Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Enduring Legacy of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch

by Jonathan Rosenblum -Jerusalem PostJune 27, 2008

Today marks the bicentennial of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, whose vision dominated German Orthodoxy from the early 19th century until its destruction by the Nazis. When Rabbi Hirsch first burst on the scene, as the 27-year-old author of The Nineteen Letters, German Orthodoxy was in full flight. In the first decades of the 19th century, for instance, nearly 90% of Berlin's Jews made their way to the baptismal font. The Nineteen Letters was the first work to address the modern age from the perspective of Torah. That work and its successor Horeb arrested in mid-flight thousands who had all but turned their back on traditional Judaism.

One rabbinical contemporary wrote, "Anybody who reads The Nineteen Letters will find that until now he did not know Judaism as he knows it now, and literally becomes a new being." Rabbi Hirsch's writings provided the initial inspiration for Sarah Schenirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov network of schools for women, and the lay leaders of the original Agudath Israel movement were almost all drawn from the ranks of his disciples. Because of his openness to secular studies Rabbi Hirsch is sometimes described as the founder of modern Orthodoxy. That is a mistake. In the context of German Orthodoxy of his day, Rabbi Hirsch was considered a zealot. His insistence on a complete separation from the government-recognized communal bodies, on the grounds that they bore the taint of institutionalized heresy, divided the Orthodox community of Frankfort that he had almost single-handedly built. Every page of the voluminous Hirsch corpus cries out his intense Fear of Heaven.

Rabbi Hirsch is more accurately described as the architect of Torah Judaism for the modern world (the subtitle of the definitive biography by Eliyahu Meir Klugman.) He wrote for a modern world lacking the protective insularity of the ghetto, one in which every Jew simultaneously lives in a broader non-Jewish society. Though he recognized the dangers of Emancipation and repeatedly stressed that participation in the larger society could never justify the slightest deviation from one's duties as a Jew, Rabbi Hirsch saw Emancipation as allowing for a fuller Jewish life. The narrow constraint of Jewish life in the ghetto had, in Rabbi Hirsch's opinion, robbed Jewish learning of its intended vitality, through actual application to life situations. "The goal of study," he lamented, "has not been practical life, to understand the world and our duty in it."

Rather than approaching the broader society in an exclusively defensive posture, Hirsch viewed it with optimism. He saw the historical circumstances of any period as the raw material upon which the ideals of the Torah must be impressed to the extent that the larger society provides the opportunity to do so. His writings are filled with an enormous confidence in the power of Torah to uplift and transform every period of history. Accordingly, he addressed the entirety of German Jewry on a monthly basis on the major issues of the day. No Torah scholar of comparable stature fills that role today.

THE LAND OF ISRAEL has not provided fertile soil for the Hirschian tradition. Orthodox refugees from Germany, or at least their children have virtually all gravitated either towards Mizrachi or to the mainstream yeshiva world. It is often pointed out by the latter that the last 150 years of German Orthodox life produced no more than two or three Talmudists or poskim (legal decisors) of the first rank, compared to hundreds in Eastern Europe. For that reason, the Hirschian tradition will never become the dominant one within the Israeli haredi world.

Nevertheless Rabbi Hirsch's writings still have much to offer both to the haredi world itself and the broader Jewish society. Indeed it is hard to think of any nineteenth century Jewish thinker who speaks with such astonishing contemporaneity. More than 100 years after his passing, new translations of his work, particularly his commentary on Chumash, continue to appear regularly. On any issue to which he set his pen, his word continues to be not just the first word but the last. As more haredim enter the marketplace and, as a consequence, seek some form of advanced secular education, Rabbi Hirsch's writings on the confrontation between modernity and Torah will gain many new readers. His corpus is already standard reading for ba'alei teshuva drawing closer to the world of Torah study and observance.Rabbi Hirsch described the prevailing religious observance of his day as preserving outward forms without the animating inner spirit.

His life task was to reverse that "uncomprehended Judaism." For Hirsch, the Torah is "Divine anthropology" – an account of Man from the vantage point of the Divine. The mitzvot must be understood not as arbitrary rules that demand only obedience but as the tools through which G-d seeks to shape the ideal human being, whose self-perfection is the goal of Creation. In his commentary on Chumash, Rabbi Hirsch demonstrated the meaning and life lessons that each detail of observance, including that of the Temple service, seeks to inculcate. Even those who find themselves unmoved by a particular explanation will never again doubt, after reading Hirsch, the relevance of each word of Torah to daily life. The awareness of mitzvot as educational tools for the formation of the ideal human being is closely linked to another key Hirschian concept: the imperative of sanctifying God's Name through one's every action.

One of the miracles of the Tablets of the Law was that they read the same from whichever direction one looked. And so, Rabbi Hirsch taught, must it be with every Jew. From whichever direction he is perceived – whether at home, in the study hall, or in the marketplace – he must bear the stamp of a Jew shaped by Torah. The glory of German Jews raised in the Hirschian tradition was their emphasis that one must not only be "glatt kosher but glatt yosher (straight)." A member of the Hirschian community of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan told me this past Shabbat that he has never experienced the temptation to cut a corner on his taxes or in business dealings.

I have no doubt that an exposure both to Rabbi Hirsch's writings and to Orthodox Jews raised in his tradition would go a long way towards drawing non-observant Israeli Jews towards their traditions. But there is another aspect of Rabbi Hirsch that is crucial to the entirety of Jewish society in Israel today. Absent some understanding of why the continued collective existence of the Jewish people is a matter of universal significance those with the talents and wherewithal to go elsewhere will do so. Indeed the statistics on Israel's brain drain make clear that many already have.

Hirsch's writings provide perhaps the fullest account of the Jewish national mission. "To reestablish peace and harmony on earth . . . and to bring the glory of G-d back to earth," he writes in his Commentary to Chumash, "is proclaimed on every page of the Word of G-d as the result and aim of Torah."

Elsewhere he described Emancipation as a step towards "our goal – that every Jew and Jewess, though the example they provide in their own lives, should be priests of G-d and genuine humanity."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

All Pain and No Gain!

This week's mishpacha column

All Pain and No Gain

Sheltering our Children From the Wrong Half

This past summer I went with a close friend to Aspen, Colorado for two days, to recharge our batteries in the glory of Hashem’s world amid the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
On the first day of our trip, as we passed a moped rental establishment, I cajoled my reluctant friend into joining me, and we took two of the mopeds for a few hours. After thirty minutes of riding, I noticed a dirt path that snaked up a steep mountain, and once again used my persuasive powers to get my friend to take it to the top with me, where were rewarded for our efforts with breathtaking views.

One the way down, I simultaneously learned several lessons. First, riding up a mountain is far easier than riding down. Second, mopeds are rather difficult to manage downhill on bumpy dirt roads. Third, it is good practice to listen to a friend who tells you to act your age. And finally, it is rather excruciating to have several dozen pebbles imbedded in the palm of your hand.
In the emergency room of the local hospital, a doctor offered me several methods for the treatment of my hand, but strongly advised me to tackle the problem head-on and select the most painful option. This would involve peeling back the shredded skin, removing the larger pebbles with forceps and scraping the area with a brush to get rid of the many tiny ones. With a wry smile the doctor informed me, “Rabbi; no pain, no gain.”

That doctor’s sage advice can be applied to the arena of addressing communal issues as well. For when we are faced with significant klal challenges, we have the option of dealing with them squarely, or we can chose to merely manage them in a superficial manner without subjecting ourselves to the short-term pain that addressing them properly would entail.
When challenges are tackled directly and effectively, a temporary rise in the level of communal discomfort usually occurs. During that period, many people understandably feel that the proposed solutions are far worse than the original problem they are purported to solve. But, over time, a reduction in pain and a far healthier community invariably results.
Allow me to share an example with you: When a girl becomes very ill or worse as a result of anorexia, chas v’shalom, parents of teenage girls in that community who suspect that their daughter is anorexic reach out for help. A percentage of the girls will actually have eating disorders – upping the numbers of reported kids with such conditions. (This does not mean that more girls came down with eating disorders, only that the awareness caused more of them to reach out for help.)

But, then good things start happening. Schools bring in specialists to speak to the kids. Girls become more self-aware of their own eating habits. Peers eventually become informed enough that they can help their friends who are bingeing and purging. Eventually, eating disorder rates drop significantly, as the short-term publicity results in the long-term benefit of awareness and the creation of solution-oriented programs, that remain in place as the pain of the publicity subsides.

I mention this because, as I see things, many of us – with the best of intentions – are not discussing critical klal matters in our public squares because we want to protect the innocence of our children and the reputation of our community. Moreover, some take it a step further and accuse individuals who do discuss them of ‘charedi-bashing,’ “He never says anything nice,” or worse, discouraging or intimidating people who deal with these problems on a daily basis from speaking out. But we are merely shielding our children and kehila from the wrong half – the beneficial side – while leaving them completely exposed to what we are trying to protect them from. (I am most certainly not suggesting that we abandon our efforts to shield our children from the decadence of society. Only that we teach our children the lessons learned when distasteful events already have become public, rather than pretending that they didn’t happen.)
When abuse cases or drug arrests that are widely reported in the secular media, are not discussed at all or glanced over in our papers, we have the worst of all worlds. We are not really accomplishing our goal of shielding our kehila and teenage children – especially with exponentially growing digital communication. Our adults, even in the most heimishe circles, are reading about it via email and the Internet – often written by individuals who have a jaundiced view of our kehila – and those who don’t use the Internet are hearing about it from those who do. It is entirely possible to keep young children sheltered, but many or most of our teenagers hear about these incidents anyway from family members or their peers in school. So what we have are swirling bursts of information and misinformation which generate a growing sense of discomfort and “Human problems” cognitive dissonance among adults and kids. All the while, the suppression of this information and the personal attacks on those who dare to discuss them, means that far too little of the ‘good stuff’ – the things that could help prevent these issues from recurring, such as awareness or prevention programs – are happening.

Going back to my moped story; engaging in the ‘airbrushing’ of distasteful news and not teaching the lessons learned from them, is analogous to asking my doctor to leave the pebbles in place and painfully pull the skin over the stones to cover them. You know what the result would be – infection and far worse. All pain and no gain.

It is my fervent hope that moving forward we will usher in a new phase in our collective dialogue where we – excruciatingly but with steely determination – face our challenges head-on and seek to improve things for our children and grandchildren.
Recommended reading:
“He Never Says Anything Nice”
“The Monster Inside”
Safe and Secure
Human Problems

Yakov HorowitzMenahel, Yeshiva Darchei Noam of MonseyDirector, Project YES

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Anointed Ones

I recently came across the following rant which was written by a well known rabbi in Hebrew and has been translated:

1) Very few people in our time observe the Shabbos as carefully as they should, for they are not sufficiently knowledgeable of the many intricate laws of the Shabbos, nor are these laws taught by the rabbis as widely as they should be.
2) Many people party late into the evening on Saturday night and thereby sleep late the next morning and miss saying the Shema in its proper time.
3) The diversion of schoolchildren from their Torah studies is commonplace, and even among older students much time is wasted with vacations and excursions.
4) The distinction between people of lesser and greater staure is blurred by the many lesser scholars who seek appointments to the highest rabbinical positions even though they lack the proper level of scholarship.
5) The common people seek to live up to the standards of the wealthy in their manner of dress and the lavishness of their homes, which often leads them to steal from one another.
6) In the main communities, criticism of misdeeds is no longer heard and it is thought a greater virtue to be concerned for people's honor than to criticize their wrongdoing.
7) The shaming of talmidei chachamim and the refusal to accept their criticism are everyday occurrences.
8)Financial dealings are not conducted with honesty, with all manner of cheating, charging of interest and theft taking place. The problem is so widespread to the point that people no longer think that it is prohibited to withhold money that belongs to others.
9)It is proper for every person who fears G-d to take these points to heart, and whoever has it within his power to protest these matters should certainly do so.

The above rant was written some 400 years ago by the Maharsha(assist by Artscroll in the translation). Some of the points could very well be mistaken for a UOJ rant in 2008. I came across it while I was learning the sugya in Maseches Shabbos, 119b. There the amoraim discuss what were the causes of the destruction of the Temple. The Maharsha was noting that the same issues that plagued our people during the destruction were still prevalent during the 16th century and are as prevalent today.

The gemara there discusses the passuk in Tehilim 105:15, and Divrei Hayamim 16:22- "Al Tigu Bimshichai Uvinviai Al Tareu-Do not touch my anointed ones and to my prophets do no harm." We read this passuk in our morning prayers daily in Hodu. Who are the anointed ones that the passuk is referring to? The gemara tells us that the anointed ones are the schoolchildren, where it was common practice to anoint them with perfumes. The passuk is commanding us without mincing any words: KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY TINOKOS SHEL BEIS RABBAN! KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF THE CHILDREN!! IS THERE ANY MORE DIRECT MESSAGE TO THE WOULD BE SEXUAL PREDATORS OUT THERE? IS THERE ANY STRONGER MESSAGE TO THE ENABLERS AND THOSE THAT WISH TO COVER UP FOR THE MOLESTERS? COULD THERE BE A MORE DIRECT MESSAGE TO US THAT WE CANNOT STAND BY IDLY ANYMORE WHILE PURE AND INNOCENT NESHAMOS ARE BEING DESTROYED??

Yet, there is denial, apathy and resistance in the Jewish community when it comes to dealing forcefully with this plague. Why? Perhaps it has to do with the rest of the passuk-"And to my prophets do no harm." The gemara there states that "prophets" is a reference to Torah scholars. Therefore, since it is assur to harm or to demean Torah scholars, many refrain from speaking out against the molesters, where unfortunately many have the title of "rabbi" and dress accordingly, and against their enablers, who maintain powerful rabbinical leadership positions in the community. The term that properly describes those that choose to remain silent is "chassid shoteh". Can the passuk possibly be referring to child molesters and enablers when it states "do not harm my prophets?" Are such people hashem's prophets or are they his enemies? Just because they dress like scholars with long beards, walk the walk and talk the talk, does that give them membership in the exclusive club of talmidei chachamim that are referred to in the Gemara? Or are they what the Gemara describes when it states "Where there is Chillul Hashem, no honor is imparted to a rabbi?" My friends, these are not rabbis, these are the lowest scum of the earth, considering the lives that they've destroyed and the massive chillul hashem that they have caused.

Another reason for the apathy is the passuk in Parashas Kedoshim which states "Lo Telech Rachil Be'amecha- do not be a gossipmonger among your people." This prohibition certainly should not be taken lightly. However, many people think that it extends to violent criminals such as sexual predators and therefore, they will not publicize the names of child molesters, nor report them to the police. Again they ignore the other part of the passuk, "Lo Taamod Al Dam Reecha-do not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed." The halacha is very clear that one who poses a threat to the general community has a din of rodef. The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema in Choshen Mishpat 338:7 state unequivocally that all means necessary may be employed to stop a rodef (pursuer), including turning him into the authorities. For those that follow Ephraim Wachsman's rule that posskim from previous generations should be ignored, Rav Elyashiv reiterates this point and states that a child molester has a din of rodef. Therefore, anyone who refuses to turn in a child molester because of messira or lashon hara is also a chassid shoteh.

Yet another reason for the apathy and the denial is caused by the spinmeisters hired by the Agudath Israel of America. This organization has teamed up with the Catholic Church and State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver to thwart all efforts at enacting legislation that would protect yeshiva children. These measures, such as mandatory reporting, mandatory background checks and fingerprinting of potential employees and the establishment of a sex offender registry, would at least afford our children the same protection currently enjoyed by public school children. However, this axis of evil has conspired to make sure that these laws do not pass. Instead, the Agudah constantly has its resident spokesperson and spinmeister, Avi Shafran write articles and blogs which try to minimize the problem of child molestation in our community. Some of his noteworthy comments which are a direct slap in the face of the thousands of victims are "why should we comment about an old employee (Kolko)", and that the victims are spinning "tawdry tales" which have only "anectodal evidence." Shafran recently weighed in on the Rubashkin scandal, perhaps the biggest kashrus scandal in history, and joined fellow spinmeister Menachem Lubinsky in trying to defend the Rubashkins and their fraudulent business. Shafran's job is similar to what Amalek did when the Jewish people left Egypt. It says that Amalek cooled things off(karcha) when the nations were afraid of the Jews, by figuratively jumping into the hot water. Similarly, Shafran ran to defend the enablers after the NY Magazine article two years ago when the whole community was up in arms about the Kolko affair. The comparison may sound a bit harsh, but the effect that his words and the Aguda's actions has had to undermine the efforts to protect our children and to seek vengeance for the victims is undeniable.

On Yom Kippur we pray to Hashem several times in the prayers "Asseh L'Maan Tinokos Shel Bais Rabban" - Do for the sake of the schoolchildren (that are pure and innocent). The question is what have WE done for the sake of the schoolchildren-the anointed ones?

Posted by steve

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Top Twenty List of Things Wrong With Today's Orthodox Culture

Heavy black felt hats, and fur hats, in warm climates, bring mockery to Judaism and are unhealthy to wear;

Metzitzah b’peh is dangerous;

Jewish sexual abusers should not be taken to rabbinic courts, but to the police;

College education makes one appreciate G-d, and helps earn a livelihood;

Kollel is a waste of time and money for many participants, and drains limited resources from k-12 chinuch;

Excessively long and untrimmed beards are ugly - using a scissors is permissible;

Wearing a tallis on the street, and other ostentatious showings of religiosity, is disrespectful to our American neighbors;

Stealing from the goyim is a chillul Hashem;

Zionism is good;

Fanaticism in kashrus is bad, both Pesach and all year round, because it creates walls between orthodox Jews. Kashrus is meant to bring Jews together in golus.

Speaking fractured English, with an exaggerated Jewish accent, and throwing in a lot of yeshivish talk, brings mockery to Judaism;

Daas Torah is not a mitzvah, not one of the 13 ikrim of the Rambam;

After Rav Moshe, Rav Yaakov, and the Rav, there are no more gedolim today;

Insistence on excessive modesty for women and men, and separation of the sexes, is unhealthy, and brings mockery to Judaism;

Excessive condemnation of loshon hora, not based on halacha, is unhealthy, as it limits people to air legitimate grievances, and seek sensible solutions;

Unacceptance of modern technology, such as the Internet, is not smart, and brings mockery to Judaism;

Constant harping on old debates with maskilim, Reform, Conservatives, Zionism, the Synagogue Council of America, is a waste of time, and counterproductive;Bickering with modern orthodoxy, and disrespecting their leaders, is foolish;

Excessive Torah learning and prayer, at the cost of earning a livehlihood to support one's family, is physically and spiritually unhealthy.

Snobbery against Jews who don't look, act and think like you, is antithetical to Torah Judaism.

Bans are foolish, are disregarded in any event, and breed disprespect for halacha and rabbis.

Posted By Rodef Emes

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Third and Last Part


Our own dysfunctional communities are going to hit globalization, peak oil, and climate change and the education crisis head on in a serious claustrophobia of circumstances. In a way, there is a chicken and egg problem here, because in order to solve the financial problems that are coming, the social problems will have to be solved. And in order to solve social problems, financial problems will have to be solved. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop – the worse one side gets, the other follows and in turn worsens the first side. Somehow the cycle must be broken.

To combat globalization, we need to re-localize. But in order to do this effectively, we cannot be splintered into little cults. We cannot be judgmental or intolerant of lenient practices within the halachic framework. We need diversity of practice to revitalize our ability to cope and function. Relocalizing will create vibrant and sustainable economic systems that will be able to withstand the coming trough in the business cycle. This ought to also combat one of the most nefarious side-effects of globalization: neglect of the moral and ethical obligations of employers to provide what we in western society consider decent and reasonable working conditions. We have to bring back the “social contract” – no more hiring illegal aliens and other goyim so they can be paid less and mistreated and suffer unsafe or toxic working conditions with no Sabbath or vacation or whatever. We must be accountable to each other.

Relocalizing will involve taking the following steps:

1. We must, as a community, learn how to manufacture, make, repair, restore, and produce everything we need for daily life. This means small scale, sole proprietorship “manufacturing” businesses need to be set up. We can no longer afford or rely on imports from outside our area. We can no longer afford to enrich the transnational robber barons at the expense of our own community. In practice, the young men must begin learning these skills, trades, and crafts. What ones, you ask? Look around you. What is in your house? The young men need to learn to make every single item: every bit of furniture, every ceramic dish, glassware, metalwork, pots, pans, baking sheets, metal and wood utensil, toy, game, widget and whatnot, - everything from the picture frames to the upholstery and rugs.

2. How about small appliances? Even big ones? Instead of throwing away old stuff, we’re going to have to learn to repair what we already have – or make our own new ones. This means some young men need to study electronics and repair, even metalworking.

3. And young women have a role, too: sewing clothes, curtains, tablecloths, bed sheets, plain and decorative pillows, placemats, napkins, making candles, soaps, lotions, treats, candies, pastries, hand paint pottery and knickknacks, Judaica - things they can do at home, just like their grandmothers did. All that stuff we used to buy at Wal-Mart we need to learn to make for ourselves, keeping the money in the community. The women can contract their work out to retail shops run by other women – their own small businesses co-ops.

4. Food production, besides treats and candies, is going to have to get a lot more local, too. This will be a national trend – small sustainable home victory gardens, community gardens and greenhouses, and organic family farms are going to be springing up like mushrooms, and some of them need to be ours. That means the young couples are going to have to learn sustainable and organic farming – and work together with other couples to keep the farm running. We need our own fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown on our own farms - sort of like our own kibbutzim. One of my great grandfathers owned a dairy – we need these, too. We need to make our own local cheeses and butters, ice creams, yoghurts and kefir – without the extortion racket of corrupt rabbinic supervision hovering over them all. Instead of buying unhealthy factory farmed meats from giant agribusiness firms, we need smaller herds on the small farms, even individual pairs of animals in large yards – the girl animals supply milk, the boy animals grow up to be dinners, mostly, from our own small suppliers of beef, sheep, goats, chickens and eggs - instead of big conglomerations far away. That means we need more kosher butchers and cheesemakers, too – properly trained young men.

5. On the more urban side, we’re going to have to stop the “divide and conquer.” The focus should be on family businesses just like the old days – right down to the shop/store on the first floor and the family living above, so the family isn’t paying two mortgages and two sets of utility bills each month. The wife and children are involved and contribute as their schooling and duties permit. Homes will have to be multi-generational, and extended families will be the norm, not the exception.

6. That may mean some initial rebuilding to make single family neighborhoods more like the mixed use streetscapes of the past – but we must adopt a paradigm more like that of the Amish to accomplish this: everybody chips in labour free of charge to build each building, one at a time if need be, until the whole group is done. This only works with a certain economy of scale – meaning there will have to be cooperation and tolerance, again. The only cost would be materials, and even some of that could be obtained by donations. We can no longer rely on interest-based financing to get things done. We will have to remake our dysfunctional neighborhoods into viable communities with our own two hands – waiting around for someone else to do it for us isn’t going to work.

7. In fact, co-ops are going to have to be a big part of our new lives – no money involved. We need much more cooperation and much less isolation - home school coops instead of commercial-type day schools, babysitting coops, eldercare coops instead of nursing homes, men’s and women’s Kollel co-ops instead of paying tuition, and so on. “Social societies” for various community needs are going to have to return to life in a big way – not based so much on monetary donations, either, but with everybody pitching in.

8. For things that don’t “co-op” well, such as semi-professional services, repairs, etc., many groups and small towns have developed their own paper “currency,” that is earned by volunteering and contributing time and effort in various ways, to be spent at local shows of other service currency participants. It’s a glorified barter system, basically – and perfectly legal. You earn by contributing your skills, and redeem your points/credits for skills you lack.

To combat peak oil, we must first and foremost arrange our lives to avoid dependence on automobiles or busses that use gasoline and diesel, as well as other odds and ends we may have that use gas.

9. For those with “outside world” employment (and as many men as can be need to be, to bring money into the community that hopefully stays here!) getting to and from work must be the top priority – that means finding a home near where you work, or within walking distance of a mass transit line. For those rebuilding their own communities along older mixed use styles – persistent lobbying for streetcar service and/or bus routes is essential to serve the ground floor shops/stores. If need be, expand or start your own service – with electric busses and trolleys.

Needless to say, that means a sufficient number of young men are going to need to have secular degrees in actual fields of knowledge for market-rate employment jobs to accomplish this influx of wealth to the community.

10. The homes must also be located within walking distance of grocery stores, bakeries, and specialty food shops – preferably family owned businesses run by neighbors! - and open space allocated for a farmer’s market, too. Or vice versa – shops and stores are going to have to inhabit some space on residential blocks. We must also make wagons and coolers for getting the groceries back to the house: European style wheeled shopping bags, backpacks and cloth grocery bags – and recognize that buying a week or twos worth of groceries at once is not really going to be possible anymore. We’re going to have to move to a more European and Near Eastern style of grocery shopping – every day or two.

11. Obviously, with walking or biking to get groceries, medicines, personal and household goods becoming a much bigger part of our lives without SUVs, Mom’s focus is going to have to be in managing the home, business and personal paperwork, running errands, caring for children and parents, and participating in co-ops or manning the store/shop while Dad is doing his co-op duties. Older children will also be involved – it really has to be a family effort.

12. Home gardening is going to have to make a comeback, also. Herbs and spices, some veggies and fruit trees or bushes - if you have a yard don’t waste an inch of it on grass, unless you have a few chickens or goats for eggs and milk. You can’t eat the grass. Plant something you can eat. Make jam and sell it or trade it. Dry herbs. Freeze veggies.

13. We must learn to make and maintain things like “reel” mowers and other non-electric yard and garden tools – and train the neighborhood boys how to use them. They can help with the chores at home and earn co-op points (or maybe even a small bit of cash) helping busy or elderly neighbors. Which brings me to another point – in reality, every kid over 14 should be contributing to the family budget in some way, even if it’s just an hour or so a day.

To deal with climate change, we need to get better control of our utility bills, first and foremost. Secondly, we need to take steps to set up alternative power sources for our community necessities and get “off the grid” as much as possible for everything else.

14. Conserve water – fix leaks, when hot water heaters wear out, replaced them with inline heat fixtures. Upgrade old toilets and showers to new efficient models when they need repairing or replacing. Use soaker hoses and mulch in your garden instead of sprinklers. Do I really need to tell you only to run full loads of laundry and dishes? You know these things.

15. Heating oil or natural gas conservation should be a top priority. A concerted effort is going to have to be made by the community to help families replace HVAC systems and major appliances that run on oil or gas with systems and appliances that run on electricity – and minor appliances that are old fashioned and manually operated. That necessarily includes natural gas stoves – wasteful things like the blech need to disappear and be replaced with an energy efficient crock-pot for the main meal of the day, and healthy salads, fruits, veggies, lox, etc. that don’t require heat for the rest. Not only does wasting precious non-renewable resources make your personal utility bill worse, but it also drives up the overall price of natural gas and burdens the poor – something we are commanded not to do.

No matter what your house is heated with, you need to go on a serious hunt for leaks and air infiltration around pipes, cracks, doors and windows. Use that blow-dryer stuff plastic to cover windows and unused doors in the winter – and make sure your fireplace doesn’t leak air like a sieve, either. These things really do have a huge impact on your utility bill.

16. Conservation of electricity you should already know how to do in general. In specific – one thing to seriously consider is to not run the clothes dryer in the spring, summer or fall when the weather is reasonable, use clotheslines instead. In the winter, the dryer can help heat the house – or you can save more power by drying clothes on retractable lines indoors at night and then fluffing them in the dryer briefly in the morning.

17. Get those double hung windows operating – chisel off that paint, so that they can work like they’re supposed to. To get ventilation, you have to lower the top AND raise the bottom. Heat rises and goes out the top, creating a negative air pressure, which draws in cooler air at the bottom. A ceiling fan will also help. Air conditioning needs to be minimized as much as possible – we only run ours for the hottest six weeks of the summer season. (And then only if the temps are above the upper 80s.) When you do run the A/C, you need to have heavy drapes to draw over the windows and doors, to help keep the heat out. You can also re-apply the window plastic during A/C usage.

18. The community is, last but not least, going to have to band together to help homeowners install solar shingles/panels and home wind turbines, and similar larger systems for community needs. As rolling blackouts and staggering price hikes due to the underlying costs of oil and gas and coal for electric generation become larger and larger problems, we need to find ways to get “off the grid” and either generate our own power or find ways to do things without it. If you live in an area with nuclear or hydroelectric power, you may still not be out of the woods – shifts in rainfall patterns can cause both dams and nuclear power plants to have to shut down. It’s good to consider alternatives.

To make all this possible, some educational and social changes are going to be necessary.

19. To make a serious issue short – the ravs are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Those who are not part of the solution are going to have to be overthrown from their little fiefdoms. We do this by no longer contributing to their shuls, day-schools, yeshivas and charities and by operating our own co-operative education and self-help groups instead. Those who are part of the solution identify themselves as such by their words and actions – they speak out about these issues and make positive moves toward implementing suggestions like those in this article that will restore the physical, spiritual, and financial health of our communities.

20. We need an intensive public service educational campaign about signs of physical, emotional, sexual abuse and drug abuse. People need to understand that their physical and psychological safety is their right as human beings – not to mention American Law – and blind support of molestors and perpetrators just because they are Jewish and/or are in positions of authority is no longer acceptable. Those claiming to be leaders must be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.

21. We need a second intensive public service educational campaign to alert people for signs of investment fraud, insurance fraud, government fraud, theft and graft at all levels – to know when they are being employed by scammers and to protect themselves from scams. Again, just because these things are done in the name of getting money for Jews and Judaism does not make it acceptable. Indeed, it makes us reprehensible in the eyes of the public and is a terrible chillul Hashem. Part of this must be a campaign to be obedient to and respectful of local and state building codes and zoning regulations – this issue has caused a great deal of animosity towards us and must stop.

22. We need a third intensive public service educational campaign to re-assure young people that they have a future in Judaism and as Jews, even if they lack the aptitude for full-time Torah study. To that end, we need to meet their emotional and social needs with music, social events, sports, and extra-curricular classes on topics they’re actually interested in, not just Torah.

23. As for formal education, modern secular educational studies are going to have to receive a much greater emphasis. Those with professional career aspirations and apparent ability need to go to college or trade school and learn a professional career in a market-rate employment field – and this needs to be done without saddling the young man with interest paying student loans. For someone with true aptitude, the community needs to try and put scholarships together for tuition.

24. Only the most brilliant and astonishing students should be maintained in yeshiva or Kollel, as decided by the community at large as to how many they are willing to support.

25. Every other young man needs to be apprenticed learn a skill, trade, or craft for a small shop/store or business or small family farm, whatever his interest appears to be – starting as a teenager. [Ditto for girls.] An apprenticeship and journeyman training system, similar to that of Europe, needs to be developed that provides men employment and job skills. Some of this would be in Torah scrolls and T’fillin, of course.  But mostly the skills and crafts would be in household goods, furniture, wood and metalworking, and all that.

26. The marriage problem is going to have to be seriously tackled with some intense re-education and changed attitudes. Far from shunning BTs and converts, they need to be brought into the fold enthusiastically. Unrealistic expectations and idiotic lists of “required” stringencies need to disappear. More chaperoned opportunities for mixing must be made available to teens and young adults. And yes, marriages should be arranged/facilitated at young ages – when biology intended young people to become married, not the unnatural extended childhood imposed by modern feminist-led society. That does not mean every young couple is entitled to separate housing, though. Extended family situations are going to have to be the norm, not the exception.

27. Corruption and graft, crime and abuse is going to have to be held to a zero tolerance policy, period. We are going to have to reclaim our right to safety and security.

28. Our second highest priority needs to be getting each and every member of our community out of debt – the collective power of the community can accomplish this. Once it’s done – NO NEW DEBT. If debts are incurred within the community, no more shenanigans – they must be completely released whether paid or not at the Sabbath year, as Hashem intended.

29. Our highest priority needs to be making sure every husband and able-bodied man has a living wage job, either their own legitimate trade, craft, skill, shop, store or business - or working for someone else at living wages. And every teenage young man should be following right behind. We must not hire from outside the community at all unless there is absolutely no one left to hire. This is not an invitation to “make-work,” nepotism and other abuses – it is a call for people to search diligently for talented individuals and hire on merit and interest and talent from within our own community.

This is a broad outline – and frankly, I don’t have much hope that it will actually be accomplished. What we need to be is a lot more self-sufficient like the Amish and a lot less like secular society in many respects. Specifically, we need to remove money as the focus of our lives and aspirations and instead substitute real Torah, family, and the satisfaction of personal accomplishment which contributes to community sustainability. Instead, we have become parasites off of the worldly system we claim to not be part of. What is necessary is no less than taking our children and our business away from the entrenched order – to starve it to death before it starves us to death.

The discussion at this point will I hope be constructive. Shalom.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Part Two

The first part was a bit boring, I know. But this ought to rile a few feathers.


Among Jews, there are several trends that will affect how we can react to the above issues.

First, let’s talk about our immigrant parents and grandparents or perhaps great-grandparents:

A. The older generation of M/UO Orthodox men had k/1-8/12 grade regular secular educational studies and college degrees, or training in trades, crafts and skills which allowed them to earn a living for their families. Some were working in factories and secular businesses, but mostly they worked in sole proprietorships – their own family businesses in manufacturing domestic/cultural items, food shops, consignment retail shops, etc. run on the first floor of the same building where they lived. They had both Jewish and secular customers, so they brought in money from “out there” into the community. If they “learned,” it was in the evenings and on Shabbat. The picked up English enthusiastically, knowing that their economic future, and their kids future, depended on integrating economically not just with fellow Jews but with the wider urban environment. They cooperated with each other, in the form of various “societies,” to meet the unmet needs of the community as a whole.

B. The former generation of M/UO Orthodox women were also relatively educated, worked either at home (alone or in partnership with other area women), in the family business with their husbands, or, when older (that is, when all their kids were school age), outside the home to help bring in income. Some of their clients were also from outside society. They raised their young children themselves. They often also gardened in their own yards (what we now call “victory gardens”) and preserved food. Women also had social “societies” to deal with community needs. And, they cared for the sick, their elderly relatives, and grandchildren free of charge, lessening the economic burden on their parents and children.

These people built this country and Jewish success in this country, frankly. From them several sects of Jews split off. But today’s UO generation, converts, BTs and some MO Jews are being indoctrinated in an entirely different paradigm from their immigrant forebears. You will recognize that these descriptions apply far more (so far) to UO communities than MO ones, but the ongoing drive to de-legitimize MO will drive more people into the UO sphere, where their children will be thoroughly indoctrinated into some dysfunctional paradigms.

1. There is a growing trend among k-12 day schools to downplay or even shun regular secular educational studies, especially for young men. Even girls are told that secular colleges are too dangerous and result in contamination from outside society. This leaves these young adults incapable of making informed decisions about pretty much anything. For example, they vote pretty much how they are told to vote. They don’t research an issue and decide what’s truly in the best interest of the community. They are ignorant of current events, history, science, health, and economic issues. Therefore they don’t understand how things are related and interact. We might call this “functional social illiteracy.”

2. The young men are taught to look down upon those gainfully employed in market rate ordinary jobs, and told a destructive half-truth that they are performing a better service to their family and community by “learning” than they would be by “working.” They therefore must rely on parents and other relatives, in-laws, charity (incl. the stipend they get, which is from donations), and get-rich-quick schemes.

3. The result among young men in these yeshivas is that they are basically unemployable, contribute little or nothing to their own financial situation – much less that of the community as a whole - and couldn’t find adequate work to support their families if they wanted to, which they don’t - having been taught that “learning” is supposed to be what they do all the time (Pirkei Avot notwithstanding). Even those who aspire to “Torah” jobs such as teaching Torah, being a rav or Rabbi, making Torah scrolls or T’fillin have no real chance. There are far more bochurim than there will ever be market-rate paying positions of these types. Some barely speak, read, or write English. They may receive a small stipend from their yeshiva or Kollel, but it is not enough to support their families. They are able-bodied young men who are a burden and a drain on the community – refusing to pull their weight, draining the resources of their parents and other relatives who feel obliged to support them and their children.

4. Those who are employed, especially the upper-levels of “gedolim,” work in day-schools, yeshivas, charities, etc., where many have appointed themselves a considerably large salary at the expense of their other employees and the students or those who rely on the charity for part of their support. Those who work in real estate or insurance or investment houses often do likewise – living the high life themselves (even sometimes while preaching poverty to their followers) instead of dividing the school/business proceeds equitably. This has resulted in an incredibly stratified society which can no longer deal with the income gaps and social divisions between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” This also contributes to the marriage crisis (later) because a young man who expects to be supported in kollel by a father-in-law is not going to choose a wife of limited or modest means, regardless of how intelligent, skilled, or spiritual she may be.

5. Their wives, meanwhile, go one of two ways:

A. Some are farmed out to work in secular society or for other Jewish “businesses,” (read: ponzi schemes, “charities,” day schools, as daycare workers, etc.) because, after all, somebody has to earn a living, and the young men certainly aren’t going to. A very few are set up in businesses of their own, such as dress shops or beauty salons. Their children are raised by strangers first in daycare and later in day school, and finally sent off to Israel or yeshiva. Many must apply for government welfare or Medicaid benefits even if employed – some honestly, some by claiming to be unwed (see below). They try, but they can never get ahead. It is extremely stressful and a hazard to shalom bayit for a woman to be in this position.

Since a woman, especially one that is forced to forgo a secular professional degree, can never earn as much money as a man in any field (due to maternity leaves, scheduling conflicts due to children, etc.) the family is perpetually behind where it could be if the husband worked full time. Instead, the family’s costs are actually increased with child care bills, elder care, work clothes, extra vehicles/gasoline or more mass transit costs, pre-packaged foods and so on. Even if the husband works part-time in a “Torah” profession, when all is said and done it’s not the same as having the husband employed full time in a market rate position.

(There’s also a good book out there called “The Two Income Trap,” which you can get used at for about $10 the last time I checked. It is rarely a good economic outcome for both parents of young children to be outside the home, if you want more details. The increased taxes, costs of child care and other work-related expenses almost invariably ends up costing more than a sub-professionally degreed woman actually brings home in take-home pay – and this is true even for many professional women. And that doesn’t even cover other issues, such as other people’s values and philosophies being taught to children instead of their parent’s, and the fact that teenagers get into trouble being home unattended while the mother works outside the home, etc.)

B. Or, women are treated completely like second class citizens. They are told the family finances are “none of their business.” Their husbands, brothers, father, father-in-law or whatever might be involved in some shady dealings, tax evasion, fake charities, fundraising scams, insurance fraud or who knows what – but they have no idea how precarious their situation is. They are unprepared for the inevitable day when the police will show up. They are left out of the decision making process, and are also excluded from making sustainable and viable contributions to the family and community economies.

Some women are instructed to go to the government welfare office and claim to be unmarried and receive benefits (since they don’t usually have a legal wedding, only a religious one). Some communities don’t allow the girls to even graduate from high school, so their welfare is increased. Some know their finances are a mess, but they’re proud of it! They’re doing it to “hasten redemption” or some such why-its-ok-to-take-advantage-of-goyim-and-government philosophy they’ve been taught.

Now, the UO/BT/convert crowd at least has one thing going for it (and to a somewhat lesser extent the MOs) – they live in communities where Jews are a majority, if not the majority. They are in and near populations that can, if rightly motivated and educated, pull together. Among the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Cultural or Secular Jews, the population is much more spread out. There are more of them demographically, but the assimilation rate is high. They are generally better educated in and are involved in more professional trades, and have fewer children to support. They may have resources such as savings and a 401k, IRAs, private health insurance, etc. But, their “separateness” – the independence they’ve been taught to value - means than when economic push comes to shove, they have no “community” to fall back on. Sure, there are Jewish federations all over the place – conservative synagogues and reform temples - but when people have to tighten their belts, their contributions will drop. Those who used to donate will be requesting services instead (there was a story about this recently in Chicago, I think it was?). Many if not most will end up falling away from the Jewish community entirely.

In spite of the bad press that kiruv has received, a real kiruv that brings in BTs and real efforts to bring in sincere converts is going to have to take place to minimize the number of Jews who fall away from the community. This is a broad brush statement, and frankly I am concerned that as the conversion scandals and “black-hat” kiruv efforts that alienate extended families continue to spread, BTs and their sincerely converted spouses and friends are going to be driven away, not closer, from halachic practice. The continual imposition of stringencies and the drive to de-legitimize modern orthodoxy is destructive, to say the least, to the future of Judaism.

But until the “powers-that-be” decide that lenient halachic practice is just as acceptable as stringent halachic practice, more people will fall away from Judaism than will return to it over the long haul. There are only so many gullible suckers of Jewish descent out there. Once that crop is roped into the poverty trap that ultry-orthodoxy has become, there will be few to follow. Educated intelligent people simply aren’t going to throw their children’s future in the trash. In fact, some communities are now questioning bringing in BTs and converts simply because they do have a secular education and real life financial experience and can not therefore fit in perfectly with communities of people who have been controlled and indoctrinated since birth in the present power and financial structure that the Rabbis have imposed to support themselves and their unemployed bochurim at the expense of the wider Jewish community.

But the economic stress to come will cause some out there to “get religion.” They will become BT’s and re-connect with observant family members, or just come back to the communities and re-join shuls with their friends and distant relatives. This will bring a temporary influx of money and goods into the cheredi communities. However, either these newcomers will get fed up with being treated like second class citizens for the heinous crime of having a job or getting their kids a real education, or they will drop the jobs and education to be accepted fully into the community. The former will leave. The latter will end up producing another generation of useless loafers, daughters sold into slavery, and emotionally detached grandchildren raised by strangers.

In other words, more of the same is simply going to place a burden on already strapped communities, either in the short or long term or both, unless serious changes are made – more on that later.

So beside the entirely dysfunctional economic paradigm of cheredi communities, there is the elephant in the room, a serious social issue: the continual piling up of more and more stringencies. These things are increasing the cost of living of orthodox families through the roof – literally. And part of that problem is that everyone is absolutely convinced that their own preferred stringencies are actually requirements and that everyone who doesn’t practice them is a wanton sinner. The competition to out-frum everybody else has resulted in a fierce competition between ravs to see who can make the most ridiculous rulings (though they don’t see it that way, of course) and see who can gather the most followers. It has degenerated into cults of personality – held together by a deep and intense fear of being ostracized, having the kid’s shidduch prospects shunted to a “lower quality” level or negated entirely, and even, in many places, by threats of vandalism and violence, intimidation and harassment. There is no respect for diversity of practice whatsoever – and this has resulted in everyone making some bad decisions.

One example of this is housing. Orthodox families pay way to much for housing, both owned and rental, to be near the “correct” shul and spend far too much on transportation costs to the “correct” day schools. The ravs, shuls and the day schools also have a captive audience and milk the situation for all it’s worth. Memberships, tuitions, fees and “voluntary” donations are bankrupting people, literally.

These families are often far away from relatives who could offer free babysitting and other non-financial support – furthermore, many are urged to shun those wanton sinners, you know. These neighborhoods are also often so secluded that they have little or no access to streetcars, trolleys, light rail, or other non gasoline/diesel transportation sources. If they do have any access to mass transit, it’s usually busses or trains that run on gasoline or diesel instead of electricity.

Most families are entirely dependant upon their personal automobiles (plural!) to get anywhere and everywhere they need to be, and to obtain groceries, medicines, and other necessities. If they have bought an SUV or other gas-guzzler in the last several years, they probably still owe more on it than they can get selling it – if there was a market for SUVs! Unfortunately, the time for getting rid of a used SUV without doing so at a loss is past. Even dealers can’t sell them.

The stringencies imposed on families often involve food and beverages – making the grocery budget outrageous by any normal standards, since the ravs require special products with no mass market potential that are far more expensive than ordinary kosher brands. They require certification of products that historically never needed it – such as fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, whole grains, milk, household cleaners, laundry products and such. Not only do these drive up costs for the grocery budget, but since they deter people from eating healthily, they drive up medical costs and costs of caring for children and the elderly and contribute to obesity and other illnesses.

Another offshoot of our health problems stems from the bizarre rulings of late banning just about anything that can be contstrued as healthy physical exercise – especially for girls, but even for boys in many cases, often due to a neurotic aversion to the uniforms or sportswear or reasonably modern clothing required for such simple things as hiking or biking, even though these things can be done in perfectly modest clothing by any normal intellectually honest standard.

Another problem is the mistaken belief that “kosher” = “healthy.” Things are certified “kosher” that have been clearly shown to be damaging to people’s health, such as hydrogenated oils, bleached white flours, processed white sugar, artificial chemical preservatives, additives and colorants. Our “kosher” meat and dairy products are pumped full of artificial chemical hormones and excessive antibiotics, the animals are mistreated and held in pens where they never see the light of day, then fed ground-up other animal remains and grains needed by the poor instead of natural grasses and pasture, and to add insult to injury our fruits and vegetables have had genes from other species, including unclean animal species, inserted into them – then these GMOs have been fed to our livestock and to us. And as we have seen lately, a lot of the meat we thought was healthy and properly slaughtered has in fact been sick, deformed, diseased, and improperly slaughtered. Our food is killing us, physically and spiritually, but since it’s “kosher” people keep eating it. And our health continues to deteriorate.

One thing about health I hesitate to mention, but I feel I should – it involves the marriage issue. To be blunt, Jewish communities are horribly intermarried, even in the generations prior to the rush to be as exclusive as possible with the stringency-du-jour. Health problems not just due to exotic recessive genes but to very ordinary ones: recessive genes for heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity, etc. are running rampant in our communities. My late husband died of cancer – at age 28! And yet many have bought into a mythology that any hint of a BT or convert or Reform or Conservative or whatever parent or forebear is somehow a terrible stigma to be avoided at all costs (ben niddah, anyone?). HaShem forbid that a FFB would marry a BT, much less a convert. Another result is an incredibly high rate of mentally and physically handicapped children above and beyond the general deterioration of our health due to excessive inbreeding – there’s just no polite way to put it. There it is. I read an article that many of these poor babies from Jewish mothers are abandoned at the hospital – the ones who are brought home are an incredible financial burden on the family. Yes, they are loving and sweet and delightful children – don’t get me wrong. But neither can we afford to ignore the reality that the prevailing philosophy about marriage is going to have to change. We can’t afford to be narrowing the gene pool with idiotic cults of stringency. We need to be broadening it with diversity of practice and acceptance of BTs and converts.

And speaking of marriage, more and more young people are not finding a suitable match simply because their idea of “suitable” involves stringencies not shared by people who attend different shuls or live in different communities. Often a match is broken off without a second glance if the prospective mate differs in practice even slightly from what the searcher has been taught is “non-negotiable” practice – in spite of the fact that the prospect’s practice is within the halachic framework. No diversity of practice is even considered. The searcher may also have terribly unrealistic attitudes about where money is going to come from in the marriage and very wrong-headed ideas about education and employment, which put off prospective matches who have some understanding of economic reality. With impossible standards such as these to meet, it’s no wonder there’s such a crisis in the marriage department. This sort of thing must stop.

Another problem in our communities is the idea that it’s apparently considered ok to exploit non-Jews. Our businesses hire illegal aliens and other goyim in order to avoid paying living wages and having to follow the ethical and moral business practices that are required when hiring fellow Jews. We even avoid hiring our fellow Jews to work in our own homes and small businesses. We locate large industries away from our own communities to avoid scrutiny and avoid employing our own people. We allow inhumane conditions to exist in our large industries, especially food processing, and pretend there’s nothing wrong with it. We give both ourselves and Hashem a bad name in doing so, not to mention making our communities poorer and more reliant on outside employers who don’t necessarily respect our religious needs for sabbaths and yom tovim.

As consumers, we have bought heavily into the something-for-nothing myth. We buy the cheap, made in the third world products offered by the robber barons – knowing that in doing so we are taking away job opportunities and income from our own friends, neighbors, and children. We forget that we still end up paying the costs those robber barons externalized from their products – we just pay it in taxes and benefits to the injured and exploited instead of paying it in the purchase price, and think we’re getting a bargain! We turn a blind eye to the needs of our community and instead enrich the robber barons who will contribute nothing of value toward our real, long term needs.

And last, but not least – the crime and corruption problem is undeniably huge. People’s lives are being ruined by abuse (physical, psychological, and sexual), and by every sort of fraud, swindle, scheme, and even outright theft. The Mafia could hardly have done it better – everyone is terrified to go to the authorities, either because of some sort of residual hang-up from the Holocaust generation or due to the power-mongering of the Gedolim. By imagining ourselves above the civil law we have actually made ourselves below it – we don’t have basic protections that ordinary citizens enjoy. We live in a permanent underworld of graft and coercion, abuse and neglect. In a very real way, we don’t have freedom of speech, assembly, or religious practice. We aren’t safe, because those who make us unsafe are our own people that we can’t “tell on” or “turn against,” – as if racial or religious solidarity somehow trumps justice. Women are chained, kids are molested, people’s livlihoods are ruined – and there is no recourse for them. In the end, this will drive people away from the communities. People can’t live in fear forever – eventually they realize they can, in fact, walk away from it. Increasingly, they have been and will continue to.

To summarize Part Two – What’s going on in here? We have this list:

1. Today’s young men do not know the skills, crafts, and trades necessary for the manufacturing of domestic items and the service jobs that would make MO/UO/Cheredi communities nearly or completely self-sufficient.

2. A considerable percentage of the community’s money is sent away out of it – by shopping at places like Wal-Mart, where the profits go to benefit the Walton’s kids and the Walton’s kids schools and the Walton’s community instead of ours. The inadequately employed local families are forced to buy the cheapest junk they can just to survive, goods made in third world countries, instead of keeping the income within the community. Those resources are lost – gone forever, and will not return.

3. Families are divided and therefore conquered, basically. They go their separate ways all day and the emotional and spiritual effect has been very bad on the children.

4. Women’s contributions to the UO community are seriously misdirected – either focused on trying to be the main breadwinner or focused on trying to disappear and not be a participant at all.

5. Knowledge of basic gardening, food preservation, home maintenance, and related skills is lacking in both young men and young women.

6. Financially, there is no self-sustaining community economy to speak of. Those men who do work are swamped with responsibility, those men who refuse to work are sucking resources dry.

7. The cost of living for UO families will never be quite as low as secular society, but it is far above what it needs to be due to indoctrination into stringencies – far above sustainable levels, especially where food is concerned. Household items needed for observance are usually imported or sold at inflated prices or both, because it’s a “captive audience.”

8. People are too afraid to do anything “differently” from what their rav teaches, eliminating uncountable creative ways to fulfill halacha without incurring increased expenses – and increasing the power-mongering and control the ravs have on the divided communities.

9. The process for arranging/facilitating marriages is in shambles due to intolerance of perfectly halachic practice and irrational ideas of religious and racial purity that have never existed historically and never will in the future.

10. Housing prices are also outrageous in part due to divisiveness and intolerance (of course, the wider deflationary spiral has had the largest effect) – not to mention day school tuition to the “correct” school. People have made very unwise choices and bought houses far away from family support and public transportation, both of which they will need badly as the peak oil crisis deepens.

11. Young couples lack the basic education needed for good stewardship of their home finances, their children’s upbringing, the community economy, and their civic duties as voting citizens: at the local, county, state, or national level.

12. Because of unhealthy diets, bad genetics, and lack of vigorous exercise, our health costs are rising exponentially with no end in sight.

13. The rate of kids going “off the derech” will continue to rise – eventually equaling that of the other sects of Judaism. The kids, all suffering from benign neglect and seeing the crime, hypocrisy, and injustice around them, will simply leave when they’ve had enough.

Some of these problems, such as crime and molestation, have been treated very briefly, because we all know that these are wide-spread and deeply entrenched issues that a paragraph simply won’t address. These things appear on UOJ and other blogs almost daily – but as long as people fear the consequences of outing the criminals and perpetrators then not much can be done to stop the situation. What we must recognize is that the fallout from these issues affects not just our minds and spirits, but also the functioning of the broader community – and right now, it’s not funcitonal, it’s dysfunctional. This fear is killing our ability to help ourselves and take control of our lives in ways that is perfectly well within the halachic framework and works with economic reality instead of the control-and-power-mongering of a regrettably large number of our current leaders.

Stay tuned for part three.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Economic Future of Our Communities, Part I

I had written these guest posts for UOJ some time ago - unfortunately, it was literally right before the extradition hearings started in Israel and UOJ got busy and lost the original articles. Then there was some problem with getting the graphics inserted... Etc., etc. You know how it is. We're all really too busy to do this full time. So, since UOJ invited me to contribute to this forum, which seems to be more tuned toward where Judaism is and where it needs to go, I thought I would start here with the first of the three parts I had already written for him. This first one may not seem terribly relevant to Judaism particularly, but hold that thought. It's only really in parts two and three that it all starts to come together. Shalom!

Introduction and Part One

There are some serious issues in the world and in our communities that have put us in an incredibly precarious position economically. There are things going on out in the world and in our own communities that need to be dealt with if we’re going to have a viable future. These concerns of mine are the focus of this article. No one is claiming that this situation will last forever – the business cycle goes up and down. But it will be the reality for probably the next two decades – and we’re going to have to deal with it realistically.

I want to make things as clear as possible, (I hope,) so first and foremost be assured I am not presuming that everyone who reads it is clueless. I am just trying to make sure that everything is explained as completely as I need to explain it, because I don’t want to assume, either, than we’re all experts on everything. I know I’m not. So there’s probably at least one part you also don’t know, and since I don’t know which part that is, I am going to try and explain everything at least enough to be sure we all understand the line of reasoning. So don’t be annoyed, please.

The general outline will be:
Part One: What’s going on out there?
Part Two: What’s going on in here?
Part Three: The collision with the reality train – what can we do?

This is not intended to be a dissertation, so some issues will be glossed over while others will receive increased scrutiny. I welcome feedback from any who believe I glossed over something important – we can add those things to the discussion.


To make a long story short, three things: globalization, peak oil, and climate change. Each of these affects the others in a feedback loop, but let’s look at each one separately, more or less.


Globalization is based on several economic principles that are taken as facts but which are in fact myths. The first is the myth of “comparative advantage.” In this myth, transnational corporations claim that some other country is a “better” place to manufacture goods, and proceeds to take western first world factory jobs and move them to third world countries. What this results in is an advantage, but it can hardly be called “comparative.” In fact, it is by definition NOT comparative. These businesses and factories have moved to places where wage laws, labour laws, child labour laws, environmental laws, safety codes, and laws against graft and corruption do not exist. They are moved to places that have no worker protections or benefits, such as health care, vacation days, or religious days off. They are moved to areas where sweat shops are the norm and not the exception. Naturally, these squalid conditions and sub-living wages allow them to sell their products and services more cheaply than competitors who stay in the first world. But that’s hardly an apples-to-apples “advantage.”

The second myth is that transnational corporation and the robber barons who run them have no moral or ethical obligation to provide living wages or humane consideration to either the people they left behind in their home nations or the people they are intending to hire in the third world. They feel no loyalty whatsoever to western culture except to exploit its commercialism – which they themselves created. They see no need to be shackled with a burdensome conscience. We in the first world, in the first world, have made such practices as those above illegal precisely because of our Judeo-Christian based society – in those pagan places, no such regard for human life and civil rights exists. We as a culture have decided that such laws are for the good of society. So the robber barons move to countries that have no such concepts as “social contract,” or “civic duty.” That’s just the way the transnational corporations want it, of course.

The third myth of globalization is that of the “service economy,” aka “a rising tide lifts all boats.” In fact, just the opposite occurs – the un-comparative advantage of third world governments drags down the wages, benefits, and standards of living for the rest of the world. Supposedly, by moving those “labour intensive” jobs to third nations, westerners are “free” to unleash their creativity and provide services that “everyone” needs and wants. You know: fast food, restaurants, laundry service, lawn service, retail, beauty, and so on. The problem is, without living wage manufacturing jobs to provide the majority of average workers with incomes that can actually afford these services, people are reduced to basically selling such services to all their fellow service worker industry employees - who can’t actually afford them. Only the wealthy can afford to pay other people to do their chores.

This leads directly to the “debt doesn’t matter” myth. Debt does matter, paying interest matters, and this ponzi scheme is also about to come crashing down, as we’ll see below.

Related to this is the myth of “government will take care of it.” All of the benefits and local projects and health care and living wages, etc., that the corporations used to fund are somehow going to be “taken care of” by nationalizing health care, or by government benefits, etc. The problem with this idea is that since wages are falling, government collects less tax income, not more – yet demand is obviously rising exponentially as corporations chuck the ethical and moral considerations of the social contract they owe to their workers and their communities en masse. There’s no way government “can take care of it” under these conditions. For example, in the US, when Social Security was enacted, there were 19 employed persons for every retiree. Now, there are three. Soon, there will be two. How likely is it that the generation y-ers and z-ers out there now are going to be willing to give up half their income, basically, so Mrs. Rockefeller can continue to collect social security? So Chanah Stein and her 10 kids can collect welfare while her husband doesn’t work? Or anyone else, for that matter? Not likely. Things are going to have to drastically change.

The fifth myth of globalization is what I call the “something for nothing” syndrome. This is the state of all the high-paying white collar jobs in western culture. Basically, we’re talking the financial sector of the “service economy.” This ponzi scheme has worked for a while, but it has reached the breaking point. Basically, in this myth, people make a living and/or get rich by continually trading around pieces of paper, such as property deeds, mortgages, stocks, bonds, etc., which supposedly always increase in value. But the “increase in value” is determined by another pesky economic reality: supply and demand. Just counting since 2000, people on average are making less, not more, than they were when inflation is factored in.

And you think that’s bad? How about this: Adjusted for inflation, you probably make less than someone in your exact position did in 1972.

The Empire of Debt
From Adbusters #74, Nov-Dec 2007

…The story begins with labor. The decades following World War II were boom years. Economic growth was strong and powerful industrial unions made the middle-class dream attainable for working-class citizens. Workers bought homes and cars in such volume they gave rise to the modern suburb. But prosperity for wage earners reached its zenith in the early 1970s. By then, corporate America had begun shredding the implicit social contract it had with its workers for fear of increased foreign competition. Companies cut costs by finding cheap labor overseas, creating a drag on wages.

In 1972, wages reached their peak. According to the US department of Labor Statistics, workers earned $331 a week, in inflation-adjusted 1982 dollars. Since then, it’s been a downward slide. Today, real wages are nearly one-fifth lower – this, despite real GDP per capita doubling over the same period…

To put that all in one sentence, the reason we're always broke and in debt up to our eyeballs is that our wages are 20% lower than our parents wage was. So, it's not rocket science - we have less money, and increased demand for goods from growing foreign nations – not to mention our own currency inflation has helped raise the prices of everything. Therefore, we have more debt.

And speaking of inflation, the government has been lying through its teeth about the real inflation rate:

In real life, people can’t just keep refinancing and charging forever. At some point, the payments on these things reach the point where they can no longer afford to “move up” the scale – the consumers/buyers are maxed out. That’s where we are now in western society, as someone recently posted in the comments:
Times are bleak for the U.S. consumer. The average household owes 20 percent more than it makes each year.

[This is a offshoot and the result of the “debt doesn’t matter” myth above, of course.]

The personal savings rate is in negative territory. Record numbers of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, and millions more are struggling to keep up with their monthly bills and obligations. And the nation's economy isn't in much better shape. The Treasury Department has estimated that, with the added costs of the economic stimulus plan passed by the House of Representatives this week in an effort to avoid a recession, the federal deficit could rise to as much as $400 billion this year.

The sixth myth of globalization is related to the fourth: it is the “growth forever” myth. Even the entire planet is a closed system. People only need so many widgets and whatnots, and even if they make them as cheap and crappy as they possibly can so people have to keep on re-buying them, there’s only so much money available in the hands of the consumers – which they have purposefully and knowingly reduced, I might add. Part of the “something for nothing” myth above is that stocks, etc., can always increase in value – but in the real world, an equilibrium will have to be reached between supply and demand, and growth will stagnate. In western nations, this has already happened, basically. So companies cannot continue to “grow.” Even if shake-outs leave only one or two competitors in most industries, they will still just be stealing the same old customers from each other – very little real growth based on actual innovation leading to increased demand. And even if demand is increased for a new product of some kind, that means that demand is lessened for other products. When consumers are counting every dime, it really is a zero-sum game.

The seventh myth of globalization is the strange idea that self-sufficiency is bad. This is related to the “comparative advantage” myth, except that if someplace did have a true, apples-to-apples comparative advantage that would be a good thing. But in the globalization twisting of it, no place should ever have all the manufacturing and agriculture they need for their own population, because that’s “protectionist” or “nationalistic” or “inefficient” or whatever pejorative they try and attach to common sense.

This myth is also based, in part, on the last and biggest myth: The myth of perpetually available cheap energy for long-range transportation. This one is, in fact, the deal breaker that will eventually rip the false paradigm of globalization off of its pedestal and down into the mud where it belongs. It will expose the lie of all the above sub-myths – unfortunately, the process is bound to be painful.

Peak Oil

This bring us to the second major thing going on out there: peak oil production. It is important to understand what peak oil means – it doesn’t mean the world is running out of oil. It means we have passed the equilibrium point of the equation for quality, quantity, and cost. In short, we’ve pretty much got all of the cheap to refine, high quality, easily accessible oil out of the ground. What’s left is the expensive to refine, low quality, hard-to-get-to stuff. We know that oil is a non-renewable resource – no more oil is going to be made for us.

But some people have a strange idea that oil will last forever (Top Blue IEA 2006 line), or else think that oil use can continue to be used at the rate it has been used in the west for the entire planet’s population (the second Pink “ by population” line). The US has about 5% of the world’s population and uses about 40% of total oil production. Obviously, if every other 5% of the world used that much oil, you’d need 700% (19x40) more oil to be produced each year for everyone to have the same level of usage – that is, the same standard of living as we have in the US. Good luck with that.

Once you chuck those two completely impossible scenarios, what’s left is the bottom projections of various theories, which all have one truth in common: There’s only so much high quality, cheap to refine, easily accessible stuff left, and more and more people who want their hands on it.

China and India have recently been noted as having fast-growing middle class populations who want to live the “Western Lifestyle,” including cars and plastics and all that “modern” stuff. Now, you might be thinking, “so what?”

The “so-what” has two components. First and foremost, illegal immigration notwithstanding, western population is in decline. Population in India and China is not. For example:

Oil producing countries who want growth and profits are going to go after the biggest markets – it’s part of the false globalization paradigm. The second problem for us in the west is also related to globalization theory – since living wage manufacturing jobs, factories, and other hard assets have all left American shores and migrated to China and India and other growing third world nations, they can outbid us for available oil resources – by a long shot. All we have is paper assets, devalued currency, and arrogance. They have actual goods and commodities – real wealth. We can’t compete, to put it plainly. The oil resources are going to go to the highest bidders, and that isn’t going to be us, frankly.

If you have a sneaky suspicion that might be why we were suddenly interested in freeing the Kurds from Saddam's poisoned chemical rockets – you’d be right. While the humanitarian issues were real, they were still camouflage to what the western power-that-be consider far more important that the human rights of brown peoples – access to oil. In the US, peak oil production was in the 1970s. We can now produce only a fraction of our own oil needs, and our allies who have production capacity to spare are getting few and far in between. Canada is in the same shape, and soon even Mexico will be. Venezuela is no friend of North America, and the rest of the South American countries have little or no excess production capacity to even sell abroad.

But don’t hold your breath on de-facto ownership of Iraq solving any of our problems. Even now, there are several economist and writers who have already started using the “R” word – rationing – but the government is way ahead of them. The fact is, as production dwindles, allies disappear, and production costs for the lower quality, less accessible oil increases, the price of gasoline and diesel has nowhere to go but up – way up, actually.

Bloomberg reports that the investors buying oil options contracts on the Exchange are making a very scary bet - scary for us, that is. They are buying these option contracts now because they believe in a year's time, the price they specified on the contract will be BELOW the market rate, and therefore they will make money by selling their cheap buy. That's how the options contracts work - buy below the going rate and then turn around and sell quickly to make a profit. So what is the commodity? - and what is the price at which they are legally contracted to buy it by the end of the year?

Oil $200 Options Rise 10-Fold in Bet on Higher Crude (Update5)
By Grant Smith

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The fastest-growing bet in the oil market these days is that the price of crude will double to $200 a barrel by the end of the year. Options to buy oil for $200 on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 10-fold in the past two months to 5,533 contracts, a record increase for any similar period. The contracts, the cheapest way to speculate in energy markets, appreciated 36 percent since early December as crude futures reached a record $100.09 on Jan. third….

Hope you're ready for $5-$6-$8 a gallon gasoline - and the heart-stopping price increases of everything else that is made or transported by petrochemical products - because here it comes. But you’ll only have to worry about it for a short time. Remember the fact that state and local government tax revenues have been falling – and the feds are overextended by trillions of dollars of debt as well? Government needs gasoline and diesel – for fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, garbage collection, food distribution, border patrol, necessary infrastructure repair and maintenance, and national guard/military uses, etc. These are undeniable facts.

What is also undeniable is that no alternative yet proposed is viable. Ethanol actually requires more than a gallon of petrochemical inputs per gallon of ethanol produced. Ditto for other forms of bio-diesel. Electric cars would work – except for the fact that our electric grid is already at capacity and can’t take millions of cars being added to the grid. The head of economic development of the state where we live, a personal friend of my husband and myself, told me (while we were chatting at the supermarket one day recently, believe it or not) that I was kidding myself if I thought cars could go all electric. The state was already having businesses fail to locate there or expand because there already isn’t enough electric generating capacity for the demand that currently exists. And in fact, we should expect more blackouts this summer and in the foreseeable future. There is no way more coal, hydroelectric plants, or nuclear facilities could be built economically or in a reasonable quantity in time to forestall the likelihood of rolling blackouts becoming a normal occurrence all over the east coast – right here in America, especially if the summers get hotter. I was surprised, but other sources confirm these words. Electric is not an option for the near term (that is, the next few decades). I wish it was, but I can’t make power plants appear out of the thin blue air, and you can’t, either.

So what will happen is that government will have to lower the price of gasoline/diesel in one of two ways – nationalizing production, refineries, and distribution (not bloody well likely), or, demand destruction. Demand destruction is exactly what you think it is – the government will eliminate serious competition for gasoline and diesel, and the only serious competition for gasoline and diesel in this country is personal automobiles. As one Northern VA area reporter put it:

The peak oil crisis: The future of cars – part 1 by Tom Whipple
Published on 24 Jan 2008 by Falls Church News-Press. Archived on 24 Jan 2008.

...Something has got to give. That something is going to be the affordability and availability of gasoline and diesel for fuel. The problem will be on us within the next five to ten years. When shortages develop and rationing starts, fuel for the private car will be close to the bottom of the priority list along with fuel for lawn mowers, leaf blowers, recreational boats, and my personal favorite as the worst possible use for a precious resource -- sky-diving. So what is going to happen?

In short, all domestic production of gasoline/diesel will be allocated for official government use, food transportation, and other essential services. The public will basically get none, except for special permits which I assure you only the excruciatingly wealthy and politically connected will be able to afford.

Oil Executives concur with this timetable:

Shell chief fears oil shortage in seven years
Carl Mortished, UK Times
World demand for oil and gas will outstrip supply within seven years, according to Royal Dutch Shell.

The oil multinational is predicting that conventional supplies will not keep pace with soaring population growth and the rapid pace of economic development. Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s chief executive, said in an e-mail to the company’s staff this week that output of conventional oil and gas was close to peaking. He wrote: “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.” The boss of the world’s second-largest oil company forecast that, regardless of government policy initiatives and investment in renewables, the world would need more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil sands. “Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue,” he wrote.

Climate Change

Climate change is real – it has been going on since the beginning of creation. Our climate changes, sometimes rapidly, based on numerous factors including the wobble of the earth’s orbit, the wobble of the earth’s tilt and the wandering of our magnetic poles, plate tectonics, and especially solar radiation.

Climate change is going to affect us in two ways: one, by shifting weather patterns: places that used to be able to grow food easily or produce hydroelectric energy or get by with little or no air conditioning will have to deal with changing reality. Most of the northern hemisphere will get warmer. I saw one map that one of my sons found for a school report that showed Africa, interestingly, is actually predicted to become milder. Other predictions disagree, but you get the idea. Entire regions and countries are going to have different climates than they have enjoyed so far during this present internecine period.

The second problem is the environmentalist whackos who think “modern life” has caused this, and will have restrictive legislation passed to enforce the economic destruction of western culture (without ever having to explain why there were no ice caps at all in the Jurassic period, or why sea level was so much higher in the past that what is now Saudi Arabia was once an inland sea – hence the oil deposits - or why the medieval warm period had warmer temperatures than we do now, etc. – without petrochemicals!). These are the same guys who aren’t afraid to say that 5/6 of the world’s current population needs to be “eliminated.” They are in this fight for political control, not necessarily for climate change per se – so no amount of evidence will get them to back off. Even in the wildly unlikely event that human activity contributes to global climate change to a greater extent that natural forces have in the past (good luck proving that), all scientists agree that whatever tipping point exists, we are already passing/past it – and it’s not like China and India are going to tell their citizens, “too bad, we missed the party.” So anything the whackos do manage to push through the UN or Congress will be too little too late – it will only detrimentally affect the western economy and provide little in the way of actual results climate-wise, if any.

To summarize Part One – What’s going on out there? We can come up with the following conclusions:

1. Living wage secular jobs are fast disappearing from first world countries, especially America. “Service Industry” sub-living wage jobs will remain stagnant as more and more people cannot afford to hire out services.
2. Increasing numbers of persons are and will be underemployed or lose their jobs entirely, both in secular and religious industries.
3. Wages will continue to fall, benefits will stagnate or disappear.
4. Those with jobs will be required to support more and more people, as elderly parents and adult children cannot support themselves on available benefits and available jobs.
5. Households will reach the point where they cannot take on more debt or refinance the debt they have due to tightening credit standards (actually, most of us are there already).
6. Government assistance/benefits will be stagnant or will be decreased.
7. Charity will be less available as donors have to tighten belts.
8. Prices of household goods and food will continue to rise – and the father they have to be transported to reach us, the more they will rise in price. Long-distance transportation of out-of-season foods from foreign countries will decrease dramatically – and what does arrive will be luxury items ordinary people cannot afford.
9. Secular companies will drop “unnecessary” expenses like kosher certification. Kosher food production companies will take advantage of a captive audience to raise prices.
10. Private school tuition will likewise continue to rise.
11. The value of our homes will be stagnant or continue to fall. We can no longer refinance our homes to pay off credit cards, consumer loans, day-school tuition, and expensive weddings, etc.
12. People trying to sell homes will find they owe more on them than they can get on the market – meaning they will sell only at a loss, if they can sell at all. Going rent rates will also likely not cover already existing mortgage costs – leaving property owners stuck.
13. Climate change will cause our utility and water bills to increase, increase the spread of disease and cause sensitive food plants to be more scarce, driving up prices further for some items.
14. Peak oil will cause gasoline/diesel prices to increase until the government decides it’s had enough, and then private automobiles will be all but banned.
15. People who do not live near their jobs or near mass transit will be forced to sell their homes at a loss or abandon their homes outright to be closer to work or to mass transit.
16. Environmentalist whackos may succeed in banning many products and services they deem “damaging” to the mother-earth they worship, which will disrupt our economy further.

Stay tuned for part two, "What's going on in here?" which will show how various trends in Judaism and Jewish communities have put us in some less than desirable economic positions.