Sunday, December 02, 2007

Retirement: Goyish? Or Jewish?

I once mentioned to a friend that saving for retirement was a priority of ours, to which my friend opined that retirement is "goyish." I think her vision of retirement is one of idleness and hedonism and seeing no part in that lifestyle, she views it as "goyish" and sees no reason to worry whether they will be able to retire or not. I imagine many other frum people are of the same mindset.

My own vision to saving for retirement is has little to do delving into an inactive, carefree life. It is simply a way to ensure that as we physically slow down and can no longer hold the same schedule that we will be able to meet our expenses, many of which are sure to increase, medical being first and foremost on that list.

We are not planning on quitting work because when we are the magic age of 65. But, it simply might not be possible to continue working the same schedule. And it might also be fun to help our own children/grandchildren out here and there, volunteer in the community, or (in my husband's case) even learn Torah part time. If somehow we end up having saved too much, perhaps even a vacation would be in order. Besides trips to visit our families, we have never actually taken a vacation, in so much as that entails renting a hotel room. I highly doubt we will be hopping on and off of cruise lines, but if we do end up even enjoying a cruise, I'll consider it a belated "honeymoon." Seems every other newlywed couple of approximately 21 years of age seems to think jewelry, a vacation, and a new sheitel is the order of the day. I think a 70 year old couple taking a pricey vacation and maybe even enjoying a little shopping should get a little slack.

But back to the assumption that retirement is "goyish," I think we should take a look at this week's parsha Mikeitz. (Opening up a discussion on retirement was not purposely timed to fall out with Parshat Miketz, but it couldn't be more perfect). Pharoh has two dreams which Yosef interprets as one of the same. In the first, 7 beautiful and fleshy cows appear from the Nile, followed by 7 gaunt cows who promptly eat the former cows but do not fatten up. In the second dream, a beautiful stock was sprouting seven ears of grain and is followed by a vision of seven ears of grain were withered and beaten by to their husk by the harsh winds.

Yosef is summoned to interpret Pharoh's dreams and he sees that there will be seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine where the abundance will be forgotten. Seeing Yosef's wisdom, Pharoh appoints him "chief economist," where he initiates a national savings plan. Yosef's savings plan is that for each year of abundance, food is stored away (and preserved) "handfuls over handfuls" (see the Rashi) or little by little. The future was known and planned for and it was not necessary to enter into "panic mode" as the time of famine drew near, because little by little, in the most effective way, the abundance was being preserved until the count ceased.

Another interesting halacha is who provides the funds for the needs of a parent. The mitzvah of kibud av v'em comes at the expense of the parent, which must imply that the parents should be setting aside for their own support. A child may have to support his parents should they be unable to meet their own needs to food, shelter, and clothing. But, the funds for doing so could well be considered tzedakah funds. The halacha seems to presume that a parent puts away for their future.

So, while I am quite open to mussar about living a far too material existence (I've given plenty of the mussar myself), my own take on planning for the inevitable (in this case old age) is that such is not "goyish" but quite "Jewish."

Just my own thoughts. Happy Chanukah all! Chances of another post in the next week are slim to none. But, I hope to address retirement savings and the mechanics more.


Lion of Zion said...

oh please. yosef had the luxury of being far-sighted, a luxury we no longer have. how much do you think tuition actually cost at the yeshivah of shem va-ever.

happy hanukah

mother in israel said...

I enjoyed post.

Lion of Zion said...

just to be clear, i was kidding around. i also enjoyed the post.

Tamiri said...

Based on the Halachot of Yerusha (twice as much for a bechor as the other sons etc.), I believe it was EXPECTED that a Jew have something left when he dies. It was not called retirement, but the intent is there.
With all I am reading on these posts, today's Orth/Tuition paying Jew will have something left when he dies: DEBT. Oy.
Chag Sameach.

Anonymous said...

Your friend who says saving is "goyishe" reminds me of the many kollel folks who told me I was into gashmiyus and not ruchniyus since I have a job. When I got to know the frum world, I realized that when somebody says outright, "I'm not into gashmiyus...", that really means, "I'm REALLY into gashmiyus, but I just don't like working for it". Same for retirement. As SephardiLady points out, the "goyishe" vision of retirement is, in truth, the way most young couples expect to live today when they get married at 20 (fine expensive goods, vacations, etc). I am guessing that many people who say that saving is goyishe are expecting to just live off of other peoples' savings.

Commenter Abbi said...

My parents' goal is to retire so they can spend most/all of the year here in Israel with their children and grandchildren. What's goyish about that? What's goyish about being financially independent in your old age? Another example of warped contemporary Jewish thinking.

Commenter Abbi said...

Sorry, I forgot to add "My parents' goal is to SAVE ENOUGH to retire..."

Anonymous said...

it isnt until the last 50-100 years people have been healthy enough and lived long enough to retire.
without all of the medications and advancements in medicine (given all by HASHEMS blessing) that the concept of retirement existed. in the shtetl people worked until they dropped dead. there was no social seciurity. you worked until you couldnt any longer and got sick and died.
unitl FDR there was no social secuirity, you lived with your children and they supported you until you died.

you can get into the existentialism of why we are blessed with all of the medication, money, resources that didnt exist until the thirites. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and getting to appreciated the fruits of your labor IE your children and grandchildren. i dont think the shulchan aruch talks about retiremetn and what you should do with your money and how youre supposed to use it all up to pay for your children who dont want to work but ulthimately its up to the individual

Anonymous said...

One should look at the change in service of the Leviim at age 50. Although not a retirement in the sense of a complete cessation of productive activity, it does require a shift toward less strenuous activity with age. And it is explicit in Chumash; you can't get more Jewish than that.

Anonymous said...

my father in law retired when his health prevented him from working full time (in his 60s), and is finally able to spend most of his day learning.....without his parents supporting him!

very goyishe i know!

Jacob Da Jew said...

Great post.

Another pet peeve of mine (Which I'm going to blog about) :

People like yarn "Oh yea, when I get older, I want to sit and learn".

Get real.

Me? Give me a little corner store where I can hang out and sell cool stuff. Thats my retirement plan :)

Anonymous said...

There is a gemara that talks about a rabbi who was depressed because when he died, he left over a measure of saffron (basically, a tiny amount of spices). Meaning, he was upset that he had not used all that was given to him in his life. Talmudically speaking, one is meant to subsist off of what one has and then leave the world with nothing. That is the Talmudic ideal. It is most likely strongly influenced by the economics and realities of the time.

There are also various halachos regarding how much one is obligated to work. I recall R. Herschel Schachter saying that if one can support one self by working part-time (if you can live off of $50K a year, and make $100K a year) one is obligated to work half-time and learn the rest.

There are lots of other supports for this as the "Jewish" view, it would make for a good blog post and/or journal article, to collect all the sources and go through them in detail. I'd like to think however, that if the economic realities of today were around back then, rabbis would have encouraged things like life insurance and savings accounts.

Anonymous said...

A quick googling came up with this quote from the Iggeres HaGra:

For man can salvage nothing from his labor to take with him (see Koheles 5:14), except two white garments (shrouds). Also (Tehillim 49), "A man will not redeem his brother...Fear not when a man grows rich...For when he dies, he shall carry nothing away...." Don't say, "I will leave a portion for my children" - who will tell you in the grave? The children of man are like grasses of the field, some blossom and some fade (Eruvin 54a). Everyone is born under his constellation and Divine Providence. They are glad when he dies and he goes into the nether world. [At his death] Resh Lakish left his children a kav of saffron, and he applied to himself the verse (Tehillim 49:11), "...and they leave their wealth to others" (Gittin 47a). Woe to all who plan on leaving [wealth] to their children! The only reward from sons and daughters is through their Torah and good deeds. Their sustenance is fixed for them

I was remiss not to point to Koheles as a major source for the aforementioned "Jewish" view on retirement.

Anonymous said...

Greg--if we all followed R. Schachter and worked only enough to "live-off of", who would be paying all the shneurrers who come by collecting for kollels and hachnachos kallah, etc? Who would be paying elevated tuition so others could go for free? As we've observed before, basic tuition costs are above the average income in this country. Most of us "work a little more" than we should to cover it.

Besides, as is the main thrust of this blog, who can say what is enough to live off of? Apparently, according to an earlier post, some feel one is entitled to tuition breaks so you can take a family vacation or send kids to camp. This would imply you can work more than you "need to" to afford a family vacation. A letter I read in Yated says our young kollel families "must eat meat every night". I find it a little offensive that while those who work are told to work less and learn more because "they can live simply on less money", those who don't work are somehow entitled to more of my money so they can live more extravagantly.

Ariella's blog said...

My husband uses "goyish" only in a sort of self-deprecating way to indicate a person who is capable of fixing his own car, building his own furniture, doing his own gardening, etc., as frum Jews tend to contract that out. Well, as you know from my other post, women even contract out washing their hair -- when it is detachable.

The idea of financial responsibility being "goyish," though is positively perverse. Those who live beyond their means and don't have their own resources to fall back on are bound to become the financial burdens of others. One is not supposed to be so carefree of others' money.

Orthonomics said...

Greg, Thank you for opening up the discussion more. I will hopefully follow up with your source.

Currently, I'm trying to figure out why the comments are not hitting my email box.

Dave said...

Color me clueless, but what happens now? I don't see loads of 70+ zekaynim crowding the workforce. I do see the extraordinarily pricey retirement communities that cater to observant needs full to capacity. And I can count on two hands the number of people I know who are under 40 and working toward pensions. And these willful ignoramuses not only overlook the issue but stigmatize it as goyish? Oy.

PS, don't sleep on that retirement community/nursing home issue too. The costs for building those to accommodate our longer-living and burgeoning elderly frum population will far outpace the amount we as a community allocate to schools in another 20 years. What do you think happens to tuition when the Jewish Baby Boomers retire en masse?

Anonymous said...

"Is it goyish to want a retirement?" Frankly, I think a question like that is ridicules. Is it goyish to want a car? How about a house? How about shoes???

We live in the richest country at the richest time in history. We have every right to DEMAND our fare share and to take advantage of our creator's magnificent bounty - and he wants us to - isn't that what it says in benching? The problem is that our expectations have been so dumbed down by the crazy cost of religion that we act grateful to be able to rub two sticks together.

As a BT, when I first became religious, I calculated the cost of being observant at roughly 22pct. Now many years later between run away tuition, run away shul bills, and of everything else - run away housing, Kosher food, etc, etc., the cost is closer to 40pct. I still deserve, and demand, something for myself when I get older. G-d has blessed us also with the ability to live longer. And if I have that schus, I absolutely want to have "golden years" without the worry of paying my bills. My grandparents came to this country and gave their entire life contributing to making their children's life better than in Europe. Why shouldn't I demand it And sooner or later, many people will be of a similar mind and stop being held hostage to our Jewish institutions.

Anonymous said...

The quote that greg (December 05, 2007 11:34 PM) brings from the Iggeres HaGra criticizes the desire to leave behind material wealth as an inheritance for one's children. I see nothing in there that criticizes the desire to engage in hishtadlus for the purpose of supporting oneself in one's old age.

Batya said...

Retirement should be another job, but not for the money.
Stay busy

Anonymous said...


“Resh Lakish left his children a kav of saffron, and he applied to himself the verse (Tehillim 49:11), "...and they leave their wealth to others" (Gittin 47a).”

I haven’t seen this sugya inside, but I feel it’s striking that Resh Lakish is talking here about a kav of saffron. Saffron is a luxury item. Pound-for-pound, it is among the most expensive spices (buying it at will cost you $1583.20 per pound), and I imagine that it was similarly expensive during antiquity. According to Wikipedia (, a kav is 1.38 to 2.4 liters, or approx. 3 to 5 pints. This is a lot of saffron! It seems to me that R”L was keeping this amount of saffron, not for his personal use, but more likely as a business investment. With these observations in mind, I feel that the moral lesson conveyed by this sugya changes dramatically.

Anonymous said...

I need to make a correction to my comment left above. Buying a pound of saffron through www. will cost $1,103.20, not $1583.20. My apologies for the mistake. Still, at approx. $1000 per pound, I think my overall conclusion still stands.

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