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December 9, 2016 2:55 am

How Studying the Torah Can Create Jobs

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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A Torah scroll. Photo: Rabbisacks.org.

A Torah scroll. Photo: Rabbisacks.org.

There has been a lot of debate in the US and elsewhere about jobs, or rather the loss of them and what to do about it.

Although official unemployment is relatively low in advanced economies, a growing number of workers are being made redundant either by outsourcing, old industries being replaced by newer ones, and most significantly, technology that is requiring fewer and fewer humans. Robots, artificial memory and new efficiencies make humans expensive and redundant. Drones will take over delivery and mail. Driverless cars will affect transport, truckers and taxi drivers. Almost all the repetitive dull jobs will leave us. Employment may soon be the privilege of the few, and a thing of the past.

Millions of jobs once moved from Europe and the US to China. Now that the standard of living is rising in China, jobs are moving to Vietnam and elsewhere. The question is what can replace them? We all assume that finance or computer programming are the geese that will lay golden eggs. But there, too, jobs are being lost to computerized systems. Politicians claim they can bring jobs back. Perhaps they can — a few. But like Canute, they cannot turn the tide back.

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The problem is far worse in poorer societies, where millions of young, healthy bright men and women have shrinking opportunities to find work. The only options are to join fanatical religious communities that offer support and a sense of belonging (which too often turn the faithful to disruptive violence) or emigration to richer countries. Yet this won’t help. For example, millions were brought to Britain from Pakistan to man the Lancashire textile industry, which then disappeared — along with their jobs.

One solution being discussed is that rich countries should give everyone a basic wage, regardless of whether they are working or not. It may sound ridiculous, but at the moment welfare payments, even in supposedly capitalist countries, are ballooning out of control, and no politician dares suggest cutbacks (publicly at any rate). So switching welfare into a basic wage for everyone might make sense. Another idea is that public projects such as infrastructure, renovations and innovations can pick up the employment slack — a tactic that worked well for fascist governments between the two world wars (and, dare I say it, for FDR in the United States).

Social work, nursing, teaching, home caring, and human-intensive jobs are low paid and often done by immigrants for less than the indigenous population is prepared to accept. Either immigration will continue to fill low-paying jobs, or pay will have to rise sufficiently to attract the locals. Right now, welfare is cushioning those who do not want to take on menial jobs. Immigration helps and objecting to all immigration makes no sense. But without proper precautions, there are unwanted consequences, culturally and financially. In Europe, for example, there are just as many immigrants who are unemployed and supported by the state as there are working and paying taxes.

It is possible that new ways will be found to keep humans employed and paid. Areas that rely on creativity, intelligence, science and human interactivity — such as research, education, nursing, geriatric and mental services, drug rehabilitation, and social interaction, music, sports, the arts and entertainment will all require more, hands. But all the signs are that vast numbers of people will never have a job, or have one only for a very limited period. This will help leisure activities, but once again the financial burden will fall on governments or the few rich who are making inordinate sums of money.

Despair not. Judaism has a solution. There are hundreds of thousands of young men (and increasingly women) who sit and study, all day long, most days and weeks of the year. They neither need nor want jobs. They see studying Torah as a religious and spiritual obligation, because study, as much as prayer, is a spiritual exercise as well as an intellectual one. Some of them, a very small percentage, will take jobs as rabbis, religious judges, teachers and administrators (some even as politicians). But the rest will be studying throughout their lives and feeling both content and morally satisfied.

In most cases, they will not be making big money. But they will be supported by communities that go a long way towards compensating them for limited financial means, with assistance or charity. Most haredi education, to give one example, is free.

For years the accepted narrative has been that the haredi world will collapse under the weight of so many poor and unemployable men and women with large families. Poverty is endemic. The urgent need to find employment for them has become a mantra of sociologists and economists. But these experts often fail to understand how such communities of studiers are sustained internally as well as through welfare. It is ironic how the Charedi world despises secular culture. Yet it has been the secular culture of state welfare that has actually enabled them to thrive.

Maybe the haredi model is the best in a changing world — a model that can give people a daily task and role, a sense of purpose in life and a spiritual goal, along with intellectual and moral satisfaction. Who could ask for more?

Perhaps other religions should rethink their systems to value study and to encourage the faithful to pursue it. Instead of the rest of the world seeing our haredi Jews as narrow and regressive, Torah study may well put us way head of the rest. Intellectual achievement, far more than the labor of ones hands, is the future. Am I being serious? I think I might well be. Someone should suggest this to Trump.

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  • rob

    That might work if you could screen out the non-serious Torah students who just waste time and others’ money in Yeshiva and the ones who use their freedom from temporal work responsibilities to throw rocks, spit, start fires, and harass non-Haredim.

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