Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Critique of Pure-Unreason

Ezzie asked me to repost this from my blog

Many people on the internet write about financial responsibility, especially in the orthodox world. One just has to ask Ezzie for some of the more interesting statistics results from the Jewish Economic Survey to understand that a large number of young people do not know their finances. For a few people websites such as help people keep track of their multiple bank-accounts, credit-cards, and other loans in one place. For others they rely on their own book-keeping skills or rely on a family member who has a better grasp to handle everything.

Addressing some of these shortfalls is an organization like Mesila which provide seminars to people who would like more knowledge of financial responsibility. They have branches in many cities in Israel as well as America helping people understand their finances.

I once spoke to someone who is involved in the Yeshivish community, and his chilling comment was "the problem isn't people living in Kollel. The problem is people in Kollel earning $25,000 a year, while living a $70,000 lifestyle." This leads to massive debt, and with a bit of education how to organize your money, this debt can be controlled, eliminated, or preempted.

A few people seeing the benefits of educating Kollel couples, asked a few Yeshivos to run seminars for Kollel couples, to which the answer was NO. The reasoning was that if you educate them, they will look at what it costs to live, look at whats coming in, and leave Kollel. Many people do not want to have that burden of debt for the rest of their lives, or at least they want to be unaware of it. Part of this feeling comes from it being OPM (Other Peoples Money), and therefore do not feel the same responsibility to be responsible.

I can understand why the powers-to-be feel its necessary to withhold such information: that learning in Kollel does require Bitachon-trust that G-d will take care of you. But I don't think, and I may be wrong, that this Bitachon should be at the expense of the general public. The general public is now beholden to pick up the slack at many different levels; from helping them put food on the table, to the tuition deficit at the schools.
(On a side note: little has been explored as to the affect bringing in a Kollel has on tuition in a small out of town community. Even if the Kollel does have a sugar-daddy paying for all of its expenses, rarely does this beneficiary extend it to paying tuition for all of the Kollel families children.More on that another post.)

The fact that we can withhold knowledge from people that require it, I believe is wrong. Its wrong to keep them in the dark about things that will hurt them later. About the fact that they may saddle themselves or their parents/in-laws with debt supporting them while they live carefree lives in Kollel. And if you educate them about what it costs and they don't stay in learning full-time, they may be doing society a favor (as a whole). Personally, I would love to learn in Kollel a few years after marriage, but if its not possible I made myself responsible to put food on the table when I signed the dotted-line on the Kesubah.

And yes, while I do believe that learning Torah makes the world-go-round, and I want people to devote their lives to Torah, but I find it hypocritical to say "Look at other segments of society; their people don't work, they live off welfare, they are crippling the economy" while we cannot and will not look at ourselves and say the same things. I do believe that G-d shows us things in society that if we have our eyes open the Hashgacha is obvious. Looking at American Society, the feeling of entitlement, of what the country can do for me, not I for it, is clear. I think this feeling is prevalent in Jewish Society, and if we change our ways society will follow as well.


  1. Absolutely right. I know people who are already years beyond kollel but who have no strategy for digging themselves out of debt. While they are not living a lavish lifestyle by 5 Towns standards, they are still spending more than their income. But the very hopelessness of the situation makes them take the attitude that there is no point in, say, shopping at a self-service type store to save on the children's shoes or to deny a teen's desire to visit Israel (for the second time in 2 years). So they pay for these things, but they do demand and get massive scholarships for yeshiva (for how could they ever afford full tuition or even half tuition for 7?) and even scholarship for sleepaway camp, for no boy should be deprived of that experience. Other things, like proper dental care, seem less important. The kids were on a NY welfare type thing that most dentists do not accept. The results was no regular checkups or proper care, leading to a root canal followed by an extraction.

  2. The behavior you describe might not be a sign of irresponsibility but rather confidence. There is little reason for young people to track their multiple accounts as long as they have a fair idea of their financial situation and can always rely on cash advance through credit cards.

  3. While I agree to most of what you said - I must say I don't think it is fare that the tuition crisis be blamed on the kollel system even partly. I believe if you do research many 'yeshivish' communities have a far lower tuition then 'modern' communities. In many places even families where both parents work can't afford to pay the $ 12000- $ 15000 per child. I believe as Ariella stated that people have to stop spending on luxuries and start spending on necessities.

  4. Parents must educate the kids, unless this is impossible, because the parents were supported by theirs. At some time this will just explode or implode. Bankrupt the society.

    There's no mitzvah to learn full time. The mitzvah (a biggie, not a minhag) is: Work for six days and rest the seventh.

    Make time to learn, but don't waste your money paying interst to the bank.

  5. dvarim- while base tuition is lower in the more yeshivish schools, the cost is not that much lower. There tends to be a between $2000-$6000 disparity in the yeshivish schools between what they ask, to what it costs. they hope to make up the money in donations, but their community does have less to throw around especially if you are supporting your other children in kollel