And Justice For All

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After weeks of walking by the Occupy Wall Street protesters daily, I read Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s call to social action, Jewish Ethics & Social Justice, and appreciated the stark difference between exhibitionist and activist protest. Yanklowitz is a familiar social critic in Jewish circles. His byline regularly appears in the Jewish media alongside articles objecting to perceived immoral business practices across a variety of industries. Abounding in energy, he has led service learning trips across the globe, instructing young Jews how to help the underprivileged, and co-founded Uri L’Tzedek, an organization that, among other things, certifies kosher restaurants as socially responsible.

Throughout the ongoing Global Financial Crisis, Yanklowitz’s concern is for its innocent victims—the starving families, the unemployed and particularly the impoverished underemployed. A fountain of actionable ideas, his life is a verb—doing, helping, alleviating. In contrast, the Occupy Wall Street protesters were a noun.

The Wall Street occupiers certainly utilized many action words—screaming, complaining, quarreling, even urinating. However, their lack of agenda belied their claim to the activist label. The paramount social protest of a generation lacked all vision and sought to achieve nothing beyond acknowledgment of the protesters’ existence. They wanted to be; Yanklowitz wants to do.

Yanklowitz’s book reflects his indefatiguable personality, jumping across the map of social ills from one practical solution to another. However, his message is more powerful than its medium. The book’s writing is uneven and its scholarship is suspect. Someone searching for a sober analysis of Judaism’s views on a social justice subject should look elsewhere rather than risk falling prey to Yanklowitz’s cherry-picked sources, often missing crucial texts and concepts. Yanklowitz rightly objects to child labor because American law forbids it but also, he claims, because children must study Torah until the age of twenty. In doing so, he neglects the status of those who lack an obligation to study Torah and the financial independence that the Talmud awards to those above bar mitzvah age.

Through the laws of indirect torts, Yanklowitz attempts to argue that consumers must consider the damage their purchasing choices cause when those very laws imply that consumers are too remote to be held liable. While responsible consumption is certainly commendable, Yanklowitz’s clumsy hermeneutics are self-defeating. The book’s extensive survey of the literature of imprisonment in Jewish law misunderstands the obligation to redeem unjustly imprisoned Jews and entirely omits the important discussion at the birth of the state of Israel, in which the cogent argument that a country cannot function without imprisoning criminals won the day among religious legal thinkers. Despite all these and other flaws, Yanklowitz’s book radiates optimism and succeeds in inspiring readers with its author’s energy and soaring vision.

Yanklowitz raises to the fore Jewish values that are easily forgotten in our busy world. Only a moral cripple, blind to the cries of the destitute and the emphatic Biblical and Talmudic imperatives, would deny the righteousness of social justice. We can quibble about specifics — does a living wage help or hurt the working poor? — but the underlying premise of helping those in need is unquestionably Jewish. Just as God clothes the naked and feeds the hungry, so must we. However, our daily struggle to earn a living, take care of our families and fulfill our own spiritual needs can blind us to those around us who are suffering. Sadly, this is particularly true about observant Jews who pack their lives with a full schedule of religious rituals in addition to facing substantial financial obligations for their kosher and tuition needs. The inward focus can easily blur the outward lens. Yanklowitz wakes us from our distraction, pointing out many people we encounter in our routines who need our help yet whom we easily overlook. He takes us through the difficult lives of domestic workers, hotel cleaning staff, food producers and many more, showing us not only their troubles but how we can alleviate them. And he thankfully does so based on tradition and not cliche.

I once observed a social justice professional use the term Tikkun Olam in a gathering of Orthodox scholars. The ensuing protests over the inappropriate use of this technical term, which refers to a number of concepts but not aid for the needy, were hardly pedantic. Every sensible religion preaches charity and good deeds. Judaism, with its myriad of laws, categorizes and codifies these imperatives. The term Tikkun Olam is only necessary for those with little interest in following the Torah’s mandates, those who desire a religion of compassion rather than a compassionate religion. People committed to the Divine law speak of the obligations of tzedakah and chessed, bal tashchis and yishuv ha-olam, tza’ar ba’alei chaim and kevod ha-beriyos (charity, loving-kindess, preserving resources, settling the world, avoiding animal pain, respect for human dignity).

Yanklowitz does not set out on his own, separating himself from centuries of Jewish tradition by coining his own terms and creating a Judaism in his own image. His social justice agenda is based on the concepts embedded in Talmudic law and thought, expressed throughout the generations of rich rabbinic literature. There is no era in Jewish history during which the regnant rabbinic writings failed to exhort toward social justice. Every genre teaches toward that goal, whether pondering its philosophical sources, detailing the minute laws, poetically describing the beauty of helping others, or chastising those who fail to live up to Judaism’s high standards. Even today, responsa emanating from the most isolated ultra-Orthodox communities continue the prophetic chain of demanding strict adherence to the Torah’s interpersonal obligations. In his haphazard way, Yanklowitz builds his activist agenda on classical Judaism. His vision is a profoundly Jewish social action, emanating from an authentic religious imperative and not just kosher-style.

Yanklowitz tends toward favoring government solutions to social problems, a short-sightedness often found among young idealists who have not experienced the distortion an uncaring bureaucracy inflicts on otherwise worthy programs. However, Yanklowitz’s private sector actions speak louder than his public sector words. Unlike the Wall Street occupiers who want the government to enact some undefined change, Yanklowitz, with his colleagues and students, has built in a few short years an effective educational network encouraging volunteerism and purchase power activism. This passionate teaching and enactment of Judaism’s prophetic message does more to imbue the world with godly values than any financial district occupation has accomplished.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

150 comments

  1. MiMedinat HaYam

    “has built in a few short years an effective educational network encouraging volunteerism and purchase power activism. ”

    where’d you get that from?

    not effective, not a network, never saw (outside) volunteerism, and what “purchase power activism” (not yet proven, and not found outside “upper west side” areas.)

  2. “I once observed a social justice professional use the term Tikkun Olam in a gathering of Orthodox scholars. The ensuing protests over the inappropriate use of this technical term, which refers to a number of concepts but not aid for the needy, were hardly pedantic.”

    There was a lengthy scholarly post on the Areivim listserv which discussed the use of tikkun olam in the context of social justice. Unfortunately, since that list is not archived, I cannot quote from the post and I don’t remember the details of the impressive analysis. But here’s what Micha Berger said about that analysis on the Avodah listserv (RnCL is a reference to the original poster on Areivim):

    “I was convinced last iteration that RnCL is correct. Which I took to
    mean: Liberal Judaisms’ “Tikkun Olam” is not an abuse of the term by
    referring to social justice, although they could be when speaking of
    ecology. But they do go awry when not using a Judaism-based definition of
    “justice” in how to define what needs repairing.”

    Perhaps Micha could fill in some of the details.

  3. Thank you for the thoughtful review. I loved the “religion of compassion” v. “compassionate religion” line in particular.

    The final paragraph caught me: “Yanklowitz tends toward favoring government solutions to social problems, a short-sightedness often found among young idealists who have not experiences [sic] the distortion an uncaring bureaucracy inflicts on otherwise worthy programs.”

    Uncaring or not, the fact is that (a) public policy is, for better or worse, a reflection on our values as a society and (b) government has the ability to provide more and better targeted relief and/or aid to more people than any activist or faith-based organization. Advocating for specific policies *should* go side by side with on-the-ground activism, and I think that is one of the things that Yanklowitz balances very well.

  4. “(a) public policy is, for better or worse, a reflection on our values as a society”

    No, it isn’t. It’s a reflection of how we want to solve them. Lots of small government advocates are very big on giving to private charity. It’s not a zero sum game.

    “(b) government has the ability to provide more and better targeted relief and/or aid to more people than any activist or faith-based organization.”

    Only by taking money away from wealth creators by force and crowding out multiple private organizations. Also, the many regulations they impose plus the (legal) monopoly they often enjoy means that their aid will often be very inefficient and stifling.

  5. Superb review. Unfortunately, far too many of us confuse a life predicated on Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim exclusively with either the liberal or the conservative agendas. Consequently, as in the case of the author, such arguments tend to cherry pick or distort sources that improperly portray Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim as “proving” in the same questionable and result oriented fashion that some argue that there is no conflict between Torah and science or that we must always pick the results of science and the academy over Mesorah, that the Torah observant community is in consonance either exclusively with the liberal or conservative agendas on all issues. As a community and individuals, we should at least have the wherewithal to have the necessary skepticism as to such superficial and reductionist oriented arguments.

  6. Ideology aside, the sheer scale and geographic spread of the US population makes government involvement a necessity. Today’s NYT has this piece on Food Stamps, for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/us/food-stamp-program-helping-reduce-poverty.html

  7. “Ideology aside, the sheer scale and geographic spread of the US population makes government involvement a necessity”

    I love how you keep branding the opposing view an ideology and yours the reality (and quoting the NYT, known as a liberal bastion, to boot).

  8. aiwac — I’m sorry, but libertarian visions of what could be are ideological theory and not reality. “Get the government out of my Medicare!”.

  9. Oh and in case you missed the shock of a less-government poster boy: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17661011

    “Chancellor George Osborne says he is “shocked” that some of the UK’s richest people have organised their finances so that they pay virtually no income tax. […] George Osborne said it was not right that the richest could legally arrange their tax affairs in such a way.”

  10. I was Anonymous at 9:48.

  11. ‘I’m sorry, but libertarian visions of what could be are ideological theory and not reality. “Get the government out of my Medicare!”.’

    Caricaturing your opponents too. Nice. Do you actually read serious libertarian works (which also use real-world examples) or do you rely exclusively on NYT and NYRB for that?

    Back to actual discussion, I think that R. Yanklowitz’s positions on solitary confinement are interesting. I haven’t read his book, but from what I’ve seen he’s very vague on how exactly violent criminals should be punished…

  12. I haven’t read the book but this review rings true with what I have read of Yanklowitz’ writings. I think you did a good job highlighting the positives and negatives. I am not sure, though, why you introduced OWS as a foil. To me it detracted from the review.

  13. “he’s very vague on how exactly violent criminals should be punished”

    If we as a society could get to the point where the question of incarceration were about how to punish violent criminals we would already have made a lot of progress.

  14. “Yanklowitz tends toward favoring government solutions to social problems, a short-sightedness often found among young idealists who have not experiences [sic] the distortion an uncaring bureaucracy inflicts on otherwise worthy programs.”

    Or, to put it another way: Gil tends towards favoring private solutions to social problems, a short-sightedness often found among those whose youthful fervor has become jaded and who therefore ignore the fact that private charities, as commendable as they are, often do not have the resources to adequately fund worthy and necessary programs.

  15. aiwac — Does Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State & Utopia”, Milton Freedman’s “Capitalism & Freedom” and Thomas Sowell’s 1980s ouevre — amomg others — count? [I also subscribed to WFB’s National Review for many years].

  16. “aiwac — Does Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State & Utopia”, Milton Freedman’s “Capitalism & Freedom” and Thomas Sowell’s 1980s ouevre — amomg others — count? [I also subscribed to WFB’s National Review for many years].”

    How exactly could you read those and argue that it’s all theory!?

  17. Life experience.

  18. “If we as a society could get to the point where the question of incarceration were about how to punish violent criminals we would already have made a lot of progress”

    What exactly does that mean?

  19. “Life experience”

    IH,

    In other words, anecdotal evidence.

  20. @The_Dude – We also live in an age where a person going by the name “The Dude” thinks they have the ability to determine what is or is not “true Torah scholarship”

  21. I mean that incarceration is a big social and/or justice issue because a lot of people are incarcerated who are not really threats to society (or, even better, who onyl become threats to society because they have to learn how to survive in prison). The prison problem in the US – exploding prison population, disproportionate impact on already marginal groups (eg, the poor) – is not about “what are we going to do with all these truly dangerous people?” It’s about how did we end up with so many not really dangerous people in there…

  22. Yanklowitz tends toward favoring government solutions to social problems, a short-sightedness often found among young idealists who have not experienced the distortion an uncaring bureaucracy inflicts on otherwise worthy programs.

    This is particularly delicious given all the scandals involving private charities — the latest allegations breaking in Israel this week…

  23. Ouch…

    I’m not claiming to be the final arbiter of what is Torah scholarship. I am, however, the rabbi of a large synagogue in N. America, a member of the RCA, and have published Torah scholarship in English and Hebrew. All in spite of this moniker.

  24. Dude — is it YCT Torah Scholarship responsible for the OU’s cerification of “Glatt Kosher” on Sliced Turkey Breast or “New Bottle” on wine? Perhaps the pot shouldn’t call the kettle black in regard to amaratzut.

  25. MiMedinat HaYam

    private charities — not when you consider the truth that private chsrities are (mostly) private businesses organized as 401c3’s (or the israeli equivalent, an amuta or “hekdesh”.) not exactly altrustic, but …

    emma — do you mean that someone like madoff should not be in prison, considering that “It’s about how did we end up with so many not really dangerous people in there…”

    (of course, the torah does not provide for prisons, but, i guess, madoff would be an “eved ivri” with little market value considering his age and (prob) poor work disposition, considering his background. nothing sinster about the last point.) so his investors will be out their investments. which they are anyway.)

  26. emma,

    What would you propose we do with, say, embezzlers or hackers?

    “This is particularly delicious given all the scandals involving private charities — the latest allegations breaking in Israel this week…”

    Which is as nothing compared the corruption stories that come out about Bituach Le’umi and other government offices on an almost daily basis.

  27. MiMedinat HaYam

    IH — glatt kosher today does NOT mean “chalaK”. it means “meat known as glatt”

  28. MMhY — so giving a Rabbinic imprimatur to amaratzut is ok, if it’s good for business?

  29. IH- Unfortunately I am not invIolved in Big Kashrut. I will be the first to admit that the kashrut industry is in need of reform.

  30. The Dude,

    How can the Kashrut industry be reformed?

  31. aiwac and mimedinat correctly point out that there are nonviolent offenders whom it seems “wrong” to let out – for retributive reasons. again i would only say that before we get to them there are a lot of poor, petty offenders serving long sentences for drug crimes. some drug criminals are not so petty and not so nice, but end the “War on drugs” and their black market gets smaller…
    Personally, I am not a scholar of criminal justice, but i do think we might consider exploring other forms of punishment that may cater a bit to the retributive side but also include other elements (restoration) – for example, actually requiring financial criminals to pay back to some degree.

  32. (not just drug crimes, btw – other petty crimes, or people in jail for violating parole in petty ways (often relating to being poor), etc.)

  33. emma – ‘actually requiring financial criminals to pay back to some degree.” they usually are require to pay back by court order. but don’t hold your breath (unless its the madoff case were recovery is higher than the norm).

  34. “for retributive reasons”

    Also for deterrence purposes.

    “again i would only say that before we get to them there are a lot of poor, petty offenders serving long sentences for drug crimes. some drug criminals are not so petty and not so nice, but end the “War on drugs” and their black market gets smaller…”

    This is a good argument for ending that war…

    “for example, actually requiring financial criminals to pay back to some degree.”

    And if they don’t pay?

  35. Dude — I was just using Kashrut Certification as an example. I have seen no lack of amaratzut across the board. I have also seen Torah scholarship across the board.

    On the broader topic, one should also be careful to distinguish between true amaratzut and (more often) disagreement on the meaning of a given text. Let’s not confuse politics with chochma.

  36. I just removed all references to R. Yanklowitz’s yeshiva. Please comment responsibly.

  37. these are all good questions. i am not advocating some radical shift away from prisons in all cases (or really advocating anything). but i think it is foolish not to see that we overuse prisons currently. so instead of resisting anti prison arguments with “what about charles manson/madoff?” i would encourage y’all to first think positively about the “easy: ways to reduce prison populations.
    re: paying back. listen, if i steal your iphone and sell it for a quick buck i could go to jail, but will i ever have to pay you your $300 (or whatever)? the actual nondetterence is about not getting caught, not about what happens when i do.

  38. aiwac –

    This is not the forum, but some bullet points:

    1) Honesty – Does aluminum foil really need supervision?

    Convincing companies that kosher supervision will make their product more marketable is disingenuous. The motivation is solely $$, not the benefit of the kosher consumer. It also reflects poorly on halakha – we look foolish.

    Let’s move back to supervising what actually needs to be supervised.

    2) Affordability – Why should a small business owner struggle to pay for an overpriced emblem?

    Big Kashrut has convinced us that some hechsherim are good while others are not. The ‘good labels’ cost a small fortune.

    How does this benefit the kosher consumer or small business owner wanting kosher certification?

    3) Transparency – I think we should move away from Big Kashrut and move towards a smaller, community based model.

    Kashrut shouldn’t be about big business. It should be about serving the needs of the kosher consumer and business owner. I believe small, local rabbis understand those needs and can meet those needs best.

    I think the industry can learn a lot from the Chicago Rabbinical Council, for example.

  39. Dude,

    I can’t think of a better forum. Most of what you say seems to require the consumers to be a lot more active in their Kashrut purchases.

    How can communities deal with mass-produced factory food (as opposed to local restaurants or catering services)?

  40. emma – ” the actual nondetterence is about not getting caught, not about what happens when i do.” i think its both. all the financial embezzlement cases or ponzi schemes include payback of stolen money plus jail time. the stealing is the criminal activity plus you can always sue – or go after assets for your money after conviction.

  41. aiwac,

    That is why I gave the CRC as an example.

    They supervise both retail and industrial. And they do so with honesty, affordability, and transparency. Probably one of the more healthy Jewish Organizations around today. In full disclosure, I am NOT a member or employee of the CRC.

  42. Emma, I think we really do need a radical shift away from prisons. There’s no reason why we can’t have low imprisonment rates like those found in Western Europe. (Most European counties imprison less than 100 people per 100,000 while we imprison 743 per 100,000 — and much of this is because we imprison African-Americans at many times the rate of whites, largely for drug offenses which whites are equally guilty of. See The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.) The Madoff case doesn’t change anything for me. The Torah says a robber should become a slave. This would be appropriate for Madoff. Let him live on foodstamps in a modest apartment, allowed to leave only to go shopping or to go to his 40-hour unpaid job teaching inner city kids how to read or do math or something he’s qualified to teach. Let him do something productive rather than just rot in prison and use up tax dollars.

  43. “There’s no reason why we can’t have low imprisonment rates like those found in Western Europe”

    Except for the Drug War.

    “much of this is because we imprison African-Americans at many times the rate of whites, largely for drug offenses”

    Unfortunately, this isn’t true. For whatever reason, Black youth commit a disproportional amount of violent crime. Furthermore, the ones who suffer the most from this are other Blacks. You’re right that prison alone won’t solve this. Ending the Drug War might be a good start.

    http://www.city-journal.org/2012/eon0404hs.html

  44. “all the financial embezzlement cases or ponzi schemes include payback ”
    but do most theft cases, like the iphone i mentioned? i think usualy not. often the thiefs are judgment proof (That’s why they are stealing) – but wouldn’t it be better to let them keep going to their job and garnish their wages until they pay back, say, 3x what they stole, than totally removing them from society, making them likely more violent and unemployable on their return, and then whining about how poor people really need to take mor responsibility for themselves?

  45. “but wouldn’t it be better to let them keep going to their job and garnish their wages until they pay back, say, 3x what they stole, than totally removing them from society”

    Emma, something tells me that you have to commit quite a bit of petty theft before you’re actually sent to prison.

  46. I think R’ Yanklowitz and Occupy Wall Street are on the same page. Our society is sick — we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising for things we don’t need, yet thousands of people are homeless and a third of the country scrambles to live from paycheck to paycheck if they’re lucky enough to have a job (not to mention the nightmare of healthcare). Occupy Wall Street was not centrally run — it included all kinds of groups, from anarchists to liberals — so it’s understandable that they didn’t have a unified message. But most of them simply advocate for a just society, a more social-democratic society where corporations don’t run the government, where fighting poverty and making life better for your average person is the government’s priority. The tactic of occupying a public space is a necessary one, because one-day protests get no attention, and these occupations are an important way to raise public awareness and get social justice in the national spotlight. Similar protests have been happening around the world, in Spain, Israel, etc. Right-wing economics and corporate dominated government have been spreading around the world for decades, eroding public services and the quality of life, and since the movement against corporate globalization began in around the year 2000 there has been a growing movement in the opposite direction (though Bush’s wars distracted them into anti-war protest for a while). Occupy movements turn these same concerns towards domestic policy, which is more salient to everyday people than the IMF or WTO.

  47. “and then whining about how poor people really need to take mor responsibility for themselves?”

    We all need to take responsibility for our actions and for ourselves. Full Stop. To say otherwise is to deny human beings moral agency.

  48. >Gil tends towards favoring private solutions to social problems, a short-sightedness often found among those whose youthful fervor has become jaded and who therefore ignore the fact that private charities, as commendable as they are, often do not have the resources to adequately fund worthy and necessary programs.

    So, only statists and Democrats are far-sighted, and care about the poor, whereas skeptics are short-sighted, hate the poor, and hate women? Governments have no resources of their own – they must tax, borrow or print money to fund its programs and entitlements, effectively taking money by force from producers and savers and giving it to retirees, government workers and debtors (special interest groups), with a tiny fraction going to the truly poor. To help the truly poor, private charity (with voluntary contributions) would be sufficient, and that’s what the Torah requires. Taxes reduce money available for charities and Jewish education, and of course for private investment which creates real private sector jobs.

  49. aiwac, let’s even geant for the moment that “black youths” commit more violent crime per capita than others. how much of the racial discrepancies in prison population vs. national population does that account for? and what kind of “youths” are you talking about? if they are really kids isn’t that also part of a bigger conversation about whether trying a child counterfactually “as an adult” and sending them to prison for decades is a good idea? and how many of these bad outcomes in late childhood could be prevented by less expensive interventions in infancy and early childhood?

  50. “I think R’ Yanklowitz and Occupy Wall Street are on the same page”

    God, I hope not.

    “we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising for things we don’t need”

    Such as? You do know that by paying for those things, you’re indirectly employing tens of thousands of people, right?

    “where fighting poverty and making life better for your average person is the government’s priority”

    Why can’t it be society’s priority, done willingly, instead of through forced taxation?

    “The tactic of occupying a public space is a necessary one, because one-day protests get no attention, and these occupations are an important way to raise public awareness and get social justice in the national spotlight”

    They’re also an important way to destroy adjacent businesses that employed many people.

  51. “We all need to take responsibility for our actions and for ourselves. Full Stop. To say otherwise is to deny human beings moral agency.”

    Do not disagree. But the fact that some people have not bettered their own situation is not proof that they are not taking responsibility, is my point. You can pull yourself together out of prison but if the best job you can get is night janitor because you are an ex-con you are still going to be poor.

  52. “aiwac, let’s even geant for the moment that “black youths” commit more violent crime per capita than others”

    This isn’t really a racial thing so much as it is geographical. When I say “black youths” I’m referring to those who live in the inner cities, not the suburbs.

    “and how many of these bad outcomes in late childhood could be prevented by less expensive interventions in infancy and early childhood?”

    I don’t see how. We’re talking about a massive societal problem including an overwhelming majority of out-of-wedlock/single mother children (fathers are very important for raising boys to be responsible and restrained adults) and a culture that endorses violence and sociopathy as opposed to responsible behavior and social mobility.

    It’s the kind of thing that will take many, many years to fix.

  53. Aiwac, rates of violence are higher but this does not account for most of the disparity. I agree ending the drug war is crucial but a lot more is needed to improve people’s life chances. Our educational system just doesn’t serve poor minorities well — it doesn’t keep them in school or teach them any skills to succeed in the workforce. Most black men who drop out end up in prison at some point. In many other countries (such as Mexico and Brazil) families receive payments to keep their children in school, and it has dramatically increased high school graduation rates. If we had the same thing here, plus job training/apprenticeship/college/jobplacement programs for at-risk young men, rates of graduation and employment would increase and the problem of violence would dissipate. A certain amount of violence associated with the illegal drug trade is inevitable but it can be minimized if a larger proportion of people are given a chance to succeed in the workforce.

  54. Y,

    The issue is not whether they have technically graduated, but whether they have really earned skills that will help them move up in the world. Far too many people graduate HS and even college without real benefits.

    “job training/apprenticeship/college/jobplacement programs for at-risk young men”

    This I actually support. Germany has a system like that and it works very well. I do think we need to move back to a system where private companies and employers train people. Heck, even lawyers used to apprentice.

    “A certain amount of violence associated with the illegal drug trade is inevitable but it can be minimized if a larger proportion of people are given a chance to succeed in the workforce.”

    But that would require removing the many restrictive labor laws that keep out people with initially low skills such as the minimum wage law.

  55. “Emma, something tells me that you have to commit quite a bit of petty theft before you’re actually sent to prison.”

    Unless you are a professional in this area I would not trust your instincts. (I am not, which is why I speaking somewhat vaguely.) Let’s say you steal a cel phone, plead guilty, and get a no-jail sentence with probation only. you also have to pay some sort fees for your probation visits, which you default on at some point because you are living paycheck to paycheck and also not so great at managing your money. now you violated parole and get arrested (either for that or for another petty theft). you are likely going to jail. or say you pled guilty to two minor counts when you were a kid, lived more or less traight for 10-15 years, and then got arrested for burglary. you could go to jail for life under three strikes. neither of these scenarios makes sense, to me, but both happen.
    anecdotes aside, there are empirical studies of these things. as i said this is not my area (Y. have anything more to add?) but if you are curious you can read up.
    it strains credulity to argue that the exploding prison population tracks an explosion in the number of people who really are that bad. it seems to me the burden of proof is on those who do _not_ think we are imprisoning too many people.

  56. emma – “but wouldn’t it be better to let them keep going to their job and garnish their wages until they pay back.” don’t disagree. btw, before the recent cases – around madoff time – the time in jail for financial chicanery was minimal – usually under 2 -3 years or a slap on the wrist plus restittution if you can find it.

  57. “I don’t see how. We’re talking about a massive societal problem …”

    see, e.g., http://evidencebasedprograms.org/wordpress/?page_id=57

    also, some of the social dysfunction is _caused_ by the fact that so many men are in prison and/or unemployable when they get out.

  58. “You can pull yourself together out of prison but if the best job you can get is night janitor because you are an ex-con you are still going to be poor”

    That doesn’t justify going back to being a criminal. It’s not like you have a choice between being homeless or being a crook.

    “it strains credulity to argue that the exploding prison population tracks an explosion in the number of people who really are that bad”

    My initial discussion referred to arguments against solitary confinement for the truly dangerous.

    “it strains credulity to argue that the exploding prison population tracks an explosion in the number of people who really are that bad.”

    I never said that. I do think that ending the Drug War would go a long way to reducing prison populations. I also think that if you’re not going to incarcerate “not so bad” people, the alternate punishments do have to be an effective deterrent. Otherwise, you’re letting criminals essentially roam the streets freely.

  59. “some of the social dysfunction is _caused_ by the fact that so many men are in prison and/or unemployable when they get out.”

    Some. By no means all or even most.

  60. “see, e.g., http://evidencebasedprograms.org/wordpress/?page_id=57

    That’s like putting a band-aid on the wound rather than fighting the cause of the wound itself (out-of-wedlock births).

  61. aiwac, i think we are talking past each other to some degree and agree more than you realize. i was initially responding to your statement that “he is very vague on exactly how violent criminals should be punished.” my main point all along has been that at this stage in the american game i am actually fine with vagueness on solutions – we need more recognition that there is a huge problem with many aspects of imprisonment.
    as for my janitor hypotehtical, my point was that if he lives blamelessly forever after he will still be poor. i do not accuse you personally of “whining” about how poor people just need to help themselves. That said, the flip side to your “We all need to take responsibility for our actions and for ourselves. Full Stop. To say otherwise is to deny human beings moral agency” is that it is dangerous to impute _too much_ to individual moral agency when at least some of an individual’s outcomes are dictated by circumstances beyond her control.

  62. >“where fighting poverty and making life better for your average person is the government’s priority”

    There is no average person, and no way to make everybody happy. A government policy might be good for one person and bad for another; it’s usually good for the politicians and public sector employees. Some policies sound good in theory (e.g. cradle to grave welfare state), but could easily make the “average man” worse off, and he might even be unaware of it.

  63. Tikkun Olam versus other descriptors- “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” IIUC R’YBS taught that we are part of both a universal covenant as well as a particularist one. If our current circumstances do not allow us to allocate significant resources to the former (certainly a somewhat debatable proposition), imho we should at least regret it rather than make it a badge of honor.
    ML

  64. if this is a multi generational problem, it takes multiple generations to fix. if you can get better outcomes in one generation of kids it may make them less likely to become parents at 15 themselves? in other words, it is too late for the parents to a large degree but the earlier you intervene w the kids, the less likely that it is too late for them.

  65. ps – on the review itself, i am also concerned with the fast-and-loose use of sources. but i think you (gil) do a good job of capturing why the book is potentially important anyway if it can get people to think about things (and perhaps even analyze them more rigorously) that they ignored before…

  66. “in other words, it is too late for the parents to a large degree but the earlier you intervene w the kids, the less likely that it is too late for them.”

    Only if single motherhood stops being glorified in the media and society at large and is recognized as the lousy situation it really is (with few exceptions).

  67. despite this alleged glorification lots of people seem to avoid single motherhood. those people tend to be better educated and be better on other markers than the people who have kids alone at 16. this is in part because better educated people have better options that they can see being ruined by having a baby alone at a young age. it’s in part because girls in more stable family situations are less likely to engage in fantastic thinking that if they just have their own baby they will finally have someone to love, and love them. but regardless of causation, if kids with better and more education and better family lives are less likely to become young unwed parents, then an intervention that helps stabilize homes and improves educational outcomes should help a bit, no?
    Someone who grew up poor with a single mom is the most likely to know what a lousy situation it is, yet also the most likely to replicate it. so “glorification”/not seems not the be the answer here…

  68. “despite this alleged glorification lots of people seem to avoid single motherhood”

    Alleged? Have you been paying any attention to all the hype about ‘decline of marriage’ and endorsement of ‘alternative’ family lifestyles?

    “it’s in part because girls in more stable family situations”

    Bingo.

    “so “glorification”/not seems not the be the answer here…”

    Or perhaps not denigration of the two-parent household as being quaint and outdated.

    See here for more:

    http://www.city-journal.org/article01.php?aid=1367

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_1_marriage_gap.html

  69. so do you agree or disagree that there are or may be ways to make already-single-parent-headed households more stable such that their children are less likely to follow suit?

    btw, i highly doubt that the “taisha browns” of the world profiled in the city journal article you linked care a whit about an article in the atlantic…

  70. “So, only statists and Democrats are far-sighted, and care about the poor, whereas skeptics are short-sighted, hate the poor, and hate women? ”

    of course not. First of all I was VERY careful in my language (as was Gil in his) and I said NOTHING about hating the poor and women. I’m surprised at you Canuck. Second, as for short sighted/far-sighted, I was using Gil’s language, and in fact, was really asking (in a different way) your question, from the opposite side, of Gil; i.e., you mean only conservatives and republicans are far sighted? Which was really my point (and perhaps it wasn’t clear, for which I apologize); that is, not that what I wrote was the absolute truth but that what Gil wrote was a very one-sided statement of a very complex issue, and a similar unbalanced, and simplistic, statement can be made for the other side.

  71. ps – the talk in the first article of children raising siblings/cousins and then having their own children young because everyone is doing it reminds me of some segments of the jewish world. the results are both similar and different in important ways…

  72. “so do you agree or disagree that there are or may be ways to make already-single-parent-headed households more stable such that their children are less likely to follow suit?”

    I’ll believe it when I see it. If it does work, I’ll support it.

    “btw, i highly doubt that the “taisha browns” of the world profiled in the city journal article you linked care a whit about an article in the atlantic…”

    There are other sources of glorification such as the entertainment industry which she would care about.

  73. Re the kashrut industry: while there a re certainly plenty of problems, I’m old enough to remember going away on a vacation to, for example, Vermont or NH and having to bring EVERYTHING with us, and i recall when the VH (of Boston) began giving a hechsher on Finast (which eventually became Stop & Shop) and how we heaved a sigh of relief that we didn’t have to pack bread and tuna fish for sandwiches any more. The good old days were, it’s true old, and they were good in loots of things, but in others they have been improved upon, which includes certain aspects of kashrut.

  74. Are there any actual studies of the Kashrut industry, either in the US or Israel? I’m thinking of doing a comparative study on the issue.

  75. ““much of this is because we imprison African-Americans at many times the rate of whites, largely for drug offenses”

    Unfortunately, this isn’t true. For whatever reason, Black youth commit a disproportional amount of violent crime. Furthermore, the ones who suffer the most from this are other Blacks.”

    I’m certainly no expert in this area, but from what I’ve read AIWAC is probably right about violent crime. However, that really is that responsive to the Emma’s point since it only explains why the percentage of African-American youth imprisoned for violent crime is higher than that of white youth. But from what I’ve read, the percentage of African-American youth imprisoned for relatively minor drug crimes (no violence, none or minimal dealing) is vastly higher than that of white youth which is much harder to explain and which appears to be the major cause of why some many African-Americans spend an inordinate amount of time in prison.

  76. Joseph,

    That’s precisely why I believe we should end the Drug War.

  77. Joseph Kaplan – I’m sorry if it appeared that I put words in your mouth; that wasn’t my intention, and it should be obvious from your previous comments that you didn’t accuse anybody of “hating the poor” or “hating women.” I put those expressions into my response, because they are often directed at me by others when I express even the smallest skepticism towards Obamacare or any other government sponsored social program. I assumed others would understand that those were stock comments typically directed by statists against those who disagree with their agenda. It’s a way to cut off debate, much like accusing someone of being a racist. I realize left vs. right debates are almost always counterproductive – nobody is convinced and differences are highlighted rather than commonalities. But, in this case, I believed it was relevant in order to clarify the difference between Tikkun Olam and political projects. Happy Pesach.

  78. ” I realize left vs. right debates are almost always counterproductive – nobody is convinced and differences are highlighted rather than commonalities.”

    as Mycroft would say, agreed.

  79. “I realize left vs. right debates are almost always counterproductive – nobody is convinced and differences are highlighted rather than commonalities”

    Yes, but I think this debate has been very productive and informative.

  80. Gil.
    you get a lot of credit from me for highlighting the valuable contributions of a leading young “post-Orthodox” rabbi.

  81. AIWAC-do you have a realistic substitute for fighting the drug war other than incarceration? I don’t think that labeling crimes relating to drug use, sale and vice as victimless crimes works because there are victims of the same in terms of the need to keep the flow of drugs working, the drafting of low level sellers and other crimes and drug related accidents caused by the consumers of all sorts of drugs.

    One related point-If, if as many studies indicate, that violent crimes in the inner city are committed by members of minority groups against each other, would not the claim as recently advanced that the incarceration for the same is racist or worse, be a rather specious argument?

  82. “AIWAC-do you have a realistic substitute for fighting the drug war other than incarceration?”

    I don’t want it to be a war, period.

    I support the decriminalization of at least some drugs. Will there be addicts? Sure, there will always be addicts. But there won’t be a black market filled with violent criminals who murder tens of thousands of people in the US, Mexico and elsewhere. Just like with prohibition, once the amendment was repealed, organized crime’s profits and incentive to be involved in the drug trade will dry up.

    Is it the best situation? No. Many times you have to choose between the lesser of two evils and the Drug War is the Greater one in my opinion.

  83. IH wrote:

    “aiwac — I’m sorry, but libertarian visions of what could be are ideological theory and not reality. “Get the government out of my Medicare”

    That’s what Aiwac meant-when you cite the NYT ( especially Paul Krugman who makes no pretense of objectivity, except for the services rendered to his Third World consulting clients or anyone other than David Brooks), the NYRB , the Guardian or Haaretz, that is hardly Moshe Emes USarao Emes on any political issue.

  84. Steve,
    I believe Aiwac is advocating the end of the drug war itself, not just the end of incarceration for it. In other words, posession, sale, and importation of drugs would not be criminal, and would therefore operate more like other markets than like a violent network of gangs on the black market. (This would have geopolitical ramifications for countries like mexico, too, for which the drug war has been a disaster.) For what it’s worth I agree with him.

  85. IH-I noted your claim to the conservative sources that you have read throughout the years? How anyone could claim being au courant with the same and not reading Commentary on a monthly basis mystifies me.

  86. (comments crossed).
    on the prohibition analogy, all the arguments against alcohol prohibition apply to marijuana and other drugs too. but unlike alcohol, the arguments _for_ prohibition of marijuana, at least, are quite weak.

  87. Emma wrote:

    “I believe Aiwac is advocating the end of the drug war itself, not just the end of incarceration for it. In other words, posession, sale, and importation of drugs would not be criminal, and would therefore operate more like other markets than like a violent network of gangs on the black market”

    Hasn’t the UK tried such a system witthout any sizeable reduction in drug use?I don’t think decriminalization will have any effect on the many violent crimes that are related to drug use, and can be causally connected to the same.

  88. Emma wrote:

    “on the prohibition analogy, all the arguments against alcohol prohibition apply to marijuana and other drugs too. but unlike alcohol, the arguments _for_ prohibition of marijuana, at least, are quite weak.”

    Prohibition was a social experiment that failed. Yet, one cannot claim that the social and societal costs of alcoholism are nonexistent.

  89. I have seen some excellent reviews on a book by Jonathan Hait on the differences between liberals and conservatives as well as those between those Americans with strong religious beliefs and those who are atheists. Books of that nature as well as by David Brooks add much to those who engage in discussions of this nature.

  90. “Prohibition was a social experiment that failed. Yet, one cannot claim that the social and societal costs of alcoholism are nonexistent”

    Of course not. I specifically said it’s the lesser of the two evils. It’s a simple question of whether you want addicts and crime with cartels and hit squads or addicts and crime without cartels and hit squads (sometimes they’re as powerful as armies).

  91. Emma and Aiwac-there is not all that much difference between an educated single woman who is single by choice and teens having children out of wedlock and being dependent solely on a network of benefits to provide care for the same. Both cases , as described in the linked articles, illustrate the logical conclusion when a person thinks of only their needs, regardless of whether they have the educational and emotional tools to make a decision as to whether to get an education, find a responsible spouse or whether their career takes precedence over all other factors in their lives. Why aren’t their decisions examples of acting in a selfish manner?

  92. “Why aren’t their decisions examples of acting in a selfish manner?”

    Steven,

    I don’t understand why you’re addressing me. You’re preaching to the converted when it comes to single-mothers-by-choice.

  93. “there is not all that much difference between an educated single woman who is single by choice and teens having children out of wedlock ”
    except, of coure, for the likely outcome for her children on basically all measures (health, education, earnings).

  94. Noone has discussed this issue, but the recent conclusion of “March Madness” and the ongoing infatuation with celebrities who are not paragons of moral values in our society should be at least a source of concern. When it is obvious that the NCAA champion is predicated on a “one and done” view of college sports, one can argue that sports and celebrity, as opposed to a serious educational experience and family values, remains the fantasy and goal for far too many inner city youth to escape the innner city.

  95. Aiwac-you and Emma linked the City Journal and Atlantic articles. My observation was that the linked articles had the same common denominator-selfishness.

  96. “except, of coure, for the likely outcome for her children on basically all measures (health, education, earnings)”

    You’re ignoring the large amount of money spent on day care which isn’t compensated by a second income (ie, a husband). The fact that relatively educated single mothers do better than uneducated single mothers is only a relative measure. It still isn’t recommended.

  97. “Aiwac-you and Emma linked the City Journal and Atlantic articles. My observation was that the linked articles had the same common denominator-selfishness”

    I agree. It’s a selfish act. The question is how to convince people not to do it or give incentives in that direction.

  98. Emma wrote in response to my post:

    ““there is not all that much difference between an educated single woman who is single by choice and teens having children out of wedlock ”
    except, of coure, for the likely outcome for her children on basically all measures (health, education, earnings).”

    That’s true, but it ignores the conscious choices by both women, both of which are predicated on their own perceived needs and desires.

  99. steve, aiwac did all the linking and he was disagreeing with the social trend those articles describe.

    aiwac, yes, it is harder to be a single parent than not, and a single mother will have fewer resources than a married one, generally. but steve claimed not only that it is not ideal, but that it is “selfish” for a woman who _can_ afford to to have kids alone. i do not understand what is selfish about it if the kid is taken care of and likely to thrive. unless you claim that the kid is not likely to thrive, in which case i would ask for data. there are other choices a woman could make that reduce the material support available to her kids – marrying a low-earning man, or dropping out of the workforce herself, eg – these are not “selfish” so much as “tradeoffs.”

  100. Hi,
    I have not read through all the comments, just noted their number! And, as a friend of Shmuly, I take an interest! But, please consider reading this article from a few months ago in The NewYorker on prison in modern America. People who aren’t “moral cripples” should care: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120130crat_atlarge_gopnik

  101. “When it is obvious that the NCAA champion is predicated on a “one and done” view of college sports, one can argue that sports and celebrity, as opposed to a serious educational experience and family values, remains the fantasy and goal for far too many inner city youth to escape the innner city.”

    Except that the athletes who do “one and done” and get to the NBA are quite successful. Wouldn’t it be better if those athletes who can succeed in the NBA be allowed to do so without the sham of having to go to college for a year. Isn’t it the NCAA, and the colleges, which require at least one year of college the ones who are simply getting a year of work, without pay, from athletes who are making millions of dollars for the universities and the NCAA?

  102. Is a single woman who has a child and has to put the child in day care without the second income from a husband any more selfish than those who have 7+ children without a sufficient income to support the children? Or whose older children end up being the ones who provide “day care” for the younger ones? If we’re talking about income and finances, there are plenty of married couples who can’t afford their children and plenty of single women who can afford them just fine. Yes, the ideal is a father and mother who love each other and their children and who have adequate income to provide for their family. But there are lots of non-single mother families who don’t meet this standard.

  103. In thinking about it some more, it would be helpful for me in considering whether single motherhood is “selfish” if someone who thought that would explain what non-selfish reasons couples have for having children.

  104. “Is a single woman who has a child and has to put the child in day care without the second income from a husband any more selfish than those who have 7+ children without a sufficient income to support the children?”

    No, and you’re not strengthening your case.

    “If we’re talking about income and finances, there are plenty of married couples who can’t afford their children and plenty of single women who can afford them just fine. Yes, the ideal is a father and mother who love each other and their children and who have adequate income to provide for their family. But there are lots of non-single mother families who don’t meet this standard.”

    It’s not just about income, it’s about psychological growth. Children born in a single-parent household are at a far greater risk of all sorts of anti-social behavior and problems. Furthermore, many, many single mothers are not the “oh-so-affluent” types you’re thinking of. Otherwise you wouldn’t see so many court cases where single women try to extract child support from the “baby-daddys”.

    “But there are lots of non-single mother families who don’t meet this standard.”

    And there is a larger proportion of single mothers who don’t meet this standard either in income or as parents. At least in a two-parent household if one parent isn’t functioning the other might.

  105. “In thinking about it some more, it would be helpful for me in considering whether single motherhood is “selfish” if someone who thought that would explain what non-selfish reasons couples have for having children”

    It’s selfish because the mother is causing the child incredible risk because of her own needs. A couple who does so at least ensures the child a better shot at a normal life than the former. Stop White-Knighting.

  106. “I have not read through all the comments, just noted their number!”

    That number would have been greater, except R Gil deleted some innapropriate ones. I haven’t seen them either- I wish there was some wikipedia-type feature that allowed viewing article history…

  107. “if someone who thought that would explain what non-selfish reasons couples have for having children”

    It’s selfish because the mother is causing the child incredible risk because of her own needs. A couple who does so at least ensures the child a better shot at a normal life than the former.”

    Doesn’t answer my question.

    “Stop White Knighting.”

    I can’t since I don’t understand the reference.

  108. Fair enough. It’s less selfish.

  109. FYI, I’m holding Jerry’s comments back for the moment as I ask a she’eilah about them. Seems to me like a tough call so I’m pushing it up the ladder.

  110. “Stop White Knighting”

    Someone who defends female behavior regardless of what that behavior is.

  111. I’m happy to reword if that makes it easier. I think they’re fair as is, but I’m not married to them.

  112. Emma wrote in part:

    “but steve claimed not only that it is not ideal, but that it is “selfish” for a woman who _can_ afford to to have kids alone. i do not understand what is selfish about it if the kid is taken care of and likely to thrive. unless you claim that the kid is not likely to thrive, in which case i would ask for data. there are other choices a woman could make that reduce the material support available to her kids – marrying a low-earning man, or dropping out of the workforce herself, eg – these are not “selfish” so much as “tradeoffs”

    Emma-thinking in terms of what one is pleasing to oneself-whether a teen with no visible signs of support and access only to government entitlements or as a highly educated woman with more or better options re health care than a municipal pediatric clinic that deals accepts Medicaid patients, are based on the same ethical considerations. Use of the term “failure to thrive”, which AFAIK, is a pediatric neurological term,and which can occur in any economic setting, really does not add to the discussion of the choices made by a woman, whether to have a child as a teen with no means of support, or to place her career first and foremost in her life.

  113. Joseph Kaplan wrote in response:

    “When it is obvious that the NCAA champion is predicated on a “one and done” view of college sports, one can argue that sports and celebrity, as opposed to a serious educational experience and family values, remains the fantasy and goal for far too many inner city youth to escape the innner city.”

    Except that the athletes who do “one and done” and get to the NBA are quite successful. Wouldn’t it be better if those athletes who can succeed in the NBA be allowed to do so without the sham of having to go to college for a year. Isn’t it the NCAA, and the colleges, which require at least one year of college the ones who are simply getting a year of work, without pay, from athletes who are making millions of dollars for the universities and the NCAA?

    I agree, but would a cveat-the percentage of athletes who make it in the NBA after one and done is small. The notion of the NCAA supervising the role of student athletes, really borders on the incredible, when in fact intercollegiate atheltics is essentially the farm system for professional sports.

  114. i was not using “thrive” in the technical sense.

    “selfish” implies that the child loses out because of her choice. you seem to be talking about “career women” who don’t get married and then decide in their 30s to have a child anyway. your claim seems to be that if they had only thought more about their future children earlier they would have gotten married and raised kids that way. i think that is false, but let’s even assume it is true. so what? is the cost to their children really greater than many other sorts of costs that people impose on their kids all the time? (is it “selfish” for a parent to move her family across the country for a better job? and do you agree with aiwac that it is “selfish” to have more kids than you can reliably provide for either financially or emotionally?)

  115. steve, let me put it this way: if her career were really “first and foremost in her life” she would not intentionally have children.

  116. Joseph Kaplan wrote:

    “Is a single woman who has a child and has to put the child in day care without the second income from a husband any more selfish than those who have 7+ children without a sufficient income to support the children? Or whose older children end up being the ones who provide “day care” for the younger ones”

    Would I be correct in assuming that the above is a comment about the large size of families in Charedi ( Litvishe and Chasidishe communities), who also partake of entitlements? If I’m correct, one would be hard pressed to find the type of interfamilial and communal support for newborn mothers, access to quality medical care, the importance of education as defined by their community, and an overall sense of Chesed from parents to older children to younger children that is manifestly evident in these communities. I have not seen these factors evident in other communities of similar economic scales as a traveller through some of New York’s worst neighborhoods for more than 30 years. All too often, one can ride the subways through these neighborhoods and see three generations of recipients of public assistance, with evidence of teens not in school, and no evidence of anyone working at all.

  117. Emma wrote:

    “steve, let me put it this way: if her career were really “first and foremost in her life” she would not intentionally have children”

    Even so, her choice of priorities dictated the course of her life-in the same manner as the teen who got pregnant .

  118. Jerry: I’m not sure rewording will do. You can e-mail me at [email protected] Just to be clear to other readers, I am not accusing you of anything bad. There are just some issues that are best left outside of the public domain and I’m not sure where this falls.

  119. Emma wrote in part:

    “(is it “selfish” for a parent to move her family across the country for a better job? and do you agree with aiwac that it is “selfish” to have more kids than you can reliably provide for either financially or emotionally?)”

    Life as a family entails choices, many of which are not easily made and/or rationalized by anyone. Uprooting a family and moving across the copuntry, especially with kids of school age, is a very difficult choice, which can be detrimental to the structure of the family as spouses and children. Having to find and enter into a new community is more easily said than done. Moving solely for financial reasons should never be considered anm easy decision when you have kids of school age and an established presence in a community, especially for Torah observant Jews. That, is far different than a halachically defensible decision not to have more children than one can financially and emotionally support.

  120. “All too often, one can ride the subways through these neighborhoods and see three generations of recipients of public assistance, with evidence of teens not in school, and no evidence of anyone working at all.”

    Steve, you repeat this often enough that I have to finally ask: how can you tell if someone is getting public assitance by riding the subway with them? And what would “evidence” of employment mean?

  121. Steve, you seem to agree that sometimes parents are entitled to make hard choices – tradeoffs – without being labeled “selfish.” In theory, could this not apply to single parents as well?

  122. No problem whatsoever. I completely understand. Will email.

  123. David linked to the following article:

    “But, please consider reading this article from a few months ago in The NewYorker on prison in modern America. People who aren’t “moral cripples” should care: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120130crat_atlarge_gopnik

    The linked article argues that there is a decrease in crime but the degree of incarceration has increased, due to the drug war. Such a premise would be correct, if one ignored the fact that most jurisdictions have different types of correctional facilities for persons convicted or serving sentences pursuant to a plea for different crimes. Stated simpply, one should never confuse the inmate in a maximum security facility with someone in a medium or lesser security facility , ignore the fact that recidivism plays no small role in criminal conduct , or that which is called reported crime has long been considered the tip of the iceberg by criminologists.

  124. Emma wrote:

    “you repeat this often enough that I have to finally ask: how can you tell if someone is getting public assitance by riding the subway with them? And what would “evidence” of employment mean”

    If you see a female teen with a baby stroller with no male present on the subway, or teens or college age persons of both genders during school hours riding the subway with no evidence of a knapsack and school books ,and/or a male or female in the middle of the day going to no particular location, as opposed to rush hour, a reasonable assumption is that all of the above are on public assistance of one form or another.

    Re single parenthood-since when is such a decision or lifestyle optimal either for a parent or a child?

  125. Emma wrote in part:

    “Steve, you seem to agree that sometimes parents are entitled to make hard choices – tradeoffs – without being labeled “selfish.” In theory, could this not apply to single parents as well”

    I agree that all of us, married and single, are all confronted with hard choices. However, someone who makes a choice out of their own volition and desire strikes me as not in the same boat as someone confronted with a choice that is imposed by exterior factors.

  126. Huh. that’s now the 3rd book I’ve seen that uses that Tower of Babel painting:

    1) this one on social justice;
    2) Jonathan Sacks, “The Dignity of Difference”, which got him into a bit of trouble;
    3) Umberto Eco, “The Search for the Perfect Language”.

  127. “If you see a female teen with a baby stroller with no male present on the subway,”

    whether or not the father is in the picture a teen may well be getting some sort of assistance, granted. where is the third generation? but really, “no male present”?! the male has to be present at all times for you to believe he exists?

    “or teens or college age persons of both genders during school hours riding the subway with no evidence of a knapsack and school books”

    “college age” is, of course, working age for most americans. for all you know they are coming/going to work. i agree you can hazard a good guess as to whether a young teen is cutting school. but what that has to do with whether someone is employed i do not understand.

    “and/or a male or female in the middle of the day going to no particular location, as opposed to rush hour,”

    “no particular location?” huh? presumably they are goine _somewhere._ and a lot of low-wage workers work shifts (eg, 7am-3pm at a restaurant) that don’t start or end at “rush hour.”

    “a reasonable assumption is that all of the above are on public assistance of one form or another.”

    when you see a 25 year old frum woman going to midtown with a stroller at 10 am do you assume she is receiving public asistance? if not, your assumption must be based on something other than the factors you list.

  128. Emma wrote in part:

    “when you see a 25 year old frum woman going to midtown with a stroller at 10 am do you assume she is receiving public asistance”

    I assume that such a person is at least married and has assistance from communal and familial sources, before resorting to public assistance.

  129. Emma-how often do you ride any of the subway lines that go to and from what is quaintly called “inner city neighborhoods? What I described exists on the same during any working day in the middle of the day.I/m glad that you agree that one can tell who is at least a student, or the mother of an infant.I think that you are assuming that most of the population that I described works in one form or another.

  130. i ride such lines basically every day, and at different times too. if i wanted to know what proportion of people in such neighborhoods work i would look for data (which would have to include work in the informal economy). seeing people on the subway “in the middle of the day” doesn’t really tell me which ones are employed, for the reasons i mentioned (e.g., many low wage workers have irregular hours). you seem to be assuming they are _not_ working. i don’t know and really don’t think about the personal lives of my co-riders that much.

  131. “However, someone who makes a choice out of their own volition and desire strikes me as not in the same boat as someone confronted with a choice that is imposed by exterior factors.”

    Is having 10 children with the parents unable to support them without assistance (yes, I’m talking about hareidim!) an act of volition or one that is imposed by external factors? Your chiluk between such families and single mothers strikes me as absurd, to say the least. And to compare teemage mothers who get pregnant wihout thinking seriously about it and women in their 30s who have jobs and make a thoughtful decision to do so is simliarly absurd. It comes down to: these are my people and they are acting as they interpret halacha so it’s okay; the others are from other communities with ideas that are different from mine so it’s not okay.

  132. Well, to give Steve credit: when faced with crime in the Orthodox world (be it sexual or financial) he admits it is not okay, but his line is that we’re no worse than others 🙂

  133. The use of the phrase “tiqun olam” in the mishnah and Y-mi, or “tiqun haolam” in the gemara is consistently matters involving compassion, almost always for the have not — widows, orphans, people who might otherwize end up agunos or mamzeirim, or potential future captives. If we loosely include people who lost items as needy (even though in some cases they might be far wealthier than the finder), then every example involves compassion for the needy. (See the list I compiled on Avodah, and make sure to see the follow up post for some corrections.)

    So, I think Tiqun Olam does really mean what the Liberal Movements take it to mean. Where they go awry is in defining social justice using a particular political camp’s standards rather than using halachic definitions of our responsibility to those in need.

  134. MiMedinat HaYam

    i’ll save steve by saying i and my (previous) partner would hire such 16 yr old plus single mothers (the more motivated to find a job ones; but they were always short term motivated.) sometimes the boyfriend / father was partially in the picture (yes, i mean “benefits”) and sometimes not (another boyfriend got the “benefits”, and gave some nominal amount. he prob had a similar arrangement with another previously 16 yr old) and they considered it perfectly normal, in their society. (much as its considered perfectly normal in charedi society — the entitlement assistance, that is.) and there were often three generations of this sort.

    but what this has to do with the original posting, is another story, unless you refer to some aspect of tikun olam, or whatever.

    as for what (i believe) r gil deleted, its rekevant to the original posting, as the book author is philosophicaly identical to the deleted name. and i believe it was listed in the original posting.

    emma — “if her career were really “first and foremost in her life” she would not intentionally have children.”

    actually, she wants her cake, and eat it too. and (reasonably speaking) why not?

    and ““(is it “selfish” for a parent to move her family across the country for a better job?”

    i would argue numerous cases of moving overseas, for a new husband. should she not marry that husband for that reason? should she be responsible, and provide some framework of the father having reasonable (not skype, not an annual airplane ticket or two; what about the half and step siblings on the husbands side?) relationship with the (original) child?

    additional, same comment — this is far afield from the original posting, but it came up in the discussion.

  135. MiMedinat HaYam

    comment on the nyt magazine article mentioned — what happens if a completely non kosher flat bread manufacturer applies for Rabbi Yanklowitz’s certification? he may be legally required to give such a certification, leading to misleading labeling as some form of kosher which would be acceptable to the vast majority of cultural jews, who dont really know better. an idea alluded to in the nyt article itself.

  136. .” Every sensible religion preaches charity and good deeds. Judaism, with its myriad of laws, categorizes and codifies these imperatives. The term Tikkun Olam is only necessary for those with little interest in following the Torah’s mandates, those who desire a religion of compassion rather than a compassionate religion”

    How about Tikkun Olam Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought andLaw-Orthodox Forum edited by D Shatz, C Waxman, and N Diament.

  137. ” (e.g., many low wage workers have irregular hours). ”

    Agreed

  138. Here’s a more topical point on the claim that the “blue (big-government) model” works best to deal with poverty:

    http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/04/10/ending-the-poverty-blues/

  139. IH wrote:

    “Well, to give Steve credit: when faced with crime in the Orthodox world (be it sexual or financial) he admits it is not okay, but his line is that we’re no worse than others ”

    Not exactly- Lo Nitnah HaTorah LMalchei HaShares. I saw a wonderful comment in the Haggadah Imreri Shefer of the Netziv, which R Y Kuperman’s grandon R Aryeh Kuperman published last year with superb footnotes and cross-references to all of the Netziv’s writings. In one of the footnotes to The Netziv points out in the beginning of Parshas Bchukosai ( Vayikra 26:3) that HaShem is akin to a doctor ( “Ani HaShem Rofecha”) who prescribes certain medications and treatments for His Patients in the form of His Mitzvos, and allows us to make the decisions whether we comply with the same or not. When someone who professes to be a Shomer Mitzvos commits a criminal act, those actions, regardless of the nature of the act in question, reflects on the shortcomings of the person who committed the same, as opposed to being an indictment of the entirety of Torah and Mitzvos.

  140. For those interested, the Netziv in the Haggadah in his commentary on Tehilim 116:6 as understood by R A Kuperman is fully explicated and referenced at Page 227, Footnote 53 in Netziv’s HaEmek Davar to Vayikra 26:3, where Netziv sets forth many Mareh Mkomos from Tanach and Midrashim as to his understanding of the roles of HaShem, and those of us who observe and transgress His Mitzvos..

  141. The sentence buried in your last paragraph is the key to everything wrong with Yankolowitz: “Yanklowitz tends toward favoring government solutions to social problems (etc.)”

    EXACTLY. That’s no mere quibble with Yanklowitz’s programme, its a fatal flaw that uttterly discredits every single thing he says. And this flaw is exacerbated by his second mistaken premise, that of comparing Biblical ideals to modern American culture.

    Thus, he is certainly correct that classical Judaism focuses on compassion, helping the widow and the orphan, etc. This is no great insight, as merely reading the Prophets – and even the Torah itself – show this to be the case. But do these boosk contemplate a society filled with milliosn of people from every race, color, and creed? They do not. And even if they contemplate some degree of foreigners, it refers to others who share the basic same values as their Jewish hosts.

    To the extent Yanklowitz wants to get private industry invovled in his schemes, I applaud his efforts. [I think him naive, and would not join him, but I admire his energy.] Even the Hechsher tzedek thing, which I think silly and sophomoric – hey, if some store owner wants to stick it on his door, its none of my business. But he alienates the audience when he starts talking about government, with the concurrent penalties and taxes and non-compliance prosecution it inevitably brings.

    These passages

  142. On one thing I would agree wholeheartedly with Yanklowitz though – prison reform. This is something that does not increase taxes or governemnt, to the contrary, it lessens them. But that of course is not the reason we need reform, we need it because its inhuman and cruel to lock so many people for so many years. It’s a terrible thing.

    On that note – the New Yorker article linked to above by “David” does something very stupid. In the second paragrph it turns the prison reform issue into a black vs. white thing. Very stupid. There are millions of Americans tone deaf to this type of racial warfare, because frankly the pendulum swing to the other side more than 25 years ago. So that type of “we need more whites in prison” serves only to harden the opposition, and ingratiate the author to aging liberal baby boomer fellow travellers. [And then he compuounds his follishness by claiming a conservative can only support prison reform if he’s been imprisoned himself.]

    Prison refrom is desparately needed, period. I appeal to anyone interested in the subject NOT to make it into a racial issue.

  143. “But he alienates the audience when he starts talking about government, with the concurrent penalties and taxes and non-compliance prosecution it inevitably brings.”

    Well, he might alienate those in the audience who agree with you; he doesn’t alienate, say, those who agree with me. I assume that you understand that there are plenty of audience members on both sides of the issue.

  144. “Prison refrom is desparately needed, period. I appeal to anyone interested in the subject NOT to make it into a racial issue.”

    anyone who thinks it’s purely a racial issue is missing the boat. And likewise anyone who thinks there are no racial aspects to it.

  145. “I assume that you understand that there are plenty of audience members on both sides of the issue.”

    Most of the people who share your opinion dont pay taxes, and hence their opinions to me are worthless. They are chiefly young studnets who have not yet been exposed to reality, as Gil writes. Often also they are welfare recipients or others who in some way are dependent upon goverment for their income. There are very few people, and growing fewer, who dont fall into these categories and yet still beleive in government. Most of them are over sixty.

    “And likewise anyone who thinks there are no racial aspects to it.”

    Indeed, that is the author of the New Yorker piece’s opinion, which, I’ve already said, is quite stupid. If there are more blacks in prison, it is because they commit more crimes. It is not because entire police departments and entire judicial systems across this entire country are secrety a nest of racists. To think otherwise is to delude yourself.

  146. “Most of the people who share your opinion dont pay taxes, and hence their opinions to me are worthless.”

    Boy, talk about unsupported stereotypes and worthless opinions.

    “Indeed, that is the author of the New Yorker piece’s opinion, which, I’ve already said, is quite stupid.”

    Ahhhhh, argument by insult. Seems to me that’s very . . . well, I don’t want to follow your example.

  147. I have to give Joseph Kaplan a lot of credit – he is consistently on the left no matter the issue, whether its the economy, social issues, or Yiddishkeit.

  148. Shalom Rav Gil,

    Thank you for posting your thoughtful and critical blog post about my book Jewish Ethics and Social Justice. I appreciated reading your thoughts and the comments posted below. You’re such a prestigious thinker and writer in our community so I was honored that you took the time to write about this.

    Hatzlacha Rabba, Shmuly Yanklowitz

  149. Rafael, I;m so happy we’re alike. 🙂

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