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Monday, September 19, 2011

Strawman of the Week Award

strawman1 In the otherwise informative business news site Globes, Yerach Toker, a media advisor to the Knesset Finance Committee chairman and a self-proclaimed Haredi gets to write an article about the the Trajtenberg Committee (the committee appointed by Netanyahu to examine and propose solutions to Israel’s current socioeconomic problems). I quote (italics are mine):
It is not nice to say, but I have a feeling that the Trajtenberg Committee is simply superfluous. Even before the professor was brought in to carry out one of the main tasks the ministers in the elected government in any proper democratic country are responsible for, a few wise people and economists had already found the real culprits in the socio-economic crisis: the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community. The haredi community, so they claim, is responsible for the social -- economic situation, for holding back GDP, and in general, it is the haredi community that is guilty, end of discussion. It sounds good. The media also love it. So why not?
What happens to the haredi community never happens to any other sector in Israel. Reporters and commentators permit themselves to write the magical word haredi as much as they like, without learning about or investigating their way of life, or the significant socio-economic changes taking place in the sector. If these same reporters would just learn a little and get to know a few simple facts about the lives of these same "haredi " people they write about time and again, maybe they would understand how wrong and misleading they have been.
Some of the claims are simply unbelievable, yet over the years that the social debate has been taking place, they have become facts. In every argument between haredi and secular people, the same claims are heard, and this is despite the fact that most of them have no factual basis. And now, in the socio-economic campaign, these same commentators are repeating these claims and slogans without thoroughly checking them.
Many thousands of haredi men and women work for a living in the present, have done so in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. They work as teachers, educators, engineers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, laborers, and cashiers. This is the reality. Thousands of haredi people go out every morning to their place of work in order to properly provide for their families. This is the reality that I, as a haredi man, know and live. But you will never hear or read about this from well-known commentators or economists.
Another ridiculous claim that is heard again and again is that the haredi community does not pay taxes. I searched, checked, and asked my accountant which tax I, as a haredi person, am exempt from paying, and I just couldn't find one. He also could not find one. The haredi community pays much higher indirect taxes than secular Israelis. haredi families buy much more milk, bread and diapers than secular families. On each of these items, taxes are paid to the state. So where is this outrageous claim taken from, that haredi people do not pay taxes. Why do the media back these generalized, unfounded slurs?
Even if the claim refers to income tax, half of the haredi workers do not even reach the income tax threshold. Is this claim aimed at them too? Most income tax revenue comes from the upper echelons. It is time for this economic arrogance towards the haredi community to stop, and for these lies and slogans that are repeated, without having a drop of truth to them, to cease.
I would never dare to write a column on science. I also wouldn't write a column about biology or medicine. All of you wise-guys who blame the haredi community -- before you write something, check your facts, study a little, get to know some people, and know what you're writing about. The facts as I know them are not hidden. Whoever truly wants to know, is invited to become acquainted with the truth.
As behooves a media advisor, you can almost smell the propaganda in this piece. And how could Toker, being haredi himself, be objective about haredi workforce participation anyway?
Whereas I do agree that there may be many people who have absolutely no clue about haredi society and therefore may have a totally warped picture about its workforce participation, the following statistics as cited by Momo Mahadav, CEO of Maala (a non-profit organization that promots corporate social responsibility worldwide) are pretty straightforward:
The statistics on workforce participation in Israel are astounding. Some 59% of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) men and around half of Haredi women do not participate in the workforce. Only approximately 27% of Arab women work, along with some 50% of people with disabilities. Altogether, this represents an enormous chunk of society that is simply not part of the country’s economic productivity.
Even more worrying than the present state of affairs is the future, if these trends are allowed to continue. At present, around half of Israeli children belong to population groups in which non-employment is inordinately high (mainly Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews). If nothing is done to correct the trend, future job prospects for most of these kids will be less than bright.
So all I can conclude is that Toker has been setting up the following strawmen:
Strawman #1: “Many thousands of haredi men and women work for a living”.
The same is probably true for drug trafficking. But as you can see in the above stats, haredi people participating in the workforce are in fact the minority. This is unprecedented in the history of Judaism.
Strawman #2: “Another ridiculous claim that is heard again and again is that the haredi community does not pay taxes.”
This statement is not quantified and therefore useless. Fact is that haredi people pay fewer taxes than people in other socioeconomic strata due to the fact that: a) they participate less in the workforce and b) those who are working are less likely to contribute much to the GOP because of the high birthrates and the lower-earning jobs they have (teachers, shopkeepers, etc.).
Conclusion: It looks like Toker is misleading the Globes leadership on purpose using the strawman technique. For this, he receives the Undercover Kofer Strawman Award.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Choshuva Proposal

Guest post by Bruce Holland

I'm sure many of you heard about the incident in Monsey during Hurricane Irene. A 5-year-old boy (Reuven Herbst) was being electrocuted by a downed power line, a neighbor (Moshe Reichenberg) rushed to rescue him. Reichenberg was killed, and Reuven was injured critically.

You can read all about it here.

As you can see below, in the Monsey ad magazine Community Connections dated September 8-15, approximately a dozen women from the neighborhood where this occurred (including Reichenberg's widow) took out a full-page ad. The ad quotes the Chofetz Chaim, who said (allegedly) that machlokes is like fire. The women urge everyone to forgive old grudges and increase peacemaking as a merit for the boy's recovery.


Underneath the copy, as you'll see, is a section that includes updates regarding Reuven's condition: August 31 update: Since this campaign began, we heard that the boy's heart became stabilized and strong (sic). September 5 update: Doctors say that his body is recovering!

Of course, they add 'Chasdei Hashem' and 'Hodu L'Hashem Ki Tov' so we all know that we're praising the Lord for these miraculous signs of recovery, not the righteous women who are burying hatchets and forgiving one another and letting go of resentments right and left.

(Side note, it's Lashem, not L'Hashem. But hey, some of these women are BTs, and some of the others went to Beis Yaakov schools, so they don't know any better.)

So they're implying that the kid is improving as a direct result of their actions.

But apparently their actions weren't good enough, because Reuven died on Friday, 9/9.

I have so many questions, and yes, I don't mind voicing them even while the Herbst family is still sitting shiva.

How do people--BTs or FFBs or Rabbis or Rebbetzins or lay people--justify this kind of sanctimonious nonsense? It's not like we haven't seen it before. We saw it after Motty Borger killed himself, and after Leiby Kletzky's murder, too. People actually believe that they can draw direct corollaries from human actions to G0d, unless and until they can't, at which point they shrug and say, "Who can understand the ways of G0d?"

But you just got finished beating me over the head with guilt, and building up my hopes, telling me that by forgiving my insufferable shrew of an aunt (for example) and letting bygones be bygones, I'm actually making the world a better place *and* helping heal a critically injured child!
Yes, but, you didn't do enough. The improvement in Reuven's condition was from Hashem. And the deterioration was also from Hashem. Who are we to question?

It's infuriating to me that this drivel is what passes for discourse and what passes for Torah and Yiddishkeit among the rank-and-file here in Monsey and throughout the 'frum' or 'haredi' world. They're pushing dumb, blind, feel-good thought control, telling a naive and unquestioning audience that it actually makes a difference, and then wringing their hands piously when G0d, in His infinite humor, yanks the rug out from under them.

I hope that this story causes more people to question and doubt. Because these questions and doubts are more real than a thousand parroted kapitlech of tehillim. If some lose their faith, so be it. If others find it strengthened, more power to them. But for G0d's sake, don't drink the kool-aid. Push back. Force these patronizing know-nothings to admit that they can't predict anything, they don't know anything, and that ultimately, if there is a G0d, they can't say anything about it.