Adina Bar Shalom and the Poverty Video

Given her decades-long reputation for bold innovation without looking over her shoulder for approval, I expected her to be tall, large and speak with a commanding voice. I was completely unprepared for what Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom turned out to be in person when I met her earlier today at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.

A breath of fresh air, she was indeed. Anyone who did what an entire culture couldn’t do for decades – create a functioning college for haredim – has to be a breath of fresh air. This powerhouse, however, is a diminutive, soft-spoken, understated woman who speaks uncompromised loyalty to the values of a Torah community (and the legacy of her father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l) with a smile and a soothing voice.

Twenty-five years ago, a philanthropist handed Rav Ovadiah a blank check to create a modality for haredi women to receive the secular education they needed to earn enough to take their families out of poverty. Her father said, “Not yet,” which she says means that there were not yet enough people to teach the classes in a manner that would not conflict with the Torah concepts with which the young women had been nurtured. Bar-Shalom kept asking about the idea, and thirteen years ago got the green light from her father to create such an institution. At the time, she could identify only about 60 haredim in the entire country who held degrees.

Today, there are about one thousand students in the Haredi College in Yerushalayim. About two-thirds of them are women, many married with children. (Day care is available on campus.) The men have their own, separate program. Both have access to a variety of specialties, all of them geared to finding jobs in areas that are more lucrative than what is available within haredi society. Programs in more purely academic areas are not unthinkable, said Bar Shalom, as long as they will win the approval of the rabbonim who guide the college. But these are things of the future. At the moment, the thrust of the college is empowering people to become fully employable, and help bring haredim into the general work force, and hopefully easing the friction between the haredi and secular worlds.

Eight thousand have graduated. The college is constantly expanding. Affiliation currently is with Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion universities. More affiliations are in the works. A program is scheduled to come to Bnei Brak, and then to other locations. Programs run by Haredi College have shepherded students through law school and medical school – both men and women.

Donors (all non-frum) are easier to come by for men’s programs, so they are subsidized. The women pay their way, although there are some scholarships. The women students finance their education by working at whatever jobs they can find – even those who are also taking care of families. They are motivated by the chance to break out of the poverty around them. Even Toldos Ahron women take part – although they refuse to benefit from any support from the State. (Toldos Ahron comes up with the equivalent amount of money for them, so they need not compromise their rejection of the government.)

Bar Shalom peppers her remarks with frequent references to emunah, tzniyus, and the passion the haredi world has for its life-style. She is an insider to this, not an outsider. Still, in a departure from the style of so many others, she speaks about the current tensions in Israel and the catch-phrase shivyon banetel (equality of burden) without a trace of hostility in her voice. She cites the arguments of those clamoring to impose change upon the haredi community in a way that shows that she understands her opponents, without resorting to defensiveness, counterattack and blame-fixing. She understands that there is a problem, but she wants the solution to come from within, not imposed from without.

Her independence can take her to places far from the typical haredi set of interests. She has met with Abbas. Years ago, she penned an open letter to Palestinian women, speaking of the ability of women to use what they have in common to bring about peace more easily than men. She stressed the Torah values of the sanctity of life, and the image of G-d. She appealed to the common experience of motherhood, and telescoped her message into a single plea, or bit of advice: “Watch your children.”

Committed as she is to providing real options for haredim to enter the workforce, I was curious to hear about her reaction to the video shown motza’ei Shabbos at the Agudah Convention. Produced by Hamodia, the video showed the effects of poverty in the haredi community upon its children. It is emotionally charged, and appeals for funding to help alleviate the crushing poverty that is taking a toll on the health of young, innocent victims.

The video sparked controversy and backlash in some circles. Some argued that applying band-aids to the situation is ultimately cruel, because it allows the system to limp along, without confronting the real cause of the poverty. People ought not to give in to maudlin sentiment, but to apply pressure severe enough that the community will make the necessary changes.

I know many people who share that point of view, and can understand it. But I cannot agree, for several reasons. The children are indeed innocent victims. Our reaction in the past as frum Jews has always been to alleviate pain, regardless of blame. (Ironically, Americans seem to be more accepting of this position than our own community. They have realized for decades that, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it “cycles of dependency” kept people trapped in a welfare system of living on the public dole. Yet, they have shown again and again at the ballot box that they are generally unwilling to cut back on food and services for children.) Additionally, it is simply not true that continued support for haredi families sentences yet another generation to poverty. There have been changes taking shape in the community for years. Some of them have been set back by resistance to the perceived pressure from outside to change the haredi way of life. But those changes have developed programs and institutions that do offer real possibilities of education for the children who are suffering today. It is simply not the case that it will be too late for them.

I asked Adina Bar Shalom what she thought about those calling for tough love. If Americans cover the shortfall caused by the recent draconian cuts in support for families, won’t this impede or slow the very process of change she has worked so hard for? Will it disincentivize people from utilizing the very exit strategy from poverty that she is promoting? She shook her head. “It won’t. There is no greater happiness than being able to support one’s family. There is a process to make this happen. But we must support families during this process.”

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57 Responses

  1. E. Fink says:

    You’re optimistic, but the leadership seems to be digging in their heels. Have you heard anything from the leadership to support your optimism?

  2. Ben Waxman says:

    But why not push (gently) a bit further? Start with an agreement that children can not be allowed to go hungry, period. But along with that rule, help those yeshivot who are helping guys to go in the right direction. Meaning, yeshivot could also affiliate with the Haredi College. They could structure the schedule to allow learning Torah and studying for a profession. No child goes to bed hungry but at the same time his father learns for a job.

  3. Tzvi Grossman says:

    The arguments against the video were mostly not against helping starving kids. The arguments were against laying the blame on the very same people who have been economically supporting the charedi lifestyle until now (the Israeli govt. and people), and not laying the blame on the community and leaders that created a poverty-stricken lifestyle.

  4. asher brander says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    I so appreciate your articulation that despite one’s views of the Charedi system, poverty is poverty. To help people eat and wear braces simply can’t be a crime. That otherwise ehrliche yidden can make sickening and cruel (almost anti-semitic) comments to the effect that withholding basic assistance is virtuous [“let them eat Torah”] reminds us that sinah mekalkeles es hashura still thrives in our community.

    Further, the notion that withholding critical assistance will somehow make the Charedi world “come to their senses” and get jobs implies that the hundreds of thousands that are suffering created their own problem. A systemic problem can not be addressed by punishing the adherents; rather it must agitate from the top. And indeed this has been happening – but transformative change is slow — it requires patience, creativity and massive societal trust. In the meantime, let’s agree on one thing. Jewish children should not go hungry — and it is OUR (klal yisroel’s) problem to solve.

  5. Ss says:

    Had the video included an interview with the Rabbanit, or your commentary, or ANY notion of a solution other than a rank emotional appeal for private money to perpetuate the system – with the additional inference that the only culprit is the State – it would have been one thing. But it did not for obvious reasons. The anger at the video and those who produced it is justified in my humble opinion. Until there is an acknowledgement of personal responsibility and obligation, and a public recognition of the underlying sources of the problem, nothing will ever change. Resistance to the status quo regarding the kollel only system that those behind the video advocate will only intensify.

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I don’t think that anyone really wants children to starve. Lost in the discussion of this video is the fact that the financial situation for many of these families was dire *before* these most recent cuts. So to suddenly blame the poverty of the Chareidi community on necessary austerity cuts is specious. Yes it’s worse, but in the current frenzy to tar the current government as worse than Tzarist Russia there’s an opportunity to tug a little harder at those heart strings leveraging the anger the Chareidi media and leadership have worked so hard to foster over the past months. And frankly, the people at the Aguda convention should be helping to foot the bill of this transition as many have been cheerleaders of the ideology that got us into this mess.

    The video is actually, and probably unintentionally, a masterpiece. Not unlike a Bugs Bunny cartoon, it functions on two levels. Those cartoons, famously, were able to appeal to both children, with basic slapstick humor, and adults, with often sophisticated political satire. Here too, the video can tug at the heartstrings of those who still completely buy into the current system and the canard of the “evil” Israeli government. While more sophisticated viewers can see the underlying message that the very cause of the current poverty (and in fact some of Israel’s current economic situation) is that very system that encourages those “cycles of dependency”.

    Adina Bar Shalom is a true heroine and her work is amazing. But the total solution needs to come both from within and without.

  7. peter manalo says:

    It is important to be aware that, while she is the daughter of Rav Ovadia, Mrs Bar SHalom herself is not haredi. Her husband does not wear a black hat (or any hat) and he wears a kipa seruga.
    This in no way negates her work. However, Dov Lipman and other opponents of the Torah world often invoke her work and her name, as if to show that even haredim agree with them. Thsi is simply untrue, as Bar shalom is not haredi.

  8. joel rich says:

    It is simply not the case that it will be too late for them.
    WADR IMHO the logical continuation of your approach is not this but rather, “and if a slower internally driven transition results in a large number of the current economically at risk generation not having an opportunity to gain economically valuable skills, that is a price the chareidi community is willing to make them pay for the appearance of community manifest destiny”

    BTW while many would agree the children shouldn’t suffer, does this mean that the parents and/or leadership should not be asked to make a greater contribution by diverting other family/community resources to the children’s needs?


  9. Avraham says:

    Sadly I must agree with the previous commentators. While Adina Bar Shalom’s last quote is true in theory (as Chazal famously state the a person prefers one kav that he has earned before nine kavim that have been given to him) in practice the Israeli Charedi community has made it a matter of principle for men not to work. You are not allowed to leave kollel and get a job due to societal pressures. The rest of the country is simply tired of supporting self induced poverty (particularly in light of the numerous working Israelis who need assistance). If the Charedi leadership does not publicly acknowledge a need to change course then the glacial pace of change is simply insufficient and we will indeed perpetuating a cycle of poverty for decades to come.

  10. sima ir hakodesh says:

    “She has met with Abbas”

    Many attitudes and POVs of the Yosef family are not taken seriously when it comes to ‘relationship building with Arabs’. Chacham Yosef grew up in Egypt and had a strong & fond relationship with that country. It took him a long time with lots of deaths till he arrived to the city of Emmanuel and asked meichila from the people there on his support of OSLO truce. Knowing that his daughter Adina found the time to meet with Palestinian Women does not add any points to her overall attitude. Mrs. Bar Shalom was also a major supporter to the female candidates of Elad and appealed to Shas women to vote for the only woman candidate in the city council. Us women appreciate her wanting to further feministic dignity and value but keep away from Arab issues PLEASE.

    Regarding the Poverty film, note that it was written and sponsored by Hamodia. A core part of the film was to bash the Israeli government and I do not ever remember a film produced over the last 30 years (especially after Begin doubled & tripled the funds for Yeshivas and children subsidies)either by Agudah, any yeshiva, any organization, any Torah group that showed “Gratitude or Thanksgiving (time of the year)to the Israeli government for up holding Torah learning thru financial grants.. Face the facts, where were we the last 30 years besides thanking hashem, what able his able messenger at that time, the State of Israel.

  11. Eli B. says:

    Children should never be punished for the sins of their parents. They should be taught that their parents are sinning, so that they should not make the same mistakes that their parents made.

    An answer? Set up a full board (3 meals a day) type school that teaches Limudei Mitzva (that help a person support themselves, which Chazal say is a Mitzva to teach one’s children). Not perpetuate the current system and increase the sin.

  12. Shades of Gray says:

    At “The Event”(Lipa concert) a few years ago, there was a film shown by a tzedoka sponsor which narrated the story of an Israeli family with ten kids that needed food. The person sitting next to me whispered, “birth control”. I felt that comment was wrong; even if one feels that the problem is self-inflicted, there still is the issue of feeling the pain of people suffering.

    Ramban and Seforno explain that the shevatim regretted “when we saw the pain of his soul when he pleaded with us and we did not listen to him”, rather than the actual sale of Yosef. In addition, as Adina Bar Shalom said, it’s an evolutionary process of change.

    R. Aron Lictenstein said last year according to translation, “It is the leaders – not those who are led – who have brought about the situation in which children will not receive an education that will make it possible for them to earn an honourable living”. Despite disagreeing with the approach, he is sympathetic, “it is not infrequent for me to feel jealous of the love of Torah prevalent amongst certain sectors of the Torah community. However, it is hard for me to believe that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has left his people to experience misery”

  13. Harry Maryles says:

    While I applaud the efforts of Mrs. Adina Bar Shalom and am happy about her successes, this is obviously not enough by a long shot, if one is to believe the video. And I do.

    I wrote about this issue yesterday. You cannot starve people into seeing things your way. They have been indoctrinated to live this lifestyle. This is the system. They believe in it. It is not their fault that they are so poor.

    These people should be helped to the best of our ability. But only to charities that deal directly with these families and not the Yeshivos or Kollelim that they are in. Like Tomchei Shabbos or many of the other Gemachim that deal with the Charedi poor.

    Furthermore I would show this video in the Israeli Kenesset. That would strengthen the resolve of the government to require a core curriculum in their elementary schools and high schools. Much like some of the better Yeshivos in this country do – like your alma mater, Chafetz Chaim. installing a core curriculum is something that all of us here in America should support.

    If this had been the case all along, this video could not have been made.

  14. Rafael Guber says:

    Two tracks make sense. A cynic once quipped, “Having a job is a skula for parnossa.” Much of what we think about the past and how our ancestors lived is a delusion. Learning Torah and being equipped with the tools to support your own children are not mutually exclusive. The previous decades after WWII we went through a time of unusual prosperity which allowed much of the community to carry the weight of the rest of the community. That time is no longer here. We cannot enforce suffering for reasons which, truth be told, at least Halachically questionable.

  15. Mr. Cohen says:

    Rashi commentary on tractate Avot, chapter 5, paragraph 21:
    Starting at age 20, a man must work to earn a living [literally, run after his bread].

  16. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    The video is heart-wrenching and children should not be made to suffer. However it is outrageous to put the blame for Chareidi poverty solely on the Israeli government. This is a problem that already existed and all knew would inevitably develop further. The current government policies have made them more extreme. If we are interested in truly alleviating poverty for our Chareidi brothers and if we really care about the children we must be brave enough to admit that long term / lifetime Kollel for the masses is economically untenable and then draw the proper conclusions. Blaming the government is easy, but it is also wrong, and ultimately skirts the real issue at hand.

  17. Moishe Potemkin says:

    There have been changes taking shape in the community for years. Some of them have been set back by resistance to the perceived pressure from outside to change the haredi way of life.

    Of course, when acknowledged and necessary changes are resisted solely because of the (alleged) motivations of the ‘outsiders’ making the recommendation, then these innocent children will suffer a little more, for a little longer.

  18. cvmay says:

    Poverty is a wretched way of life.

    As one who is entrenched in the Chinuch world, how & where should funds come from for ‘adopt-a-kollel’ or to cover the shortfall experienced by Avreichim in Israel? With Rebbeim salaries months behind, deficits in most yeshivos, building plans slashed due to lack of money, $$$ needed for Special Ed-therapies and evaluations, personal family support, medical needs, caretaking of seniors, etc……

    PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME where the excess funds are???

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that Rabbanit Bar Shalom has created a Charedi version of YU and Touro for both genders, which will grow in size, as the economic facts of life and the facts of life within the Beis Medrash will make more Avreichim realize that they are not the next Gdolei HaDor and their wives are not all cut out to play the role of Rachel, the wife of R Akiva. Rabbanit bar Shalom should be applauded and encouraged in her goals.

  20. Steve Brizel says:

    I would suggest that if you really want to do something constructive about Charedi-secular-DL-RZ tensions, then don’t contribute to or attend programs are advocating what IMO are ideologically tinged extremist POVs. Programs and speakers such as Rabbanit Sar Shalom deserve our fullest support, as opposed to extremists regardless of their hashkafic POV.

  21. lacosta says:

    i dont know which extremists reb steve brizel is referring to. but i think the MO world

    [can’t speak to the DL world, but it would seem they are disgusted by communities that consider them frierim , for going to the army, and goyim for their beliefs–and therefore not supporting significantly their haredi neighbors] is not going to adopt a haredi kollel, or similar ideological yeshivas ,
    and may very well follow rabbi maryles’ idea of supporting direct food-related aid to the exclusion of financial acts that might guarantee more ‘same old ,same old’ thinking— after all , it’s not their leaders’ daas tora that created this mess….

  22. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I trust that readers can discern that I had but one objective in writing this piece. That was to counter the argument that people should not contribute to tzedakos providing assistance to haredi families until the “system” is fixed. That argument is un-Jewish and even un-American.

    After Katrina, there was much talk about the levees that were supposed to hold back the Mississippi from New Orleans. Everyone understood that the first order of business was to attend to the homeless and hungry. Blame for the levees would have to wait. Here in California, there is perpetual debate about people living within wooded areas and on hillsides, ignoring the dangers. Yet, when a wildfire burns homes or they are swept off a hillside in torrential rains, people do not punish the homeowners for their mistakes. The first order of business is helping those who are trapped, or have no place to go. Pain and suffering come first; causes can be dealt with later.

    Commenters made many valid points. I cannot identify with the approach taken in the Hamodia editorial earlier today that explained the video. I did not see the video blaming the Israeli government for the crisis, although it did leave room for such a conclusion. I understand why so many people are upset about the video ignoring the changes that must come to the Israeli haredi world. Yet I will insist that any discussion of those changes should not deter anyone from responding to the needs of children to have food on their tables.

    Many commenters have made valuable contributions, all coming from the head. At times, however, the feelings of the heart must take pride of place

  23. Shulamit says:

    I see from the comments that most readers don’t live here – in Eretz Yisrael.
    Poverty here is a huge problem that does NOT affect only the hareidi community. The government just voted down a bill that would have made discrimination against hareidim a hate crime. At the same time, they profess to want to integrate us into the job market – but many many hareidim have tales to tell of not being hired for jobs despite being eminently qualified (and after spending thousands of shekels they barely managed to scrape together to get qualified) simply because of their being hareidi and identifiable as such.
    The commenter who mentioned the snide remark “birth control” is actually on the right track, because b’derech hateva, there really is virtually no way to support a family of 10 children here. Even a well-paying job in hi-tech, for instance, is just not going to pay the bills for 12 nefashot and the expensive schooling (of course, the state system is well subsidized)and all the other myriad costs that secular families don’t pay.
    Remember the famous comment of the Bobover Rebbe ztz”l after the Shoah when justifying more klal assistance to rabbanim? When asked if a bowl of chicken soup costs more for a rav than a regular guy, he said YES! It costs to find a kosher chicken, get it shechted, cleaned up etc etc. The parallels are obvious.
    So, US Jews, if you don’t want to “subsidize” us and help us to live a frum life in Eretz Hakodesh, then you are losing probably your greatest potential zechut. I didn’t see the video – my kosher filter blocks it (why doesn’t yours???) but i can imagine that the kind of poverty children living here endure is way beyond what frum kids growing up in the US endure.
    Where are the excess funds, cvmay? I’ll tell you where they are. They are in the juice, yogurt, fleishigs midweek, braces for the teeth (and proper dental care), occasional vacations, new clothing (not from the local gemach where i buy), the toys for your kids Chanuka time & all year round, more than one pair of weekday shoes, a Shabbos coat (which kid here in Eretz Yisrael has one?)… I could go on and on. YOU ALL HAVE NO IDEA AND NO EXCUSE FOR NOT KNOWING.
    The system here is skewed against frum Jews and it’s no secret. The hareidi world is not guilty. You tell me how advanced algebra, biology etc. contribute to a person’s earning power later in life? Don’t you know that the Toldos Aharon community have many many successful businessmen and they never learned past basic reading and writing and arithmetic? I have a MA and it is useless here!
    There is nothing wrong with learning a vocation at age 18 or 28 for that matter and not having “background skills” because the best background is a mind trained to think and that’s exactly what learning Torah does. Are all the secular people so wealthy? YOU ARE DELUDING YOURSELVES IF YOU THINK THAT “LACK OF EDUCATION” IS AT FAULT. IT IS NOT.
    And, most frum men are working by mid to late 20s, so get your facts straight before writing stuff like “kollel for life.”
    YOU US JEWS, YOU WANT TO PASS JUDGMENT? MAYBE COME LIVE HERE AND THEN YOU’LL REALLY SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE. But who’s going to give up the comforts of the USA for a tough life in Eretz Hakodesh? Sadly, not many.
    Maybe all the BILLIONS

  24. Shulamit says:

    contd. Maybe all the billions invested in buying luxury properties in Yerushalayim could have gone to feed the poor of the city, as Chazal say, aniyei ha’ir kodmim and that is Eretz Yisrael. But no, you prefer to put yourselves first.
    Yidden here are fed up at coming to the US to beg for sustenance only to be told “Sorry things are hard for us here, too,” meanwhile they are living fancy lifestyles we don’t even dream of (and to our credit, don’t even want).
    You smug people, I have nothing but contempt for you.

  25. L. Oberstein says:

    A few comments. I was told by the person who was hired to produce the film that he turned it over to Ruth Lichtenstein of Hamodia because she had the contacts in Israel to get it done quicly. It was an Agudath Israel of America project. They loved it at the convention are were unprepared for the totally negative reaction by the rest of the frum world after it went viral. There are enough frum billionaires and multi milionaires among the chassidim and yeshivishe business community to support all the Torah institutions in Israel and America if they all gave maaser and supported mosdos instead of ten million dollar buildings in Lizensk for visitors to the graves. There has never been as wealthy a generation as today in the frum world but the money is not being given appropriatelly. This is what I have been told at the highest levels.
    The following is a comment by someone I know who put it on a blog which featured this film. It says a lot.
    “This true story happened to us personally when we lived in Israel. My son was 6 years old, and came home from cheder one day looking very discouraged. “Tati, do you work?” he asked. My husband replied, “Yes.” My son sighed a long tragic sigh and said, “Oh.” and wanted to know WHY he worked. My husband explained it was so we would have food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in. When questioned why my son looked so sad, he said “My rebbi said that anyone who works in the secular world (instead of learning full time) is ‘lo shaveh.'” Translation of ‘lo shaveh’: worthless!!!! How do you think it feels for a father to see his child’s conflicting emotions, wanting to respect the rebbi but his child feeling like his father is a huge disappointment? Needless to say, we took our child out of that “Torahdik” cheder!

    The assignment of blame in this film is nothing less than a shanda, and the “solutions” of further adding to the cycle of dependence upon tzedaka is pathetic. The real problem is the brainwashing that goes on against those innocent children and their parents, that disallows husbands and fathers to receive proper parnassa training before they are burdened with 6 children. And even in communities that allow secular training, we still try to do “shtick” such as getting degrees in 18 months instead of 4 years. There are no shortcuts in life and this will come back to bite you.”

  26. Moishe Potemkin says:

    I respect Rabbi Adlerstein’s argument, and I can’t contest his sincerity. The only problem is that he’s viewing the options as either allowing children to suffer (a harsh depiction of the ‘tough love’ approach), or preventing that suffering (through donations and the like). In reality, the choices are allowing children to suffer, or allowing them to suffer even more through a well-intentioned but short-sighted band-ad solution that perpetuates poverty, increases overall debt, and absorbs additional communal resources from a finite and shrinking pot.

    Of course this sounds harsh, and if I had greater writing skills, I could probably have expressed myself in a manner less likely to make myself look monstrous. But from an economic standpoint, there are no good options, and the ‘heart-centered’ decision simply chooses the worse of the two bad options.

  27. Eli B. says:

    “Yet I will insist that any discussion of those changes should not deter anyone from responding to the needs of children to have food on their tables.”

    Feed the children, but remove them from their parents’ neglectful ways. The word “abusive” may be applicable. Had the parents been playing video games instead of working and taking care of their children, the children would have been removed long ago. Why should siting and learning instead of sitting and playing video games be any less abusive?

    If a child was being abused, and one form of the abuse was withholding food, you wouldn’t say feed the child but leave everything else exactly the way it was.

    Just something to ponder, I’m not suggesting removal from their home, but it certainly is a point to think about.

  28. Jerusalem says:

    No one is starving. There are soup kitchens & chessed organizations that give out free food to the poor… “Starving charedi children” is propaganda…

    This is entirely self-inflicted. The Charedi Gedolim insist on no secular subjects being taught in charedi schools. They promote the universal kollel for life system. This is the inevitable result. Now it’s time to face the music & live with the results…

    The Israeli modern charedi kollel system has only been around for about the last 30 years — since Menachem Begin. As long as the Israeli government propped up charedi society with cash and subsidies, the charedi “leadership” insisted on perpetuating and perpetrating the unsustainable status quo. They will never agree to change the “system”.

    Now that the medina is finally cutting off the welfare and subsidies for the charedi community, change will come, as long-term kollel for-the-masses crashes on the rocks of economic reality. Now that the UTJ politicians & Litvish Rosh Yeshivas are no longer able to bribe the charedi rank-and-file to stay in kollel forever, the kollel lifestyle won’t be nearly as attractive. In short, the kollel system is collapsing … and with it, perhaps, the entire charedi society — the shidduch system, social pressure and norms, the entire social structure etc…

    The Israeli charedi tzibbur may not like it…but the budget cuts that went into effect in August are just the tip of the iceberg; more cuts are coming in January; and in a few weeks the Knesset will pass a new charedi draft law…

    Let me end off on a practical note: Charedim can work in construction, work in diamonds, learn how to be an electrician, a mechanic, a carpenter, a truck driver, stock shelves in a supermarket etc… You get the picture… There is no shame in working with your hands… They can be mekayin divrei chazal: “A person should hire himself out for alien work rather than requiring assistance from others”. If they don’t like it, then they can give their children an education, and the children can be white-collar professionals working on a computer in air-conditioned offices…earning middle class salaries…

  29. DF says:

    Well, well, so feminism has come to Cross-Currents too. The other day we were reading about Charedi women professors, jumping fully aboard the identity politics game that has done so much to unite Americans…. Today we read about – of course – a woman doing something that “an entire culture had failed to do”, in creating a college for charedim. But there is also the Kiryat Ono College, with two campuses (including one in Jerusalem) for Charedim, which opened at almost exactly the same time as Bar Shalom’s.[My cousin is the Dean.] And there are other smaller college programs around the country especially geared for Charedim.

    Not that creating special programs just for charedim is necessarily such a good thing. It would probably be best as a temporary measure only. But as we all know from reverse-racism/affirmative-action programs entrenched in academia today, temporary measures have a way of becoming permanent.

  30. Shulamit says:

    once upon a time the impoverished Jews of europe contributed their pennies to the kupot that supported the Jews of Eretz Yisrael, knowing that it was impossible for Jews to survive in the Holy Land without assistance.
    today the wealthy Jews of chu”l prefer to hoard their dollars, spend them on a manner of living their ancestors never imagined in their wildest dreams, and/or buy themselves apartments in one of Yerushalayim’s luxury complexes, many of which are empty all year round. Meanwhile the machsanim in those apartment blocks are occupied by frum families with 2,3 or more children living sometimes in windowless “apartments” because that’s all they can afford.
    even places like beitar & bet shemesh & modiin illit are too expensive for young families today. (Young secular families too by the way.)
    I guess a young couple could rent a mobile home someplace like maale amos, but there are no jobs there so they would need a car or lots of travel money to commute to where the (few) jobs are.
    somehow, Jews here will still survive and hopefully also thrive despite our meager diets and the harsh conditions and the long hours of work for those lucky enough to find a job. It’s the American Jews i feel sorry for. They are losing their connection to what real Yiddishkeit means if they think they can sit comfortably and condemn those struggling along. I think we all know what will happen to such “Jews” when the time comes.

  31. PQ says:

    “I trust that readers can discern that I had but one objective in writing this piece. That was to counter the argument that people should not contribute to tzedakos providing assistance to haredi families until the “system” is fixed. That argument is un-Jewish and even un-American.”

    Yes, Rabbi Adlerstein, I got that message loud and clear.

    I will most certainly answer from my heart and from my wallet when I see a Kuppah Shel Tzeddakah that will help the innocent victims (the children, as you pointed out so well) within a framework that stops the cycle.

    The loads of feedback to the video are crystallized in this very point. Donors want to see the way out of the cycle. Instead of saying “give me money to help the innocent”, they want to hear “give me money to help the innocent and break the cycle”. I hope that the producers and disseminators of this heart-wrenching video will take that to heart.

  32. Shades of Gray says:

    Helping another community in their time of need can be a way of creating Jewish unity, as per Derech Eretz Zutta, 2nd perek:
    אם חפץ אתה להידבק באהבת חברך
    הוי נושא ונותן בטובתו

    Different ways of giving can appeal to different people. A few years ago, I visited a Shuvu school with other people. Someone in the organization said then that when you help this network of schools, you are creating jobs for the teachers and helping their families, in addition to the Russian children themselves. Similarly, giving to Chinuch Atzmai, which R. Soloveitchik in his day participated together with R. Kotler at the first dinner, ends up supporting the families of its rebbeim and teachers. One can also help a chesed organization, which is ultimately helping the same community, if giving directly to a kolell doesn’t appeal to someone.

  33. Chaim Saiman says:

    The chisaron in your analogy to the cycles of dependency in the inner city, or the cases of New Orleans or L.A., is that here the charedi leaders are claiming that they are serving God, and that their lifestyle is an ideal. Not to mention that the do not hesitate to cast implicit and explicit aspersions at those who find their theology problematic.

    The better analogy would be if leaders of those who depend on welfare would stand up and declare welfare dependency and the pathologies it creates as an ideal lifestyle and a divinely mandated command. Were that the case, they would be roundly and rightly criticized, and even liberals (or at least this one) would view the matter very differently.
    Or, to use your LA example, what would the public reaction be if as the fire is burning and the fireman are risking their lives to save the ppl living in the hills and flood zones, these same people started fighting with the state for their God given right and religious command to move their families and children back in harms way?

    [YA I have no doubt that the firemen in LA would still rescue the children, and deal with their parents later. Think of Israeli doctors, volunteering their time to man field hospitals near the Syrian border to help people wounded in the civil war. Or the hospitals that each day admit people from Gaza, including most recently Haniyeh’s granddaughter]

  34. Dr. E says:

    Of course, at the level of compassion, any support to alleviate the pain of these poverty stricken children is warranted. That’s part of our DNA as Bnei Rachmanim and worthy of Tzedaka. One cannot fault the victims of collateral damage. However, there are no coincidences in life. The other Convention presentation that has been the buzz was Rabbi Wallerstein’s calling out of the Yeshiva chinuch system. Ostensibly, he was being critical of the landscape in America where the focus is an increasing shift to speaking to the elite and chosen few, which is not only dysfunctional with all of its collateral damage in ruchniyus and gashmiyus. (No doubt, some of those seated on the Dais behind him have already dressed down the committee which pre-screened the Convention presentations.) The cuts of the Israeli government present an easy scapegoat and have bolstered the anti-Chareidi conspiracy rhetoric which has been quite popular in some circles abroad and in America. However, the cycles of poverty depicted in the video can primarily be attributed to an insular, skewed chinuch system which was unprecedented prior to 40 years ago. This is a system which has been exposed in both countries as one disconnected to the reality of the normal distribution of intellectual acumen, motivation, and financial sustainability. As such, the chickens have come home to roost.

  35. Steve Brizel says:

    RYBS in a discussion about the Chet HaMeraglim, as well as in his Chamesh Drashos, R Y Kamenetsky ZL in Emes L Yaakov amd the Meschec Chachmah all point out the disastrous effects of the Chet Meraglim and Meciras Yosf, which have contemporary ramifications. I was trained to respect all RY, yeshivos, Admorim and Talmidei Chachamim, regardless of their POV re RIETS and its RY.

    I abhore the current atmosphere where the study of Torah in one venue is deemed superior to another for hashkafic reasons of a dubious nature.

    However, anyone , regardless of hashkafa, who posits that yeshiva X merely because of a hashkafic basis is superior to that of Yeshiva Y or is a so-called “real yeshiva” or a yeshiva that is superior because its talmidim serve in the IDF, IMO, is advocating an extreme hashkafic POV that has little basis in reality.

    The equally unsupported notions that all talmidim in the Charedi yeshivos must serve and that all talmidim in the Yeshivot hesder must serve are both IMO logically extreme fallacies that deserve to be discarded.

  36. Raymond says:

    I seem to recall that somewhere in the Talmud, it says that a father who does not teach his son a trade, is teaching him to steal. Torah study is a great and wonderful thing to do, and may very well be the reason we were created in the first place. However, I also seem to call the Rambam himself saying that a Torah scholar who depends on others for his physical needs (food, shelter, clothing) being met, is committing an act of the desecration of G-d’s Name. All of us must learn to somehow, someway, support ourselves financially. Studying the Torah should not come at anybody else’s expense. Of course there is also room for charity, but this should be utilized only as a last resort, due to dire circumstances beyond one’s control. It is not right for a person to deliberately impoverish himself at the expense of others, even for the sake of Torah study.

    Just as a side note, that must have been a very interesting experience, meeting the daughter of such a revered Torah giant as Rav Ovadia Yosef. 🙂

  37. Shades of Gray says:

    Alexander Rapaport, director of the Masbia soup kitchens, wrote an article in the July, 2012 Forward about Orthodox poverty in America. I think some of his arguments are applicable in Israel as well:

    “I think that it is important to divide some of these differences into practices and beliefs that are non-negotiable for a religious person and those that are negotiable. For instance, when secular people criticize us for our large families, they are addressing a reality that stems in large part from our religious belief and therefore is hard to negotiate. Meaning, we base our opposition to birth control on theology and on Halacha that offers us little wiggle room when it comes to controlling family size. On the other hand, if we are to address how Hasidic men and women can earn more money to support their large families, there is much that is negotiable, and a lot of room for advancement…

    …We have always had a “No questions asked” policy, meaning that we serve anyone who walks in our doors. So when the word “undeserving” is used to refer to children who benefit from food stamps or WIC because of their parents’ “choices,” I find it unacceptable. You can argue against a way of life, but I think we all, on both sides of that growing gap, can agree that the question of whether children, or adults for that matter, “deserve” help is not how the debate should be framed.”

  38. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I agree with all who said that in the short run everyone who can help those children should help them, preferably without further encouraging the behavior of those who perpetuate the cycle of poverty. A temporary state of affairs after the Shoah was pushed through by the Chazon Ish and others to build up a core of Torah scholars to replace those who perished. While one can always argue that this is quantity and not the same quality, that is not in our hands. Further, neither the Israeli government gravy train nor the American donor gravy train is going to continue. In addition DL yeshivot in Israel are coming up against the same wall, but at least the boys in these yeshivot are educated to make a living. Yeshivot and their rabbis have to support programs for education and training for their graduates which will enable them to make and honest living and put in some time learning. Perhaps there could also be enterprises affiliated with those yeshivot to provide jobs in a Torah environment for graduates and other bnai Torah. If that doesn’t happen, many people will eventually vote with their feet, either finding other rabbis or going off the derech. It’s time for a lot of people to wake up.

  39. shlomo zalman says:

    I’d like to the address the techniques used in this video, rather than the Jewish tradition of giving to the needy with no questions asked.

    While I acknowledge media tricks and manipulative marketing as a fact of life, when these techniques are recognized, it seriously damages the credibility of the message, especially a supposedly Torah-oriented one.

    For instance:
    1. “Israel Is the poorest developed nation”. Oh, really?

    2. “Lack of employment according to the level of religiosity” (graph), implying that the extra-religious who refuse to work (“moser nefesh for Torah”) are punished by Israeli society and govenment with poverty. The absurdity of this is obvious, and almost infuriating.

    3. “A full time kollel student earns 1200 shekel a month.” Without commenting on the use of the word “earn”, is the point that a kollel student be paid by the govenment a salary equal to the average salary in the workforce? Does anyone really expect every one of them to receive more than they do?

    4. “This poverty not only affects quality of life, but their health and ultimate survival”. Ultimate survival? Is this a veiled accusation that if the Israeli taxpayer doean’t up the chareidi stipend, it is committing genocide?

    5. Sorry, this last one was pure manipulation and outright sheker. There was a prominently displayed electric bill of 4,622 shekel. In Israel, bills are sent out every two months. I personally live in a nice size house, with two refrigerators, freezer, washer, electric dryer and dishwaher. I run the air conditioners as needed during the long summer without thinking twice about it, day and night. My highest bill for the year was less than half of the amount dispayed, and my last bill (Sep.-Oct.) was under a thousand shekel. So what’s with 4,622 shekel for a starving kollel family? Who are they trying to fool? Yes, the average American will see it and not question it, and it may have the desired effect. But it doesn’t work on me, and it causes me to wonder: Is their message so illegitimate that they have to revert to lies that they assume no one will notice?

  40. Aharon says:

    Rav Adelstein, I agree that we should not let those families starve. So we can try to give to chesed organizations that provide food. However, I believe the “adopt-a-kollel” program (or any donation to these kollels) is encouraging the continuation of this program. Adina Bar-Shalom’s statement is true in theory, but when people are raised in a system that provides little education, and that working in only for those who couldn’t hack in their learning, I don’t see things changing until the Gedolim step up to the plate and advocate change.

  41. Steve Brizel says:

    Just curious-anyone hear Rabbanit Bar Shalom, along with RHS and R M Goldvicht this morning?

  42. SA says:

    To Shlomo Zalman: Your reference to the electric bill of 4,622 shekels intrigued me, so I ran the video again, re-running it a few times at the place that bill was displayed. If you catch it at 5:08 and look verrrrry carefully, you’ll see that it’s not an electric bill, but an annual arnona (real estate tax) bill, which could easily be that high. Actually, that doesn’t contradict your charge of manipulation at all — perhaps it even strengthens it — but the implication that the producers somehow doctored an electric bill is inaccurate.

  43. Just Saying says:

    I feel bad for Shulamit and I can understand her lashing out at chutz laaretz Jews. I personally would love to live in Eretz Yisroel. I envy the Jews of Eretz Yisroel. Here I am in chutz laaretz, severely in debt, spending the paycheck before it arrives. I am not the only one. Many many frum Jews in America are suffering from overwhelming poverty. No one has a monopoly on desperation. I don’t own an apartment in Eretz Yisroel. I barely survive here with my exorbitant rent. My children wear hand-me-downs. They are jealous of their Israeli cousins with and their outfits. There are no generalizations. Many Israelis are suffering and many Americans are suffering. Shulamit, please don’t paint with a broad brush!

  44. sima irhakodesh says:

    SA — If its Arnona (which is annual real estate tax), the majority of Kollel couples are exempted from payment of Arnona.

  45. SA says:

    sima — As far as I know, they still get a bill and they have to arrange the discount afterward (I don’t think it’s an “exemption.”)

  46. shlomo zalman says:

    To SA: I agree that that bill is most likely an arnona bill. However, at that moment, the voice-over spoke about electricity bills, adding to the manipulative element. As Sima points out, kollel couples are pretty much exempt from arnona; if I’m not mistaken, they pay 10% of the bill, quite a hefty discount. I don’t begrudge the discount, I just don’t like the misrepresentation in the video. I maintain that if someone has a strong case, it can be presented without trickery. Too much trickery implies a weak case.

  47. Tzvi Grossman says:


    I’m a frum Jew living in Eretz Yisrael, working hard to support my family. In what way is the system skewed against frum Jews? We have the same opportunities or lack thereof as anyone else. It’s hard for everyone, not just for frum Jews. Of course it’s a little easier for those communities who get supported by the government and choose not to put their lives on the line, but I don’t think you’ll find too many non-frum communities that do that.

  48. hindy frishman says:

    Poverty is terrible. We all agree.

    These parents are often neglecting their children – not feeding them properly, going without dental care, kids with ripped shoes and living with no heat. Is a father permitted to refrain from working when that is how his family lives?

    Want to know why the video troubled me? Because it is not the Israeli government – some vague monster – that pays to support these families (real estate tax discount, etc)….it is ME! I am the Israeli government, because I am a tax payer. My child allowances also got cut. And I work more now to pay the difference. And so does my husband. So he learns less. Why is his Torah less valuable than the kollel guys in Beitar?

  49. cvmay says:

    I think a wonderful innovation would be “ADOPT A YESHIVA/DAY SCHOOL in America”.

    There are numerous Yeshiva/Day Schools especially those not serving the typical elitist students (with wealthy parents)that are in dire straits. Rebbanim have not received salaries for months, food is sparse, dorms are a wreck or buildings are in need of repair that need community support and quick. Eretz Yisroel is my heartbeat yet ignoring and not validating what is occurring under our eyes is evil….

  50. Ben says:

    Personally, I think that you don’t deprive someone who is in need of sustenance, but give if they come collecting from you. I.e. in general don’t give to a shliach. Part of the problem is that they can continue their life style and lay back while someone gives them free money. If they had to actually go out and collect for themselves, as some do, I think the picture would quickly change. Medical and things like that are different. The Rambam in hilchos tzedoca says that not turning away someone empty handed only applies to the person themselves and not to someone collecting on their behalf.

  51. L. Oberstein says:

    “You smug people, I have nothing but contempt for you.” Being emotional myself I can well understand how the woman writing about the poverty and difficulties of chareidi life can become overwroth and I don’t take it personally.However, it does show one of the problems. As we begin Chanukah, the chareidi world in Israel continues to compare the Israeli governmetn to the Evil Kingdom of the “Greeks” and to compare themselves to the Macabees. One question I hear often in shul is why these same people who so hate those who made the “gzeiros’ never uttered a word of hakaras hatov to that government that was the biggest supporter of Torah in the world. Today, I happened to hear an emotional appeal for Lev L’Achim delivered in the dining room during lunch for bochurim of the yeshiva. The speaker explained that there is a war going on, that the malchus harisha has decided to eradicate the Olom Hatorah and in a time of war, no one is potur. The boys have to go out and raise funds to keep the flame burning, to counter the evil government. I thought to myself, did this man even hear what he just said. “In a war, no one is potur”.That’s exactly the point. My son served in Tzahal, was honorably discharged and only grew in his Yiddishkeit in the Jewish Army of the Jewish State. Your son’s blood is not redder than my son’s blood and if you despise us, don’t come around asking us to support your chosen lifestyle. No one made you chose poverty. My other son lives in Modiin and has a nice middle class llifestyle and earns a nice living as do the people around him and they also go to shiurim and learn Torah. The chareidim have not cornered the market and the arrogance that they show makes it hard to want to support them. Don’t have contempt for me, it’s not my fault you are poor.

  52. cvmay says:

    “meanwhile they are living fancy lifestyles we don’t even dream of”

    Shulamit, I feel and hear your outrage EXCEPT you have been feed propaganda about frum US Jews. Can you believe (probably not?)there are families paying rent and living in basement apartments. There are families that get clothes from Gemachs and even Jewelry to wear for simchos. There are families that do not go to dentist (the prices are outrageous). There are women who light stainless steel Shabbos licht and even those who eat Chicken/Meat on Shabbos only. There are even children who wear the same coat weekdays and Shabbos and have only one pair of shoes. There are medical needs that eat up people’s entire income and therapies that are paid for before food. There are families that only mode of transportation is a bicycle or a vehicle 20 years old. We are not comparing or contrasting…..except stop drinking kool aid (cause it causes cavities) and find out the facts. Of course the frum families who come for the Yom Tovim to their apartments in Yerushalayim are a minority of a minority and it is their zechus to do so!!

    True, the penthouses in Geula are being bought by foreigners (check out the Belgium, Swiss, South Africa and NY owners) and the Yeshiva buildings in Eretz Yisroel are being built by foreigners too. Baruch Hashem.. Is it fair?? There have always been ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Presently there are mosdos in USA where Rebbaim are months behind in salary and loans are the normal mode of behavior. So once again, after families support their single and married children who are BH in chinuch “WHERE are THE EXCESS FUNDS?”

  53. Binyamin says:

    i remember an article from a couple years ago in the jerusalem post by yonatan rosenblum. this was post lapid sr and pre lapid jr

    in response to the annual poverty report in which chareidim feature prominently (these annual debates precede even lapid sr)- he argued that a lot of chareidi world – at least the leaders – goes into the situation with their eyes open and they are not so unfortunate as the poverty reports make things out i.e. having a large family has its own rewards and we are willing to make do without designer brands.

    i accept corrections about what he said – but i recall that as being his message

    the recent cuts in support for chareidi families – while not justified – aren’t the major difference in buying basics – the cuts are much less than the decrease in child allowances during lapid srs’ heyday

    anyway, which message do you want to present – that we are miskeinim or that we are lucky to be dedicated to learn torah and are willing to make sacrifices


  54. Dina says:

    Going to the supermarket, waiting in line behind this charedi man buying basic groceries, waiting, he didn’t have enough to pay, watching him choose which things not to buy.
    I felt for his humiliation.

    It is, I think, the luxury of the not poor to “judge” whether a poor person “deserves” it or not, brought it on themselves or not.

    But the amount of ingratitude against the government is a complete disgrace. I’m trying to remember where I read that there’s a netiya when someone has done you tremendous good, to hate them (instead of feeling gratitude– because very large debts of gratitude are threatening to a person’s sense of self)

    That’s what I see in the charedi approach to the government.

  55. Dina says:

    By a disgrace I mean the leadership, and the people making these videos, and everyone else selling the that message.

  56. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Oberstein:

    Desperate people will say outrageous things. What’s so bad about distorting the truth a bit when the end game is to help save The Cause? I’m sure that he found an all too receptive audience among the bochurim to do his bidding.

  57. Steve Brizel says:

    A prominent charedi rav told me that the extremist rhetoric that developed after the most recent elections and coalition building did more for the Charedi world than most mashgichim would have dreamed of-before the elections, Charedi Nachal and similar programs were booming in enrollment. The rhetoric demonized such efforts. Rabbanit Bar Shalom’s unique program offers a unique alternative that deserves wholehearted support without the same being seen as Bdideved in any way.

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