Even for the Forward…

The Forward, bastion of liberalism and tireless advocate of the welfare state, has finally identified people who shouldn’t be receiving public support. But if you thought it was those lampooned by the rapper “Mr. EBT” for using their food stamps to stock up on snack food, you’d be mistaken. And if you thought the Forward’s newfound negativity was directed towards that segment of society that brought “baby mama” into the urban lexicon, well, you’d be wrong then as well.

No, although the Forward cites the question, “does the safety net help those who truly are in need, or does it shackle them to the kind of government assistance that stifles motivation and derails self-sufficiency?” — it has never indicated that it takes the latter opinion at all seriously. Until now. Because now “it’s time for the Jewish community to engage in this delicate, complicated debate,” because a substantial percentage of Jews are poor — because of “the ballooning birthrate in Orthodox families, particularly Hasidic ones.” “This,” the Forward soberly intones, and unlike that of, say, the crack user or the alcoholic, “is a poverty of choice, or perhaps more generously, a poverty of default. It is voluntary impoverishment.”

How dare the Chasidim have so many children! True, they might be preserving the Jewish future… but they won’t be wealthy! “Important though it is to support those who study Torah and Talmud, it is even more essential for the community to care for the elderly, disabled and others who are poor not out of choice, but because of unfortunate circumstances. The moral claim goes first to those who are poor involuntary, and so should our dollars.” Not only is this offensive, it is wrong from so many angles that one wonders where to begin. Are Torah scholars less worthy of Jewish communal support than scholars of romance languages and literature, jazz music, or modern dance? And is the Forward honestly claiming that when “the community” supports a poor Chasidic family, it must come at the cost of the elderly and disabled, rather than yet another multi-million dollar facelift to another Jewish-named concert hall?

Furthermore, of course, the above is predicated on a lie. The Chasidic community, at least in the US, is not the segment of the Charedim which is most likely to have men learning in Kollel for several years after marriage. On the contrary, Chassidim often work in positions which may be fine for most Americans, but which leave them stretching once they have more mouths to feed. So it’s really not about supporting “those who study Torah and Talmud” but those who are doing their best, yet believe that every child is worth “the entire world,” even if it means living in poverty.

It’s true, the Chasid with 10 children may be poor, but he is far more likely to be rich in happiness than the secular Jew on the Upper West Side with ten times the salary and one-tenth the children. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a statistic. For me, the simple and poor Chasidic fishmonger in “A Life Apart” was the exemplar of “the beauty, joy and fulfillment of a properly lived Torah life style” that Rabbi Adlerstein seeks. [You can see him at 2:20 on the video. I am sure the translation of his words made many viewers think twice.]

So this article wasn’t merely incredibly biased and offensive, it was also false. The week began quietly for the Forward, with several days of email with little evidence of the negativity towards the Orthodox (and especially Charedi) community that has been a regular drumbeat. But between this, a blog post about “Haredi Urban Legends,” and yet another story about the same Orthodox man accused of abuse, it’s clear that the lack of charedi-bashing was merely a momentary pause for air.

Oh, but there was even one more — “Orthodox Push Case of Jailed Businessman,” complete with a needless distortion in the subtitle, which reads “Mainstream Groups Split Over Campaign for Jacob Ostreicher’s Release.” In fact, there is no one who claims that Ostreicher was jailed because he is Jewish, which means that organizations like the ADL would not be involved — but this hardly means that “mainstream” groups have any doubt over the injustice done to Ostreicher or the need to free him from a notorious Bolivian jail. They may not be involved in any capacity, but there is no evidence that anyone is “split” about the campaign itself. Apparently, the Forward could find no better way to describe a humanitarian appeal and congressional investigation — into what one FBI official called a “state-sponsored kidnapping” — than as a parochial effort with which “mainstream” Jews should not concern themselves. And to do so, they were prepared to misportray the sentiments of the head of the ADL.

So in just three days, the Forward managed to tally up four examples of needless anti-Charedi bias, complete with two articles worthy of several “Pinocchios” from the Washington Post. And the number of articles this week with positive news from a community filled with Torah and chesed, not to mention the community that is the only bright light in the dismal state of decline that is the NY Jewish community? Why, a big zero.

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17 Responses

  1. CJ Srullowitz says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    The Forward is a Jewish newspaper and as such reports on issues affecting the Jewish community. It is not outrageous, therefore, for the paper to comment on the Chassidic community and leave the “baby mamas” to Fox News.

    Furthermore, the “balooning birthrate” comment, while offensive to overly-sensitive ears, simply points out how the poverty of those communities is exacerbated, not caused. No one is outraged that the Chassidim “won’t be wealthy”; they are outraged that government-sponsored social welfare is a lechatchilah, not a bedi’eved.

    That Chassidim do wish to go out and work is commendable; but when English is a second language, secular education is minimal, and higher education is out-of-bounds, the result is a community with the highest poverty rate in the country.

    The Chassidim have contributed a great deal to the American Jewish community, both tangible and symbolic. They have been an avante garde in the battle against assimilation, “mechayeivin” for the Orthodox community, and exemplars of chessed toward all Jews. Nevertheless, the Forward is right: “this delicate, complicated debate” needs to begin.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    The one tradition the Forward really respects, now as always, is that of anti-religious socialism. Even when some content about the Orthodox is accurate, there’s always that slant.

  3. Yisrael says:

    Government sponsored welfare is not lechatchilah with them. Their having babies and working in jobs they want. There were dirt poor Gentiles working in the coal mines with loads of children. There was nothing wrong with them and there is nothing wrong here. Being poor is not a crime nor being raised poor. If the government helps fine. They are not requiring the government help. It’s there. The Forward is talking nonsense.

  4. micha says:

    I find the discussion of “that segment of society that brought ‘baby mama’ into the urban lexicon” after having made sure a rapped discusses those who “us[e] their food stamps to stock up on snack food”, to be offensively racist. Would you like reading a piece on people like Madoff or Arthur Nadell, or the recently sentenced “Moulli” (Shmuel) Cohen or Moshe Butler, or… and encounter talk about “the segment of society that brought” them?

    Aside from that, I agree with RCJS, “The Forward is a Jewish newspaper and as such reports on issues affecting the Jewish community. It is not outrageous, therefore, for the paper to comment on the Chassidic community and leave the ‘baby mamas’ to Fox News.”

  5. Neil Harris says:

    This post by R Menken and the one yesterday by R Alderstein are exactly why I love Cross-Currents. Both posts are about, essentially about the same survey, yet looking at it from different sides.

    Every survey that is published is done with an agenda.
    The Forward isn’t to blame, they are entitled to their opinion. The writer of the editorial and the paper’s staff saw exactly what they wanted to see, much like the meraglim.

    There’s a story about two yeshiva students. One went to the Beis HaLevi for a Pesach Seder and the other went to the Netziv.
    The baurchim compare notes the next morning.
    The one who went to the Beis HaLevi said, the whole night the Rav was so concerned about the shiurim for 4 cups,, Karpas, Maror, matzah and the Zmanim. We were so careful to follow Halacha.

    The other fellow said that the whole evening the Netziv was so excited about getting fulfill the Mitzvos of drinking the 4 cups, eating the Karpas, Maror, etc.

  6. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi, you ask: “Are Torah scholars less worthy of Jewish communal support than scholars of romance languages and literature, jazz music, or modern dance? ”

    of course not. but a society can decide on the level of support (relative to its other needs) and requirements to exhibit proficiency in order to obtain support.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    And I find it offensive and vulgar to assert that something is ‘racist’ without a scintilla of evidence to back it up.

    Does Micha believe, or think that “Mr. BMT” believes, that only one race or ethnic group misuses their food stamps / BMT card to buy snack food? “Baby mamas,” similarly, are not limited to any one race or ethnicity; it is an inner-city phenomenon tied to a group of men and women able to support this lifestyle largely through welfare. Neither, of course, are crack users and alcoholics limited to any race or ethnicity.

    It may be true that black children are disproportionally victimized, but it is not racism to note the evidence of the welfare system’s horrible failure. If Micha can find another entertainer talking about this problem or another institution duplicating “Food Stamp Fridays,” then let him give the examples before questioning why I didn’t use alternatives that, to my knowledge, simply don’t exist.

    Oh, and as for the discussion of the “segment of society” that brought us Bernie Madoff, we’ve already had those, even when entirely untrue.

    To be clear, I do not believe the welfare system is the appropriate methodology for supporting families in this situation — meaning, the system must be reformed entirely. But while it persists, I will not sit in judgment uniquely of eligible Orthodox families willing to take what the government is handing out all too willingly. The system is being abused — rampantly — with no evidence that Kiryas Joel residents are abusing it at all, much less disproportionally. To point attention to the public failures of the policy is not bias — to direct attention uniquely to stable but large families unable to make ends meet, uniquely because they are Orthodox, is.

  8. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    For the vast majority of Ultra Orthodox (Chasidic and Yeshivish) their lifestyle is impossible to sustain without government aid. Kollel, large families, and tuition make it virtually impossible for the average family to make ends meet. This is a legitimate and pressing issue that is ignored by the Ultra Orthodox press. If it takes the Forward to bring it to our attention kudos to them.

  9. Yisrael says:

    In America they are not getting government aid for tuition and Chassidim are not going to Kollel here or in Israel. Surely if they are working there’s nothing to complain about. Not everybody has to go to college and amass debt that way. They have lots of children and they don’t expect them to starve to death Chas ViShalom.

  10. Even handed says:

    The original article in the Forward is offensive, like so much of the anti-chassidic anti-chareidi junk they publish.

    Firstly, it is not just the “chassidic” community, but the entire chareidi community, including “litvish” and “yeshivish” circles. Probably none of these communities sanctions college education, but there is an overwhelming presence of chassidishe who enter the business world very successfully, and an even bigger representation that are not dependent on public assistance of any kind. It is the notion of “remaining in kollel” that sentences many young families who are in their childbearing years to public assistance. This “kollel” mission deserves serious discussion, since it is misapplied way too often, and does serve to choke the community by burning the candle on both ends. It is partially responsible for the tuition crisis, but it is also a prominent feature in the failure of many marriages. My main point is that the singling out of “chassidic” is inaccurate, and effectively malicious.

    Secondly, paying mind to any article or editorial in the Forward gives it credence that it does not deserve. If one wants literary quality or journalistic quality, there are many places to look, without resorting to material that is almost universally offensive to anyone with a shred of Jewish morality to their soul. If the Forward, the schmatte it is, wishes to publish hateful junk, let them. For those issues we recognize as valid topics for discussion, we can write our own, and we are free to debate and discuss. But to build something on the hateful schmatte, I suggest we are giving them underserved honor.

  11. Lisa Jessel says:

    Everyone misses the point. The government recognizes that adults make misguided decisions and the children of these misguided adults should not suffer. Therefore they support services that help these children, food stamps, head start, all kinds of subsidies and programs. In the eyes of the government, using crack or studying Torah and having too many children may both be misguided decisions. However, either way, the CHILDREN did not make the decision to live in poverty and these programs essentially are all to help the CHILDREN. Haredi children are just as innocent of the choices their parents make as crack users children.

  12. YM says:

    I salute the Hasidic community for encourging its members to pursue productive, straightforward work and business instead of higher paying, but more morally-challenging professional and financially oriented careers where religious ideals are often shunted aside in the pursuit of financial success.

  13. Reubi Friedman says:

    Rabbi Menken needs to explain how these communities would continue if welfare (which he is against – see comment above) was removed. Unless he explains it, we must conclude that he has no idea. The truth is, that they would starve and *society* would be forced to provide welfare. Which is precisely what is happening at the moment – Rabbi Menken just hasn’t realised it yet.

    He also needs to explain why he will not, and I quote (see comment above), “… sit in judgment uniquely of eligible Orthodox families willing to take what the government is handing out all too willingly”. He is always *very* judgemental on issues such as this (see main article). Why is he suddenly refusing to do so for a community he knows. Or to rephrase, why is he suddenly behaving like a liberal (ouch!). Me thinks he is biased and takes liberal positions (don’t judge) whenever it suits him.

  14. micha says:

    I want to clarify something in public that I wrote the author in private.

    I DO NOT MEAN TO READ RACISM INTO THE AUTHOR’S INTENT. I am saying this is how the post reads to me, as someone who raised a black son in the O community. And racism in our community is at a higher level than it ought to be, so people should write with more care to as not to sound like they are reaffirming those people’s prejudices. It also has a deleterious effect on the reader, who might otherwise see the grain of truth under the Forward story and take it as constructive criticism, and will now feel comfortable continuing in gaming the system because others are worse.

    My intent was to motivate an editing. Not to place RYM, who I hold in high esteem for all he accomplishes at torah.org and here, on the defensive.

    My apologies for being less clear than intended; which is ironic given that the comment itself was a request for more clarity.


  15. Whoa Nelly says:

    The article yet again begs the question as to how the Forward can possibly be considered a tax exempt organization, when it is clear that it does not do what its supposed mission is and in fact serves no public benefit at all. Providing a salary for its publisher and its paid rumor mongers does not qualify as public benefit, it would seem to be private inurnment.

    I am sure that if a Yeshiva made money from failed real estate deals the way the Forward did (see its state and federal exempt org filings) the Forward would be publishing the “scandal” on its first page. And they have in fact published just such sort of “articles” in the past including many errors of omission and spectacular innuendo. Talk about living in glass houses and calling the kettle black.

  16. Yisrael says:

    “Reubi Friedman
    June 25, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Rabbi Menken needs to explain how these communities would continue if welfare (which he is against – see comment above) was removed. Unless he explains it, we must conclude that he has no idea. The truth is, that they would starve and *society* would be forced to provide welfare. Which is precisely what is happening at the moment – Rabbi Menken just hasn’t realised it yet.

    No one has. What you wrote is uninformed nonsense. They are making livings. Some are wealthy. Some are middle class and some are poor. College is not needed to earn a living and not starve in the U.S. An economist even said it is a bad investment for everyone to go. All too often also it leads to no job in any event. If the situation were as bad as you describe we should all need college and blue collar jobs should be closed down for producing starvation. I challenge you to tell the Chassidim in Boro Park what prevents them from starving. What you have given is caricature. How about the starving Chassidic diamond workers in Williamsburg, nebech.

  1. June 26, 2012

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