An effort to help soften the blow of recent budget cuts in
Israel that will disproportionately affect families with
children has come under attack by two major American Jewish
newspapers and some Jewish communal figures.
The Boruch MiBanim Fund, which was inaugurated last week by
Agudath Israel of America, aims to ensure that the one-time-
per-child "baby bonus" of NIS 1354 will continue to be
provided to needy Jewish parents in Israel.
At the beginning of the month, the decades-old modest grant
was severely reduced, to NIS 406 for each child after a
couple's first. It was the first part of an Israeli austerity
plan that will also severely reduce other aid to families
blessed with children.
According to Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, Agudath Israel's executive
vice president, maintaining the grant is important not only
for the financial assistance it provides but "for the
important message it carries: that Jewish children are vital
to the Jewish future."
And so, with his announcement of the fund's establishment,
Rabbi Bloom extended an invitation to the United Jewish
Communities -- the larger American Jewish community's major
philanthropic arm -- to consider establishing a similar fund,
"to help ensure that all new Jewish parents in Israel who
have need of this one-time allowance for feeding and clothing
their new Jewish arrivals receive it."
It was that invitation, apparently, that set off a furor in
some American Jewish circles. In an editorial, the
Forward newspaper characterized the fund as "a
sectoral ploy by the ultra-Orthodox community to counteract
an Israeli government policy shift that most American Jews
ought to be endorsing."
To make its stance even more clear, the editorial continues
by approvingly citing the Shinui party's determination to cut
aid to the charedi community, calling such cuts "part of a
battle over the future of Israel's soul."
The New York Jewish Week also mentioned the fund, in
the middle of a long editorial criticizing the charedi
community in Israel for its dedication to Torah study even at
the expense of economic success.
(The editorial goes on to "respectfully disagree" with a
revered godol hador's judgment that efforts to take
men away from the full-time study of Torah are ill-
Conflating the issue of bnei yeshiva in Israel with
Agudath Israel's new fund, the Jewish Week editorial,
while conceding that "surely every Jewish soul is precious,
and Israel needs more Jews," asks "would it not serve the
community better if more heads of households were encouraged
to support their own families?"
Non-Orthodox Jewish leaders, and even some from the Orthodox
world, joined the chorus.
The executive director of the Zionist arm of the Reform
movement and the head of the Conservative movement's
Rabbinical Assembly both spoke out against the fund. And the
executive vice president of the Religious Zionists of
America, while endorsing the fund, took the opportunity to
disparage the charedi community for its priorities.
Agudath Israel's Rabbi Bloom seemed saddened but not greatly
surprised at the reaction in the larger Jewish world.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the antipathy that parts of the
non-Orthodox Jewish community's leaders and media feel toward
the lifestyle of traditionally religious Jews is something of
a given in our day. And the lack of appreciation for what
Torah is, and what its study affords Klal Yisroel, is
widespread not only outside the Orthodox community but,
tragically, within certain parts of Orthodoxy as well."
"What chazal said about the mizbe'ach and the
umos ha'olam -- that were the nations aware of what
the korbonos were doing on behalf of the entire world
they would set guards around it to protect it -- is pertinent
"Were all Jews aware of what the Torah study of b'nei
yeshiva is doing for out people, they would be
encouraging the enlistment of more such dedicated b'nei
Torah, not criticizing those who seek to help them feed
The Agudath Israel leader expressed hope that, ultimately,
even the non-charedi Jewish world would acknowledge the
simple humanitarian imperative of helping needy Jewish
families in this time of budget austerity in Eretz
"It's ironic." Rabbi Bloom noted. "When it comes to social
welfare policy for poverty-stricken families here in America,
Jews from all backgrounds are typically the leading voices
advocating generous programs, grants, tax credits and other
benefits, especially when the beneficiaries of such policies
are hungry children.
"But when it comes to poverty-stricken families in Eretz
Yisroel, with newborn babies to care for, all of a sudden
some members of the Jewish establishment and high-minded
editorialists have nothing better to offer than criticism of
"Let's hope," he concluded, "that they'll rethink their
position as time goes on. In the meantime, though, it's
obvious that Torah Jewry in America will have to take the
laboring oar in responding to the crisis in Eretz Yisroel --
and what a special zechus it is indeed."