Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stop Kvetching and Seize the Opportunity

I believe I have routinely expressed my opinion that kvetching about how expensive living an Orthodox is highly detrimental.  I believe it was none other than Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l who said that the phrase "it's hard to be a Jew" killed an entire generation.  I think that assigning regular costs to "Orthodoxy" is similarly damaging.

This isn't to say that we can ignore the elephant in the living room known as tuition because tuition affordability must be at the top of out communal agenda, but with the exception of tuition, the Orthodox affordability factor really should not be a cause for great heartache as it is with this young married wife who writes a column in the Forward:  The Cost of Being Orthodox which could be more accurately titled Young, Sheltered, Married with a Single Income, and Financially Ignorant.

I'm not criticizing the author for being financially ignorant.  Most Americans are similarly clueless.  What saddens me is that she believes Orthodoxy is a cause of her financial woes (which it really is not at this point!), completely ignoring the fact that much of her woes come from cultural factors which are not "Orthodoxy" but just poor financial chinuch.

The column starts:  "As an Orthodox couple, we have even more financial expenditures than the average couple." This is where she bemoans the cost of kosher food and the cost of making Shabbat which is like "Thanksgiving every week."  [Note to any new readers:  with the exception of meat and cheese, most the regular non-trief foods on the market are either inherently kosher -- think rice and beans or fresh produce-- or have a kosher certification already -- yogurt, cottage cheese, pasta, tuna, crackers, canned tomato products].  She also addresses the cost of clothing, particularly hats to which I respond that spending too much on consumer goods is a common mistake and just slow down and get some good advice from savvy shoppers.  None of this needs to put you in the poor house.

The second paragraph reveals the real issue:  the author was allowed to live in a fantasy land where necessities were provided via the route of Daddy's credit card and her own earners were transformed into 100% disposable income:  "My parents supported me all through college, something that, while incredibly generous, was also guilt-inducing.  I never had a set allowance, but was handed a credit card when I was old enough to drive places on my own.  I could buy groceries or reasonably-priced clothing for myself, but other luxuries --Broadway shows or trips to Europe or Israel--I paid for with money from my summer jobs."

Parents, don't make the mistake of letting your children's income be 100% disposable.  If they are living with you and earning money, require them to save for their future.  If they are in college and you are supporting them, consider the allowance route where they have to buy necessities first and budget the remainder for fun and extras.  Make sure that they don't marry without some unsolicited advice about budgeting, shopping, etc.    I am still of the belief that how a young person spends and saves when they are young sets the stage for their future financial life.  I hope this couple quickly realizes that they have great opportunity in their Orthodoxy (more community and great gemilut chassadim means a lot of sharing and available advice, no "need" to spend on Saturday entertainment, no pressure to join friends at this wine tasting and that restaurant, etc, etc, etc).

Stop kvetching and seize the opportunity!


Princess Lea said...

I would have left a comment beneath the original article, but the commentators are flinging a lot of mud so I chickened out. Here will have to do.

I'm not exactly sure how a Shabbos meal for two ends up being "Thanksgiving every week." A couple of pieces of fish, some roasted vegetables, and shnitzel—that's Thanksgiving?

Last I checked, every young couple starting out usually has financial frustration, and as for Simi, she had a wonderful opportunity to build up a nest-egg when her parents were willing to cover her expenses while she was single. But she chose to spend that too.

Frankly, considering how being a Jew usually involved violent persecution, exclusionary laws, and heavy taxation, whining that she has to buy a few hats because she's religious is kinda ungrateful.

Whatever money we earn, we are told, is decreed from Above. So she's complaining about that, too? Hashem doesn't know how much a brisket costs?

As you said—seize the opportunity. Well put.

tesyaa said...

I'd posit that this young woman's kvetch is a way for her to advance her career as a writer. I doubt she's as clueless as she makes herself sound. But there are hundreds who really are that clueless.

Selena said...

Even if you want to say that Shabbos is Thanksgiving every week, how much does that cost? I do make Thanksgiving, usually for about a dozen people, and I spend about $45 on the whole thing, and that makes dinner, plus leftover and enough Turkey soup for 3 other weeks....I don't see that as an issue.

tesyaa said...

There aren't enough free turkeys to make Thanksgiving for $45 each week. Or does that include the cost of the turkey??

Anonymous said...

So many of these statements about how expensive the orthodox lifestyle is and how expensive it is to be orthodox seem to reflect an attempt turn luxuries into necessities and thereby justify excess spending.

These comments also reflect an utter lack of understanding as to how the rest of Americans live, whether religious or secular. Does this lady think that the rest of America eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Friday and Saturday dinner. Other Americans also like to use their weekends to gather with friends and family over a nice meal. So big deal that other American women don't have to buy hats or wigs, does that mean they don't need to spend some time and money on making their hair presentable for work, etc. So orthodox jews need to live within walking distance of a shul - does that mean everyone else can easily just live wherever. Did this lady ever start to consider that some people feel it is necessary to live in a more expensive town so their children will have access to a good schoold system, or to be near work or to help care for aging parents. I could make an argument that it can be much cheaper to live OJ - i.e. a couple of black skirts and tops and you are all set instead of having to get business attire, business casual attire, leisure wear, pants as well as skirts and dresses, etc. What about all the money saved by not driving on Shabbat or using Saturdays to shop, go to movies, play golf, etc. And the list goes on.

Mark said...

I have to laugh whenever people complain about the high cost of orthodox Jewish living, and mention all the little things. The major issues are tuition and housing in an orthodox neighborhood, everything else pales when compared to those. And even the extra housing cost is relatively small when compared to tuition (because you generally keep that money when you sell your house after you retire).

Compared to tuition, all the other expenses are a small joke.

rosie said...

I recently read that the cheapest state in the US to live in is South Dakota. Basically, if we move there, we have no infrastructure with which to be Jewish. (Maybe a core group would like to try it). Non-Jews can have a great life there.
I am sure that there are plenty of non-Jews who spend thousands on X-mas and a fortune on tattoos. Non-Jews also send kids to private schools and have expensive birthday parties. Most Ivy league colleges with high price tags have a significant number of non-frum Jews and the majority of those students are non-Jews. While I don't know of any frum women who undergo botox, face lifts, and other plastic surgery, many non-frum and non-Jewish women do. I also know of very few frum families with expensive pets but know plenty of non-frum and non-Jews with pricey animals.
OTOH, birth in the non-Jewish world does not involve a shalom zachor, vacht nacht, kria shma lainin, bris, and pidyon Haben. Childhood does not involve an upsherin, bar, and bas mitzvah and marriage can be done at the court house and divorce can be filed online. We have our uniquely Jewish experiences that are worth the money.

Orthonomics said...

I cringe a bit regarding negative examples (read tatoos and botox). How about things we might spend on if we didn't have Shabbat or long school days like more extracurriculars, music lessons, and sports or family and cultural outings?

Of course we do all of these to some extent, but I imagine that if the school day was shorter or if every weekend was essentially "free", we'd more than make up for the spending on Shabbat with other spending which certainly can rival the price between a regular family dinner and a Shabbat dinner.

My points still remain:

1. Stop kvetching.
2. Sieze the opportunity to save and invest and put yourself on solid ground when you are young because it is the best and easiest time to do so.

And by the way, my non-Jewish friends rarely marry their children off in a court house, nor do they have births that go uncelebrated (please people if you can't afford a shindig for an upsherin, don't make one). There are baby showers, chrissenings, baptisms, etc. There are also more general gatherings like family reunions, BBQs, Bday parties. Look around and you will see an entire economies build around optional spending, just as we have entire economies built around spending that could be avoided or altered or modified with a little gumption.

aspiring father said...

Hi Rosie,

Re your South Dakota commnent: Sioux Falls, South Dakota actually does have a Jewish population that some of us from small towns (and I come from a small town that makes Sioux Falls look like a big city by comparison) consider not altogether trifling. I think they have a Reform Temple or some such there. (I wouldn't go to a Reform Temple, but I'm mentioning it by way of a population barometer--not a shul option.)

More to the point, if it's the Dakotas you want, the Fargo-Moorhead metro area has had a truly substantial Jewish population for over a century now. And Chabad JUST set up shop there! Check out Chabad Of Fargo's embryonic website at:

I'm from a small town and I would never trade it for all the Jewish amenities in the world. Having grown up with a dad who sat down to dinner nearly every night of the week with me, there is no day school so good that it would justify working the kind of hours that would prevent me from giving the same to my own children. (One day a week of real fatherhood just ain't enough where I come from.)

Mark said...

Rosie - While I don't know of any frum women who undergo botox, face lifts, and other plastic surgery, many non-frum and non-Jewish women do.

In my experience, average frum women spend MUCH more on their face, body, hair than average non-frum or non-Jewish women. Much more.

Anonymous said...

What's tragic is NOT that we spend more money on these various things (we don't, everyone has life cycle events, ours have Hebrew/Yiddish names, but we spend relatively less on other birthday parties), its that we don't appreciate it.

I spent part of my pre-kids time frum and part non-frum... I spent WAY more money on the weekends before becoming frum. The argument of the newly married with their extra costs are simply delusional.

The difference is, they don't see a fancy dinner party for 8 of their friends as a huge luxury, they see "I have to make Shabbos," so instead of realizing that they are having a luxurious time with friends, they feel obligated. Of course, there is zero obligation to have a "Thanksgiving Dinner" every Friday night, that's a choice, and a luxurious one, and not one they appreciate.

I volunteer in a few community organizations that are very mixed religiously. While of course Shabbat does "impair my weekend," it's a fixed period of time. It's not like I have 2 baseball games and 2 softball games spread throughout my weekend like some of the other volunteers there (plus practices during the week).

Yes, the other families choose their activities a little more, but at least my big family activity has a set begin and end date, and our family rhythm works around it.

And suggesting that "tatoos" are a negative stereotype really ignores just how much body art has gone mainstream in the past 15 years. It's simply not a negative stereotype, and I see increasingly intricate and beautiful ones these days... but I'm capable of admiring something of beauty while accepting that I don't get to partake in it because I'm an observant Jew, not sure why people need to disparage everything that isn't Frum. We have our beauty, they have theirs.

aspiring father said...

Hi Miami Al,

It is astonishing how many frum folks who really can't afford it insist on trying to do the "Thanksgiving every shabbos" thing even though it's not halachically required. The frum population is, in many (though not nearly all) regards, not nearly as consistently superficial and showy as the secular/Reform/Conservative Jewish population. That said, there is something very disturbing about frum folks--BT or FFB--who think that they need to bust their budget in order to "throw a shabbos party that meets the standards of the neighbors." Get over it. If you can't afford a preposterously fancy shabbos with a half-dozen guests, then don't do a preposterously fancy shabbos with a half-dozen guests! It's that simple!

We carry forth a Torah into practice that much of the world rejected for thousands of years and that much of the world still does reject. We ought to be equally capable of carrying forth some financial sechel into practice that much of the frum population continues to reject.

I really do wonder where on earth these day school/Thanksgiving shabbos families are coming up with the money to save for retirement. Or is that just not a priority for most frum families?

rosie said...

My mention of tattoos said nothing about a negative stereotype. I see very intelligent non-Jews with tattoos. It is, as Miami Al says, "body art". We Jews are not allowed to do it but I see tattoos everywhere I go.
One of my kids had to get married at city hall a month before her chassunah because her husband's visa was about to expire. There were lots of non-Jews getting married there. I am sure that the average non-Jew has a proper wedding in a church but not all non-Jews have the money, time, forethought, or church affiliation. Some brides are pregnant. Our exterminator and his wife eloped.
Our rabbi told us that the custom of serving beer and chick peas at a shalom zachor arose out of a takana prohibiting anything other than those two items at a shalom zachor to prevent opulence.
Americans, Jewish or otherwise, are living in a bubble that might eventually burst and we will all have to trim the fat.

Anonymous said...

It is not observing halacha that is expensive. It is living the cultural frum lifestyle that is expensive. We pretend that what is just cultural is halacha to justify not having the guts to not keep up with the Shwartzes and to indulge in luxuries and pretend it is just being a good frumster.

Anonymous said...

Maintaining the lifestyle that you "remember" growing up in your parents house (when you were 17 and your parents were established mid-career 35-45) is a common problem that is reported in financial advise magazine.

I remember talking to a friend, ours kids were comparable in age, he was still in graduate school, I had several successful years under my belt (he's a few years younger), and I flat out told him, "don't play keeping up with the Jones, especially don't play keeping up with me, I have three times your income." He was kinda shocked by the bluntness and then nodded (like I said, he was in school, his wife was my wife's direct report, their income wasn't a secret).

Same advice to young couples on their own. If your friends are more successful, or have extensive family support, don't take ANY of their spending as reasonable. In addition, these are the low cost years, save, save, save. These are the years to amass a downpayment on a house, fund retirement accounts fully, etc.

These are NOT the days to eat your entire income.

And it is eating your income whether it is going out to hotspot restaurants and spending $120 on Friday night with your girlfriend/wife OR it is spending Friday night at home with 6 friends and spending $120 on dinner.

Same behavior, just as destructive.

The idea that it is "Jewish tradition" to have "fish AND meat" every Friday night is quite frankly, fanciful, and ignores the abject poverty that was Jewish life in Pre-War Europe (German Jews excepted). There are rules for HOW to serve both when serving an elaborate meal, but that the common people did so every week of their life is fanciful.

One of the problems in contemporary frumkeit is an inability to read critically. When one hears a story of "this guy was so pious, he never did X" that story exists to complement his extreme behavior (and acknowledge that it's uncommon and a little nutty), not to suggest that every common person is obligated to do what he did. This also stems from the people setting the "rules" down are people living off the community and given undo influence over young and impressional men and women between 14 and 22. Advice on how one should relax on Shabbos from a man that never worked a day in his life and his wife receives free food from a butcher would be comical, if not resulting in such tragic behavior.

rosie said...

my husband wants to retire somewhere with no snow so I don't guess that would include the Dakotas. I wonder how far American money goes in Jamaica. I think that there are some Jews there but there is no socialized medicine which in my opinion is a drawback.
Baby showers and other non-Jewish social or religious birth events happen fewer times per family due to the lower birth rate compared to frum Jews.

tesyaa said...

Baby showers and other non-Jewish social or religious birth events happen fewer times per family due to the lower birth rate compared to frum Jews.

Having lots of babies makes it difficult for a mother to hold a responsible full time job. A baby shower or bris is going to happen a max of one time per year per family. A solid paycheck (which could pay for the entire simcha and then some) comes every week.

And I don't know why the fixation on the Dakotas. The cost of living may be cheap, but life is not nirvana (although the fracking boom may have brought some jobs to the area recently). Just because a place is cheap to live in doesn't make it desirable, even for non-Jews. BTW, it's a pet peeve of mine when people say "non-Jews can live anywhere". Some of my co-workers travel a long way to my workplace because their kids are in great public schools and they don't want to move. Non-Jews also have obligations to live near family, etc.

aspiring father said...

Hi Rosie,

Actually, birthrates among legitimately observant Catholics and Protestants are no lower than birthrates among legitimately observant Jews. It is not fair to amalgamate the secular Christians with the observant Christians while segregating the secular Jews from the observant Jews. Have to compare apples to apples.

Seriously observant Catholic and Evangelical families can go toe-to-toe with Orthodox Jews for birthrates any day of the week.

Anonymous said...


And don't forget about the Mormon community. Many are deeply observant, have lots of ritual, close family ties, have tithing obligations, need to live near a Mormon temple,etc. but yet eschew dependency and value frugality and self-sufficiency. And, I've never heard a Morman say "oy, its so expensive to be observant."

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous 10:58 AM,

Absolutely. Lot of other similarities between observant Mormons and Jews. In many ways, their religion is an example of the notion that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." They treat Sundays in many ways like we treat shabbos. They, like us, have quite a few rituals that they don't readily discuss with outsiders. They, like us, have a number of severe dietary restrictions (though not quite as severe as kashrut). They, like us, have a substantial tithing obligation. They, like us, often send their kids to study at a seminary (though it often takes the form of Brigham Young University or other Utah-based institutions, and the LDS Church has made affordability a reality for their universities and seminaries). And they, like us, frequently have very large families.

That said, there is much that the frum Jewish population could learn from the way that the Mormons integrate themselves into their communities. Mormons generally do not go around looking to primarily associate and be friends with other Mormons. They generally (again, there are exceptions everywhere, but I'm talking about the general trend) are a regular and normal part of their towns, and most probably have as many if not more non-Mormon friends than they have Mormon friends.

And internally, I believe Mormon theology actually teaches that they are the Jews of their theology and that non-Mormons are the gentiles of their theology. Senator Orin Hatch actually wears a mezuzah around his neck frequently, under his shirt.

aspiring father said...

Whoops. "Anonymous 11:17 AM" should be listed as "aspiring father". My typo!

Anonymous said...

Non Hareidi Orthodox Jews have a relatively low birth rate for deeply religious groups. Devout Mormons have considerably larger families, while being a part of their community.

Not only are their Sunday restrictions pretty severe, their Monday restrictions are non-trivial as well. They have a pretty significant religious studies time, plus obligations to engage in youth sports/scouting/priesthood stuff which will suck up weeknights and Saturday.

Now, do we have more religious obligations than non-religious Jews? Of course, but that's pretty obvious. We don't have significantly more obligations than other religious Americans.

Anonymous said...


Religious or not, people have lives, obligations and commitments, restrictions and expenses. That's life.

Mr. Cohen said...

THE FORWARD has a long history of Orthodox-bashing; Simi Lichtman’s article, The Cost of Being Orthodox, is just one more link in a long chain of attacks against Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism.

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