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Orthodox Conundrum

Jul 17, 2023

The high cost of living an Orthodox life is a big problem. In the United States, for example, the high cost of day school or yeshiva tuition, combined with everything from the need to purchase kosher food to buying a lulav and etrog for Sukkot, adds to a family’s annual bills significantly. When we factor in the reality that standards are getting higher - semachot, for example, are very expensive, while overnight camps often have increasingly elaborate programs that in turn make the price go up - the problem is exacerbated.

And then there’s the issue of social or peer pressure, intentional or otherwise. More people go away for Pesach, and programs compete to offer the most luxurious amenities and best entertainment possible. Conspicuous consumption, it seems, has become - among some Orthodox Jews - not a problem that we need to address, but a desired feature that we aspire to emulate. And whether we’re conscious of that fact or not, it affects everyone by raising standards and expectations. Those people who aren’t able to afford the same things as others are often either left feeling “less than,” or - even worse - end up spending more than they are able, and find themselves in real financial trouble. While the problems in every locale are somewhat different, this is an issue that affects many Orthodox communities, including some of those in Israel.

There are many consequences of these financial, social, and psychological realities. One of them is the possibility of people falling for ponzi schemes and other get-rich-quick scams, including those that are broadly legal but still unethical; another is the need for chesed and tzedakah organizations to find new and more effective ways to help people who, in the drive to keep up and live an Orthodox life, have fallen into a deep financial hole.

Two people who have a broad knowledge of these problems, and who deal with them daily, are Rachel Krich, the Executive Director of Project Ezrah, and Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, the Executive Director of Lema’an Achai. They and Scott had a frank conversation about all of these topics and more. 

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Music: "Happy Rock" by