Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5763 - May 7, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
What the Economic Decrees are Really Supposed to Achieve

by Rabbi N. Z. Grossman

Part I

A Grim Outlook

The campaign against the harsh measures that the Treasury is seeking to impose on the chareidi world in general and the Torah public in particular is underway. To date, it has managed to make the community aware of the need to engage in a broad and comprehensive public struggle to achieve the rescinding of the malicious plans that aim to strike the Torah public a fatal blow.

Under the direction of our leaders, we have already published a number of articles that spell out the severity of the situation from the economic point of view. Several further points also ought to be made however, to show that these are no mere economic measures as other groups that are being harmed are treating them. They amount to nothing less than persecution of religion. They are intended to mortally wound Torah Jewry and to visit starvation upon large families.

In brief, the public at large will be absorbing a comprehensive cut in all government allocations of roughly ten percent. On top of this, the chareidi community will be absorbing a special package of additional measures that will harm every possible area.

Kollelim will be forced either to close down chas vesholom, or to reduce the stipends paid to avreichim. The tuition payments made to yeshivos will no longer suffice, in view of the savage reductions that are to be made to their allocations. Large families will be left helpless in the face of cuts of thousands of shekels each month in their budgets. And the list goes on and on.

For a community whose means are limited to begin with, which lacks financial cushioning to fall back on and help absorb the impact, these measures spell deprivation of essentials, such as bread and clothing. This is not even to mention the inability to meet mortgage payments (that could result in the banks' repossession of homes, chas vesholom) and repayments to gemachim, which will be in the difficult position of being unable to satisfy demands and maintain turnover.

There Is an Alternative

The official response to this grim prognosis is a self- righteous, "We don't mean to harm you. There simply isn't money. Cuts have to be made and everyone must accept their share."

This argument is fallacious, for a few well-known reasons. First, no other sector of the population will suffer in such a pointed and grievous way. Any mediocre economist who compares the budget of the average chareidi family after the economic measures with that of a family in the general population, can see that the damage to the former is deep and severe. It amounts to an attempt at elimination, in a very elliptic manner.

In discussions with senior Treasury officials, chareidi activists pointed out the following astounding piece of information. The very same saving that would be made by cutting the family allowances, could be made by a comprehensive and equal cut amounting to no more than several percent across the board in all the various National Insurance payments and stipends. Clearly, such a cut would be felt much less by everyone. Someone receiving a stipend of say, a thousand shekels, would only be seventy shekels the worse off.

What is the justification then, for making such savage cuts to family allowances -- up to eighty percent -- with several tens of thousands of families bearing the brunt of the entire reduction, instead of cutting all allocations by a few percent?

The answer is obvious: these measures are not dictated by purely economic criteria. They are part and parcel of the government's objectives from the outset -- to strike at large families, in the knowledge that this will affect the chareidi community in particular.

Concern for Whom?

Another piece of evidence revealing the deliberate scheming behind the program is a section entitled, "Drawing Avreichim into the Workforce." In recent years, this highly provocative slogan has been touted periodically by antagonistic irreligious elements who are oblivious to Torah's worth and its crucial role in preserving Klal Yisroel. The very inclusion of such an issue in an economic program is ample testimony to the latter's ideological underpinnings. It is an attempt to impose new values and to forcibly reeducate the chareidi community -- to wage a Kulturkampf through the uneven distribution of public funds. All they want is "to lessen the numbers of Torah scholars," as the gedolei Yisroel put it in their letter.

Even by their lights, the absurdity of their claims is transparent. Forcing avreichim out of kollel and leaving them penniless will do neither the workforce nor the economy any good. Several recent news items have shown that unemployment is still on the rise. To talk of "placement in the work market" at such a time is bitterly ironical.

There are approximately three hundred thousand workers presently searching for regular employment and there seems to be no solution for them in the offing. Factories are closing down and businesses are collapsing. In virtually every workplace, cuts and reductions are being made and workers are being laid off, swelling the ranks of the unemployed even further. If the economic plan is implemented, additional thousands of public employees and teaching personnel will be added to their numbers. It is not the workforce that avreichim would be joining but the unemployed.

Let it be quite clear -- even if there were plenty of attractive work prospects beckoning to avreichim, we would not waver in our opposition to thinning the ranks of the handful who are sitting and learning. At present, Klal Yisroel doesn't need workers but men who toil in Torah, who provide the spiritual oxygen for the population at large. But even from their viewpoint, Treasury officials ought not to try to hoodwink us into believing that they are concerned for the livelihood of the avreichim. That is absolutely false. They want to harm the chareidi community, that is already living frugally anyway, reducing tens of thousands of families to impossible straits.

In maseches Sanhedrin (74), Chazal distinguish between an arbitrary decree and one whose purpose is to force a Jew to abandon his religion. If a gentile compels a Jew to mow grass on Shabbos for the gentile's animal to eat, he has his own benefit in mind. If however, he tells the Jew, "Mow the grass and throw it into the river!" it is clear that his sole intention is to force the Jew to violate the Torah, for he has no benefit whatsoever from the Jew's work.

Our situation is similar. The motives behind the measures are obviously not economic -- the measures are specifically aimed at the Orthodox sector, with the intention of having entire families join the unemployed. These are anti-religious decrees, not economic measures!

Reminding Ourselves

This is therefore a suitable juncture for repeating some well known axioms that are ignored and forgotten to the extent that their truth is obvious and widely acknowledged (to paraphrase the introduction to Mesillas Yeshorim).

The true purpose of all the talk of economics and belt tightening with which members of the Shinui party and Treasury officials have introduced the new measures, is to dull our own awareness of the distinction of those who have been singled out for Hashem's service. Past experience has shown that whenever loud and vocal public campaigns are mounted against us, it is highly likely that those waging them will also try to influence our camp by instilling feelings of inferiority and raising doubts in our minds about fundamentals. We therefore ought to strengthen our own awareness of the fact that in taking measures to harm Torah scholars, they are declaring war on those who support the world and are cutting the branch upon which it rests.

HaRav Chaim of Volozhin states clearly (Nefesh HaChaim, sha'ar 4, perek 11), that were the world to be entirely without our Torah study or reflection for a moment, the entire universe, both physical and spiritual, would cease to exist. To this he adds (in perek 25) that, although those who choose to neglect Torah are doomed to be driven from Hashem's proximity and that they thereby reduce the holiness and illumination of all the worlds, they are nevertheless able to continue their existence as long as there are Yidden who cleave to Torah day and night.

The Nefesh HaChaim also mentions (perek 22) Chazal's statement that, "Any misfortune that comes to the world is because of ignoramuses." They, he explains, are thus responsible for anything untoward that happens.

Torah Chinuch is the Only Guarantee

The Steipler zt'l, too, echoes these principles, citing the gemora in Pesochim (68) which derives them from a posuk and in Sanhedrin (99), which states that anyone who does not believe this and asks, "What good do the chachomim do us?" is a heretic and a false interpreter of Torah (Chayei Olom II, perek 1).

Further on (perek 31), the Kehillas Yaakov explains why the existence of yeshivos is so vitally important in our times. He writes that in past generations, people who did not devote their youth to Torah study but instead went out to earn a living, while they were not exempt from the obligation to learn Torah they nevertheless retained their belief in the fundamentals of our religion and upheld their Torah observance. This was "because their environment -- [which was steeped in faith and in Torah observance (perek 12)] -- taught them and they were trained like all worthy Jews.

"Certainly nowadays, when heretics and lawless folk have reared their heads, publicly conducting themselves like gentiles in every way, our children only see evil outside, day in and day out. Moreover, they try to ensnare and entangle them in every possible way and to take them off the right path, R'l. If parents are not conscientious about giving their children a chareidi education, embracing Torah and fear of Heaven through the years of their childhood and youth, it is almost certain that they will break with our holy Torah entirely chas vesholom and join those who hate us, R'l.

"Therefore, in our lowly and forsaken generation, Yiddishkeit and faith are entirely dependent upon learning Torah in depth and with application and upon raising children in a holy manner. There is no need to expand upon this, for these things are well known to the wholeheartedly faithful among Klal Yisroel."

Next week: Insights and perspectives from the Steipler and HaRav Shach

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.