April 6, 2011
Mr. Robert Newman
Chickens for Shabbos
70-11 150th Street
Kew Gardens Hills, NY 11367
I would like to start by expressing how much I admire your work on behalf of Chickens for Shabbos. It is truly inspiring to see your concern for other members of Klal Yisrael. Your devotion to this cause on a daily basis is admirable. It is quite incredible that you continue to make appeal after appeal with such tremendous passion. Your efforts should be a zechus for Klal Yisrael.
I wanted to express some concerns I have about some issues you bring up in your appeals. My wife and I consider ourselves to be Charedi Jews, and we care very much about our fellow Charedim, but the situation you describe in Eretz Yisrael is quite troubling. Certainly it is very noble for young married men to devote their time exclusively to learning Torah, and Kollel is something that we should support in general. But with the current situation in Eretz Yisrael, it seems that the current system is untenable. The following are some particular claims you have made that I find particularly disturbing:
- You have said that the poverty that many kollel families in Eretz Yisrael is so bad that many Kollel family members suffer from physical and emotional illnesses directly due to their poverty. It is hard to imagine how one could argue that these men should continue learning in Kollel when it causes such suffering.
- You say that the poverty causes many children of kollel families to go off the derech. If the purpose of Kollel is to raise a more spiritual family, and yet because of poverty children are going off the derech, then the purpose of kollel is defeated. The poverty is causing kollel to have the exact opposite of its intended effect.
- You specifically appeal to help out rebbaim who are struggling. I wonder how many of these rebbaim are opposed to Charedim getting jobs. If so, it is hard to have sympathy for these rebbaim, who are doing everything in their power to prevent their talmidim from getting jobs and helping them out.
- You say that Charedi families should continue to have the large families they are having even though they cannot afford it, because they can just have other people support them. I would understand if a couple originally thought they could afford a large family, and then a change in their financial condition made it impossible. But it is hard to understand how a couple could initially decide to have a family that they know is too large for them to support.
- You say that if the Charedim stop having large families, the Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel. Aside from the fact that statistics show that even under the current conditions Arabs are projected to outnumber Jews in Israel, it is absurd for families to have too many children than they can handle financially and emotionally just to drive up the population.
I think it is clear that changes need to be made in the Charedi community in Eretz Yisrael, and with the influence we wield through Chickens for Shabbos, we might be able to bring about that change. I would like to recommend a couple of changes to Chickens for Shabbos to bring about the change.
My first suggestion is to allocate some of the organization’s finds to promoting Charedi employment, thereby fulfilling the highest level of tzedaka according to the Rambam. This could be accomplished by funding vocational programs for Charedim, providing career counseling, or by lobbying the Israeli government to remove the barriers Charedim face entering the job world.
My second suggestion is based on the observation that there are leaders of the Charedi community, but not gedolim, who promote the Kollel-only mentality. These include, among others, rebbaim in yeshivas who are opposed to bachurim seeking employment, and schools that do not accept children from families in which the father works. I propose that we refuse to support for these rebbaim who are the cause of the problem. We should have no sympathy for rebbaim who are proactively preventing their community from supporting them.
There are a couple of teachings from contemporary Chachamim that are relevant to the matter. One is from Rav Wolbe in his kuntris for chasanim, where he says that a couple should never go into debt in order to stay in kollel. As soon as a couple sees that they can no longer survive financially with the husband in kollel, the husband should seek employment.
The second is a beautiful piece from the Nesivos Sholom concerning Yakov’s dream about the ladder. He explains that Yakov was afraid to leave the yeshiva of Shem and Ever to go to Lavan’s house. He was concerned that his spirituality would be compromised by leaving the yeshiva where he had devoted 14 years of his life. Hashem’s message to Yakov with the ladder is not to fear this new stage of his life, but instead to embrace the challenge. The malachim ascending and descending the ladder represent the idea that Yakov would now be faced with spiritual challenges, and he would sometimes ascend in spirituality and sometimes descend. But as long as he had a “ladder,” meaning the Torah’s framework, to guide him, he could be certain that this was his proper avodas Hashem.
Indeed, being a frum Jew in the professional world is challenging. I am currently in law school with many young frum men and women, who span the religious spectrum. We have our challenges, our aliyos and yeridos, but we all operate within the Torah framework, and we understand this to be our avoda. The Kew Gardens Hills community is perfect example of a community that lives Yakov’s avoda. Most husbands have jobs, but are kovea itim and understand that everything in their life, both work and Torah learning, is part of their avodas Hashem.
The Nesivos Sholom’s teaching seems totally lost on the Charedi community in Eretz Yisrael. They seem to be unwilling to leave the yeshiva, just like Yakov was unable to leave the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. It is our responsibility to show them how there are many paths in avodas Hashem, and that they must embrace whatever path Hashem has sent them on. In the words of Rav Hutner zt’l, we must show them that working and being kovea itim does not have to mean leading a “double life,” but rather a broad life.
I look forward to hearing your response and starting a dialogue on these issues. We should continue to be osek b’tzaerchei tzibur be’emuna and the chesed of our community should be a melitz yosher for all of Klal Yisrael and we should be zoche to see the ge’ula bim’heyra beyamenu.
/s/ (personal info redacted)