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There are familes and families!

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2004-01-09

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

The blessing that Jacob gives his two grandchildren is to this day, the touchstone of Jewish family life. Gathering together on a Friday evening, parents bless their children using the very words that Jacob uses in this week's Torah reading (Genesis 48).

The Jacob family is the emblematic family with all its pluses and minuses. The priestly blessing that is added on to his in the custom we observe represents the importance of spiritual and universal values to complement the more restricted concerns of families. One needs both. Modern welfare has consistently failed in too many areas precisely because it has not paid sufficient attention to these additional, less material values.

In Britain, the Government has embarked upon a massive effort to improve the lives of Children in Britain. But will it produce dividends? A major chunk of the cash is going for early education. There is no doubt that children who are stimulated at an early age by being read and spoken to,
do much better later on when they join the educational system. A system of State supported, structured kindergartens (nursery care) will certainly pay dividends in helping produce a better educated and qualified generation. Given the way society is moving, a country that has an
educated work force is  bound to do better in a competitive world where knowledge is more crucial rather than manpower (and therefore incidentally where females do as well as males if not better).

But there are two other issues, that of poverty and that of parenting. Of course it is important to address poverty in society. However, the question is how one defines poverty. The deprivations of the poorest of our society are still far less than millions elsewhere and worse that those that obtained in our society not so very long ago. Now poverty is defined not in terms of a roof over ones head but rather whether one can afford to buy brand names clothes for ones children. The significant amount of money now provided for families with many children means that more and more men can afford to stay at home drinking and watching Television rather than go out to work. Several reality TV shows in Britain this past year have featured such families living as well on welfare as parallel families where both parents go out to work. One may legitimately ask what kind of attitudes are going to be passed on to the next
generation in such circumstances. Not all the very best kindergarten education and schooling will help motivate people who are psychologically conditioned to be lazily dependent on State handouts.

And this leads to the issue of parenting. Political correctness has now led to Government spokespersons (The Economist December 20th) to say 'No one has the right to call someone a bad parent.' Well if this is indeed Governmental policy then all the money in the world will achieve little. We have all witnessed examples of how money has either ruined children or
taken away any motivation to actually get out getting a job and earning a living. If parental attitude will not be addressed then simply throwing money at a problem will not help.

Furthermore, Government policies actually help single parents more than married couples. By encouraging youngsters to have children in order to get accommodation and state money
they are in effect encouraging fecklessness and helping create many more dysfunctional families with all their negative ramifications.

But there is another interesting bye product to Government policy. Most Western societies are desperately short of children to enter the work force in order to pay taxes in order to fund the welfare of the next generation. This is one reason why child support is so important. The
people however, who in fact produce most children, are primarily religious, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Actually one of the reasons for the phenomenal growth of the Charedi world has been the cushion that State benefits have provided for large families. As a very heavy proportion of
Charedi men do not work but study they are and their children are certainly not going to help increase the pool of future tax payers.

On the other hand they do indeed help the quality of society in many other ways including good deeds, welfare, helping in families, education and simply raising the pool of a population involved in intellectual activity rather than crime idleness.

The challenging question is whether the large Muslim population that has many children will also, over time, contribute in positive ways to society. The controls of Islam certainly have the capacity to help produce future generations of law abiding, moral citizens. But sadly the current
mood seems to indicate that they are just as likely to produce legions of disaffected, destructive fanatics. Government policy could really backfire!

This is why attitudes and values are so important. But it is also why funding should be directed more to supporting educational institutions that are forced to achieve certain standards both of education and civic responsibility are so important. There is a danger as we have seen that
very religious communities in open societies often perpetuate anti State and indeed anti honesty attitudes in their desire to protect what they see as their core values. In America even more than Britain they learn to use and abuse the State handouts for their own ends. Throwing money at a problem without maintaining responsible controls is a sham. Sadly whether it is education, welfare or health too many governments appear to think that money equals solution, whereas in reality for them, money equals votes.

Jacob did not bequeath much cash to his grandchildren but what a legacy he left them.

Shabbat Shalom