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October 03, 2010

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An observation that I have seen is that the Jewish people not only teaching this to their kids but living it as part of the disipline in there life. This is not just a fad that is something of passing but something that is an intergral part of their lives.

How many non jewish people do you know and suspect will go back to there spend thrift ways once the economy turns around and credit is available? I say alot more than you think. Some people have not learned the lesson and some never will.

I say some people will stay frugal, some will continue to try but given the opprotunity they will drop there frugal ways.


Sad but true.

Hi, I'm back.

I'm a rabbi. I've been a congregational rabbi for more than ten years, which means I've seen rich Jews, broke Jews, dumb Jews, smart Jews, Jews in debt, frugal Jews and everything in between.

The paragraphs above - regarding Jews and housing and money- are meaningless generalizations which bear no relationship to the lived reality of millions of people in America and across the world. I've met plenty of ostentatious Jews driving cars they couldn't afford - we're just human like everybody else with all the same bad habits.

Do you really want to make a case that Jews are so smart with money after our community's best and richest lost billions to Bernie Madoff? I mean, entire charitable foundations went out of business!

Trust me on this, it's the world I live in every day.

NY Rabbi --

I'm not making a case for anything -- the author is. And he does a pretty good job of it. Read the book if you really want to see for yourself.

FMF - Once again, I take exception to the continued use of the word "disproportionate" with its implication of something improper or unreasonable.

I have to say I know plenty of Jewish people with huge homes and expensive cars. However, this is in one of the top 10 richest counties in the country, and you could probably put most people in these neighborhoods into the 'living well' category, not just Jews. However, they don't appear to be in debt, but rather have ultra-high incomes.

One of my good friends who is Jewish is very, very frugal. She lives in a modest home and paid it off as quickly as possible. She is the only example of all the Jewish people I know that lives as the author describes.

People reveal themselves in what they make fun of. What does it say that we often make fun of people (Jews and non-Jews both) who are "cheap"?

I think that a good rule of life might be: When you feel yourself tempted to make fun of something, ask yourself whether it could be that you just don't understand it and that the person doing the odd thing you are making fun of knows something you don't.

Rob

My two cents:
If I had a vote (and it's not my blog so I don't); I vote that this be the last post --at least for a while-- about the disportioante wealth of Jews. Particularly on the Sunday blog, on a Christian blog. This is not political correctness. I think you made your point, which is earn a good (high) wage/ keep your spending low. There is still anti- Jewish in this country, sadly. And absolutely I don't think this is your point FMF, ie to contribute to it. However, it is worth noting that one other person, a Rabbi, is "bothered" my word not his by this. Take that as a clue.

Once I heard that if only the Irish didn't drink so much they would have the same disportionate amount of wealth. I guess the Irish are disportionately drinkers. Anyway, i think this book has been mined for all its worth. But then it is your blog.

Looking forward to your next topic. Seriously.

MasterPo --

As others have pointed out on previous posts, you need to learn what "disproportionate" means. It's not a "bad" word. I'm leaving it at that. If you need me to explain it to you, then I don't think you'll ever "get it."

BillV --

You understand that I'm quoting from a book written by a Jew about Jews, correct?

And that I'm saying that they follow the same principles I advocate, correct? In other words, I'm COMMENDING them.

And you understand that, as a Christian, I read about Jews in my Bible all the time, correct? Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, and, what's his name, oh yeah, Jesus -- all Jews. My viewpoint on them is pretty positive, as you might imagine.

All that said, you do have a vote -- you don't have to read these posts (just like people who don't like insurance posts don't have to read them, people who don't like the "move and save money" posts don't have to read them, etc.) I'm simply covering a book I see as a positive reflection on a group and telling how smart they are for following principles -- principles I've followed a lifetime. I'm not disparaging them (and neither is the author). So what's the problem?

Now you can argue whether or not the portrayal is accurate or not. If you really want more detail on that, you'll need to read the book. I can only cover so much. And I could see how this would be a big problem/issue if I was saying that the characteristics they had were negative (if I said they were greedy, slimy, untrustworthy -- put in your own negative word), but I'm saying they are SMART, WISE, etc. How is this a bad thing?

I have a couple more (I think) posts on this book coming up, so you may want to skip Sundays for awhile.

FMF, I'm somewhat with MasterPo and BillV-

there is so much religious history that you are sort of skimming over.
I know your point is that we ought to learn from the patterns of behavior that have left Jews statistically wealthier and more successful, acknowledging that there is tremendous variety in any religious or cultural community, and that these are gross generalizations as opposed to universal character traits that distinguish Jews and Christians.
Further, I know you are arguing that Jewish people should be admired for their good work, strong social system, and successful transmission of values.
But it feels like it would be worth unpacking the history a little bit more as you work with this material-The traditional stereotype of wealth Jewish people who are stingy and control the world from behind the scenes is so pernicious. It was one of the critical arguments that the Nazi's used to justify their atrocities, it was a constant refrain during the discrimination in the Middle ages, and it continues to pop up in modern culture (Rick Sanchez was just fired from CNN because he suggested that Jews run the media). So whenever you work with a topic like this, you are walking on dangerous ground.

I don't know, I may be oversensitive, just because I know how big a deal this is in the church, but I wanted to offer my thoughts.

I'm with those who say that this line of blog posts is (at best) not in the best taste and (at worst) tends to fan the flames of an old race hatred that is still pretty hot is many parts of the world.

So it's from a book and not your own words--so what? Why do you have to repeat it? And what's so great about repeating it anyway?

It's not like the "advice" is anything unusual or earthshaking. Or even related to religion. It's just a stereotype--not profound.

Rabbi I will have to take your word for it. However the vast majority of the Jews I have encountered are either very astute in there ways or are well off due to their upbringing or position.

I only hope I am teaching my sons the vaules I have, the way I see alot of Jews teach their own.

This week's post definitely feeds the stereotype of Jews being cheap. You state in your opening that this is one of "seven keys which can be traced to the teachings of the Jewish faith". However, this particular key can only be traced to a stereotype which exists regarding Jews. There is nothing in Jewish teachings that I am aware of that says, "I do not like to throw my money away, but when something is important to me I want the best." If there is, at least that should have been included in the discussion. From the post the author just starts with the assumption that Jews are "wise spenders" and goes from there. As the NY rabbi points out, there are cheap Jews and Jews who splurge. Some Jews live below their means while others live above their means.

When this line of blog posts began, I thought there would be something of interest here, like lessons from the Torah or Talmud or even something bordering on sociological. I was hoping for a deeper analysis that would explain the statistics. However, rather than providing explainations based upon something rational, the author seems to be basing his explanations on stereotypes. As a Jew, I had tried to keep an open mind with this. But as the weeks go by, it just seems like a bunch of generalizations which feed people's preconceived notions about Jews. On top of that, some of the commenters have also perpetuated certain sterotypes (like last week's "Jews aren't athletic" which I showed in my response was a bunch of cow droppings based upon the posters stereotype of Jews).

At the end of the day, FMF can post what he wants since this is his blog.

FMF:

I read your defense of this series of posts, and I understand your point of view. The seven keys, taken in a vacuum, are very wise from a financial point of view. If we all followed those keys, then we would all be better off. I think the problem that others are having is that by ascribing these keys to Jews as a people, the author is making generalizations that are based upon stereotypes.

Now you might wondering why this stereotype is so offensive since it is a positive one. For me, the answer is two-fold.

First, any stereotype, whether good or bad, is dangerous. It puts people into broad categories based upon pre-conceived notions, rather than judging people for themselves and their own abilities. Now I know this is easier said than done, since we all stereotype. However, it certainly is an ideal to strive for.

Second, the reason why this particular stereotype is dangerous is that it has lead to a lot of hatred towards Jews over the centuries. Many groups have looked at Jews as being a powerful and controlling force because of their perceived wealth and acumen with money. This has caused a lot of jealousy, especially in hard times. If you think that this doesn't exist anymore, one only has to look at the words from the guy from CNN who was just fired (Jews controlling the media). This stereotype of stinginess has also been perceived as a negative rather than a positive - only caring about money, ruthlessly going after every penny in every transaction, etc.

I understand that the keys are a "good thing". However, if you want to present them and defend them, defend them on their own merits rather than attaching them to a centuries old stereotype of Jews.

FMF.. Absolutely I knew this was the book and not you. I stand by my comments.

Your comment about having a vote by not reading them. Well, yes that's true.
However. as much as I enjoy/learn/like/and value this post..........if you post another from this book. I well leave, not lurk, not just not post, but forgo this site.

First they cam for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I said nothing;
then they came for the communists, but I was not a communist so I said nothing;

You know the verse. and since you have stated that you have more comments to come from this book, I guess I must bid you adieu.

You are now bordering on a dangerous ground, I am very sad to say good bye.
Please reconsider. And if anyone else thinks I being too sensitive please tell me.

BillV,

You are not being too sensitive, IMO. The points being made by this book and in these posts can be made without the perpetuation of a stereotype that has, in the past, been used as a way to separate, ostracize, and eventually systematically attack an entire group of people.

I'm a long time reader and mostly lurk, but I'm really growing weary of this subject. FMF, please notice that this series is netting a negative response, and think about who it would be helping to continue it.

I believe that FMF is so enthusiastic about the book becuase the principals espoused are so near and dear to his heart. I find the posts intesresting, but they feel very different from his usual Bible and Money posts. They seem to be more like everyday posts. Maybe these posts would go over better if they were not Sunday posts, just occasional posts like with Stop Acting Rich ... and various other books. Even though there is a Jewish religion I don't get much flavor for the Bible in these posts. Also, there is a Jewish culture that is more culture than religion (it reminds me of Christians that attend church only on Christmas and Easter) and I get the feeling that the characteristics in the book are based more on the culture than the religion. I doin't hate the posts, but I would enjoy them more as non-Sunday posts. Sorry for the repetition of thought.

Here's where I'm netting out on this issue.

First of all, I want to apologize if I've offended anyone. Certainly that was not my intent. In fact, my plan was to celebrate the success the Jewish people have had and note how it parallels what I talk about here daily. I guess I didn't do a good job of communicating that. In particular, this post, when not read in context of the other posts in this series, can promote a stereotype that is unflattering. And for that I am truly sorry since, as I said, that was not my intent in the least.

Second, I noted that I had other posts on this book coming up. I made that statement yesterday without consulting my post schedule (I'm currently writing about three weeks out.) I thought I had more posts on this book but looking at my schedule this morning I saw that I do not. So I guess we'll all be relieved at that fact.

Third, BillV. I do not take kindly to being threatened with "write this or that or I'm leaving." I know you feel strongly about this issue, but there's a way to discuss it (as others here have) without trying to censor me. You can surely disagree with me, you can say that I'm wrong, you can say that you're leaving because you disagree with me because I'm wrong, and a whole host of other things (just like everyone else here has). But to say "if you post another from this book. I well leave, not lurk, not just not post, but forgo this site" is something I do not appreciate. Particularly since you've read my posts for some time, know my heart, and understand that my intent would never be to disparage a group. Your comment is similar to those who threatened me in the beginning because I wrote on "The Bible and Money." They wanted just financial posts and not "Christian stuff". I let them leave. Actually, I encouraged them to leave. And I'm doing the same for you. Please leave. I can not write for anyone who will threaten to leave to try and influence the content. What should I do, send you all my posts in advance for your approval? Rewrite all my posts afterwards to reflect something you think is more appropriate? Are you going to next threaten to leave if I say something from the Bible that I believe to be true? Or a retirement tip you dislike? I really don't want to deal with that. So I think it's best that we simply part company. I put enough time and effort into this blog with little return and you have better things to do than be my word police. I do wish you the best and hope you find another place suitable for your financial reading.

For those of you who think I'm being harsh to BillV, you're certainly entitled to your opinion. But when you consider the time and effort I put into this blog and the return I get from it (as most of you know, I don't make anything from the blog -- all proceeds are donated), I'm entitled to run things the way I like. I can stand being told I'm wrong, I am willing to apologize, I can take a lot of criticism (which many of you dish out quite regularly), but I can not stand someone attempting to coerce me to write or not write something by threatening to leave -- no matter how right they feel they are. They have the right not to read a post (as I even suggested above) if they don't like it. They have the right to leave if they want to. And yes, they have the right even to threaten to leave if I write or don't write something. But I also have the right to say I'm not going to stand for being threatened (even if it's subtle and couched in "I'm doing this for a higher reason" terms.) And that's one thing I will not compromise on. I'd rather write for myself (or not write at all) than have to play the game where I'm worried if this or that reader will take offense to something. And while you do not see much of it, people take offense at almost anything these days (like suggesting it's cheaper to live in one city versus another, like saying it's costly to have and care for a pet, and so on.)

I write on what I have done in life and what's been successful for me. You can like it or not like it, agree or disagree, love or hate it. All of this (and more) is fair IMO (it's kind of what you sign up for when you decide to blog.) But there's no way I can cater to each of you individually and say what everyone wants to hear. In fact, that sentiment is much of what is wrong with politics these days -- people are so worried to say something unpopular that many of our problems don't get addressed until it's too late. But I digress...

Yes, there is a time to take a stand, and BillV felt that this was an issue for him to do so. If he had simply read my intent/responses, thought about the kind of person I am based on reading my past posts, or even waited a few hours to see how it would have all come down, then all could have been worked out. But I feel he threatened me (whether you feel that way or not is of no consequence -- I feel that way.) You can think I'm wrong or over-reacting or whatever, but I feel he's tried to censor me (or in the least planted a thought that he can influence what I write by threatening to leave.) And that's the time I take a stand. My life is too busy/full/complicated to have to deal with such matters as I'm sure his is, so I'd rather just have us both move on.

I want to end this comment in the appropriate way for those who only read the first and last paragraphs of comments. Again, I apologize if I have offended anyone. That was not my intent, but I did a poor job of communicating. I will try and do better next time.

I did not intend to threaten not to censor. I too did a poor job of communicating. I have offended you and for that I apologize.
I felt I was stating my opinion, just as you and others do. And as you have here.

You have asked me to leave. I will honor your request, it's your blog. But who is censoring/ threatening now?

Still I wish you well. I will miss my blogging friends. And continue to try to spend less than I earn. I still believe that this blog serves an important function.

BillV --

Perhaps it's simply a misunderstanding. I appreciate the spirit of your reply and if you wish to stay, I'll be ok with it. It's up to you...

Thanks.
I will.
I'll do my best to write morely clearly and with less, umm, emotion?

FMF,

I wouldn't consider BillV's comment a threat. I think it was advice, to you, that you can lose readers over continued posts on a questionable topic.

I'm not personally offended by anything you've posted on this topic, as I'm not Jewish. I just think you have to be more careful sometimes. You never intended for these posts to be taken negatively but I think you also didn't consider what a long-held stereotype you were perpetuating, even if it is a positive one.

I'll continue reading, as I have when you have posted things I didn't agree with in the past. You often bring up important issues and raise good questions, which is what we need from a personal finance blog.

Thank you for your largely unrewarded work on this blog.

RBK --

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate them.

The continued comments against the topic of this blog sadden me.

It is indicative of the PC nature of discourse in America.

Statements have been made that stereotypes happen but in an ideal world they would not. This is the path to losing all understanding in the world. Most everything we observe can be boiled down to generalizations (which is all a stereotype is). Generalizations are almost never always true, but they are true more often than they are not. Generalizations help us gain much wisdom about how the world works. We use them all the time. We know what traffic is usually like during certain times in certain places. Not always true but we make wise decisions based on it. We know what certain areas of the city are like at certain times and we avoid them. Not always true but we make wise decisions based on it. We know what certain weather patterns bring during certain seasons. Not always true but we make wise decisions based on it.

But when it comes to generalizations about people we are not allowed to speak about things that are generally true because they are not always true and someone might assume we mean they are or ascribe negative qualities to that generalization and thus we cannot speak about things in an honest and truthful way because of people getting offended and some people using that information negatively.

The whole thing makes me sad and disgusted. I see it everyday in society and it certainly makes me very sad to have to see it displayed so prominently and unwisely, here!

I personally enjoy the posts. There is nothing offensive at all about examining this phenomenon- it is real, and to act like it's imaginary is just ridiculous.

FMF-

I appreciate your Sunday posts, so do please continue. I agree with your post that if anyone finds offense, they can simply choose to not read it. I've been reading these posts, and I find nothing offensive in them at all. I am not Jewish, however, I do know a lot of them, and they do practice these principles. Why can't we learn from them? I don't understand why so many are getting in an uproar. These are quotes written from a book entitled: "The Jewish Phenomenon". I do think most are being unnecessarily too sensitive. Having said that, I hope I have not offended anyone, but, again, please continue to post. Afterall, this is your blog.

FMF,

I'm neutral on the topic being discussed, and I've found the article and subsequent discussion to be interesting, but the tone of your lengthy response to BillV was very harsh, and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Someone giving feedback does not equal censorship. You are free to write whatever you like, and we are free to choose to read it or not, as you stated. This is the nature of free expression.

I offer this feedback in the spirit of being helpful. I hope you receive it with that in mind, but you are of course free to ignore it. I will continue to be a reader.

FMF,

unlike the previous poster, I thought your response to BillV was dead on, and it was BillV's "I'll leave if..." post that left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't mind disagreement, but I really don't like internet drama, and public threats to leave someone's site if they don't do as you say are the sort of drama we could all do without. (To quote another site I read, "Resist complaining about [thing that happens on the site]. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.") On the sites I run, if someone makes such a post, I encourage them to leave even if I'm going to do exactly what they wanted.

That said, I like BillV and, now that this is settled, I hope he stays.

-----

As for this particular topic: I've found this series of posts to be unenlightening and uninspired. I was hoping for something with more substance -- how such-and-such habit is supported by such-and-such scripture or Rabbinic teaching, how it has been applied in practical ways over the centuries, something like that. Instead it's just been the same stuff you've posted here with "Jewish people do this" tacked on, and no additional insight.

FMF:

I certainly accept your apology. I am not a long time reader of your blog, but I generally get the sense that you are thoughtful individual, and I believe you when you say your intent was positive. I don't think you intended to perpetuate any stereotypes, but to hammer home the point that these fundamentals can lead to financial success.

I agree with LotharBot in that I was hoping for something deeper from this subject. There is no denying that, statistically speaking, Jews have had a level of success that goes beyond their small numbers. I was hoping for an explanation based in Jewish traditions. Jewish tradition not only reveres studying of the Torah, but it also reveres a vigorous debate over how to interpret them. Questioning is considered a good thing. One of the parts of the Passover Seder is the four questions, where children are encouraged to ask questions about why we have certain traditions and parents are obligated to explain the reasonings behind these traditions in a logic fashion in many that is tailored to the level of the child.

What does this have to do with financial success? When you grow up in an environment where study is revered, and you grow in an environment where you are encouraged to ask questions - even the hard and uncomfortable questions - it seems like you are more likely than not to experience success in your secular life as well. That is my take on the subject at least.


I don't recall the Torah mentioning any of the following:

Take your lunch to work
Use coupons
Eat at home more frequently (versus eating out)
Skip junk food and expensive coffees
Don't smoke
Buy term life insurance
Stay married, divorce is expensive
Avoid credit card debt
Consult Consumer Reports for major purchases

When I read this, I had an immediate negative reaction, as MBTN and BillV clearly did. I know it wasn't meant to have any negative connotations. In fact, I think you did it in reverence, but I think you may have gone about it the wrong way.

Being Jewish, I know many other Jews. Some are rich, some are not. Some are frugal, some are hard workers, some are cheap, some like splurging, etc. These are total generalizations and your blog is a lot more intelligent than you've shown in this post.

You would not write and article stating that African Americans are irresponsible with their money even though statistically they are poorer. Similarly, you should not have written this post. It's possible that there are other factors influencing what we perceive, and I don't think most of the things in this post are relevant or true.

Christian ways of doing personal finance are being touted constantly in books and blogs and nobody says anything. So then I don't understand why people would become uptight when somebody writes about Jewish practices in regards to building wealth. I am a great admirer of Jewish people; they do seem to often be highly accomplished and willing to sacrifice so that their children can be successful. What is wrong with that? I know not all Jews can be lumped into stereotype; I'm not stupid. If a culture has been around for a long time and has discovered ways of living successfully, I would like to know about those ways.

Julie, honestly, your comment made me laugh. While I appreciate the admiration, I hardly think that my financial savviness is the product of thousands of years of being frugal (or cheap).

More likely, it's a product of my parents talking about how they need to catch up on their retirement because they sacrificed a lot of money to send me to private school for many years.

If anything, I'm more frugal than my parents. My father loves to spend money on gadgets I think are useless.

I just don't see the correlation and that laundry list of things is something a blogger would come up with, and it has nothing to do with Jews.

Daniel, You're right! The list is a good measure of common sense along with advice you often see on personal finance blogs. I do think however we constantly re-invent the wheel when we don't need to because we are always told tradition and dogma are bad. Hey, why always reject the wisdom of our forbears? Perhaps we can study what old institutions have, or what our parents have learned in order to be successful. How about this. Tradition is good and often a path to success. Daniel, I still admire Jewish people.

Daniel said: "I don't recall the Torah mentioning any of the following:"

-Take your lunch to work

The laws of Kashrut encourage this. Few restaurants offer Kosher options (outside of major Jewish population centers), and corporate lunchrooms very likely also have none. Plus, arguably part of the "purpose" of Kashrut is to encourage Jews to eat separately from others.

-Eat at home more frequently (versus eating out)

The vast majority of Jewish holiday rituals center around homecooked meals. Most people celebrate at their own house or a friend's, but not at a restaurant. Plus, see previous.

-Skip junk food and expensive coffees

Most junk food and many premium coffees are unkosher.

-Don't smoke

"Ahron's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought to the alter an alien fire that Hashem had not commanded. A fire went out from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem." (Leviticus 10:1-3)

Just kidding. :)

-Buy term life insurance

The traditional Get (Jewish marriage contract) has been interpreted to include this, so one's wife is provided for after your death.

-Stay married, divorce is expensive

While historical Judaism was centuries ahead of its time in allowing divorce, and giving that power to women, it is still very anti-divorce, and encourages saving the marriage wherever possible.

-Consult Consumer Reports for major purchases

Given all the previous points, you think that a people that consult a book to decide what, when, and with whom they can eat will make major purchases without consulting the relevant sages?

Ok, this list was mostly tongue-in-cheek. Heavy on the cheek. But as Julie points out, Jewish families have long been, and continue to be, statistically disproportionately wealthy. That points to something enduring in their culture that promotes these values. We need to be able to discuss what that is, and how we, as a society, can learn from it. To say it's inappropriate for discussion because it involves a "Protected Minority Group" is ridiculous and intellectually backwards.

Daniel also said, "You would not write and article stating that African Americans are irresponsible with their money even though statistically they are poorer." No, but I would write an article stating that African Americans have a MUCH higher incidence of sickle cell, and discuss some of the biological factors leading to that. Why? Because doing so might help us cure sickle cell.

Julie and Bookandcoffee:

I think the point is that, in this specific post, the author starts from the assumption that Jews are frugal. He does not provide any basis in Torah or Jewish tradition to explain this. The only basis that I can see is that there exists a stereotype of Jews in general circulation that they are cheap. At least with the example of sickle cell that you gave, there is some biological explanation rooted in scientific fact, rather than a general assumption that is based on stereotype. As a Jew, I am certain very interested to know why Jews are disproportionately more successful than the general population. However, the author has got to bring something more concrete than the tired old line, "Jews are cheap". Come to the party with some concrete facts that we can sink our teeth into.

MBTN --

It's true that this post does not offer any data/info (my fault entirely for not including it), but the book does (I believe, it's been a couple weeks since I read it). You may want to check it out if interested.

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