More than 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel do not work, compared with 15 percent in the general population, and he argued that full-time, state-financed study should be reserved for great scholars destined to become rabbis or religious judges. “Those who are not that way inclined,” he said, “should go out and earn a living.”— New York Times, “Some Israelis Question Benefits for Ultra-Religious”

I feel better when I scrub my own sinks.  And when I haul my own groceries home.  I feel snidely independent, and I feel exhausted. I always have the sensation, during my breaks from school, that I don’t know how I ever have time for my job.  Housework, meals, socializing, exercise, writing, and rest– don’t forget rest– my days are easily filled.

Most people feel driven to work, feel soothed by accomplishments in the practical world– whether this is because they have been taught that work makes you a better person, or it is an innate human desire, I’m not sure.  There have certainly been some monastic types who do very little of what we call work, or “work” very hard on resisting the allure of personal, practical accomplishments.

The Times quotes a Rabbi Amsellem: “‘Torah is the most important thing in the world.'”  Yes.  The study and absorption of art, and the tending of historic and cultural heritage– not to mention the search for personal and communal meaning to our lives.  That’s not just for full-time scholars or clergy.  Still, we know that there is work to be done, work to be shared.  Scholars need dinners, beds, laptops.  We  value our art and heritage, and then we wonder how much not-work we can afford.  Or who should be doing it.  Yes, we wonder, are these men in Israel just (horror of horrors) lazy?  Do they even care about study or faith?

Sometimes when I go for a walk, I gaze over a tall spiky fence at a convent.  I happen to know that there are only a few nuns left in there.  I am always glad to know that they are there.  I hope that they are not working.  I imagine that they are often praying.  I hope that those nuns, and the men studying Torah, maintain us as we scrub our sinks.

Aside: In fairness, I’m grading final exams during winter break, and reworking a whole year’s worth of lessons over the summer.  Don’t want to suggest that I (or my fellow teachers) aren’t working when we are not at school.  Just setting that aside for rhetorical purposes.  I didn’t have to assign those ridiculous essay questions.  Sigh.

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