your view on secular education, you will be forced into dependency.

Litvak said...

"so called Lithuanian respondents"

Like the commenter above me remarked, and like SL implies with her words that I quote above, the matter is more complex than the reports indicate.

The 'Lithuanian' world of today, does not really represent the tradition of the Litvishe Yidden ('Litvaks') in its totality, and its unfortunate that people don't realize that. Most Litvaks in the old Lita were not kollelniks, who were only a very small number. The typical Litvak then was a 'baal habos', a 'working man'. The Litvishe Yeshivish tradition in the common current incarnation does represent a continuity of the Litvishe tradition of exalting learning, and to a degree, mussar, however it is not the same as how life was lived by most Litvaks in other important ways.

It is also important to note that a significant percentage of the current 'Litvishe-Yeshivishe world' is actually not of Litvak descent, or of mixed descent. Hence, at times one sees members of that world doing non-Litvishe things copied from Hassidim, like making upsherins, treating their leaders like Hassidic Rebbes, adopting certain Hassidic teachings, etc.

There is a similar phenomenon at foot in other frum groups (e.g. when people think that most/all Jews in Satmar of old were Satmar Hassidim, Klauzenberger Hassidim in Klausenberg, etc., when those groups were just small minorities in the places their name comes from).Perhaps that will be addressed more fully another time.

ProfK said...

I'm not sure that in 2009 we want to be talking about gender role reversal this way. Yes, I get your point that many hareidi men have left the working strictly up to their women, and the result has been economically problematic. But the problem has not been caused by role reversal per se.

The hareidi women are, in general, under educated. Any jobs they take are within the hareidi world, and those jobs traditionally pay little. "Women's work" is valued less than "men's work" But do the men earn all that much more when they work? They, too, are undereducated. Unless they are opening their own businesses or are willing to go into service industries like plumbing and electricity (and yes, some education is going to be necessary), they aren't going to be making huge sums either.

Better to be talking about work changes--the idea that in bad times and/or with little education, both husband and wife will have to work. And it's not just hareidim where this applies. Given current tuition in yeshivas, and the raise in the cost of basic consumer items and services, there are few frum couples of any kind that can afford the luxury of having only one partner working. Even you, SL, work part-time, even if from home. That's not role reversal; that's role redefinition.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: Thanks for bringing up the term "role reversal." I don't think that role reversal in the traditional sense is what's going on here. Throughout history women have always helped to put food on the table - they worked the fields and gathered food along side men, and cared for chicken and sheep and milked cows, although they may have done that work while carrying a baby on her back and with toddlers at her feet and the men took on some of the more physically demanding tasks that require more strength. Now that most of us don't live off the land or our farm animals, they are working outside the home. However, they are not in leadership roles or public roles which are remain closed to woman in orthodox society. So, on the female side of the equation, I'm not sure I would call it role reversal.

For most hareidi men who are not in the work force and for those sitting and learning, it does not sound like they are engaging in role reversal either. They are not staying home taking on primary responsibility for child care, cooking and cleaning. Therefore, rather than role reversal, it's role absence or role abdication. That may be what leaves the huge void that creates so many problems.

In short, I think that both men and woman need to feel productive and useful. What we now have is a group with a serious imbalance where woman are more productive and useful than ever and males are less so.

Eli said...

The best line in this post: "You can't escape the ills of dependency anymore than you can escape the laws of physics. Of course, there are those in the klal who think frum Jews can escape all of the above."

Anonymous said...

The scary thing is that the current generation of children raised in these insular communities have even fewer role models of working men than the last generation did. It's going to be harder and harder to break the cycle without the right role models.

One has to wonder if the increasing shift to the right, rioting and rock throwing and talibanization is a product of the frustrations and despair of not being productive. It certainly makes it easier for leaders who want to take their followers in that directioni.

SephardiLady said...

I concur 100% that "role reversal" isn't the best term. In fact, it seems as if women have been stuck with a lot more than they bargained for. They now have the burden of parnasah, the burden of the home, and little influence.

ProfK-I don't mind speaking about gender roles today in the least, because I simply don't think that women going out into marketplace en masse has been particularly great for families, especially children. In fact, we can even see a growing gap in the US between women seeking higher education and men. Many men today have lost what I consider a very masculine drive to support their family. I know plenty of non-Jewish men that expect their wife to be back at work 6 weeks after a baby for ideological reasons. So, yes, when I see something that I don't think is good for families and children, I will address it.

That doesn't mean I am opposed to women seeking education. Nor does it mean that I believe women should never enter the professions or pursue a career. One thing I really don't like is when mechanchim are dismissive of giving girls a strong education in all of the basics because "they won't need it." Even the education isn't used, it is an important building block. I don't think that empty neighborhoods, empty homes, children in day care and even school for extremely long hours, etc is good and I'm willing to say so.

Yes, many women over time have worked, but mostly in a supporting role. Placing the burden of parnasah on the shoulders of the women is a different subject. My own mother helped my father with his practice, as do many, many other women whose husbands are in business for themselves. In fact, we were all part of the practice in one way or the other, whether that meant working in the office during the summers, running a vacuum in the office when my mother couldn't do whatever needed to be done from a distance, or running some tapes for the tax return.

As for my own work, my kids sometimes come along, sometimes stay with daddy while I run out in the evenings, and sometimes I even pay for care (5 hours in the past 4 years). My youngest won't separate yet, so right now, I can't take on much else because she needs me. I think a lot of children are being lost in the mix because their needs are 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th on the priority list.

Eli-Thanks and welcome.

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous-exactly right about lack of role modeling. It is hard to reverse bad trends.

Anonymous said...

The alternative to role models is rebellion: either way they're working. And there are so few role models...

The road back to normalcy is going to be a bumpy ride.

Ariella said...

Even highly educated women sometimes want to stay home with their babies and young children -- or at least to scale back from a full-time work load. I have a friend who earns a very high income but also has to pay 30K a year for full time day care for a baby and a toddler. She told me she would like to not have to work full time, but she went over the figures with a financial advisor who told her the household cannot be sustained without her salary.

Anonymous said...

Areilla: Is your friend's situation because her husband is underemployed or because they live an expensive lifestyle, or is it just that most families can't maintain a decent middle class, but not extravagent standard of living without two incomes?

Ariella said...

They both have good jobs. He could earn more as a doctor but wants to stay in medical research. Both their jobs are located in an area with high housing costs. They bought their house when real estate was at its peak, so their mortgage is probably quite substantial. Apparently, they do no live an extravagent lifestyle. If they did, the advisor could have told them how they could scale back, so she could afford to give up her full time job.

SephardiLady said...

I know another family in a similar situation. The housing has really become a thorn in their side, but the real issue is the student loans. It is hard to undo the past and both will have to continue to work indefintely as far as I can see. But, more frugality will go a long way.

But this is a diversion since they are not dependent.

Ariella said...

I was originally responding to your point about mothers making choices about working, SL.

David said...

This approach applies quite well to other governmental ideas (such as health care) as well. The term TANSTAAFL applies here as well.

We can see priorities of individuals and communities by looking at how they spend their time and money...

Anonymous said...

So what's to be done, apart from not donating to and supporting those schools and institutions that promote dependency and entitlement? I wonder how many people who are concerned about this issue decline to send their kids to schools that teach that full time kollel is good and college is bad? How many people decline to give to those schools? How many people tell the yeshivas/kollel in Israel no I won't be making a donation this year, but I'd be happy to donate to a job training program if you set one up?

As for government programs, my fear is that there is going to be such a backlash from working people and government deficits that those who really do need government assistance (because they are old, sick or otherwise can't work) are going to suffer because of people who can work and chose to be un or underemployed. I think that people who choose to sit and learn and take food stamps and section 8 and medicaid are hurting people who really need government aid and will eventually find it drying up because of overuse by others.

gugpriv said...

Even without having many appropriate role models, economic needs will, over time, whittle away that attitude of "learning über alles". The current generation is basically using up the financial resources built up by the post-war generation, and will thus simply not be able to support their children in the way they themselves have been supported. Add in the fact that frum families tend to have more children now, as compared to the 50's and 60's. Changes are afoot, here is some anecdotal evidence:
a) very quietly, a number of ultra-orthodox high schools (primarily the chasidic ones) are letting their boys get a "Bagrut", which will enable them to go on to higher secular education.
b) Places like Machon Lev in Israel and Touro College (both in NY and Israel) have developed programs geared to undereducated charedi boys, i.e. they give them crash courses in math and english, and then go on to teach them computer or accounting skills, degree and all.
c) In Israel, without army service a number of jobs are closed. And guess what, the Nachal Charedi Brigade (which started out as a company, then battalion, and keeps expanding until it might have to be called Nachael Charedi Division ...) is a huge success. So much so, that the Air Force, that former bastion of elite secularism, started its own program geared to recruiting Charedim.

All of the above is still just nibbling at the edges. But the current recession will eventually result in government handouts being curtailed. With less WIC and/or Section 8 in the U.S., or less child support payments respectively in Israel, quite a few frum people will all of a sudden discover that holding down a job might not be such a bad idea after all. Unfortunately, they probably have no clue about good work ethic (showing up on time, putting in a full day's worth of work, anyone?).

Enough ranting and raving .... economics will force people to make choices, regardless of what the rabbis and other assorted power brokers in the community preach.

SephardiLady said...

Currently in the US the food stamp allowance was raised. We spend $200 less on all grocery store purchases (which includes household goods like toilet paper and diapers/pullups) than the food stamp allowance for a family our size. Perhaps allowances will be cut, but the dependence it must develop will be hard to undo.

I do agree with you that evenutally communities will be forced to reconsider. But, it is a real shame that quality education isn't offered at the ages it needs to be. Children has sensitive periods where learning basics comes far more easily. To allow those periods to pass until desperation isn't doing anyone any good.

Commenter Abbi said...

I agree with gugpriv. The situation in Israel is not as "black and white" as people make it out to be, and many charedim are taking economic matters into their own hands.

And while i agree about education, I think at the end of the day, many charedim do manage to learn a trade and make a decent living without having learned trigonometry in high school. Yes, it is nearly impossible for many of them to go on to be engineers and doctors. But I think as the generations pass and they get back into trades and lower level work, they will get tired of being stuck in low paying jobs and will return to the middle class high school/college route.

BTW, most yeshivas do have basic math and reading in Elementary school. (Obviously, in Israel it's less of an issue, since the kids learn Hebrew reading from learning). They end such "secular studies" in high school.

I cracked up when a charedi relative's daughter recently got married at 18 to a baal teshuva, who happened to have a college degree, and the mother fretted over "what he was going to do for a living". Meanwhile, she has sent all five of her sons to the blackest yeshiva in Geula, with no clear plans as to how they will prepare to make their own parnassa.

Sad, but true.

Shlomo said...

I cracked up when a charedi relative's daughter recently got married at 18 to a baal teshuva, who happened to have a college degree, and the mother fretted over "what he was going to do for a living". Meanwhile, she has sent all five of her sons to the blackest yeshiva in Geula, with no clear plans as to how they will prepare to make their own parnassa.

Isn't it clear that she was worrying about social respectability, not finances? :)