Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Entitlement Syndrome

One of the tactics used to win a debate is to bring up an irrelevant or inaccurate comparison, present it as relevant and accurate and then build a whole argument around it before one's opponent can protest that the comparison is illegitimate in the first place.
This is the tactic used by Rav Avi Shafran in his latest piece supporting the ongoing fight by the Chareidi community in Israel to avoid the implementation of a universal draft.  His comparison is to - wait for it - a single welfare mom.
Earlier this week, though, Cindy, and hundreds of thousands of others like her, received word that the government is ending those programs. Budgetary concerns were one reason given but the letter Cindy received also noted that she could still qualify for some of the benefits she was receiving if she found and accepted a full-time job. “When citizens like you, Cindy,” the personalized form letter explained, “are a regular part of the workforce, it benefits not only you and your family, but the economy as a whole. And that is something that every loyal citizen should appreciate!”

The comparison is a joke to begin with.  The majority of people on social assistance in North America are not there by choice.  Yes there's a minority which has decided that the welfare lifestyle is for them and have no ambitions for rising above it but most people on social assistance are there because of circumstances, illness or lack of opportunity due to economic decline.  These people would, given any chance, grab the first reasonable job offered to them in order to escape the welfare trap.  What's more, even if they see themselves as trapped on assistance until they hit their pension years they all hope their children will finish school, get some kind of usable education and join the economy.
Which is exactly the opposite of what the Chareidi community current presents as its core values.  Consider Rav Shafran's protests:
Over the past decade or so, their social services – primarily in the form of child allowances – have been drastically cut, several times. Now what is left of the allowances is under the knife again. And charedim are being pressured to forgo full-time Torah-study, their “most important asset” and first priority. They are told that they must enter the army, even though there is no need for them in the military (as its leaders have repeatedly stated) and they fear the impact Israel’s “military melting pot” will have on their lives. They are vilified without pause, and cajoled to act not in what they consider their best interest (and the best interest, ultimately, of the entire country) but rather just to do what they are told. All, of course, for “the economy” and the “greater good.”

No one, to be sure, can claim a “right” to social service entitlements. And one can, if he chooses, take the stance that no citizen of any country should expect, for any reason, that the government needs to take care of him in any way. That’s a perfectly defensible position, at least from a perspective of cold logic.
But every compassionate country recognizes the rightness of assisting the poor. And a country that calls itself the Jewish one, it can well be argued, has a special responsibility to underwrite the portion of its populace that is willfully destitute because of its dedication to perpetuating classical Judaism (which, as it happens, is what kept the connection between Jews in the Diaspora and their ancestral land alive for millennia, and allowed for a state of Israel in the first place).
Yes there have been ongoing cuts since Bibi Netanyahu was finance minister under Ariel Sharon way back in the early 0's but those cuts were, in part, due to a lack of sufficient tax revenue to pay for the social services then in place.  The Chareidim have long complained that they suffered disproportionately from these cuts and that's true because of their larger families but imagine if a sizeable proportion of the community, instead of living off social assistance, had been working successfully and paying taxes?  Might that have alleviated the revenue shortfall by increasing taxes and reducing the number of people needing handouts?
Then there's the argument that the chareidim are being forced to forgo their first priority.  But they're not.  The Israeli government is simply saying that it won't pay for them to do it anymore.  If they want to they still can but not on the general taxpayer's agorah. 
Then there is the claim that the Chareidi community has been villified without pause.  Now while there is some hostility on the secular side against the Chareidi one ask to ask Rav Shafran: Have you not read your own press lately?  If there is any edge in hostility, false claims, and villification it belongs to the Chareidi press which has outdone any fascist 1930's Central European newspapers when it comes to presenting the situation in Israel.  Just ask Rav Dov Lipman, a genuine practitioner of Chareidi Judaism except for the part where it comes to checking one's brain at the door, what happens when you don't tow the party line 100%.
Finally, of course, his statement that no one has a right to social service entitlements is just laughable since this is exactly the crux of the Chareidi community's argument.  Since their Torah study protects the country (except when it's under attack) it is a privilege for secular Israelis to support their welfare lifestyles.  They are not only entitled to unlimited access to Israel's tax coffers, they are bewildered as to why the secular folks are upset by this. 
Refusing to support oneself, demand charity from the government while simultaneously attacking it for being unJewish and evil and then announcing that Israel has to support them because it's Jewish country is like the old case of the man who kills his parents and then asks for mercy from th court because he's an orphan.  Chutzpah!
Cindy would be insulted by the comparison, by the way.
The Chareidi PR's tactics until now have been relatively simple: scream bloody murder, drive the seculars to the point of responding angrily and then screaming that Chareidim are hated.  Let's hope that this tactic isn't successful.  The repercussions would be terrible.


FrumGeek said...

You don't believe the zechus of Torah study helps protect the country at all?

AztecQueen2000 said...

Where does it say that this Torah study must be the Torah study of the young? Let the men who are too old for army service devote their lives to Torah study while the young men perform their hishtadlus in a more practical fashion.

Garnel Ironheart said...

FG, I absolutely do but the Chareidi PR folk present it as THEIR Torah learning that does all the protecting. No credit to the non-Chareidi learning, no credit to army, just them and their shteiging.
AZ2000 there are actually lots of placs in the Gemara about the importance of Torah study for the young but also lots of references to getting jobs and supporting oneself.

Avraham said...

[2] The reason the Charedi world has been using the Torah to make money is because it has been trying to create a leisure class. Others are supposed to go to the Army and get jobs while they sit around and chat all day.

ahg said...


Aren't the talmudic references to the study of the young referring to those MUCH younger, i.e. Tinokot Shel Bait Raban?