The disturbing statistics recently publicized about poverty
in Israel should have shaken every Jewish heart. Instead,
after being disguised as "professional economic
considerations", they again serve as a means to lash out at
In the middle of December, Israeli newspapers published an
interview with Dr. Mumi Dahan, an economist and advisor to
the Treasury's General Manager. He is one person who in the
past aired "scholarly arguments" advocating discontinuing
support for chareidi children whose parents devote their
lives to studying Torah. Dr. Dahan remarked in a recent
interview that we should note that the percentage of chareidi
and Arab children in Israel living under the poverty line is
dramatically different from the population's general makeup:
26% are children from chareidi families and 36% are Arab
children, together a striking 62%. "I suggest we
differentiate between these different groups and refer to
each one separately. A uniform welfare policy is
inappropriate," commented Dr. Dahan.
After relating to each specific group, Dr. Dahan displayed
immense pity and consideration for the destitute Arabs. He
explained that their poverty was caused by the continual
negligence over many years of the underprivileged Arab
population. What is needed to rectify this situation is
"positive discrimination." This will, however, take many
years for results to show, he said.
On the other hand, as far as the chareidi population is
concerned, Dr. Dahan warns against any policy of awarding
grants and support for families whose children live in
poverty and hardship. "These children are growing up in self-
imposed poverty because of their parents' free choice," he
explained. "The children growing up in poverty-stricken
chareidi families are not suffering from a lack of education;
they are suffering from the type of education they receive.
In most cases their poverty is caused by their parents'
decision, mainly that of the family heads, who prefer Torah
studies over work that would provide them with a
It should be pointed out that Dr. Mumi Dahan is well aware
that the poverty of Torah-observant families does not cause
social problems. Later in the interview, he emphasizes that
the main social problem of children growing up in deprived
secular families is not hunger or need, but their being
exposed to violence, crime and neglect. "Poor children are
harmed by their deteriorating environment." The solution he
finds for them is investing in their education.
He does recognize the social achievements of chareidi
education, but despite the vast difference between a chareidi
child living in poverty and a secular child in a similar
condition, Dr. Dahan is not prepared to change his
conclusions that no policy of support for chareidi families
should be followed. His stand is based on his assertion that
their poverty is self-imposed.
This view has been stated many times in newspaper columns
dealing with economy. Globus, an Israeli daily
newspaper that emphasizes economic news, recently published
an article under the title "More Births -- Less Work." Yoram
Gabai, the author of the article, chairman of the Pe'ilim
Company and in the past an official in the Treasury,
complains about the rise in governmental allowances to large
families that are enjoyed mainly by chareidim. He urges the
policy of allowances be altered: Small families should be
encouraged since "Israel has created a massive incentive for
increasing the number of children in families and a negative
motivation to work." He repeatedly underscores in that
article that he refers to the condition that mainly
characterizes chareidi families: "Gradually the relationship
between poverty and the size of a family has dissipated, and
has become the relationship between being a chareidi and the
size of one's family. This is an interesting sociological
process that has appeared simultaneously with allowance
In the same newspaper, Yitzchak Tishler warns that the
"weight of the mature population in Israel's working force is
low because more people are sitting in yeshiva." He
publicizes findings that show "irregular occurrences," and
that "the number of those sitting in yeshivos above forty
years old is increasing, and the number of children in
chareidi families is escalating."
Incidentally, the author admits to another problem with the
chareidim working. "Although it is possible that enlisting
yeshiva students [to the labor market] would intensify the
ceaseless problem of unemployment, nonetheless, someone who
sits in a yeshiva decreases the growth of the labor market."
This fact, however, does not change his conclusions that "the
chareidi population who have decided to live in poverty so
they can remain in yeshiva" must revise their priorities.
@BIG LET BODY = We suffer from demagogic arguments in
periodic verbal attacks. Such arguments are standard
ammunition for anyone wanting to attack the Torah-observant.
Our being bombarded by such outlandish accusations requires
us to check carefully every "professional argument." Such
pseudo "objective reasoning" aired in public debates about
the relationship of religion to the state must be examined
A logical analysis, uncompromising and without any
preconceptions and prejudices, would peel off layer after
layer of the "objective arguments" and soon reveal that many
of these arguments whatever their type -- economic, security,
or social -- are really based on the ideological argument
between the Torah-true and those trying to disseminate
heresy. In the long run all of these arguments attempt to
accomplish one thing: To totally obliterate Torah observance
and to delegitimize the Torah lifestyle.
We have, in the past, quoted from the series of articles by
Prof. Amnon Rubinstein of Meretz published in
Ha'aretz. They reached the conclusion that we should
prevent, or at least diminish, the support and welfare
directed to families where the father studies in a kollel.
This idea repeats itself in articles published recently
by economists, politicians, and secular writers, who harp
constantly on the concept of self-imposed poverty.
Rubinstein wants to develop a theory redefining poverty in
Israeli society. A destitute family is one which wants to
provide for its own livelihood but is unsuccessful in doing
so. The elderly, broken families, children of drug addicts,
and the like, are considered deserving poor. The State should
support them. On the other hand, he characterizes lomdei
Torah as those living in self-imposed poverty because of
a decision not to work. Rubinstein writes: "The family heads
of a great many poor families are chareidi. The family head
chooses not to work because he studies Torah. These are large
families, so their economic -- although not social -- poverty
is especially drastic."
The National Insurance Institute (NII -- Bituach Leumi),
claims Rubinstein, misleads the public when it includes the
chareidi sector in its annual report on poverty. "The main
mistake is overlooking the fact that among these poor
families there are only a few [whose family heads] want to
make a living, who want to work . . . The NII report on
poverty ignores the problem of those who do not want to make
a living and includes the educated chareidi public, who do
not have any characteristics of the poverty culture with the
His conclusion is that the NII allowances for children should
be terminated for a sector that prefers out of free choice to
study Torah and not to labor for their livelihood. What must
be done is "to encourage chareidim to enter the circle of
those seeking employment."
Rubinstein concludes his article: "The idea is simple: The
State is responsible for the health, education, housing, and
welfare of all its citizens. A citizen is given free choice
how to divide his time: to work, to study, to spend his time
as he wishes. He, however, does not have the same right to
receive compensation if he decides to work less or not at
all. The country's last budget handed over money of those who
work to those who do not want to work. If this process will
not change an inevitable explosion will follow."
Rubinstein and his colleagues are seem to present a razor-
sharp logical argument, one rooted in pure economic and
social principles, without any connection to the current
ideological argument in Israel. They try not to appear to be
examining the topic from the secular heretical viewpoint that
degrades those who study Torah but rather as professional
economic analysts. They claim that each person has the
privilege to study Torah or to use his time to realize his
ideology as he wishes, but the State must examine its budget
from an economic angle. It must encourage only those
interested in contributing to the national product and trying
to make a living. All budget decisions must be guided by
economic and productive considerations, and it is only
lomdei Torah who disrupt the economic setup when they
induce their own poverty because of ideological motives.
In the past we pointed out that on closer examination we
discover these experts are deceiving us when they emphasize
that the State's budget is composed of pure economic
considerations, of unadulterated evaluations of loss and
gain. If they had a minimum of public decency they would ask
themselves: Does the State really only interest itself with
productive channels of activity? Are only lomdei Torah
the exceptions to the rule? Do only kollel students
upset the social order? When we request support for families
of kollel students are we mixing ideological
considerations into the makeup of the country's budget?
If the country's budget were given over to an economic
consultant, a shrewd businessman or cynical western investor,
who truly weighs only economic considerations and overlooks
any unproductive elements, all the sections in the budget
that finance "culture" would immediately be erased.
"Why do we need to subsidize theaters, museums, and artists?"
the uncompromising economic expert would ask? What do we gain
from them? They do not add one red cent to our economy and
only milk the budget of the taxpayers who labor for their
He would continue to leaf through the many pages of the
country's budget and find, for example, numerous sections
that are mainly premiums and incentives intended to assist
unsuccessful enterprises in developing cities. "Why should we
throw away money?" the economic pundit would rhetorically
ask. "Move the factory to the country's center and you will
have no need to subsidize it. Anyone who stubbornly wants to
realize the vision of `conquering the Negev,' of living and
looking for livelihood in developing cities, is his own
personal problem. He is living in self- imposed poverty."
At such a stage Dr. Mumi Dahan and Prof. Amnon Rubinstein
would jump up and shake the shoulders of the economic expert
who is tearing handfuls of pages out of the country's budget,
and scream at him: "Are you out of your mind? Can there be a
country without culture, without a circle for drama and art?
How dare you talk about an `economic consideration' when you
are dealing with developing cities? Have you never heard of
realizing Zionism's aims, about settling the desolate
The cold economic advisor, who has already headed several
successful commercial projects in his life, would smile in
confusion: "Gentlemen, please listen to me. It seems you have
found the wrong man. Realizing pioneer and cultural
ideologies is simply not my specialty. I know how to read
balances and financial forecasts, to reduce expenses, to
increase income, to invest only in areas yielding profits,
and to free ourselves from any unproductive elements.
Ideology is another thing altogether. Excuse me, it's not my
cup of tea."
This imaginary scenario never happened since Rubinstein and
his colleagues never put it to the test -- and never will.
Their objective economic viewpoint comes into play only when
it deals with lomdei Torah. The country's entire
budget is built on various ideological considerations
promoted by different groups. Each one tries to finance his
pet ideologies. The deliberations over the annual budget
result in various settlements and compromises that recognize
the ideological needs of the different groups -- which are
usually unfavorable to the chareidi public.
All who are jealous of the flourishing Torah world and
pretend to be "objective economic authorities," warp the
picture when they point the floodlights on one corner of the
budget and scream: "Where are the economic considerations?
Where is productivity? Send those kollel students to
If they were sincere and not motivated by any ideology they
would demand an end to financing secular culture too. They
would send all the artists and sculptors to sweat on the
scaffolds of new buildings or to work on the assembly lines
We, however, see that Rubinstein and the Leftists encourage
those clearly nonproductive people and do all they can to
finance them from the State's budget, while demanding
economic justification only from lomdei Torah.
Those who claim the poverty of kollel students is self-
imposed, that they live uneconomical lives of ideological
choice and should starve because of their decision to choose
such a way of living, are mistaken and purposely delude
others. These families are poor because the State decided
that studying Torah is not of sufficient value to warrant
support, unlike the generosity they show for other
unproductive areas. If the State of Israel finances higher
education so that a professor of ancient Japanese can earn
more than ten thousand NIS a month while a kollel
student receives only 700 NIS, the State clearly shows
its desire to promote secular ideology financially and
prefers it to study of Torah.
In a purely economical analysis that discerns financial
benefit alone, the professor and the kollel student,
lehavdil, are equally nonproductive. What remains is
only the ideological question: If the State will operate by a
different value scale and swap the salary of this professor
with that of the kollel student -- and the kollel
student's family would not be poor but the professor of
ancient Japanese would need income support from welfare -- we
do not know whether the professor would continue to study and
teach his subject with mesiras nefesh for such a
meager salary. Even were he totally devoted to his
profession, surely the Leftists would demand a respectable
stipend for him and would not insist his children remain
hungry since their father lives in a "self-imposed poverty"
and is unproductive.
@BIG LET BODY = These biased articles and "research studies"
display a sophisticated method of perverting facts, with half-
truths and a veneer of objectivity that is really aimed to
serve a decidedly one-sided approach. Demagoguery has many
faces and it works overtime against the chareidi
Maybe we should not complain, since it will not help. We must
remember that the discoverer of the "scholarly economic
approach" that ovdei Hashem have no right to exist and
all of their demands are baseless belongs to Lovon.
In the chizuk meeting of Tze'irei Agudath Yisroel on
Kislev, 5748, HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira, the rosh yeshiva
of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov and a member of the Moetzes
Gedolei HaTorah, mentioned an instructive anecdote which
Maran HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik zt'l told
The Rov was with Maran the Chofetz Chaim zt'l in
Warsaw. Chareidi communal workers met the Chofetz Chaim and
complained about the harsh decrees and flagrant
discrimination of the Polish government. They suggested
organizing a public demonstration for equality and proving
with logical arguments, numbers and statistics, how unjust
and illogical is the government's treatment toward them. No
one would be able to reject their justifiable arguments.
Reality speaks for itself, and the wrong being done to them
is obvious to all.
Maran the Chofetz Chaim smiled and said: Yaakov came to Lovon
and presented him with a list of logical and correct
arguments: I worked for you faithfully and devotedly for
twenty years, fourteen years for your daughters and six years
for your sheep, and you even changed my salary tens of times.
"What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have so
hotly pursued after me?" (Bereishis 31:36).
What did Lovon answer? "These daughters are my daughters and
these children are my children and these cattle are my cattle
and all that you see is mine" (v. 43).
This teaches us that no matter how correct and logical, the
arguments will only be accepted when the other party accepts
you as someone with a basic right to live. When he does not
feel that way, all the logical arguments in the world will
This is how the Polish government acts with us. Do its heads
think that the taxes we pay give us the right to exist? We
are totally unbearable to them. According to their attitude
toward us how can we demand equality?
The State of Israel is no different, said the Brisker Rov. We
demand equality, and an end to discrimination against us,
while they do not consider us as citizens with any rights.
They would prefer not to see us at all, that we should
disappear from the world -- and you still hope that they will
behave decently toward us? All the arguments about our paying
taxes, fulfilling our duties, and so on, will be scornfully
rejected by them. They will automatically answer what Lovon
answered: "All that you see is mine."
It seems to me that there is nothing more to add. When the
heads of the government live with the feeling of "All that
you see is mine" it is clear that they will want to determine
who to enrich and who to starve. They, who are sure that the
budget belongs only to them, that the whole country belongs
to them, that Torah observers have no right to live here, and
that we should thank them for being allowed to breath the air
in Israel, will surely try to force lomdei Torah to
live lives of "self-imposed poverty" as a punishment for
their choosing what they consider the unwanted culture and