Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Retirement is Not a Jewish Concept

The idea that Jews don't "believe" in retirement has been floated on several blogs, either in the postings or in the comments.To this I can only answer, "Says who?!" As of yet no one has attempted to justify this by quoting the Gemorah, but I'm sure it is only a matter of time until someone does. So yes, I've been thinking about the idea.

Aristotle and the other great rhetors posited the idea that audience analysis was key for any speaker. If you did not know what your audience believed and held dear, if you did not know what your audience's fears and worries were, you couldn't build a speech that would reach them. What he termed pathos was a key element in any persuasive speech. So who is the audience for the idea that retirement is un-Jewish?

I looked around at all the people in my general age range, some younger and some older. I looked at my social group. Some of those people are already retired, some a few years from retirement, others in the decade before retirement becomes possible. Without exception, every one of those people believes in retirement. Not just believes in it but is actively working towards it. The "baby boomers" have become the "babi and zayde boomers" and they are looking to hang up their hats. So it isn't the "boomers" who consider retirement as a violation of Jewish principles.

I looked at the next generation after mine. Here's where things start to become murky. This generation is mostly in its 30s to mid 40s. Some of this generation have been working for years. Many work for companies with 401k plans, geared toward retirement. Others are saving for retirement using IRAs and other private financial vehicles geared towards retirement. The general expectation, certainly of my generation, is that this next generation started work at somewhere between 21-25, depending on graduate school. At around the same time young people would begin marrying. Thus, the expenses of being married and having a family would grow apace with a couple's ability to meet those expenses. Unfortunately, yes unfortunately, this is not how it happened for some pretty big slices of frum Klal, particularly the yeshivishe slice.

The "style"--yes, the word is deliberate--of having all boys sit down and learn for years arrived on the scene for this generation. Some parents bankrolled this style for their kids, some did not. Part of the style consisted of delaying secular education, making it an "if" rather than a given. Marriage was encouraged at earlier ages. Thus, in this generation, some people arrived at the point of familial expenses, such as tuition and home buying, before they had even entered the business marketplace. Their ability to pay for necessary expenses was curtailed, hampered and even non-existent. Did this change the style? Nope, a secondary style came into being--let's call it "ask daddy-ism."

We now had the unusual situation where my generation was not only supporting itself but was also being asked to support the next generation and the generation after that. People who had already paid one set of yeshiva tuitions for their own kids were now paying tuition again for their grandchildren. People who had planned and scrimped and saved to buy one house of their own were now being expected to fork over cash for all their children's home purchases. It was like being young all over again, with none of the perks.

There's another generation already out there. Some of its members are fairly young. Some are already at the point of marriage and families. And they, too, want to follow the style of sitting and learning for years. So they look to their parents for financial support. Bad move on their part. Those parents whom they are counting on are themselves still being helped out by their parents. And so the grandparents get on the merry-go-round yet once again.

There are some in my generation who would love to retire, who crave it even, but they can't. If they do, the two generations that follow them are going to be in deep financial trouble. Back when my children were young and in yeshiva the yeshiva never, ever asked who the grandparents were and what they do as part of the financial questionnaire given to parents. Today that is the norm. You can't claim to have no money to pay full tuition if your parents are working, own their own home etc.

One woman, older then I am, spoke many years ago about the things she and her husband would do when they retired. She doesn't speak of retirement any more. As she put it "Sure, my kids can't wait for me to retire. That way they won't have to pay a baby sitter any more if the wife is working. I can rotate going between all their houses, watching the kids, cleaning up, doing the laundry and the shopping and all the other things they are "too busy" to do. No thanks."

So who, really, is floating the idea of retirement as being un-Jewish? Not those who are close to retirement. It's coming from the younger generations. And it's not coming from any "halachic" sense either. It's coming from a very real panic that the gravy train is about to end its journey and pull into the station. And it's coming from yeshivot and communal organizations who long ago recognized who has the money.

And yes, the following is becoming all too common as well. Grandparents were niftar and after the shiva the children had to deal with all the details of settling financial matters. The community more or less figured that the children would receive a comfortable yerusha since the grandparents had been working their whole lives. It didn't play out that way. The children found their parents' house with a hefty mortgage outstanding, so the sale of the house yielded very little. There wasn't much if anything in savings. The children couldn't understand why there wasn't more money. Were their parents financially irresponsible? What could be the answer?

The answer? How about paying 27 yeshiva tuitions? How about 5 additional house purchases? How about supporting 6 families instead of just one? Yeah, how about that.

No, all segments of frum Klal do not buy into this way of living, but huge numbers do. And that is why this group thinks of retirement as un-Jewish. They have to think that way. Any other attitude could spell financial ruin. Me? I'm looking forward to retirement, a retirement that my husband and I have saved for and planned for. Our kids? You mean those people whom we trained to stand on their own two feet? You mean the ones for whom we paid for college and helped out with graduate school so that we could stop paying later? They will be just fine. It's the others I worry about.

44 comments:

Scraps said...

A couple of years ago, my friends and I came up with a (slightly snide) acronym for how many of our generation come by any money or possessions they have--when they need something they check out the "ATM"--Ask Tatty and Mommy.

This is why the current system cannot continue for much longer. It's on the brink of collapse already--and what will they do when there are no more "rich" (read: working) grandparents? Sheesh...

thinking about it said...

There's another reason why the younger generations don't want to hear about retirement. We didn't indulge our kids in sitting for years while we supported them. They all work and they all have provided their own homes for themselves, even if we loaned them downpayment mney. What they are hysterical about when we talk about our retirement is that we are going to sell our big house and move into something smaller. There won't we room to have all the married kids and their kids for a yom tov. Making the big family get togethers is going to become their responsibility. We';re still a while from retirement and maybe by the time we get there they will have figured out that they are becoming us and accept that it is now their turn.

BrooklynWolf said...

I agree completely.

That being said, I have to state that we have (and continue to) receive assistance from parents. However, we never asked for (let alone demanded) it and if they decided to stop tomorrow, we would have nothing but praise for all they've done for us through the years. We've told them that they don't have to help us, but they want to.

Rivky said...

But that's the point BrooklynWolf. If your parents didn't give you anything you would presumably make it without them or would figure out how to do so. They have a choice and they choose to give a gift to their children. So do we. But we have never gifted them with what they have to provide. We don't pay tuitions or basic house expenses. Our gifts are our choice and they are gifts not requirements. And yes someday we are going to retire and we can't wait. Lots of things we have no time for now that we will have then.

BrooklynWolf said...

Rivky,

You're right. That's exactly what I said in the first sentence. I agree with everything ProfK said. I just wanted to make the point out of a sense of fairness and full disclosure.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Not quite on retirement but it does point to one of the results when older parents are still supporting adult children. My brother and I don't have an awful lot to do with our sister. She was supported by our parents and still gets support from them even with almost grown up children and one married. She got to claim the privilege of being a stay at home mother while our wives worked. When our father got sick and my parents needed some financial help because of big medical bills my brother and I were the ones to help out. Until we found out that some of the money we were giving to our parents was going towards the support my sister expected and because our parents were also helping out the married grandchild. And then we found out just how much debt our parents were carrying because of this sister.
We finally got our parents to a finacial consultant to straighten out some of the mess. My father has to retire and things are not going to be easy for them. My brother and I will do what we can for them but not one penny is going to go to our sister. She's not going to be able to mooch off our parents any more.
She calls us the antisemites because we don't see her way of life as wonderful.

Allan said...

Feel for you Anonymous. Money causes more family problems then almost anything else. Wouldn't worry too much about the antisemite thing. Just look at the source. Sad that it's your sister but she chose to live one way and being a sibling doesn't mean you have to like it.

SephardiLady said...

Perhaps you caught my post Retirement: Goyish? or Jewish? here:
http://orthonomics.blogspot.com/2007/12/retirement-goyish-or-jewish-i-once.html

Anyways, my other post is waiting to be posted, but I loved your more mature perspective on this issue so much that I wrote a quite plug for it and for your blog in its entirety.

Enjoy your retirment when it comes! We have many more years, but I look forward to when my husband retires and I am not busy with kids and other jobs. Perhaps I can dedicate my time to teaching people how to shave $ off their budget.

SephardiLady said...

Anon-Ignore the sister, but tell her she will be on her own and needs to get a plan. Someone showed me an article from Baltimore's Where What When Ask the Rebbitzen column dealing with the same subject, different details. I will try to put up the text very soon on my own blog.

KD said...

When my parents retired we were all happy for them. We knew how much of their own life they had given over so that we kids could be given what we needed. They aren't millionaires but they are careful with money so they can do things that give them pleasure, like a yearly trip to Israel to go kever avos.
What is more important is what they have done for our kids. Each grandchild has had a special trip alone with their grandparents. There is talking and sharing and giving the children memories that are theirs alone. Our parents bought all the boys their tefillin when they were bar mitzvah and shopped together with the bar mitzvah boy. The girls got beautiful sets of machzorim inscribed by our parents with a family tree for their bat mitzvahs.
We consider our parents as very necessary for reasons a lot different then some of our friends. Oh, and none of us ever depended on our parents to support us. We wish our parents beautiful golden older years because no one we know deserves them more.

nowaynever said...

This is one reason why I would never ask my parents for support when I get married. If we can swing the years of learning and do it by ourselves then we'll have them. If not then we'll work and support ourselves. Come on people are we really considering having our parents be in their 70s and still getting on a subway to go to work because we need their money? I'm in social work and this sure sounds like elder abuse to me.

d said...

Wow, blockbuster post here !

I think some of your postings deserve more attention. Maybe joining up with a blog aggregator would help publicize them (although not all go that route, e.g. orthonomics).

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe criticized retirement as being not in line with Jewish thinking and encouraged the creation of Kollels for senior citizens instead of having them play cards and golf. Maybe that is where some of the people you mention are coming from, in terms of their thinking, when they criticize retirement.

However, Mike S., in a comment at Orthonomics, rightfully cites the Torah teaching of the Leviyim 'retiring' from heavy physical labor (at 50 - though afterward they did still engage in less strenuous work), as a relevant source to consider.

ProfK said...

d,
Thank you for the kind words. Being fairly new to blogging I've been feeling my way slowly. I've heard of the aggregators but have been kind of hesitant, even though I would love to reach more people some times. The people who have found their way to this blog and who do stop and comment have been, with one exception, "well-mannered" for lack of a better term right now. There are disagreements but the level of discourse has not gone into the gutter. I've been to some blogs who do get more exposure but they also get a real free for all atmosphere in some cases. What free time I have for this blog would be better spent in writing then in having to play referee. For now I'll be content to let word of mouth be my methodology.

Our community has one of those kollelim that the Lubavitcher Rebbe talked about, the Community Kollel Balabatim. Lots of men availing themselves of opportunities they didn't have before they retired. I just don't agree that the only choices are playing cards and golf or sitting all day in kollel. Retirement means different things to different people.

Strange, we are leviyim. My hubby is going to be about 13 years late in retiring from heavy labor.

Adina said...

The first time we retired we didn't plan it right and instead of having time for things we might have wanted to do we got called constantly by our kids for every little thing that they should have been able to handle by themselves. After all, what else did we have to do. My husband got his job back for another year. During the year we planned out carefully the kinds of things we might want to do together or separately. This second retirement is working out much better. Obviously if there is a real emergency with one of the kids we will be there for them. But for anything else they know they are going to have to call way in advance because we are busy people. We both volunteer at a senior center program and I volunteer as a reading teacher in the local library. We also volunteer with our local bikur cholim. My husband has shiurim during the day because he is wide awake enough to get everything from them. We read, visit with friends and do a little traveling. We may have retired from our previous jobs but we didn't retire from life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing something that us "old folks" can relate to.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Because you block robots from your site, I'm unable to add this blog to my kinja.com account. If you want to be more widely read I'd suggest removing this feature. Feel free to ask me for details if you need them.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-Like you, I enjoy the readers I have on my list. I think more readers will find you soon. So many already have.

Anon in 2nd retirement-Have your friends also found themselves being asked to run their children's households? Those around my age seem to think it would be the greatest pleasure to babysit the grandkids, etc. I find the idea of pitching in regularly to be, well, uh, not what I plan to do. I imagine this is something that was also fed into the minds of young people along with the retirement is un-Jewish idea. I mean, what child would think to ask the grandmother to raise a 2nd set of children? Of course, few of these parents want to stay home, but of course their mothers did it and should continue to want to. I don't know about everyone else, but I enjoy being a homemaker now, but I don't plan a repeat performance.

SephardiLady said...

Oops, sorry Anon is Adina above.

Adina said...

sephardilady, It sort of depends on whether the friend was actually working in a job outside of the home. I have a few friends that never held down a paying job outside the house and they are the ones who went straight from taking care of their own kids to caring for the grandchildren. One way to look at it is that they haven't retired and are still doing the same job. The friends who held paying jobs as well as running their homes and raising families are the ones that are looking for something else during their retirement. I'm with you. I'm looking to get some "me" time during retirement and some me and my husband time.

Anonymous said...

Please, even talking about whether retirement is a Jewish thing or not mixes in for me into things between a husband a wife, a place where others have no business mixing in. The only person who has to agree to the how, when and what of retirement is my wife. It's just another stage in our marriage and that marriage is our business.

anonymously said...

An interesting viewpoint anonymous and I think I'm in agreement. There is way too much mixing in to people's marriages and this idea of retirement should be left to a husband and wife. Btw, this is one shailoh we won't be asking a rov. Can't see needing a psak for retirement.

Ruth said...

Those parents who still have children on the take at a time when they are ready to talk about retirement have no one to blame but themselves. They should have pulled the plug on the free money long before this. These parents are guilty of having let their kids remain in childhood long after they should have been grownups. And they weren't too grownup themselves either. What kind of grownup puts themselves into debt and keeps on spending when they know that there is going to be a time that they can't work anymore?

SephardiLady said...

Ruth-I was told by someone in the know that "most people" in the frum community borrow to make weddings. Don't know the sources for borrowing, but it seems to me that if you are borrowing to make weddings for your children, than you are risking your retirement. So the answer to "what kind of grownup" is probably your next door neighbor. And, that is scary.

Adina-I'm looking forward to "me" time. I enjoyed a career before kids. I'm making a career out
of homemaking and would be fine to be home until the last steps out the door. I'd say it would be great to pick a new career path at that point. . . . . changing diapers will NOT be that career path however. :)

Ahuvah said...

My husband and I are careful savers and we refused to put our future in danger by spending on crazy things now. We didn't support our married kids. But we did do something for our grandkids. When each one was born we opened an account for them with the amount that we were told a summer sleep away camp would cost. We call it summer camp for seniors. The money is not touchable by the kids, and not by their parents either, until the kids reach social security age. My husband and I won't be around then but we hope that we will have helped the kids to have a peaceful and wonderful retirement.

Retirement is something that parents deserve, and the kids don't get a vote.

Charlie Hall said...

There is a really silly assumption here that retirement is a choice. My cousin lost his job in the manufacturing industry at age 61. He will never have a well paying job again. Fortunately, they had a paid-off mortgage and retirement savings.

ProfK said...

Charlie,
For most people retirement is a choice. Losing a job, such as your cousin did, is not the norm. And at 61, as you yourself point out, the house was paid for and he had retirement savings.

Even for those who cannot retire because they are still supporting children and/or are deep in debt because of such support, they made a choice. They chose to support even if it is coming back to bite them now. They could also choose to end that support, and many choose not to.

Anonymous said...

That seems to be the key word that we aren't paying attention to--choice. It's up to the people who are at the age they could retire to make that decision. There is no halacha involved here and there shouldn't be any rabbis involved in this either. The only question should be can I afford to stop working.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right that some groups have an interest in keeping other groups from retireing and it's the younger people who don't want the older ones to retire. These younger groups have gotten used to having the older ones pick up the pieces when they make mistakes or when they can't afford what they want.

SephardiLady said...

The irony is that so many young people take the choice NOT to work, while the older ones are made to feel bad about leaving working after putting in a good 40 years.

Baylie'sBubbe said...

It seems to me that this issue is a lot like other issues that get debated in the frum community. What is being talked about is not really what is the problem. It's not retirement that is a jewish problem. The real problem is having set up a type of lifestyle for some members that can't be supported by those people.

When 3 generations are being supported by only one generation then the argument is not about whether older people can stop working at paying jobs and do something else with their time. Any change in the working generation will mean changes in the other two generations, and those generations will do anything to keep that from happening, including starting a false debate about the jewish values and retirement.

JJ said...

My great aunt and a few of her friends retired from their jobs and then did something we are all amazed about. They came from Europe and didn't have even a high school diploma although they are intelligent people. They enrolled in a class for the GED and each one got her high school diploma. Then they decided that they would try college. They take one or two classes a term and are so enthusiastic about what they are learning. Want to tell me what is not jewish about what they are doing?

Anonymous said...

Maybe we need to mention that some people are worried when they hear their parents talk about retirement because it is the parents who are not in good financial shape, not the kids, and the kids know that they are going to have to put in a lot of money to help out their parents, putting a real burden on their own budgets. I just wish my parents would believe it is un-jewish to retire. Maybe we could finally in that time they are still working get them to believe that budgeting is not a dirty word.

Doni said...

I think we spend too much time worrying about all the little things like if retirement is jewish or not when we should be looking at the larger picture. The retirement question is only a tiny part of a much bigger problem. If we would concentrate on that problem the retirement issue would go away or fix itself. Our frum community structure is what needs fixing. That shoudl be the top priority. Instead of trickle down economics we could call it trickle down socionomics.

Mike said...

Doni--Not saying that you do this but there are lots of people who say we should be fixing the big problems and not worrying about the little things. And it's an excuse, because they know that the big things can't be fixed and it gives them a reason for not doing anything about what could be fixed, the little things.

Retirement is not such a little thing to the people who want to retire and then have to listen to "it's not the jewish way" garbage. This little thing makes a lot of people wonder if our religion isn't going off track.

leaving kollel said...

I don't know if any one will want to hear this but why should you be blaming me and those like me for what the parents and yeshivas have done? I didn't decide that being in kollel was the way I had to live. My parents sent me to a yeshiva ketana and then high school that told me all the time that learning after marriage was the only way to live. My parents said the same thing. It was the yeshivas and my parents and then my in laws who said we are doing the supporting and you will learn. I went along with everything I heard for all my life because no one told me there was another way and no one wanted me to go another way. Anything else was off the derech and who wants to go off the derech.

I got married to someone from the same background because that's what everyone wanted too. And then there were problems in my marriage. Lucky for us we got sent to a councilor who asked the important question. He asked What do you Want? That was the first time anybody ever thought about asking me that question. The answer is that my wife and I don't want what everyone else has told us we have to have. Our families are very unhappy now because I'm leaving yeshiva and going to work. We're also moving away from this area because too many people here are still trying to change us back to what they want.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if parents can't think about retirement because of all the money they are spending on their kids that maybe we could blame the parents instead of the kids?

leahle said...

Leaving Kollel
To be fair you are right. Kids have come to expect that they will be supported in the learning lifestyle. But who started that idea? And who has the power to stop it? When parents hand out money they are responsible to say no if they can't afford it. When kids ask for money parents are responsible to say no if they can't afford it. And when parents say you are going to live a certain way then who can they blame but themselves if the kids actually listen and live that way?

ProfK said...

Leaving Kollel and Leahle,
You'll get no argument from me. Parents have to see that they are a big part of the problem. And then there are the yeshivas.

Debby said...

The way people talk you would think that retirement was the end of life and people are just going to be sitting around doing nothing or almost nothing waiting to die. Retirement is just another stage that people go through. It's not and ending but really a new beginning. And sometimes it's a chance to go backwards in time and get to do the things you couldn't do when you were in the heavyparenting stage. This is also the second stage of a marriage. When you are busy raising kids you are parents more then you are husband and wife. The relationship is cordial but that time period is not really about you as a couple. My husband and I have never been as close as we are now in retirement. We spent years getting to this point and have discovered just how much we enjoy each others company now. Our kids have been known to tell others "Our parents didn't retire. They are on their second honeymoon." They're right.

Brocha said...

My parents always used an accountant and we kids didn't know much of their finances but assumed they would be okay when they got older. This year they came to my husband to do their taxes and now we are scared stiff. They are talking about retirement in a few years and they haven't got the money to do it. You can't live on social security and only a few dollars of interest, not the way they want to live.
We children are now in the very uncomfortable position of having to figure out how to help our parents and it's a place we never figured to be.

Kalman said...

Maybe out of town could make a suggestion for NY? The baby boomer generation is going to be retiring soon no matter how much discussion you will have about how jewish that is. Our shul has held a whole series of workshops on planning for retirement the right way, beginning with how to do that on a financially solid footing. Among other things was also discussed, by our rabbi and a lawyer, how to make out a will, how to make out a living will for medical decisions in case you can't make those decisions yourself.
It sounds to me like there are an awful lot of people who are picking up on the retirement issue as not being jewish as a way to avoid talking about a real fact--there is a large generation of frum jews who are getting a lot older with all the issues that is going to bring.

Anonymous said...

Kalman, there are some shuls and communities that sponsor programs like the one you mentioned. But they are the MO shuls in more modern or mixed communities. Our shul had just such a program and it was packed for every session.

About the wills, my BIL died of a heart attack in his late 40s. He didn't have a will. His wife was puzzled as to why they should have one. You cannot imagine the mess we had in trying to get her and the kids what she was entitled to. And she didn't get it all. No commonsense at all in the way the frummer olam goes about their business.

Yudi said...

To be honest the will thing is not just among the frummer groups. My sister didn't want to hear about a will and refused to make one even with 5 kids. She was scared out of her mind to discuss anything having to do with dying. My brother in law finally got smart and with a lawyer who understood he was dealing with someone irrational about the subject, she agreed to sign something that didn't say it was a will but really was one. My brother in law gave me power of attorney to make decisions for him if he can't and to be executor of his will because he knows his wife would freak out. Lots of people like her out there.

Becka said...

Wills are a really difficult area for frum jews. There are halachot that don't mesh with the language of standard wills or the way they are written. Doing one of these wills can be a mine field. Plus, there is no one standard format that all the rabbanim endorse. Yet another area where agreement is impossible to find.

another jewish accountant said...

havent had time to check the blogs lately, but finally did and saw sephardilady's link to your blog. just wanted to let you know i really liked this post, and the different point of view. I am still in my 20s (barely) and have been saving for retirement for the past 10 years. I agree with many posters who have mentioned that the problem often lies with the parents who support children long past "childhood". by the time the parents realize what a problem the situation is, it is often too late (meaning they are already late in saving for their own retirement) and it is also much more difficult than if the "kids" were taught self-reliance from the start.