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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rosh Hashanah, Income, and Hishtadlut

I saved this post for Erev Rosh Hashanah since I wanted something relevant to the holiday, as well as an opportunity to wish my readers a Shana Tovah. I'm not a fan of virtual apologies, but please do be forgiving for any lapses in judgement regarding any posts or comments that I probably should have erased from the get go. While I do have guest posts lined up on hotter topics, I plan to continue to quote more excerpts as the one below.

There is a gemorrah that on Rosh Hashana our income for the year is set by Hashem. Being no expert on the subject, I've always thought of this source akin to the gemorrah that Hashem calls out that so-and-so will marry so-and-so. Through the courting process, we have no idea if the person of our choosing is really our "soulmate," but once we marry, we should regard the shidduch as bashert and proceed as such.

I've seen many others take this Gemorrah to what I would consider illogical extremes. Instead of taking the view that their parnassah is bashert in terms of acceptance of their current situation and working with the situation "for richer or poorer" to borrow from a different religious faith, they choose to believe their efforts in budgeting are rather pointless as Hashem will figure a way to give/take the money. I could point to numerous examples of such thinking on chatboards, in published articles, or in blog comments, to say nothing of face to face conversations with people who have relinquished prudence in the name of "bitachon."

I was gifted a translation of the Ben Ish Hai's (translated from Arabic) writings for women and they are filled with advice that will always be fresh and relevant, even though they are as old as the world post-Gan Eden. I've bookmarked a number of experts on money, budgeting, work ethic, and tzedakah that my readers will hopefully find interesting . Please do remember the context and time frame that these were written in and refrain from taking the discussion only in that direction. In short, thrift and prudence are certainly a part of the mesorah even if it is tempting to dismiss such efforts as futile because Hashem is ultimately in charge. I welcome readers to bring forward their own sources on how we should be dealing with the money Hashem has (and will) gift us. I don't have the breadth of knowledge of some of my generous readers and commentators, but I think we'd be hard-pressed to find financial advice from our sages that essentially label our efforts in thrift as futile.

The Household Budget (Ben Ish Hai)

If a man senses an increase in his household expenses, it is natural that he ask his wife for a detailed account of her expenditures. He will ask her how much money she spends on clothes, food, drink, and other expenses. He may inquire why their food supply is diminishing faster than usual, why new utensils were needed, and other such questions. It is a women's obligation to answer all his queries without showing the slightest irritation, since after all, he is the legal owner of all their possessions. She should not feel angry at him, since it is perfectly natural for a man who works hard in order to provide money for his family to know how it is being spent. As a matter of fact, a man who does not look after his possessions is akin to a beast, not a man.

If he feels that his financial situation is steadily deterioration, it is well within his rights to cut back expenses. On the contrary, it is his obligation to do so, since one who spends more than he earns will eventually eat from other people's pockets.

Thus, a woman should not become angry at her husband for reducing the household budget, but on the contrary, she should assist him in his calculations. She should also not become offended at things he says during times of financial stress, since it is a well-known phenomenon that people say things they do not mean when they are feeling upset. When Hashem will bring him prosperity, his manner will once again become friendly and affectionate, and he will give generously to his household as before.


Anonymous said...

One can also always look to the 7 fat cows, 7 lean cows for a lesson of the importance in saving and planning ahead during the good times. That story clearly tells us that it is not just a matter of relying on Hashem to provide. Hashem is telling us we must do our part.

Mark said...

Shanah Tovah Umetukah and Ktiva Vechatimah Tovah to you, your family, to all the readers, and to all the rest of klal yisrael.

Anonymous said...

Nice posting. I just recently found your blog and find it very helpful financially and spiritually uplifting. Keep up the good work.
Shana Tova,

Larry Lennhoff said...

Shana Tova to you and yours.

Northwards said...

You can find a discussion of this along with a very relevant quotation from the Chofetz Chaim here
Shana tova!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and temperate blog. Shana Tova to you and your family and your readers.

tesyaa said...

Here's a fascinating post Iin its entirety) on Lost in Kollel. I am sure it is sincerely meant, but I have a hard time with the premise:

Why We Frum Yidden Have it So Hard (Financially)
September 05, 2010 | Comments 1

Here’s a short (Torah) thought that I had while learning today:

Often times we wistfully wish we didn’t have to shoulder the tremendously high expenses of raising a frum family in the US today. Large families, kosher food, tuition, bar mitzvahs, chassunahs, tznius clothing, sheitels, summer camps, shul memberships, mikvah, etc. If we compare ourselves to an average US family, our cost of living must be at least double or triple the national average.

Add to that the fact that we get a late start to our careers because of the time (well) spent in kollel, and that we don’t go to college while we are bochurim, which causes our incomes to be lower, at least in the outset.

Yes, we are at a great disadvantage, and even without any special circumstances we struggle much more than most everyone else.

It could be the main reason for this setup is due to the way Hashem issues judgement. The ultimate reward is in the World to Come, not down here. However, those that are wicked will not experience the reward in the next world, instead they will suffer eternal punishment. So down here they receive reward for the few good deeds they have done. Of course, it is far better to get rewarded in the World to Come for the good deeds one does, and to suffer here in this world for one’s wrongdoings.

Accordingly, it follows that us frum yidden will suffer far greatly in this world as compared to the other nations. Since it is impossible for the nations not to have done some good deeds and likewise impossible for the yidden not to have sinned, therefore the nations must be rewarded for their good here in this world, while the yidden have to be cleansed from their evil here in this world. (Ramban – beginning of Shaar HaGmul)

Until recently, the yidden suffered physical torment from the nations. Inquisitions, holocausts, soviet oppression, pogroms, etc. That was their cleansing in this world. Today, we suffer none of these. Has something fundamentally changed in the way Hashem deals with us? I suggest that our economic woes and struggles are the suffering for today’s generation. This is our method of cleansing for our wrongdoing. Our job then, is to accept the burden with love and with the realization that it is for our ultimate good.

And here's my comment:

I think you're reaching here. Without private school, our economic burden would be hardly more than the non-Jew. You think non-Jews aren't materialistic and don't spend? And despite our "burden", we're still living at a higher standard than at any time in our history. Sheitels, camp, and fancy simchas are NOT religious requirements.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Tessya. By this guy's logic, the senior citizen who can't pay for heat in the winter and can't afford their prescriptions and the child in Haiti who resorts to eating mud just to have something in her belly will have a far greater portion in the world to come than the Kollel guy with thousands of dollars of seforim, a minivan and kids who go to camp and private school.

JS said...


I don't think you understand the depths of knowledge this man has plumbed. In one fell swoop he has brought enlightenment to the masses and solved the vexing issue of theodicy - why bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people. It's all so clear to me now. Kollel people who don't earn enough money to support their families and large expenses are "good" and everyone else is "bad." The "good" people suffer so they can go to Heaven and the "bad" people have it easy so they can go to Hell.

I'm glad I have this deeper understanding before going into Rosh Hashana. Now I can pray for less income and more suffering so I can go to Heaven too.

Anonymous said...

Is that what they teach in Kollel -- that suffering brings redemption? Is this the kollel at the vatican?

Charlie Hall said...

HaShem allocates us a certain amount on Rosh HaShanah. But HaShem does not force us to accept that amount; we are perfectly free to refuse to work for our parnassah. And HaShem does not force us to live within our means.

CJ Srullowitz said...

"[T]hey choose to believe their efforts in budgeting are rather pointless as Hashem will figure a way to give/take the money." - Orthonomics

To the contrary! The gemara is saying that you HAVE to budget. Rashi (Beitza 16a) states explicitly, "One should be careful about taking on a great expense as he will not receive any more income beyond that which was set for him."

The only exceptions are talmud Torah for the children, Shabbos, Yom Tov (and some add, Rosh Chodesh).

Our problem is, as tesyaa and Charlie point out, that we are living beyond our means.

Thanks for the Ben Ish Chai, and kesivah vechasimah tovah!

James Dean said...

Thank you for all of your hard work educating all of us.

May Hashem reward your efforts and your Hishtadlus.

Wishing you and your family a Kesivah V'Chasima Tovah.


tesyaa said...

CJ - we're only living above our means because we don't want to prioritize. Or to look at it another way: we prioritize everything and we don't want to make the tough choices.

Shana tova all!

Ariella said...

Shana tova, still, and gmar chathima tova. I've heard various approaches to the income and general judgment on Rosh Hashana vs. the belief that one is judged every day, and even every hour. Let's say one judgment is for X amount of income for that year. That may prove adequate or short depending on what expenditures pop up. If one has to replace a roof or a car, then there may be a shortfall. But if there are no unexpected expenses, and one does not accumulate debt, then the amount may suffice. So there is still a lot of room for adaption.

General advice given was for a man to eat beneath his means (don't go out to eat or take out food all the time), dress within his means (buy the best quality clothes you can afford but not designer brands you can't) and honor his wife above his means (that does not mean to go into debt because honor is not a question only of money).

Miami Al said...

Since a literal reading of this would state that nobody gets into financial trouble from overspending on Shabbat, Yom Tov, Tzedakah, and Chinuch, and we all know that this is factually incorrect because we have seen people that do so (the families that were big machers of schools/Shuls, ran on to hard times, and didn't have sufficient savings and are in trouble for being behind on tuition, dues, etc.), we have two options.

Chazal was being LITERAL in describing the actions of the heavenly court, but was factually incorrect (and our religious disappears in a poof of logic)


Chazal was illustrating a set of values (you should budget and cut back during the week, cutting to nothing, before you cut back on Shabbat, you should stop buying new clothes before cutting back on buying clothes for the needy, etc.), and it wasn't meant literally.

CJ Srullowitz said...


I don't buy this watered-down version of what Chazal are saying. There are many maamarei Chazal that are not codified lehalachah. This is not one of those.

From the Halachah (Orach Chaim 529, Mishnah Berurah 2), it is clear that this is to be taken literally.

Does it mean you should buy things for Yom Tov that are completely unnecessary? Probably not. What about fancy clothes to impress people in shul? I doubt it.

Insofar as chinuch is concerned, it's very possible that the percentage of tuition funds that go toward secular studies, and "frills" such as they are, may not count toward this calculation either.

But this particular statement of Chazal goes beyond a mere "set of values."

Dave said...

CJ, I've asked you this before on this subject.

Have you ever decided not to buy something for Shabbos based on the price?

Miami Al said...


I appreciate that you don't accept my "value" interpretation. The nice thing about my value interpretation is that it isn't falsifiable, spend less elsewhere, have more to spend for Chinuch, Shabbat, Yom Tov.

If it is literal, you have a problem...

We know that fathers make more money than non-fathers, from the scholarly research. Plenty of explanations why, but if it is a function of human nature, it is perfectly reasonable to also attribute it to the heavenly court. So more "Parnassah" is given to American men upon having a child.

However, IF the heavenly court literally makes Jews whole, then we should see:

1. Orthodox Jews make 14% more in hourly wages than non-Orthodox Jews, to make up for not working Shabbat, do you see ANY evidence of that?

2. Orthodox Jews should, all things being equal, make more money than their secular counterparts, since their "big expenses" don't "count" and are made up for with extra income, while secular Jews, even if granted the same heavenly Parnasah despite their lack of Mitzvah observance, do not have the "extra income."

Unfortunately, these are now true, Orthodox Jews are the poorest of the Jewish denominations.

"Second, I utilize previous studies of the Jewish poor that have found a relationship between Jewish religious denomination and low income.13 Lazerwitz and Harrison (1979) view the lower socio-economic status of Orthodox Jews as part of a set of characteristics that reflected their relatively slow Americanization religiously, socio-economically and demographically compared to other Jewish denominations.14 Wilder and Walters (1998) hypothesize that a linkage between Orthodoxy and lower income may result from conflict between traditional religious practice and secular economic success, or to lack of access among Orthodox Jews to the social and economic networks of non-Orthodox Jews who have been economically successful. In their analysis of the earnings of American Jewish men, Chiswick and Huang (2006) likewise suggest that the religious commitments of Orthodox Jews may divert time and effort from labor market participation; they also propose that discrimination against Orthodox Jews in the labor market might be a factor in their lower earnings. Lastly, Fishman and Parmer (2008) hypothesize that during modernization, non-Orthodox denominations reformulated gender roles to facilitate greater male participation in capitalist economies, but Orthodoxy did not. While Fishman and Parmer do not address poverty, their argument is consistent with social patterns in which Orthodox Jews, with less emphasis on male participation and success in capitalist economies, are more likely to experience low income." from Poor Jews: An Analysis of Low Income in the American Jewish Population

Miami Al said...

Predictor : B : exp(B)
Jewish Denomination (Conservative) : 1 : 1
Orthodox : 0.962** : 2.617
Reform : −0.206 : 0.814
Reconstructionist : 0.808 : 2.243
Other Jewish : −0.335 : 0.715
Just Jewish/no denomination/secular : 0.457* : 1.579

Note: Conservative was "normalized", I added the 1s to indicate, also from that report. Basically, Orthodox Jews are more likely to have low income: "the multivariate model shows Orthodox Jews have a greater likelihood of low income than Conservative Jews, the reference group. The model also shows that those who are just Jewish/secular/no denomination are more likely to have low income than Conservative Jews. Between the two groups, Orthodox Jews (with an odds ratio of 2.62) fare worse than those who are just Jewish/secular/no denomination (odds ratio of 1.6). In contrast, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews and those with other Jewish denominations do not differ from Conservative Jews in terms of low income"

So we can see that Mitzvah observing Jews make less money and are more likely to be poor than non-Mitzvah observing Jews.

If your belief structure requires believing that Halacha is literal (and that Chazal somehow is able to dictate terms to the Heavenly court), requires beliefing something factually incorrect. You are entitled to your beliefs, but forgive me for treating your "belief" like I would treat a flat earther, this is not the realm of beliefs, this is the realm of facts, and Orthodox Jews do NOT make more to make up for these costs, as this website and others will attest.

Anonymous said...

I recall learning that what chazal meant by that statement is that expenditures for shabbos, etc., that are appropriate relative to the person's general income (such as slightly nicer food, clothes, etc.) are not included in the Rosh Hashana total. But if a person spends way out of proportion to their financial situation than it is not exempted from the income calculation.

Ariella said...

The general rule for spending on a mitzvah aseh is max 20%. I take it as income, but if you factor all assets, it may be higher. That goes for tzedaka, as well as purchases for Yom Tov.

CJ Srullowitz said...

"Have you ever decided not to buy something for Shabbos based on the price?" - Dave

If I actually felt it would enhance my Shabbos? No.

(Sorry for not answering ealier, Dave, but I don't recall you asking me this before.)

CJ Srullowitz said...


The average working Orthodox family's income far exceeds the average working American family's.

Your studies no doubt include significant segments of the population that do not work. One cannot violate certain rules of Chazal - i.e., the hishtadlus imperative - and expect other rules to necessarily take effect.

tesyaa said...

The average working Orthodox family's income far exceeds the average working American family's.

I haven't seen the numbers, but I have no argument. The fallacy comes in assuming that if every Orthodox family were working, this would still be the case. There might be some connection between choosing not to work and lack of skills/ambition/ability.

Every community has its slackers or "losers" (I use the word hesitantly) or just plain unlucky members. Maybe our not-so-fortunates are in a good place because they can tell themselves it's a choice, not a personal failing.

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