Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5763 - July 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











American Agudah Effort to Aid Jewish Families Raises Ruckus
by B. Isaac

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- advised.)

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 here.

"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 their children."

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 Yisroel.

"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 charedi priorities."

"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."


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