Monday, February 21, 2011

Matrimonial Economics 101

The economics of matrimony can tell you a lot about a society. 

For example, the long-standing Indian custom of shaking down the bride's parents to the tune of several years' salary may be seeing its final days. The imminent shortage of brides, caused by widespread ultrasound exams and the subsequent  abortion of female fetuses, will have to tilt the demand in the girls' favor, and the grooms' parents might actually have to shell out. Or, they could just continue the innovative practice of "exchange marriages", which is a kind of cashless cross-shidduch in which a brother and sister in one family marry a sister and brother in another family. In the words of Lonestar - "so what does that make us?"....

Back to E. Israel, where the town fathers can only look with envy at the Indian children's servile acceptance of arranged marriages. 

One of the great mysteries surrounding the haredi community is how they manage to raise a family on very little income, and then support their newlywed children with sums of cash that most srugie couples can only dream about. The reward of illuyim with a sidur maleh has certainly done more to encourage serious torah study than any Artscroll mussar volume. Unfortunately, the desperate need for cash has also spawned get-rich-quick schemes preying on poor people without much financial savvy.

Enter the following ad spotted by Chadash Asur last week, in "Connections" magazine. Connections, incidentally, tries to keep so many people happy that it has to offend everyone all the time. Such as a recent issue giving advice to 12th graders across the full spectrum, from going straight to the army (R"L) to hiding out in the Mir until age 30. Not bad practice for drafting a new Egyptian constitution with less than 10,000 casualties in an ensuing sectarian war.

Witness Bank Poalei Agudat Yisrael (which is really the First International Bank using a heimish-sounding nickname in its branches located in Haredi areas) making a play on parents worried about the next negotiation with the prospective in-laws. Note the wise middle-aged father with the dopey looking son - presumably this is meant to appeal to some parents' protectionary instincts, and the feeling that their kids will forever be 3 years old and require ' sagacious parental guidance.

But let's look a little closer, specifically at the volume that the pair is studiously posing with:

Let's ignore the copywriter's negligence in showing a mirror image of text. Can you identify the edition of the Babylonian Talmud by the cover font? No? Then you must be a true tzaddik who doesn't read anything put in cherem by Rav Shach, such as the Steinzaltz edition of the Talmud.

That's right, the choson-in-waiting is learning from a Steinzaltz! (Note for the uninitiated - this is an edition of the Talmud with Hebrew translation and vowels, and is denigrated by even the lowliest Hesdernik spending his 5th year studying for the psychometric exam...). No Haredi young man would be caught dead holding one, and a picture like this would doubtlessly destroy his family's shidduch chances for at least ten generations.

Yet maybe Chadash Asur is too quick to criticize. Families of illuyim don't need the bank, or the stock market, or anything. Their son's mind and reputation are like an ATM machine under his shtender. Rather, it's the parents of the other 98% who need the loans and the pyramid schemes - like the dude in this picture who is obviously not going to get even a kiddush cup from his mechutanim by virtue of his talmud torah. His parents will have to come up with the dough if he is to merit a remotely reasonable meidel.

Targeted advertising indeed.


Brooklyn Refugee Sheigitz said...

Now I know how kollel guys can get better mortgages than working stiffs!!

In all fairness, Bank Poalei Agudas Yisrael is a venerable Israeli institution dating back to the days when the banking system was politically affiliated and Bank HaPoalim was indeed the worker's bank of the Histadtrut/Mapia, and Mizarachi Bank was the bank of the Mizrachi/HaPoel HaMizrachi folks. The Agudists actually did have a worker's party (that's back when they worked) and did have a bank. FIBI acquired this along with many other "secterial" banks such as the teachers union bank (Yahav), the career soldiers bank (Otsar HaChayal) and other small banks and they wisely have kep the individual names for marketing purposes. This is no different than Leumi's "Arab Israel Bank" or Discount's "Mercantile Dscount" which are targeted to the arab sector.

Great post!!! glad you are back in action

David said...

Great catch, and excellent writing! It would have been quite funny were it not so painfully true...

FIBI's former chairman, who incidentally has a REAL Vilna Shas in his office that would be a source of envy to any true illuy and who is a scion of numerous Gedolim, would love this post.

mOOm said...

Qibbutz Hafetz Haim was/is a Qibbutz of the Poalei Agudat Yisrael.