Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Teves 5766 - January 25, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

To Be the "Working Poor" -
Is This What We Want?

by Rabbi F. Guire

Let's face it, our wants and desires are shlepped along by advertising. To be happy we feel we need the latest gadget, camera, computer, phone, vacations in ever increasingly distant locations, the latest clothing styles. We see it in the ad and then we need it to be happy. We, of course have plenty of rationalizations to justify a purchase that we really don't need. "It will make me more productive, I'll be able to get my job or household work done quicker, better, easier. I'll be happier." Really? So how come, with all the gadgets you already have, things take more time now, than they ever did? Where is all this extra "leisure time?" Where is all this extra "gadget induced happiness?"

In the old days (1985) those at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale spent less time at work than those at the lower end. Today it's reversed! The richer you become, the more hours you have to slave away at the proverbial grindstone! What's the point? So you can have more gadgets that you never really needed? To take expensive vacations to try and recover from those exhausting hours of work? To try to put you family back together after they have been devastated by the inevitable and unavoidable neglect that long working hours have on the family? [Myths of "quality time" non-withstanding. How much "quality time" do you really have when you are run-down from running on the treadmill of the rat race?] And you can't stop, because you, like any self- respecting member of the upper-middle class, have taken out loans and mortgages to finance all the "stuff" you need to be a respectable member of the "upper middle" or just the "middle" class. After all, what will the neighbors say?

Today, many women feel they must work. Especially if their husbands are learning. Both to bring in extra income, as well as to symbolize their appreciation of Torah learning. This would normally make perfect sense. Yet the strange realities of the economy make this no longer so true.

When a women leaves the home, it creates all sorts of direct and indirect expenses. She will need child-care, housework care, cooking help, and/or need to buy more expensive prepared foods. She will need a wardrobe that is constantly updated to meet the latest fashions to fit the image of the "working woman" in the marketplace. She will need new sheitels. She will need transportation to and from work.

Advertisers also know that she will now be buying more "extras" to make herself feel good after a long day/week/month/year at work. Work is exhausting — both physically, emotionally and spiritually. She will feel tired and impatient. She will feel bad about neglecting her children and husband. After an eight-hour day, plus traveling, she realistically does not have a lot of energy left. So her family will also need "extras." Expensive toys for the kids, going out to dinner with the husband.

Eventually, this lifestyle takes it toll. Now more money will often be needed for marriage counseling and for counseling for the kids who are doing poorly in school or have emotional issues. Many of these issues are a result of not having a warm ear to talk to when they come home, or not having parents who have the energy to help them with homework. Suddenly the kids are "off the derech" and everyone wonders why.

[Yes, this is not the only reason kids go "off the derech." Yes, some families of working mothers do quite nicely despite the odds, but there are certain realities of the situation that should not be ignored.]

The importance of Torah in the eyes of the wife and family also suffers. When a child is sick, who needs to stay home? The wife can't miss work, so the husband needs to leave kollel. Or who needs to run errands? The wife must be at work.

Frequently the work environment will also damage the wife's original values. At work, they speak in disparaging tones about those who "do nothing all day but learn Torah." Whereas they, in the office, see themselves as the "movers and shakers" in the world. Slowly, the wife can be worn down by this constant anti-Torah atmosphere, which can exist even in "orthodox" workplaces, and pick up these attitudes. She no longer looks at her husband with the same respect and wants him to get a "real job."

In any event, most women will only have a fairly low salary - - just enough to qualify them as "the working poor." In fact, in an informal survey of five working women, after calculating all their work-related expenses, they found a net loss of some 500-700NIS per month. That is to say, it actually costs them 500-700NIS per month — beyond their salary — to go out and work! This does not include the loss of discounts on Arnona (city tax) and Kupat Cholim (medical insurance) or the additional expenditures discussed above! The family has less money and she is tired and worn- out. She is left with a non-optimal, if not dysfunctional, family. What for? Is this what we really want?

[Certain women in our generation have a psychological need to be "career women." This article is not addressed to them, though they will face the same problems.]


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