Monday, September 8, 2008

Give Me – I’m Entitled

This past week two articles appeared in my in-box from two opposite ends of the social/religious/political spectrum, but triggered in me a singular pavlovian response. One article appearing in Mishpacha, a haredi weekly, entitled Can We Talk Seriously About Poverty by Jonathan Rosenblum, and the other appeared as an op-ed essay picked up by the JTA entitled Jews Justice and the Workplace by Stuart Applebaum.

While the latter article, written by the president of the Jewish Labor Committee undoubtedly isn’t haredi, the former is written by a haredi for a haredi paper. The former was written on behalf of American workers the latter written on behalf of the haredi community in Israel who spurn work, opting to spend their productive years in the study of Torah.

These two interest groups, separated by continents, mind sets, language and culture are also on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Undoubtedly, Applelbaum represents unions and is thus leaning to the left end of the political spectrum. Rosenblum’s readership is probably on the political right and socially conservative. These two groups have little in common, do not share the same values and certainly do not think in the same language – figuratively and literally. What they do have in common is a world view, a philosophy of living that “it’s coming to me”, for similar and different reasons. Union members feel that the employers “owe” them, and the haredim feel that everyone owes them because they are engaged in the study of Torah.

Entitlement has become the bane of western civilization and knows no borders, but possesses the universal language “give me – I’m entitled”. Both groups believe that they are entitled to share in a larger portion of the wealth although their contribution isn’t commensurate with their demands. Let’s take a birdseye view of each of their claims.

Applebaum claims that the employees of Rite Aid have the right to unionize and perhaps they do. The JTA however turned it into a Jewish issue by linking it to Deuteronomy 24: 14-15 “you shall not abuse a needy destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land”. The text references destitute laborers. That is a far stretch to label workers under the protection of federal and state agencies as destitute, especially when they are earning above minimum wage and have other benefits. Destitute laborers were the employees of Agriprocessors, who were allegedly physically and sexually abused, taken advantage of precisely because they were undocumented. Social justice is certainly a significant concern of the Bible, but that doesn’t necessarily assume that the Bible supports union shops. On the contrary, one can argue that union shops are counterintuitive when wishing to achieve social justice. Unions seek to get rich on the back of their members. Enriching the coffers of the union at the expense of their members is standard fare. Union demands of employers have created unrealistic economic expectations to the point where companies preferred to move overseas. In the end the only ones hurt were the employees. In other situations, employers chose to shut down rather than continue to witness the rape of their companies by unreasonable union demands. Unions have sucked the creative entrepeneuring spirit out of many because the price is too high. Fascinating, that so many unionists wanted a larger piece of the pie without assuming any additional responsibility or financial liability and certainly exhibit little or no gumption in creating their own opportunity, but content themselves with living off of others.

Living off of others is what haredim know best, other than living in the past and regurgitating inane chidushim suggested by others in past generations. Rosenblum an articulate journalist is on the wrong side of this issue. He sites government statistics that 18% of the Israelis that are living below the poverty line are haredi. The poverty he argues, is a major cause of family dysfunction, lack of shalom bayis challenging their “ehrlikheit” and ultimately negatively impacting on the prospects of good shidduchim for their children. There are, he says three solutions: greater government support; increased contributions from rich Jews from abroad – somewhat like the old chalukah; and adopting a simpler life style.

At least two of the three assume entitlement. Rosenblum admits that he doesn’t have any real solutions. What I do know is that continuing on the current path will lead to economic and social disaster for the unfortunate progeny of those determined to live off of entitlement programs. It is humiliating, diminishing ones self esteem, grinding one into the ground, with little hope for a better opportunity for one’s offspring. Acquiring skills, trades and professions is the only answer. Eliminating the idea of entitlements from their vocabulary as well as their cousins on the other end of the spectrum will be their only yehoshua.