Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Monday, April 14, 2008

Not #1, But Definitely Top 10

I'm usually a fan of Rabbi Yakov Horowitz's material, but I just can't agree with his latest post.

To summarize for those not willing to read the article: Yonason Rosenblum decries the extravagant Pesach celebrations at hotels. At one point, he quotes a rav saying that "Pesach in hotels" in the biggest threat to yiddishkeit today. And Rabbi Horowitz basically (and correctly) says that such a statement is ridiculous. However, he goes on to give the hotel guests a free pass:


For each of the past eight years, I have accepted invitations to join a total of four different Pesach hotel programs as a scholar-in-residence. Throughout that time, I never saw any of the exaggerated claims made by that Rav – guards at tea rooms, waiters almost trampled, and on and on. And to imply that there is “no ruchniyus” in a comfortable setting where mothers and grandmothers who toil all year long raising their children and volunteering for chesed activities can peacefully sit at the table and enjoy the Seder and their families is untrue and condescending.
This is where have to disagree with Rabbi Horowitz.

I'm not going to rehash the whole "materialism" and "gashmius" bit, although that's obviously a primary factor here. It's been done a million times before. I will say one thing, however:

Perhaps nothing signifies the obsession with materialism more than going to hotels for Pesach. Rav Soloveitchik compares the holiness of the Seder night to Kol Nidrei night (interestingly, one rav pointed out that on Erev Pesach this year, we will lain parshas Acharei Mos, which contains the krias hatorah of Shacharis and Minchah of Yom Kippur). Yet Pesach has gone from an ultra-spiritual experience to an ultra-materialistic experience. In a way, it's worse than the fancy car and the fancy home, because it's killed the meaning of one of the most weeks of the year.

-- But to me, the biggest reason why this makes the top 10 is the staggering sum of money that gets spent here. One rav told me that he heard this has become a billion-dollar industry. I’m almost certain that’s an exaggerated figure, but at the same time, when you see the pages and pages of resorts advertising in the Jewish Press, there are definitely tens of millions being spent here. And at a time when aniyim are suffering, mosdos are suffering, and there are so many great causes that can use the cash, this is terrible.

And granted, the richies also blow plenty of money on fancy houses and fancy cars. But in those areas, they don’t spend much more than the average Joe. How much more does it cost to lease a Lexus than a Toyota Camry? On the upside, probably about $10,000 a year. And when it comes to buying a house, in most frum neighborhoods, even a shnooky house costs an arm and a leg.

But even with inflation being another excuse for kosher retailers to jack up Pesach food prices, there is a significant cost difference between making Pesach at home and going to Cancun.

And all that money that aniyim and mosdos will never see is why I think this makes the top 10 list.

- So what’s the solution?

I don’t want takanos. The wedding takanos became the biggest joke in Flatbush. Plus, it would cause a serious loss of money to Katz, Lasko, Chaim Kaminetsky, and others. As much as these programs are wrong, I don’t think it’s fair to cause them to lose parnossa.

Then you have the people that say the rabbis should give mussar about the topic. Yeah, because that’s worked really well with TV, tznius, and materialism in general.

My suggestion? Start a campaign where the richies will match their Pesach travel expenditures with a matching contribution to tzedakah. (Of course, we would need a minimum threshold. The people spending Pesach in Fleischmann’s don’t need to get involved, because they’re probably in a hotel for the right reasons.)

I would love to see various mosdos and organizations band together to form such a plan. I would definitely list the donors in a full-page ad in the Yated and Jewish Press, thanking them for these donations. These richies love recognition, and if everyone sees they gave 75 grand to tzedakah, that’ll give them their glory. I would even try to get the more generous richies on board first, to try to pressure them to get everyone else involved.

Maybe we can’t stop people from going away for the holiday. But if we can at least give the aniyim and mosdos some of that cash, that's progress.

14 Comments:

OpenID frumpunk said...

And what happened to people being allowed to make their own choices as to how they spend their money?
Tzedoka is a great thing, but you cant force someone to give. If they earned it then let them spend it how they wish.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Isaac Kaplan said...

I never said anything about forcing. I would encourage people to give. I am not a communist.

3:52 PM  
OpenID frumpunk said...

The people you're talking about are usually the ones who give tens of thousands each year anyways.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Ike said...

1) if they can give more, why not?

2) this will be kind of like selling aliyos in the shul, or making an appeal in shul - you give the richies a chance for glory, a chance for the whole world to know how much they've contributed. As in shul, we already have such systems in place in our communities, why not add another "excuse" to give?

4:17 PM  
OpenID frumpunk said...

"1) if they can give more, why not?"

People who say that are the types who believe rich people should give everything they have that puts them above the average. And those people define rich as "anyone making more money than them".

4:29 PM  
Anonymous rix said...

Ike-- I can't agree with you more.

I believe we've discussed that concept in years past. Now, let's do something about it!

I was just reading about how The Jewish Council of Poverty (or something like that) is having trouble keeping up with the demands. The suppliers and companies are less willing to donate due to the increasing costs. Even a simple Pesach is extremely pricey. If all of these richies would donate an equal amount to organizations like that, or Yad Eliezer, so many hungry people would light up and be able to enjoy Pesach!!

Please don't let your campaign fall the wayside. I would help you if you know how to get something like this off the ground. (but you might be risking your shidduch chances. And i mine)

5:32 PM  
Anonymous big bro said...

I would take what Horowitz says with a grain of salt. After all, he does get invited to these hotels, so he CAN'T blast them. So I wouldn't exactly call him unbiased.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Ike said...

Big Bro: if that's the case, Rabbi Horowitz shouldn't say anything. If he knows he has negius, he shouldn't be commenting on the issue.

11:29 PM  
Anonymous big bro said...

You're right about the negius. So a bad job outta him.

Now onto the issue itself. I respectfully disagree that Pesach in hotels is a top 10 problem because if the richies stayed home, it would be almost the same thing. They'd have their five maids clean the house spotless and replace the dishes, the maids would also cook the food (after the owner turned on the fire, of course), and probably serve them at the meal as well.

In other words, the ultra-materialtic lifestyle is exactly that - a way of life. Perhaps it's manifest greater in a hotel on Pesach, but it exists year round, and thus, we have to get to the root of the problem, which is a general lack of ruchnius and overemphasis on gashmius in life.

Likewise, the spiritual folks will find a way to have a meaningful Pesach in a hotel, even with luxuries.

These people are going to spend loads of money regardless, and probably won't give any more tzeddakah even if they stay home. So they'll find more ways to spend. A nicer car. A fancier house. More trips to Cancun during the year.

I understand that you don't like the mixing of the two things - excessive materialism with the holiness of the seder. But having these people stay home is like telling a kid that if he doesn't watch TV for a month he'll get a prize. What happens once the month is over? Same here.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Isaac Kaplan said...

if the richies stayed home, it would be almost the same thing. They'd have their five maids clean the house spotless and replace the dishes, the maids would also cook the food (after the owner turned on the fire, of course), and probably serve them at the meal as well.

At least there won't be tens of millions getting wasted. The maids aren't making that much.

Again, there are two factors at play here. When it comes to the ultra-materialism, I say live and let live. There's no public solution. The change has to come from within.

But when it comes to the money being diverted from better causes, I suggest a tzedakah campaign that would encourage some of the wealthy to offset the sum that many aniyim wouldn't get. It's voluntary, and like I said, I would rely on positive peer pressure to get the ball rolling.

Now you could argue that some people would say, "if I'm giving to this campaign, I'll give less at other opportunities." True, but if there are at least some wealthy folks that don't say that and in fact give more, then we've got progress.

In other words, the ultra-materialtic lifestyle is exactly that - a way of life. Perhaps it's manifest greater in a hotel on Pesach, but it exists year round, and thus, we have to get to the root of the problem, which is a general lack of ruchnius and overemphasis on gashmius in life.

I agree, and like i said above, I haven't heard a decent approach re: how to do that. Which is why I made my suggestion focusing on the second issue here. These people won't necessarily change, and there's no point in forcing change, and if they want to keep going to hotels, that's fine. But if the aniyim and mosdos can get their fair share as well, that addresses at least one factor.

I understand that you don't like the mixing of the two things - excessive materialism with the holiness of the seder. But having these people stay home is like telling a kid that if he doesn't watch TV for a month he'll get a prize. What happens once the month is over? Same here.

Well yeah, you have to look at it as a first step. Certainly, if that would be the only level of progress, it wouldn't mean much.

But like I said, in some ways, it's definitely worse than other forms of materialism. So it's not a bad place to start.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Xvi said...

No offense to the author of this blog, but who do you think you are?

Ive never been to a pesach hotel so Im not defending from the inside or anything, but where do you come off "suggesting" how people spend the money they have earned.

The only semi-legitimate complaint I have heard against this (and the other materialistic practices) is that people who cannot afford to do these things will feel pressured to do so anyway. But I think that its THOSE people who should be having takanos made against them.

I know you claim otherwise, but there is a LOT of "jewish communist" innuendo in this post. Just thought Id point it out.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Ike said...

Xvi:

Ive never been to a pesach hotel so Im not defending from the inside or anything, but where do you come off "suggesting" how people spend the money they have earned.

Um, every single tzedakah organization, right down to the schnorers in shul, "suggest" what to do with people's money.

I know you claim otherwise, but there is a LOT of "jewish communist" innuendo in this post. Just thought Id point it out.

Again, hard to see how it's communist if nobody's forcing anyone to cough up their money. And besides, the torah system isn't totally laissez-faire - between trumah, maaser, etc., the system itself takes from the rich and gives to the poor.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those of us who aren't in the NYC area, what's the deal with Fleishmann's?

12:47 AM  
Blogger s(b.) said...

My dad couldn't afford to take me on vacation, so he scored jobs "working" hotels for pesach. It's not materialistic and extravagant for everyone. Sometimes it's working a little to be able to do something nice with your kid that you otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford.

10:19 PM  

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