A purchase that hopefully will never be used
by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 15, 2006
Who says that the entrepreneurial spirit has been lost among chareidi Jews? At least one new business is flourishing – unfortunately: the production of glossy, color four-page pamphlets announcing yet another horrible tragedy in our community. The pamphlets are passed out during davening and then collected afterwards, though enough are inevitably left behind to distract those davening in the next minyan during chazaras HaShatz.
Skilled copywriters compete to find new ways to distinguish this tragedy from yesterday’s and tomorrow’s – more orphans, more children left to marry, greater debts, less food to eat. The cumulative effect of so many tragic stories, one after another, is numbing.
Unlike most of the challenges facing the chareidi community, this one does have a partial solution. As long as our world remains unperfected, fathers and mothers of young children will still pass away. But at least the necessity of collecting huge sums of money to support and marry off orphans, with all that entails, can be avoided.
What is the solution? Term life insurance. Under the typical term life insurance policy in the United States, one purchases a certain amount of insurance at a guaranteed annual rate for a period of years – 10, 15, 20, or 30. The rate is determined by the age at which one purchases the initial policy and the number of years for which that rate is locked in.
The advantage of term insurance is that it is far cheaper than the more familiar whole life policies. A 30-year American policy beginning at age 30 for $250,000 of coverage, for instance, costs $265 annually for a male non-smoker and $218 for a woman.
(Yes, women too need life insurance. That is obviously true when wives are breadwinners. But even when they are not, it costs money – lots of it – to replace the services of a housewife. No man should be forced into a hasty second marriage in order to do so.)
Until recently term insurance was almost unknown in Israel. A group of askanim in Belz, however, has now worked out a program, with the blessing of the Belzer Rebbe, for chareidi families in Israel as well. Unlike the American policies, the cost of the premiums increases yearly, but the price still remains far cheaper than whole life insurance. For approximately forty shekels a month, a forty-year old man can buy 500,000 shekels of coverage. And just as in America, once the first premium is paid the insurance company cannot stop coverage because of medical conditions that develop subsequently.
The goal of term insurance is to protect a family against the sudden loss of either parent until all the children are safely married. Under the Belz plan, one can lower the amount of coverage annually as the number of yet unmarried children decreases.
As the plethora of plaintive cries reaching our doors makes clear, life insurance has been considered a luxury for the rich. Poorer families – precisely those with the least to fall back upon in the case of tragedy – rarely have life insurance. Yet by just cutting back on the number of cell-phones in the family or buying a few less sodas and snacks for Shabbos, almost every family could purchase some level of protection.
Some rely on the fact that their friends and kehillah will raise the necessary funds in case of tragedy. That approach is sometimes mislabeled as bitachon. Such reliance is misplaced for two reasons. As Professor Aharon Twersky pointed out at a public meeting devoted to the subject last year, as the number of tragedies grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise the necessary funds. There are too many other urgent communal needs competing for the same dollars.
And even when a large fund is raised, the cost in terms of the time and energy of those responsible for collecting the monies and the humiliation of the family whose tragedy must be endlessly publicized is high indeed. With the money raised for the family of one great talmid chacham, blessed with a large family, it would have been possible to pay the annual premiums on $250,000 policies for both husband and wife in nearly 5,000 families.
Someone once asked Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky whether he was obligated to purchase life insurance. Reb Yaakov queried the man in return as to what would happen to his wife and children if he were to die unexpectedly. The man replied that the kehillah would take care of them. Reb Yaakov told him that he was mistaken. That would last only a few years at most.
But more importantly, Reb Yaakov added, "To have bitachon on someone else’s cheshbon is not acceptable. You have an obligation to buy life insurance." The reliance on one’s friends imposes a retrogressive tax on those least able to bear it. Those most likely to leave behind families with no savings or insurance to fall back on are kolleleit and marbitzei Torah. And those who are most likely to be solicited on behalf of their families in the case of tragedy are fellow kolleleit.
It is a regular occurrence to witness ten thousand dollars collected in a short time in Jerusalem’s Mirrer Yeshiva. And most kolleleit carry at least one or two standing bank orders for the benefit of families in which one of the parents passed away at a young age. And yet these are the very people least capable of bearing the burden, and who are themselves having great difficulty putting food on the table.
Gradually, the idea is catching on that no family in our community should be left without some form of protection. In America, yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs are beginning to include term life insurance in an amount equal to at least three years of salary as part of the salary package. At least one shul in Flatbush has made some degree of life insurance protection a condition of membership in the shul, and created a trust fund to purchase policies for those who absolutely cannot afford to do so themselves.
So long as Hashem has not yet wiped the tears from every cheek forever, let us at least make sure that the grief of stricken families is not multiplied by overwhelming financial woes.
Related Topics: World Jewry
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list