When Dante Knoxx offered his soul on Ebay for a ‘buy it now’ price of £700,000, I was tempted to bid. Not particularly happy with the state of my soul, I thought it might be a good idea to try someone else’s. However, before I had the time to investigate the reliability, integrity and flexibility of Mr. Knoxx’s soul, Ebay cancelled the listing, apparently citing its policy that they do not sell immaterial items.
In contrast, the frum community is based on selling immaterial things and the prime example is the Yissochar-Zevulun trading relationship, whereby ‘Yissachar’ studies Torah while ‘Zevulun’ earns money to support himself and Yissachar. In effect, the money given to Yissachar buys Zevulun a share of Yissachar’s heavenly rewards for his Torah study. In the past, in a small town where there was one wealthy benefactor and an acknowledged Talmudic genius who needed support, this model may have been successful. However, in contemporary times, the 1:1 relationship has morphed into something totally different. A relatively small number of very generous philanthropists are supporting swathes of yeshiva students in large institutions. However, as they do not have relationships with individual students, their portion of heavenly rewards are harder to track. On the other hand, these wealthy men are buying the time, influence and occasional favour of the roshei yeshiva, all the while holding sway over the material well-being of thousands of young men.
The culture of dependency underpinning the world of full-time learning for men, limited job prospects for women and a minimal secular education for their children was created by the generosity of these ba’alei tzedakah in collaboration with the rabbinic leaders of our age. However, as more and more businessmen and philanthropic foundations succumb to the global economic crisis, the yeshiva world is in danger of imploding. In the dangerous liaisons made with many of these businessmen, it seems that some of the rabbinical leaders may have already sold their soul.