For the week ending 30 June 2012 / 9 Tammuz 5772

The Propaganda of Poverty

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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"The Jews have all the money!"

This bloody battle-cry of anti-Semitism in Europe is now being turned on its head by secular critics who shed crocodile tears about Jews who have no money.

"As in Israel, the religious population in America is disproportionately represented among the poor."

Thus reports the Jerusalem Post in its review of a new study of Jews living in New York, and funded by the UJA Federation of New York, which found that 74 percent of their children in the city are Orthodox. To blur the credit which is due to these Jews for rebuilding the Jewish community in New York, the report notes that the poverty rate among the religious community, the main source of population growth, is 48 percent compared to 27 percent for Jews as a whole. "It is the nature of their tight-knit communities and strong ethos of charity," concludes the report, "that makes them better equipped to deal with poverty."

"To deal with poverty?" we ask. "What poverty?"

To describe these Jews as pitifully poor and dependant on charity reflects a total ignorance of both the condition and the values of these Jews. No one is without food, clothing and shelter. They are content with the basic necessities and do not view themselves as unfortunate victims. This is because they follow in the footsteps of their forefather Yaakov who asked Heaven only for "bread to eat and clothes to wear." The Hebrew phrase mistapek bemu’at, which means being content with less, is a supreme value in this community.

Add to this the fact that for many of these "poor" people, it is more important to spend time and energy in Torah study, prayer and good deeds than in earning more money to purchase the luxuries needed by others.

In Israel anti-religious elements constantly point to the so-called "poverty level" of religious Jews as an excuse for planning legislation which will end the practice of deferring Yeshiva students from military and national service and force them to enter the workforce at an early age and escape "poverty".

This is "propaganda poverty" masquerading as concern for lower income Jews but in actuality part of a secular agenda to radically change the nature and values of Jews faithful to their sacred tradition.

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