Days of prayer

Financial crisis is so bad, parents now demanding sons-in-law have careers.

prayer praying haredi 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
prayer praying haredi 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Human beings have an interesting built-in prejudice to recall experiences and events that validate the beliefs we ascribe to rather than recall those situations that may invalidate our ideas. If we were lucky when we wore a red shirt it is not uncommon for us to begin to believe that the red shirt is the cause for the luck. Psychologists refer to this as confirmatory bias. This type of selective thinking is not unique to uneducated aboriginal tribesmen. Confirmation bias can be found in everyone. Even intelligent people can harbor some very strange notions. In fact, strange ideas often have led to important scientific discoveries. There is nothing inherently wrong or pathological if our bias is not based upon empirical or pragmatic evidence. There is also nothing wrong if the bias we have is a spiritual or a religious one. There is a significant amount of evidence that those who lead a spiritually balanced life tend to have a pleasant quality of life often better than those who are not believers. I personally ascribe to a religious belief system and find that, while there are many aspects to it that are not empirically measurable, I gain a sense of solace and support for my daily life from my religious beliefs. At the same time I try to find a balance between spiritual and empirical. Therefore I was confused by the recent call by several of the leaders of Israel's largest kollels for a day of prayer for the financial well-being of Jewish philanthropists. Clearly there is a need to maintain the institutions they represent so that Torah study can be continued in these most difficult financial times. On the other hand, why is the prayer only for philanthropists? Should we not hear a call for prayer for all who are affected by these massive, worldwide financial downturns? How does one get on the list of philanthropists - not that I am interested in the position - so that prayers can be offered on my behalf? Doesn't the Almighty hear the prayers of all, not just the prayers for those who have selected a specific subgroup? And, is it not the case that God helps those who help themselves? I just read that many haredi men are trading in the study hall for jobs. Are there prayers being offered for them to be successful as well or are they on their own once they start working outside the kollel? SOME MAY call these questions disrespectful. They are truly not meant to be. They come from a person who is attempting to understand the way people operate. Thomas L. Friedman in his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded makes the point that, while not the primary cause for the upsurge in radical Muslim fundamentalism in the last two decades, "Saudi money has certainly helped to fuel and consolidate this upsurge in rigidly orthodox Islam... Many unemployed youth are finding succor in faith." My peers were raised to be what is now referred to almost derisively as earner-learners. That is, we were expected to take our secular studies seriously so that we would become individuals with a solid career path able to support our families. We were also expected to take our learning seriously so that we could maintain a strong connection to our religion. We all spent time, full-time, in the Beit Midrash for a year or two, some longer. But in those days it did not usually occur until we had completed a year or two of combined religious and college-level secular education. Many of my peers who followed this educational track have taken a different approach with their own children. Some highly educated parents have allowed their children to delay, even avoid a college or vocational education. When asked, many of these parents will rationalize that it is their pleasure to support their child; charity begins at home. As long as individuals have money they are welcome to spend it in any way that they want. However, to what degree has our monetary luck over the last two to three decades funded our own form of rigidity? It would appear that it is based upon a confirmatory bias that we must give back, and we should. Tzedakkah is one of the primary tenants of our religious faith. But this form of giveback seems to have increased a form of rigid insularity that mocks or limits interaction with empirical reality. Perhaps the global financial downturn is God's way of warning us that we too, not just the Saudis, have made mistakes in how we have spent the funds that we had. There is a joke circulating now: "The financial situation at the moment is so bad that Jewish women are now marrying for love." I would add that the financial situation is so bad that parents are now demanding that their sons-in-law have careers. Even the most financially successful are finding it difficult to support so many of their children along with a host of additional charities. The careers our children select should be based on society's need for trained workers and professionals who understand the world while simultaneously living a life dedicated to proper Judaism. We are all entitled to our confirmatory biases but we must always consider the needs of others when applying them. So, let's pray for all of us. The writer, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, is the founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center in Hewlett, NY. His recent books include, The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures (Urim) and Every Pot Has a Cover: A Proven Guide to Finding, Keeping and Enhancing the Ideal Relationship (Rowman & Littlefield).