Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Modesty, Responsibility and Tzedakah

I was the Resolutions Chair for last week's RCA Convention.

I am not ordinarily a fan of resolutions; as I told the person who solicited me for the job, I am not sure that resolutions actually accomplish anything. But I was blessed with a good committee, and we produced documents which I feel convey a Torah outlook on topical issues. The documents aren't particularly controversial, mostly expressing common sense, but that's fine with me; I don't feel any particular responsibility to generate controversy.

I am proud of the fact that the documents are not simply We believe X or The community must do X. Rather, they are expressions of a thought-out philosophy, which leads to specific practical conclusions.

One of our resolutions called for people to spend modestly, to spend responsibly and to give responsibly. Here's the text (you can also find it on-line at the RCA website, along with the rest of the resolutions); I am grateful to Sephardi Lady of Orthonomics for some of the ideas herein:

Even in ripest times, the Jew is commanded by Torah and tradition to "Walk modestly with G-d," eschewing ostentation. The Jewish citizen is further required to measure the arc of his financial steps with responsible care. Tzedakah, too, is a fundamental Jewish imperative, conveyed in both lore and law; our righteous ancestors defined their well-being not by the number of possessions they acquired, but by the number of mouths they fed.

Today, in the midst of an international economic crisis, our tradition demands that we re-commit ourselves to these values of modesty, responsibility and tzedakah. Modesty, because the Talmud teaches that we may not enjoy luxury when others suffer, let alone when we, ourselves, are suffering. Responsibility, because the bite of personal debt inflicts pain upon the entire community. Tzedakah, because since the days of Devarim we have been instructed to employ our wealth as a weapon against the poverty of others.

Were the financial crisis to end tomorrow, our community would, nonetheless, be required to live modest, responsible and generous lives; we can do no different when surrounded by unemployment and economic despair.

Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America resolves that we must turn to Modesty and Tzedakah, as a community, in part through the following practical measures:

We call upon our communal institutions to join forces, pooling purchasing power as well as resources, and avoiding duplicate efforts;

We call upon our yeshivot and summer camps to eliminate expenses wherever possible, to enable more families to afford tuition;

We call upon our simcha vendors, including caterers, florists and photographers, to offer low-cost, modest options for weddings and other celebrations. At the other end of olam hazeh, we call upon funeral homes and cemeteries to likewise offer low-cost, modest options for their services;

We call upon our rabbonim and poskim to continue to be sensitive to the current financial she'at hadechak in legislating for our communities, as well as to look out for the welfare of the neediest among us;

We call upon every Jew to opt for modest choices and lower costs, to guard against deficit spending, and to direct some of the consequent savings toward assistance for others.

And we ask those who can afford more to purchase less, in pursuit of modesty and responsibility and in recognition of the social pressure that their luxury brings to bear upon others.

May Zion soon be redeemed with justice, and may her children return to her with righteousness.


  1. Yashar Koach. I plan to link tomorrow. Today I'm taking care of other people's money issues.

  2. i was very disappointed with the resolution regarding the "tuition crisis"

    the rca needs to do better. much better.

    שבת שלום

  3. Lion-
    I hope to post later on the charter school issue, if that's what's troubling you. (Not sure I'll get to it today; I'm flying to Toronto in a couple of hours.)

  4. RH:

    the rca rejects charter schools but then offer *nothing* of substance (at least as reflected in the resolution) otherwise to alleviate the tuition burden

    if i were a cynic (it's a good thing i'm not :) ), i would question whether the rca members are in touch with the realies faced by their constituents.

    i have a lot more to say about this rca resolution, but the above is the crux of it.

    שבת שלום

  5. just for the record, i don't at all like charter schools the way they are currently organized and they in no way a substitute for day schools, but this is not a reason to *oppose* them

  6. "whether the rca members are in touch with the realies faced by their constituents."

    or worse, how many are נוגע בדבר

  7. Lion-
    1) The point of the resolution was not to offer solutions; a rabbinic organization does not have the education expertise to have the answers. The point was only to support the day school model.
    2) Charters don't work for the constituencies that really need them. See my post from this morning on the topic; they are a practical impossibility. The only community which can support them is a community with hundreds of eligible kids - and even then, they would do far better as a private school. See my post on that.
    3) To say RCA rabbis are out of touch with the problem is foolish; we send our kids there. I spent some $40,000 in tuition this year for my kids, and they're not even in Jr. High yet.
    4) And to say RCA rabbis are nogeia badavar ignores reality - most of them/us do not teach in day schools.

    I know people want better solutions; so do I. I have worked on community schools, day schools, charter schools and multi-denominational schools. I still don't have answers. But I know charter schools don't cut it.