Elster's World

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Living a Torah Life in a Very Un-Torah World

Some anonymous comment in Joe's blog linked to this op-ed in the Five Towns Jewish Times (be sure to read the highly entertaiing comments attached at the bottom of the page). Without me getting started on my personal thoughts about Mr. Gordon and his weekly right-wing agenda filled paper (yes, they are almost entirely negative - and not a week goes by where at least three "articles" in there make me riled up enough to send an angry letter in - until I realize that they wouldn't print anyhting with four letter words in it anyway; and hey, if they want to push their agenda, what right do I have to stop them? After all, no one is forcing me to read it - I could use it for a better purpose like kindling for firewood), the op-ed did, unintentionally, bring up a very interesting line of thought for me.

The op-ed itself discussed a story of a Rav who was told that some rich dude from the Five Towns spend a quarter mil on a private plane to go to the Super Bowl in Arizona and watch the Giants defeat the evil Patriots. This Rav could not wrap his mind around the fact that people would spent so much money on frivolity while there are people in the neighborhood who can barely afford their kids' tuition bills.

[A quick aside (rant): Now, just about everything that there is to be said on the subject of tuition, giving tzedakah and the like has been said. I am not going to sit here and say that Rich Person X has no right to spend his money on frivolity, nor am I going to tell you Rich Person X should spend his money this way. I am also not going to tell you how or where people should give their tzedakah, nor will you be hearing me giving any halachic rulings on maasar money like Mr. Gordon does in his. (I am no expert on the "20% rule" as he appears to be.) I am not going to bemoan the fact that there are so many people in my neighborhood (and I bet in yours too) that feel that they must take the family on vacation over winter break even though they really cannot afford it, that they must spend $6,000 on sleepaway camp even though they can't really afford it. Pretty much everything that can be said on these issues has been said. I understand social/economic pressue and how it can rip a hole in a family. I understand (whether right or wrong) the people who do these things but then ask for a tuition break from the school because they cannot afford to send their 4 kids to school at a cost of 12 to 15 thousand dollars a kid. Because why should your kids be the only ones who have to stay home during intercession or over the summer? That's the new world order that we live in. That people who make decent livings can no longer providers for their family. The pressure to provide for your family is immense these days. So yes, somewhere along the line we went trerribly wrong. But I'm not going to get into that today - it's a topic for another time. End rant)

The op-ed did touch upon an issue which almost all orthodox jews struggle with in modern times (yes, even the rich ones) - the fine line we all must walk between being a so called "Torah Jew", but one who lives in a modern society. Rabbi Hershel Billet, Rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere, often mentions in his drashas that these are extremely difficult times to live in. At first glance, this sounds silly. After all, these are (current real estate recession notwithstanding) generally prosperous times - people are making lots of money and living well above the poverty line. (Of course this is not the case for everyone - but again, the idea that we all must give tzedakah, while imperative, is not the thrust of this article.)

Even so, with great wealth, they say, comes great responsibility. Not to mention great difficulty. We all have computers giving us access to pretty much anyhting and everything there is (including high risk areas for our kids such as instant messenging, Facebook and Myspace). We all have 52 inch LCD tv's to watch people like Brittney Spears and Lindsey Lohan self destruct for all to see in glorious high definition. Even if you do not allow a television in your home and have Koshernet, our kids are exposed to things that would have been completely unheard of 20 years ago. You can't even walk in the City anymore without being exposed to many images which don't fit in to most people's idea of tznious. Especially in summer.

So yes, despite our relative prosperity, or perhaps because of it, these are difficult times with many challenges. More money means the ability to blow; if not $250,000, then maybe 10 grand on going to see your beloved Giants. It means dropping between 6 and 8 thou on 5 glorious days in Miami over winter break - where you get to see a jaw dropping amount of activity that makes you wonder if our children are even being taught Jewish subjects in school. It means packing up the family for Pesach at the Biltmore.

And it's not just about money. It's about ideas and attitudes that change (erode?) over time. My dad is a very smart man. But he's also a man very set in his ways and ideas. His beliefs when it comes to Judaism tend to be very rigid. I tend to be more open to new ideas than he is. I tend to take the position that I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and neither one of us is necessarily "correct" - rather, each person must live the way they so chose based on what they know.

Without trying to sound preachy or corny, there is a framework that we all must work within - the framework of the Torah. And as each generation goes by - as each generation becomes more and more receptive to the outside influences, well then I guess we all lose just a bit of that connection we have with our past.

Do I have answers? Of course not. I know it's easy to say "go live in a cave". It's more difficult to try and navigate the world. It's also impractical to tell everyone to go live in that cave. After all, someone's father-in-law is paying for all the cave dwellers.

So navigate the world we must. In trying times with trying challenges. So regardless of whether you are rich as hell and blowing your money on silly, pretty things or late every month on your cell phone bill in order to make sure you can have company this shabbos (average price of that, about $200), these are problems we all have to face. No one is immune from the slow shredding of a moral fiber.

Perhaps Mr. Gordon will provide us with the answers we seek in next week's FTJT.

We can only hope.

6 Comments:

  • "I am not going to bemoan the fact that there are so many people in my neighborhood (and I bet in yours too) that feel that they must take the family on vacation over winter break even though they really cannot afford it, that they must spend $6,000 on sleepaway camp even though they can't really afford it. Pretty much everything that can be said on these issues has been said. I understand social/economic pressue and how it can rip a hole in a family. I understand (whether right or wrong) the people who do these things but then ask for a tuition break from the school because they cannot afford to send their 4 kids to school at a cost of 12 to 15 thousand dollars a kid. Because why should your kids be the only ones who have to stay home during intercession or over the summer?"

    Actually much worse in your neighborhood than mine. In any event, this may well destroy Orthodoxy in the 21st century. Many people will simply be unable to live both an upper-middle-class lifestyle (i.e. nice house, nice cars, vacations, etc.) - let alone in upper class one (i.e. house in Vacation Village; Israel for Succos, Miami for Pesach) and pay tuition. One day I think it will be socially acceptable to pick the lifestyle over Orthodoxy. I hope I'm wrong.

    "I know it's easy to say "go live in a cave". It's more difficult to try and navigate the world. It's also impractical to tell everyone to go live in that cave. After all, someone's father-in-law is paying for all the cave dwellers."

    How do you define "cave dwellers?" Not all charedim are in kollel. While the MO hashkafa is very appealing, it is still very questionable whether modern Orthodoxy actually works in real life.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 10:11 AM  

  • As to your first point - YES, this is a major issue. I don't see how the current system can contain itself. A non-jew making as much money as a "middle class" orthodox jew can live a fantastic lifestyle. And by this I mean - a nice family vacation once a year, kids off to sleepaway camp, splurging on a big tv or a fancier car every once in a while, etc- all the things we struggle to budget for - because his core costs don't include tuition, kosher food, overpriced housing simply because it's a jewish neighborhood, etc.

    The squeeze on the frum middle class is going to build up until eventually something has to give.

    As to your second point - I was obviously a little too biting and sarcastic re: "everyone's in kollel". By living in a cave, I was really referring to anyone (not necessarily chareidim) whose response to a challenge is to take the most extreme position imaginable. Tznious an issue? Wear 7 skirts and a burka. Internet? Ban all computers. etc.

    By Blogger Elster, at 10:27 AM  

  • The burka issue is silly - this applies to like 50 women.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 10:47 AM  

  • When it's grown to 1,000 women will it still be silly?

    By Blogger Elster, at 11:07 AM  

  • I don't think 1,000 women will wear burkas.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 11:28 AM  

  • I certainly HOPE not.

    By Blogger Elster, at 12:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home