Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sacrifying to be Jewish

Veteran readers may have noted that it's been quite a while since I blogged in the Daf Yomi series. (Recent readers can find the introduction and explanation of this thread here). The main reason has been that about three months ago we finished the Nezikim order, which deals with commonplace things such as legal transactions, courts and contracts, which are as relevant today as they were 1,800 years ago, and started the Kodashim order, which concentrates (mostly) on holy ritual, some of which is rather outlandish from a modern perspective. The first tractate, which we finished today, was Zevachim, Sacrifices (120 pages).

How outlandish? Quite, to be honest. The Bible commands four types of sacrifices, which are then divided into sub-groups. Each sacrificial act is divided into a series of actions, which need to be done in very specific places, mostly but not always by priests (cohens) of varying degrees of purity, with specific tools, in specific order, and with specific intentions. The time of day (or night) is also important, as are lots of very detailed aspects of the alter (blood from sacrifice A has to be splattered above the red line on the left side of the alter, or below the line in a different context). Then the accidents have to be taken into account: what happens if something falls, onto what, and is then replaced. Or not. Also, was the priest wearing the correct uniform when it happened, and does it need to be laundered immediately, or later, or not at all? Quantities are important, sometimes. Or is it always, but in different ways? Did I mention the problem of scarifying an animal which is in the wrong section of the Temple Mount but it's throat was in the right place, or was it the other way around, the animal was in the right place but it's throat reached out over the line but then turned back just in time not to be too late, if it isn't already irrevocably too late because the intention to eat it by whomever changed in the meanwhile?

It's not the arcane details which make all this so strange. Observe any present day insurance company lawyer doing her best to prove her client actually doesn't owe you anything, and it will rapidly become just as arcane. What makes it so strange is the content. We can't imagine sacrifices, and only dimly can we appreciate matters of purity and impurity, or even religious tithes and all that goes with them.

The thing that's historically so interesting about the tractate is that the rabbis can't really imagine it, either. The Temple was destroyed in the early mishnaic era, which means only the earliest generations of the Mishnaic rabbis, the Tana'im, had any personal knowledge of the matter; the latter Tanaim and all the Amoraim, i.e the large majority of the Talmudic rabbis, had never seen any of this, nor had it been happening in living memory. Occasionally the tractate cites a Zkan Hacohanim, which seems to mean the last of the cohanim still alive to tell how things were, but even then their authority isn't clear. At one point the tractate spends many pages discussing the dimensions of the alter and Temple plaza; the entire section is scholasticism, meaning it's based upon interpreting the verses of the Bible, not reconstructing the physical place (which, having been razed, can't be done) or looking for someone who might have preserved or recorded real memory.

Actually, scholasticism plays an unusually large part in the tractate, even more than usual. Many of the detailed arguments aren't about how things were supposed to work, but rather how they can be learned from which words in which verses. Some of the discussions in Nezikin  move so far away from the original Biblical verses it's obvious the rabbis have enacted laws which relate to their social reality, not the one of Deuteronomy. (The laws of inheritance, for example, which are developed well beyond the rudimentary commandments in the Pentateuch). Not so in Zevachim, which goes on endlessly about who learns which arcane detail from which confluence of words in two separate verses, but has no reason - obviously - to adapt the practice to the real world of the rabbis.

At one point the tractate even says this explicitly. An Amora has pronounced on halacha: the law is that it's done this way, not that, and the tractate basically says "Huh? Who cares? No-one does any of this anyway? We're studying so as not to forget". Yet the deeper we got into it, the more it became clear to me that even that wasn't the case. Keep in mind that the Tamud is the central creation of the Pharisees, rabbinical Judaism, who were often at war - sometimes even violent war - with the Sadducees .The Saducees were the ones running the Temple, and they decidedly didn't use the rabbinical form of learning, which means that even if we could invent a time machine and go back to the Temple, we wouldn't see the practices described in great length in the Talmud. There must have been some resemblance, but it would have been limited.

The Talmudic scholars spent centuries discussing the most arcane minutiae of the practice of the Temple so as not to forget it, and never to loosen the Jewish ties to a physical place which had been gone for centuries, and they did so by describing a reality which never existed in the form they created for it.

Yet it worked. Judaism became a religion which could exist without its concrete, physical heart, because the imagination of that heart had become central to Jewish civilization.

Ironically, almost everyone I talked to about the tractate these past few months has agreed that it's very outlandish, and we're not particularly enjoying it; it's too foreign. But that's part of the greater irony of Zionism, which arose and succeeded in a historical era when the old forms of preservation were losing their potency. Either Zionism arrived at the last possible moment, as the civilizational binds that held the Jews together were about to slip off, or it arose because the old forms were weakening and there was no option but to go back to the basics of land, language and national political life. Choose whichever explanation you prefer.

Either way, the slowly widening gap between the Jews of Israel and America is very serious. For most of America's Jews, not only Zvachim is outlandish, the entire Talmud is also, as is the prayer book, the Jewish calender, and of course Jewish rituals of all kinds. It may not be urgent, but after a while one does need to ask what holds Jews together when the traditional ties are gone, and the more common national-political ones aren't compelling either. I come by this theme from time to time, it's not new. Shmuel Rosner has apparently just written a book about it (in Hebrew), and has an interesting chapter (in English) here. What happens, he asks, when the political agenda of the Israelis is different from the political agenda of American Jews, on American subjects, not on Israel's security or well-being. Say, if Israeli Jews admire an American president the American Jews despise. Well, when it was George Bush II, the resounding answer was that America's Jews split from Israel. Yet not because of any major argument. It was simply that the Israeli position didn't interest America's Jews, and this itself was a sign of the growing indifference large numbers of American Jews display towards Israel.

Which brings me back to Zvachim. You can find it outlandish, and look forward to the time when the Daf Yomi series will return to less far-fetched topics. That's qualitatively different than having a Judaism which is indifferent both to the cultural and also the geographical center. A Judaism which focuses mainly on its local agenda and not on the ones which unify all Jews, will someday have to explain to itself what makes it Jewish, and why the rest of the Jews should care.

Update: Yehuda Mirsky has thoughts on Jewish identity in America today, here. Some of it (not all: don't jump on me) doesn't much look like Judaism at all to me.

42 comments:

Barry Meislin said...

For most of America's Jews, not only Zvachim is outlandish, the entire Talmud is also, as is the prayer book, the Jewish calender, and of course Jewish rituals of all kinds.

Perhaps. But how is this different from how a large segment of secular Israelis believes?

P.S. Typo in the post heading.

Silke said...

Lemme guess?

(and thus check whether I have understood Yaacov's teachings correctly)

The ones in Israel are on the ground in person walking and breathing ...

Yaacov said...

Yup, that's how I'd see it.

Anonymous said...

In a way it's a new challenge for Judaism: To preserve its identity in a friendly environment.

There is less 'outside' pressure to stand together.

That's a logical effect, since America is largely free of antisemitism.

Kind regards, André

Victor said...

Being "in Israel on the ground in person walking and breathing" exempts Jews from having an understanding of the essentials of our faith?

This is a sentiment expressed by more than one Israeli to me. Hasn't this early secular Zionist supersessionism done enough damage? Why perpetuate it?

Victor said...

Either Zionism arrived at the last possible moment, as the civilizational binds that held the Jews together were about to slip off, or it arose because the old forms were weakening and there was no option but to go back to the basics of land, language and national political life. Choose whichever explanation you prefer.

This is a self-affirming characterization of history, which assumes a centrality of Zionism to Jewish life. Zionism is not a product of forces within the European Jewish community, but influences acting on (19th century nationalism, etc.) and against (antisemitism) it.

Zionism did not come into being to mend whatever fissures existed in Jewish communal life. We forget that Zionism, itself, was highly contested, with the religious leadership of European Jewry, representing the bulk of world Jewry at that time, formally rejecting it.

Silke said...

Victor

whatever Isms fight over and compete about it was also or even predominantly Zionists who created viable footholds in what is today Israel.

Whether they did it with proper religious observance or not seems to be of very secondary importance to me. They created conditions in which at least some could evade the murderers and even strive.

Bryan said...

I actually have to agree with Victor here. Simply living in Israel is not necessarily perpetuating "Jewishness." This is not to say that I think Israelis need to be more observant of mitzvot, but merely that, in my opinion, Israelis should make a conscious effort to make their society more "Jewishly" educated. As a Jew-in-training I am more Jewishly educated--that is, more knowledgable on traditional Jewish subjects (Tanakh, Talmud, mitzvot)--than many of the thoroughly secular Israelis I know. It's anecdotal evidence, so I don't feel qualified to weight in seriously on the issue, but I agree with Victor in principle.

Silke said...

any foreigner studying German will know heaps more about the language than I a native speaker do or can even be bothered to want to know.

And I am pretty sure that provided the foreigner is an excellent student he/she will be able to point out lots and lots of "mistakes" I am making.

Does that make my use of the German language in any way reprehensible?

From time to time I read complaints that foreigners wanting to become Germans must pass a test that asks them pretty simple looking questions which nonetheless natives wouldn't know the answers to. And they are right, I doubt I'd pass such a test without preparation, but so what? Could I still pass the theoretical examination for my driver's licence? no way!

And last but not least why are so many eminent literature critics non-natives?

from the last piece Yaacov linked to:

Yehiel Poupko: "My grandfather had no Jewish identity; he was just Jewish.

Victor said...

Whether they did it with proper religious observance or not seems to be of very secondary importance to me. They created conditions in which at least some could evade the murderers and even strive.

Right, their intent in doing whatever they did is of secondary importance to the reality of a Jewish state today. That's beside the point. I'm taking issue with Yaakov's characterization of Zionism, and it's a subtle sub-conversation within the Jewish community. It used to be less subtle. In the 60s and 70s, there was a strong social movement among Jews to emigrate to Israel.

Yaakov is essentially stating that Zionism is a necessary condition for modern Jewish existence, that the rationale of Zionism necessitates the in-gathering of Jews in Israel. I disagree. I am strongly in favor of a vibrant Jewish Diaspora, in addition to a strong, thriving Israel, and hope to see the day that, instead of the Diaspora supporting Israel, Israel is supporting the Diaspora.

Silke, think of the Goethe Haus program of the German Foreign Ministry. We have several of them in Wisconsin, due to a large German immigrant community, and there are others throughout the US and the world. The German government has an interest in promoting German culture, language and German-immigrant communities in foreign societies.

There is no reason why Israel should not evolve in a similar manner, supporting Jewish communities around the world.

NormanF said...

The Talmud is based on inductive reasoning. Such logic is the reverse of the deductive reasoning found in textbooks. One asks not why but how and what? How to fulfill the Torah and what rules by which it may be carried out. G-d's commandments are given but it must be made clear how they are to be obeyed.

The Written Law presumes an Oral Law exists. The Torah is written in terse, spare language. When the earliest commentators read it, they noted it doesn't supply details on how to observe the rules in every day life.

And this where the Mishnah and its massive accompanying commentary, the Gemara came in. It provided the Jews with two things: an explanation for their faith and an intellectual universe through which to live it.

It preserved Jewish identity down through the ages and is arguably the greatest work ever invented by the human mind. Its obsession with the minutiae of human life shows that no subject, small or large is beyond its scope.

Even the most seasoned Talmudic scholars will not grasp the whole of the Talmud in a single human lifetime. That is a view pithily expressed by the Sage R. Tarfon: "It was not yours to finish but you must not desist from it."

Yaacov said...

Victor -

You're right. I'm indeed of the opinion that if it hadn't been for the success of Zionism, Judaism might well not have survived the two contradictory blows of the Shoah on one hand, and the benign indifference-inducing pleasantness of America on the other. By which I don't mean even the faintest of comparisons of America to Nazism.

The Nazis effectively destroyed European Jewry, not only the Jews of Europe, and beyond some remnants here and there, it hasn't returned nor is it likely ever to. America's Jewry is still alive and kicking, considerably more than the pessimists expected 30-40 years ago when the rate of intermarriages went through the roof, but I don't see much to be optimistic about beyond the orthodox and orthodox-like communities. Even they, however, lean on Israel: since the passing of the last three American Gdolim in the latter years of the 20th century the center is firmly in Israel.

Are there still important and vibrant Jewish communities outside Israel? Of course, and we intend never to test the proposition that they would wither away if not for the center. Are there significant numbers of Jewish ignoramusi in Israel? Yes, though their connection to Judaism, religiously weak, is something they defend with their lives, which isn't true elsewhere; they've got generations yet to work out what it all means for them, a time span Jews elsewhere don't have.

The Jews in the Arab world were on a different track in the early 20th century, but that's really a different subject.

Yaacov said...

PS. Victor -

I don't say all Jews need to move to Israel, and anyway they won't no matter what I say. But I'd be interested to hear how you think the world's Jews support Israel these days, and how Israel doesn't give them more than they give back? Don't tell me about financial support, because it's nice to have but makes barely a dent in the Israeli economy, and don't tell me about political support, which is also nice to have but not very significant. What remains are the interlocking connections of Jews - surely an important part of Jewish existence, but hardly a net transfer from the diaspora to Israel.

Lee Ratner said...

If you read that first fully Zionist, rather than Proto-Zionist text, Moses Hess' Rome and Jerusalem, you will find a very weird section where he gets all gushy about the possibility of the resumption of sacrifices. He even says that animal sacrifices are completely compatible with the growing liberal humanism of the
19th century. A few of the early Religious Zionists were also looking forward to restarting the sacrifices. One religious Zionist Rabbi, I forgot his name, argued that the Temple wouldn't need to be rebuilt to do so. There has always been a small faction of Jews who really want to resume the sacrifices.

Silke said...

Victor
I understand what you are aiming at but Goethehaus is not intended as diaspora-serving at least that's what they tell us in German. They say It is a kind of PR for German culture.

Insofar as we have had something even remotely resembling diaspora it concerns groups which left the country quite some time ago and, leaving the story of WW2 aside, are now still returning after generations mostly from Russia I guess under some kind of ius sanguinis. But as best I know some from Chile migrated under the same ruling.

The closest I have come to experiencing something similar to diaspora was in Greece where they come back after a lifetime abroad, where they donate feasts for their home town i.e. where they keep up strong ties apparently often for generations with their place of origin.

------

as to sacrifices I have a dim memory that I have been taught ages ago that the Christian Abendmahl = communion is a remnant or a reminder of a sacrifice.

Victor said...

I was not arguing that Zionism's success is not a reality, or a bad thing, G-d fobid. I'm challenging your characterization of the movement, in its infancy, and to the exclusion of external factors, as representing a modern necessity, which wasn't at all clear at the time.

There was an argument to be made in the 1920s and 30s, and earlier, that a secular, socialist state would do more to destroy Jewish identity than preserve it.

I think Zionism became a necessity out of rather desperate circumstances, and is now a permanent reality, but had the Jews of Europe not been wiped out, we would be having a very different discussion about (not the need but) the centrality of Israel - in a physical, material sense - to the Jewish people.

Of course, the Jews of Europe were wiped out, so it's silly to have that conversation, but you're using the hindsight of history to reshape the necessity of Zionism as the only conceivable solution to Jewish existence in modernity, as viewed from the perspective of the early 1900s.

As for the Diaspora... haha, look Yaakov... if you don't need the money, please tell someone, because there is plenty that the $500 odd million that's raised for Israel in the US every year could be spent on in the Jewish community here, or abroad. Among other things, it could be used to deal with that 30-40% assimilation rate.

The money is a tangible expression of our Diaspora community's support for Israel, and at some point, it was necessary. I agree that if you don't need the money today, we need to change (and even reverse) this funding dynamic, and that this change is a good thing.

As an aside, I don't think it makes sense to dismiss the contribution to Israel's security and financial stability provided by the advocacy work of the Jewish-organized American pro-Israel lobby. There's been a lot of talk of Israel reducing its dependency on American defense aid dollars, but just this week, Barak asked for an additional commitment of $20 Billion, on top of existing funds. Who is going to push that through on the Hill, IF it gets pushed through? Barak? Or AIPAC?

Are Israelis ready to pay for promoting vibrant Jewish diaspora communities? Or would they balk at the task, and demand that those Jews emigrate to Israel instead? There's this mentality among some sectors of Israeli society, that the only way to be Jew is to live in Israel. This is simply not true.

I think it would be great were Israel to create a yearly $1 Billion budget to distribute to the most economically and socially depressed Jewish Diaspora communities. That money could support a lot of Chabad houses :) and help a lot of Jews. And if you're not going to assimilate the West Bank into the State, then there's no concern about demographics, which necessitate encouraging immigration.

But for the moment, and this a gentle poke in your side, you've got firefighters driving around in 40 year old firetrucks, and the country on the verge of panic at a perfectly predictable natural disaster. Your energy infrastructure, in a post-Egypt revolt era, totters on the viability of a sole producing offshore gas field, which supplies 55% of Israel's electricity. There is considerable poverty in the north and south, and a notable lack of follow-through on developing those areas, though not talk about doing so.

In other words, there's plenty that our dying Diaspora money is still good for in Israel, and I don't see anyone rushing to return the checks. And no one here is rushing to stop sending them until you tell us to.

Victor said...

Silke, you're right, Goethehaus is designed to promote German language and culture. But in a practical sense, consider who is mostly likely to affiliate with it and be served by it.

A few years back, when I was SS Nazi-hunting (long story) in the backwaters of Wisconsin, I spoke extensively to the director of the Goethehaus, who is also a professor at a major university here.

He basically told me that he has lists of Americans of German heritage in our community. I thought it was a strange thing to say, because I can't tell the difference between Americans of German or Polish or English descent. I didn't realize that those links back to the "mother country" were still intact in our society, at whatever level. But they are, and Goethehaus is a natural social center for such affiliation.

In other words, Americans of German heritage gravitate towards Goethehaus as a way of preserving that part of their identity, even if it's just with a yearly beer fest. So the cultural and language promotion is geared more towards preserving affiliation among Americans of German heritage, than in cultural outreach to, say... Mexican Americans.

Yaacov said...

Victor,

I wasn't talking about how Zionism looked in 1900, rather how it looks now.

I think the Jewish philanthropy into Israeli is probably closer to 1B than 500m. Israel's national budget is something like 130B. Do the math. For the individual projects, it's significant. For the overall picture, not. And assuming much of the philanthropy goes towards things the national budget wouldn't cover anyway, it's really nice to have, but the disparity of numbers gets even greater (i.e the national budget plus municipalities, plus hospitals-universities-amutot-etc.)

The greatest significance of the Jewish philanthropy is that it gives some Jews a way to be committed to the Jewish state; without it, what would their commitment look like? How would it express itself?

I don't know how much Israeli money goes into Jewish projects beyond Israel. Probably not trivial sums, tho. I agree with your sentiment, however, that in the present generation it's not the task of Israel to bear the cost of diaspora Jewish communities - tho in non-financial ways, many of them lean heavily on Israel, the supplier of much Jewish education and other intangibles.

The creaky infrastructures? You don't know the half of it. Believe me. Yet as someone who's been observing closely for decades, the amount of improvement is quite impressive - and no, it's not happening, mostly, because of the fraction of one percent of the required funds that come from world Jewry. Ultimately, it's because the Israelis work hard and pay high taxes.

By the way, thanx for the info about the website. I haven't had time to study it, but hope to early next week.

Victor said...

Incidentally, our local Goethehaus apparently has one of the largest collections of yiddish literature in the world. Which is a bit strange, because it's Milwaukee, not some world-renowned urban area, but there it is.

Victor said...

Yes, obviously, Israel is irreplaceable today, and will increasingly assume the burden of responsibility for sustaining the Jewish Diaspora, spiritually, culturally and in the not too distant future, financially also. For me, all that is a good thing.

As for Diaspora dollars, I agree that support for Israel is a major way for a lot of Jews to maintain their affiliation with Yiddishkeit. That's a real problem, from my perspective. I don't think it's so much an issue for younger Jews who can choose their level of affiliation with Judaism without necessarily factoring Israel into the equation, though many choose to do so, in positive and negative ways.

Regarding infrastructure, I was at an Israeli Bonds meeting some time ago, where the local... what would you call him, they have a name... the local administrator in charge of selling Israeli Bonds in our region, was saying how much improvement there has been in Israel. That, in the 80s, when he first got involved, there was raw sewage flowing through the rivers. Factories were just discharging sludge into ravines and so on. Fast forward twenty years and you have streets running only electric rail cars.

Silke said...

Victor
thanks for all that info on Goethehaus, I think never ever would they tell us something like that - it amazes me again and again how different a story I get told about so many things.

Goethe-Institut is promoted to us more often than not as a place where foreign students get their first German lessons and they are all full of praise for it.

One of these days I look up their website - and this time it is not the reporters it is what their directors have told me in interviews over the years. As to Americans of German origin, do any of them plan to move back to the old country for retirement? - only joking!

a Yiddish library in a Goethe-Institut, now that is something, the world sure is an interesting place.

Barry Meislin said...

...not some world-renowned urban area...

You've got to be joking!

Beer? Golda? Baseball? Beer? Beer?

Y. Ben-David said...

I was having a discussion with a young fellow who is getting a degree in Jewish history in the US. I made the statement that, when looked at in the entire context of Jewish history, American Jewry has really not made much of an impact. I mean this in the religious, scholarly and JEWISH cultural context (i.e. I am not counting the Jewish contribution to Hollywood and "show biz"). At first he rejected what I said, but then I pointed out, as Yaacov did above, that there was one generation of important religious scholars that arose after the Second World War, but they had passed on by the 1990's and they have not been replaced (I am referring to the Rabbanim Soloveitchik, Kotler, Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I will also add Ginzburg, Finkelstein and Lieberman to the list).
Jewish scholarship and culture essentially went from Europe to Eretz Israel, bypassing the US.
Sure there are a lot of rich Jews in the US and there are Jews like Philip Roth who chronicle Jewish self-hatred and assimilation in their uniquely American context, but no one will remember them 200 years from now. The important Jewish scholarship, culture and thinking is in Israel now. American general culture and civilization are so overwhemlmingly "accpeting" of the Jews, that it influences ALL Jews, even the most Orthodox and erodes their Jewish antennae, making may of them into what Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch described as the "anti-Marrano"---Jewish on the outside, and non-Jewish on the inside.
The student I was talking to about this ended up agreeing with me.

Victor said...
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Bryan said...
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Y. Ben-David said...

Please ignore my last comment, there was some sort of malfunction. I would delete it but I don't know how to.

Barry Meislin said...

A blessing on ALL your houses, etc....

The primary problem facing Jewish society today is how to find a mechanism (Torah-oriented, of course) to get Rabbis to keep their mouths shut.

(That shouldn't be so hard, should it?....)

P.S. Who do they think they are? Israeli Cabinet members? MKs?

Yaacov said...

Y Ben David -

If you wish, I'll delete anything you wish.

I see Victor already has, apparently feeling that the discussion got too heated.

Y. Ben-David said...

Yaacov-
Please delete those two last comments. I do feel this discussion is worthwhile, as uncomfortable as it may have been for him. To tell the truth, we need idealistic Jews like Victor here in Israel!

I actually got the some of the ideas I posted here from a biography of Rabbi Dr Yitzhak Breuer that I read. He was the grandson of Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch. Although he enthusiastically adopted his grandfather's "Torah im Derech Eretz" philosophy (new editions books he wrote have recently been recently brought out by Mossad HaRav Kook), he ended up rejecting the anti-Zionism of that "separatist" Orthodox Community of Germany and he developed an new philosophy he called "Torah Im Derech Eretz ISRAEL". It should be pointed out that although he was a Zionist he still believed in the religious community maintaining its distance from the official secular Zionist organizations which he still viewed with suspicion.
The crucial thing that Breuer himself noted was the spiritual decline the Hirschian "separatist" Orthodox communities underwent from the time of their founding in the 1850's until the end came in the 1930's. He attributed it to their adopting extreme German nationalism (as a child he refused to sing the German patriotic songs that were sung in the school his grandfather established!) and the communities too-ready adoption of Germand culture and middle-class German values. By the 1920's many of the children who grew up in the community shed religious observance and even among those who remained outwardly observant, Breuer oberved that for many their belief was superficial.
Although Americans are not extreme nationalists like the Germans were they are attached to their "politically correct" cultural values and I see it as penetrating even the most supposedly insular Jewish communities, sorry to say.

Victor said...

we need idealistic Jews like Victor here in Israel!

An Israeli told me to make a million dollars in America first, and only then make aliyah. But if I want to live comfortably for a few years, he recommended coming with four million dollars.

Bryan said...

Yaacov: Please delete my last two posts, as well. My apologies for loading on the work.

Yaacov said...

Actually, Victor, that may have been true in the 80s. It isn't anymore. Arguably, with the two economies in their respective conditions, it might even be the other way around.

Y. Ben-David said...

Victor-
Since we made aliyah 25 years ago, our experience is not relevant, although we came with less than 10% of the amount you stated. Housing is much more expensive today. Much depends on what you do for a living. But it is important to remember that for people with more than 4 or 5 children, the expenses of education are much higher in the US than in Israel, and Americans are paying for an inferior education, particularly in the Torah/Jewish studies realm.
Nefesh B'Nefesh is the best source of information.

Victor said...

I was more or less joking about earning a million before coming, although it was an actual suggestion made to me. A million dollars isn't what it used to be either... I mean, I wouldn't mind finding it on the side of the road, but...

Jon said...

Yaacov -

As an actuary in the U.S, I'm promised a median salary of $88k with room for 200% growth. (This is according to whichever newspaper it was that did the job-ranking thing - I think US News).

In Israel, I can expect a salary between 10-18k₪ a month. This is apparently on a par with high-tech workers. (This information is from Nefesh B'Nefesh.)

Assuming an exchange-rate of 3.5:1, that puts the high-end Israeli salary at the lower end of the Amrican range.

I think you're being a bit too optimistic about the Israeli economy, and too pessimistic about the American one.

If I'm wrong, please correct me - I'm not wandering around Nefesh B'Nefesh's site without a reason!

Y. Ben-David said...

Jon-
Let's face it, if your goal in life is to make as much money as possible, then it doesn't necessarily pay to move from the US to Israel. If your goal is to live as full a life as a Jew as possible, then your place is in Israel. In my case, there is no question that my standard of living would not be appreciably higher had I remained in the US. I would probably own a second car and my house would be somewhat larger than the apartment I have here in Israel, but here I really don't need a second car (I get free transportation to work like many workers in Israel do) and people manage in smaller accomodations. But had we remained in the US the tuition fees we would have faced would have been substantially higher and that would have eaten up any salary advantage I would have had there, and as I said above, I would have been paying for a grossly inferior education, at least in the Torah-Jewish Studies department.

Yaacov said...

Jon -

Since you're an actuary, you'll know how to calculate the different costs of near-free schooling from pre-kindergarten thru high-school, and the substantially cheaper university fees in Israel, assuming you wish your children to have a Jewish education. Likewise the limited costs of reliable health insurance and pension plans.

Having noted that, I didn't say salaries are higher in Israel. The ability to participate in or benefit from the explosive innovation economy in Israel is, however, better than anywhere in the US except for a few specific areas. The thousands of extraordinarily expensive luxury high-rise apartments being snatched up in Tel Aviv these past few years demonstrate that If Israelis want to be rich, their chances at home are as good as anywhere, if not better.