Free Food

Nahama deskisufa is the term for bread of shame. The underlying assumption of human nature is that a person does not enjoy a "free lunch" as much as one s/he has earned. That is the reason given for Hashem having created a world in which we have challenges to meet while working to amass mitzvos -- so that we can earn our schar, for if it were just given like welfare, there would be an aspect of shame that would detract from our full enjoyment of our reward.

But, the more I see of the attitude projected today, the more I believe that humans have completely eradicated this pride of earning one's own way from their being.

I quote below a very public posting that went out on my community email list. Let me preface it by saying that I perfectly understand economics and the fact that certain subsidies phase out when particular income levels are reached, which is why one can actually have a higher standard of living on welfare than working at a low-paying job, particularly when one also has to shell out most of the hard-earned dollars on childcare. Nevertheless, the welfare view and complacency about living off handouts is not one that builds a financially secure future. And while poverty is nothing one need to be ashamed of, I am surprised that a person would announce to the world that he is a recipient of foodstamps and would prefer to remain so even when given a chance at a higher income. If he were taking the long-term view, he should realize that it is necessary to take the intermediate step of a small raise that cuts into his benefits so that he can earn a high enough salary not to suffer at the loss of foodstamps down the road. The fact is that one's salary history is a major consideration in the salary offered by new employers if he ever leaves his present position to improve his financial situation.

Here's the post with the name and email eliminated:


My family and I are currently eligible for food stamps. I earned a
raise at work and need to determine whether I will lose food stamps. If
I lose food stamps, it is not worthwhile to accept the raise at this
present time.

Does anyone out there have access to the following information? What is
the maximum income that a family of 7 (2 adults + 5 children)may earn
while maintaining food stamps eligibility in New York?

Note: The Food Stamps office are no help as they do not answer
hypothetical questions. They only will run numbers through their
computer program and if I am over the limit, I will be in a problematic
situation. As well, if I turn down my raise unnecessarily, it will be a
substantial loss for us.


Zadok said…
Life experience has shown me that most people facing this scenerio or a slight variation of it, would act in the exact same manner, even if those same people lost no chance to self rightously condem others for doing so.

On a more personal level you must realize that not every on is cut out to get a PhD at 19 etc.

And if you are going to give a principled speech about not taking money that you are legally entitled to, you would have to extend to many other areas of personal sacrifice that people don't do due to difficulty although those issues seem a lot worse then taking government money.(e.g.)I want to see someone make a convincing case that according to HALACHA not having children because you 'can't afford them' is better then using government money allocated to support them(assuming it is permissible altogether).And I then want to see that person forgo all college grant money, as well as refuse Medicare in their old age etc.
Ariella said…
Zadok, I never said that this person was halachically in the wrong. I only observed that his attitude is that antithesis of the assumption that a person would rather have less, knowing s/he earned it than more as a handout.
And I only had my BA by 19, my PhD took a few more years to finish because I had 2 kids along the way, including a preemie born by emergency C-section. Hey, you brought it up.
triLcat said…
Honestly, my take is more like Zadok's. While I think that people should do everything possible to live independently and not accept handouts, I understand a father's feeling that if a raise in salary will lead to difficulty feeding his children, he's better off continuing to get the handouts.

As to having children you can't support... my opinion is different from many Orthodox/Charedi Jews.

Their clothes can be from Wal-Mart or hand-me-downs, and they don't have to eat meat every night, but if the ones you have can't be dressed and fed on your budget, I really think you shouldn't be rushing into the next pregnancy...
Chaim B. said…
>>>I want to see someone make a convincing case that according to HALACHA not having children because you 'can't afford them' is better then using government money allocated to support them

For those interested in this topic, I recommend reading the chapter on family planning in R' Elyashiv Knohl's sefer "Ish v'Isha". Even if one is dealing with the mitzvah d'oraysa of having children (which is fulfilled minimally after having a boy and girl), the parameters of the mitzvah may take various factors into account in defining the extent of one's obligation. Reductio ad absurdum: a 13 year old boy becomes obligated in all mitzvos from bar mitzvah, but no one would claim a 13 year old must get married and have children immediatly to fulfill his mitzvah d'oraysa of pru u'revu. Of course there is a difference between a 13 year old and a person who is a mature adult in a difficult financial situation, but the point I am trying to make is that once one introduces the notion that mitigating factors impact the scope of a chiyuv, one needs to carefully assess the exact parameters and factors that come into play.
Ariella said…
just to clarify -- the post was not a critique on people having children they can't afford. I do not have a particular point of view on that issue. However, I think from the perspective on career-building this writer is on the wrong track. By accepting a raise now, he will qualify for another raise in salary in the future, and should end up earning enough to not need the subsidy down the road. One would think that is a worthwhile goal. Also how does it sound to tell one's boss, "please don't give me the raise; I need to keep my income below this point."

What this post was about was how very complacent people have become about accepting handouts-- even to the point of preferring to keep the handout rather than accept a raise. We've eliminated the dekisufa from the the phrase naham deskisufa.
SephardiLady said…
I was remiss in not quickly using one of your previous posts as a guest post. But a post linking to this is in the works.

Another point--There is no embarrassment anymore about being a receipient of welfare, so much so that WIC is a regular discussion in some parks. As we should know from looking around America, welfare is a mindset that is difficult to extract oneself from. The laws of behavioral economics are sure not to escape the frum community just because we are "frum." One of the miracles of the Exodus was that Hashem eradicated the mentality of slavery from the minds of Am Yisrael. That should say something about just how hard it divorce yourself from a mindset.
Ariella said…
I like your suggested parallel, SL. So we have to be taken out "goy mikerev goy" from the present attitude of taking greater pride in milking the system than in earning one's own way. Again, I am not blaming families for their poverty, and the last thing I would want is for any child to go hungry or suffer from lack of proper nutrition. But the idea of safety net is a temporary shelter not a long-term resting place.

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