Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 14 September 2008

No Work Allowed

A recent column by Rav Yonasan Rosenblum sent many people around the blogsphere into a frenzy. The article focused on the issue of poverty which is endemic in the Chareidi community, especially in Israel. As usual, Rav Rosenblum approached the issue in a reasonable and organized fashion. But then came the part of the article where he suggested potential solutions:
THREE SOLUTIONS ARE commonly offered to the destructive poverty in the Israeli chareidi community (though the problem is hardly limited to Israel): greater government support; increased contributions from rich Jews abroad; and adopting a simpler lifestyle. Each is a thin reed upon which to pin hopes for a solution.
Now, apparently within minutes of this article appearing at Cross Currents, dozens of people had mailed in a reply that sounded like this one from "Seriously":
How can you possibly say you want to talk seriously about poverty and not even mention the only real solution: WORKING FOR A LIVING. There is no other solution.
Other blogs also picked up on this and mentioned the obvious. In each case, the assumption was that Rav Rosenblum didn't think of this solution or for some bizarre reason neglected to mention it.
However, given his track record, I don't think Rav Rosenblum missed the idea that working for a living would cure many of the ills facing the Chareidim right now. In contrast, I don't think that he could mention it because for the Israeli Chareidi community, working is not an option.
Consider the efforts of the last two generations of Chareidim in Israel to create a community composed of Torah learning to the exclusion of all else, ostensibly as an attempt to rebuild the destroyed Torah communities of pre-war Europe. Much of this enterprise has been based on the trust that Chareidim have for their "gedolim". This trust and faith, in turn, is based on a concept called "Daas Torah" which assumes that said gedolim, because of their knowledge and piety, just happen to know exactly what God wants us to do whenever a new situation arises. Forget halachic interaction, using the sources and codes in an innovative fashion. Nowadays, like the Urim v'Tumim of old, the Chareidi leadership can, using Daas Torah, tell you exactly what should be done. And for 60 years they have been saying the same thing: learn, don't earn.
Now imagine the bind that the community is in. A huge number of Chareidim are desperately poor. As Rav Rosenblum notes in his article, the deleterious effects of poverty are causing many othewise fine Jewish souls to undergo terrible crises of conscience. Yet the response from their leadership can only be: better to remain poor and pure in Torah than to have some material relief in This World which can only cost you in the World to Come.
And why? Because to suddenly announce: Okay guys, guess what? All that stuff we've been saying for decades about how evil working is? Turns out it's all okay. Go get jobs, support your families. God will still love you - would mean that their previous attitude was wrong.
And that can never happen. Thus, it isn't that Rav Rosenblum failed to think of working as a solution to the problem of Chareidi poverty. It's that he can't mention it because allowing that as an option would threaten the very identity of that Chareidi community.

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