By: HaRav Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Published in the U.S.A.
If there is an overriding theme that runs through Torah, it is that HaShem separated the Jewish people from the other peoples of the world; that He designated Eretz Yisra’el as the one and only homeland for this separate people to “dwell alone;” and that to secure the blessings that HaShem has promised, the Jewish people must obey His commands. One of these commands is, of course, to Yishuv Eretz Yisra’el, that is, for Jews to make Aliyah (immigrate to Eretz Yisra’el) and settle the Land.
The important statistic, however, is not how many Jews make Aliyah each year, but rather, the net increase in the number of Jews who make Aliyah each year. That is, the important statistic is the number of Jews who make Aliyah each year, reduced by the number of Jews who, after making Aliyah, leave Israel each year and return to their country of origin.
According to some reports, as many as 40% of Olim from the United States return to America within two years of making Aliyah, while 60% return within five years. Although this statistic is, due to a lack of transparency by the Israeli government, difficult to confirm, it is an interesting statistic, especially in light of the fact that the Israeli government, on a monthly basis, provides new Olim with unearned cash (welfare) payments for the first five years after they immigrate, and that the monthly amount of those cash payments peak during year 2.
Through discussions with prospective Olim in the U.S., as well as Olim in Medinat Yisra’el (“the State of Israel” or, simply, the “Medinat”), several things become apparent. First, many U.S. rabbinical leaders discourage Aliyah. Second, notwithstanding U.S. rabbinical opposition to Aliyah, there are many religious Jews in the U.S. who make Aliyah, or who plan to make Aliyah. Third, and most important to a discussion on maximizing the numbers of net Olim, is that the primary obstacle encountered by most Jews who are considering Aliyah is that of achieving and maintaining financial self-sufficiency post-Aliyah.
For the purpose of analyzing their financial situation, Olim can be classified as being either:
1. Medical or High-Tech professionals,
2. Persons with a foreign source of income (e.g., retirees, remote workers, etc.), or
3. Other (not falling in category 1 or 2).
Due to a market demand for employees, Olim who are medical or high-tech professionals appear likely to have the least difficulty integrating into the Israeli job market. Persons with a foreign source of income are also less likely to experience significant post-Aliyah economic difficulties.
Although Olim in Categories 1 and 2 may leave the Medinat as a result of post-Aliyah financial difficulties, the subset of Category 3 Olim which consist of Olim who made Aliyah from a comparatively affluent (e.g., Western) country, appear to be the group of Olim who are most likely to return to their country of origin due to post-Aliyah financial hardship. Thus, the Aliyah failure rate for Category 1 and Category 2 Olim might be lower than the 40% and 60% rates mentioned above, while the Aliyah failure rate for the subset of Category 3 Olim from Western countries may be significantly higher than the 40% and 60% rates mentioned above.
In order best assist all Olim in overcoming the challenge which is likely responsible for the highest rate of post-Aliyah departures to a Western country of origin, that is, to assist Olim in overcoming the challenge of achieving – and maintaining – economic self-sufficiency post-Aliyah, it is necessary to examine a little economic history.
The economies of the Medinat and the U.S. are practically mirror opposites. The U.S. was officially founded almost 250 years ago, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, in the year 1620, more than 400 years ago, the Pilgrims, the predecessors of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, arrived in, and began settling portions of, what is now the United States of America.
The Pilgrims were a very religious group of Christians who analogized their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the Jews’ trek through the wilderness while en-route from Har Sinai to Eretz Yisra’el. The Pilgrims also analogized their conquest of the “New World,” that is, to what would become the United States, to the Jews’ conquest of Eretz Yisra’el. When the Pilgrims first sighted land from their ship, the Mayflower, they joined together in a communal recitation of Tehillim 100.
As an indication of how important Tanakh was to the founding generations of Americans, some early courses at Harvard University were taught in Hebrew and, as late as 1817, an annual speech was given in Hebrew at Harvard.
Tanakh also had an influence at Yale University. Some early courses at Yale were taught in Hebrew and Yale’s coat of arms contained Hebrew letters which spelled the words “Urim and Thummim,” which the university translated as “Light and Truth.”
Being Christian students of Tanakh, the Pilgrims modeled the constitutions and laws of their “Promised Land,” of the original 13 Colonies or “states,” on Biblical principles.
Unfortunately, however, the Pilgrims’ understanding of Tanakh left quite a bit to be desired. On July 1, 1620, the Pilgrims, prior to departing Plymouth, England, signed a seven-year contract in which they agreed to pool “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons. . . .” The contract further provided “that at the end of the seven years, the capital and profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chattels, be equally divided. . . .” In other words, the Pilgrims brought socialism to America.
However, instead of lasting seven years, the Pilgrims’ experiment with socialism failed after a mere two years. Shortages and starvation abounded, and about fifty-percent of the colonists died of starvation and related illnesses.
Under the leadership of their Governor, William Bradford, the Pilgrims scuttled their socialist experiment and adopted a free-market economy. The effects of a free-market economy were both immediate and dramatic. When the Pilgrims were allowed to retain the fruits of their labor, productivity – and prosperity – increased almost overnight.
Since abandoning its extremely short, but disastrous, experiment with socialism in favor of the free-market, America – and its economy – has grown from a handful of fledgling colonies to become the greatest economy the world has ever known. The only thing that is now harming America, the only thing which has ever harmed America, is its rejection and distancing of itself from Torah values.
Medinat Yisra’el, on the other hand, is not 400 years old; rather, it is a mere 74 years old.
The Medinat, unlike the United States, was founded by socialists, who implemented socialist policies. A “guiding principle” of socialism is that nothing – including HaShem – can be more authoritative or powerful than the State. One very important method that socialism employs to ensure that its monopoly on power is not threatened is the collective ownership of property, that is, the abrogation of the free-market and private property rights.
The Torah, however, rejects socialism. This rejection can be seen as early as parashat Noah, with the story of the Tower of Babel, which is in Sefer Bereshit, right after the Flood. One need not look too far from the Tower of Babel to see other Divine endorsements of the free-market and the private ownership of property. The Ten Statements (“Commandments”) explicitly proscribe theft; a very large percentage of the 613 misvot deal, in one way or another, with free-market commercial transactions and property rights; and there are tractates of the Gemara which likewise focus on the private ownership of property and voluntary commerce.
The Medinat, like the United States, also suffered through a failure of socialism.
During the years 1978-1979, inflation in the Medinat, caused by government manipulation of the money supply, averaged 77 percent. By 1984-1985, the annual rate of inflation peaked at a staggering 450 percent! U.S. president Ronald Reagan offered the Medinat a $1.5 billion grant if the Medinat would abandon socialism and adopt free-market economic principles. The Histadrut, the Medinat’s labor union, objected. U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz responded with the threat that if the Medinat did not start implementing free-market economic policies, the United States would freeze all monetary transfers to the Medinat. The threat worked and the Medinat, although being “dragged kicking and screaming,” started to implement the free-market “recommendations” that were made by the Reagan Administration.
As a part of its economic restructuring, the Medinat, on January 1, 1986, introduced, the New Israeli Shekel (NIS), which replaced the hyper-inflated Shekel at a rate of 1000:1.
Like the impact of free-market principles on the Pilgrims’ colony under William Bradford, the impact on the Israeli economy which resulted from the implementation of free-market principles was both immediate and dramatic. Within one year, Israeli’s annual rate of inflation fell from an astounding 450% to 20%.
Unfortunately, however, the Medinat’s mid-1980s forced move away from some socialist policies is not the end of its story of economic failure. Unlike America’s Pilgrims, Israel did not fully repudiate socialism. Rather, many of Israel’s socialist policies persist to this day, causing an unnecessary and significant burden on the Medinat’s economy. As the Pilgrims learned under the leadership of William Bradford, and as Israelis should have learned from the Medinat’s 1980s economic reform, socialism destroys an economy, while free-markets allow an economy to grow and flourish. Accordingly, the Medinat could best assist Olim by implementing economic policies that will not only benefit Olim, but policies that will benefit all Israelis. Those policies include:
Admittedly, these recommended policies cannot, and even should not, be implemented “overnight.” However, efforts should be made to strategically implement free-market economic policies over the long-term. Such long-term implementation should also include a refusal to extend or expand current policies, or to adopt new policies, which are incompatible with a free-market.
Free-market reforms, such as those mentioned above, will work. Other, “more-of-the-same” reforms, such as increased welfare payments to Olim, while perhaps well-intentioned, can only result in “more-of-the-same” failed results that are currently being experienced.
Medinat Yisra’el has tried the secular, socialist approach, which has failed. The Jewish State should now try the Jewish approach, that is, HaShem’s approach, the approach which is set forth in His Holy Torah and which G-d Himself has promised will succeed, if only it is tried. If the Medinat were to switch to the Torah approach for Jewish governance, not just with respect to economic policies, but as to all policies, the Medinat will have become the Light Unto the Nations that HaShem wants the Jewish people to be.
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.