Monday, May 20, 2024

Equity Vs. Equality

The new name of the game in the Biden administration is “equity.” Inasmuch as language is very important, we must pay attention to this new language. The new parlance is not coincidental. One of the favorite words of the far-left is “equity.” Equity should not be confused with equality. Equality is an important American value that is actually enshrined in the constitution, while equity is a socialist or even communist ideal.

President Biden recently signed a number of executive orders in which the word “equity” was used prominently, whether it was an order promoting “equity” in housing, “equity” in prisons, and numerous other forms of “equity.”

Before I continue, let me explain the difference between equity and equality so that my readers will better understand how this administration is quickly moving far to the left. Perhaps we can also glean some related lessons applicable for us in the frum world as well.

Equality means that everyone should be given equal opportunity to utilize their talents in order to succeed. For example, if Johnny and Jimmy both scored 95% on a Regents exam, Johnny shouldn’t have an easier time getting into Harvard or Columbia than Jimmy just because Johnny has a different skin color or background. By the same token, Johnny and Jimmy should earn the same pay for the same quality of work done.

Equity means that Jimmy has a different skin color or comes from a different background, and even though he is not as qualified as Johnny, we assume that because he grew up in a minority community, he was deprived both historically and practically of the same “opportunities” as Johnny. We must therefore restore “equity” between them and give Jimmy the job, the promotion, the scholarship, or the entry into an elite university before Johnny, because even though Jimmy is less qualified, he belongs to a category of people who may have historically been discriminated against, and that “wrong” has to rectified by giving “equity” to the wronged population.

There are also new winds blowing that are requiring “equity” in income as well. This means that the idea of capitalism – that everyone should use their own strengths, initiative and drive to achieve economic prosperity – is no longer the way the left wants America to work. They want to make “equity” so that people are more “equal.”

Bottom line? Equality is equality of opportunity and equity is equality of outcome – a tremendous difference.

The Evil of Equity

We know that socialism and communism tried to make everyone equal and we know where those experiments led.

That is where the Biden administration seems to be heading. Those who are “white,” which of course includes Jews, are deemed to have had too much of a chance to succeed, and therefore the playing field is be leveled against them.

This has so many practical ramifications that it is difficult to enumerate all of them. Conceivably, this will enable people who commit crimes and who are in the non-equity group to be deemed less responsible for those crimes, even violent crimes. This may also end up guaranteeing jobs to those who are undeserving of said jobs.

It would appear that the left’s attempts at getting reparations and restorative justice for the historical wrongs committed against minorities has fallen flat and been seen by Americans as being unfair and un-American, so the left is trying a new tactic – using the beautiful sounding word “equity.” After all, how can the word equity be bad? It means equal, doesn’t it? The answer is that it doesn’t. Equity actually means unequal. It means giving better treatment to one group and discriminating against another group in order to right perceived historical wrongs.

When Equity Raises the Bar

This brings me to another painful, related topic: equity in the frum world. Although I know that the comparisons are not exact, there does seem to be a certain desire, at least on some level, especially on the economic level, to try to achieve equity in the frum world. This desire is one that is also fraught with difficulty, because it goes against nature in many ways and creates more difficulties than it tries to fix.

I can never forget a conversation I once had with Rebbetzin Zlata Ginsburg, a daughter of Rav Chatzkel Levenstein. It made such an impact on me, because it was so full of wisdom and understanding of human nature.

She was pointing out differences between the way Americans view things and the way they were viewed in the Jewish centers of pre-war Europe, where she grew up. She explained that although in many ways the equal opportunities offered in America were a very good thing, in some areas they have been a source of difficulty in the frum world.

The Importance of Knowing One’s Status

Rebbetzin Ginsburg said that in Europe, people understood their status and conducted their lives accordingly, much more than in American society today. Simply put, she continued, those who were not people of means did not even aspire to make the same kind of wedding as the weddings made by the wealthy. They understood that the gvir was the gvir, and the gvir had the means and they didn’t. It wasn’t embarrassing not to be the gvir. People understood their place and lived accordingly. They didn’t dress their children in the same way that the very wealthy did, and if they would have tried, they would have been ridiculed.

In America, she said, everyone has to be equal. There are “equal rights,” and therefore, if people who can afford luxuries indulge by making ostentatious weddings, building large houses, or buying fancy cars or expensive clothing, it seems that everyone thinks that these luxuries should become the new standard for all segments of society.

Parents put themselves into debt buying clothing for their children because the child is embarrassed to be dressed in a “shmatta” if a classmate is bedecked in a fancy, name-brand outfit or suit.

In our society, everyone has to make similar weddings. I know of so many chassanim and kallahs from wonderful, fabulous Torahdige families whose parents struggle to pay for a wedding, but would not be caught dead making a wedding in a “budget” hall where the package allows for all kinds of discounts. Instead, their parents borrow so that no one will think of them as poor or under-privileged because they made their wedding in what society has classified as a “nebby hall.”

So, there you have it. There is nothing wrong with begging or taking tzedakah to pay for a wedding, but there is something wrong with trying to make a less expensive wedding in accordance with your socio-economic status.

Of course, this desire for equity in the frum world has nothing to do with Joe Biden. It has been with us for some time now, but perhaps observing how we find fault with politicians who engage in such conduct will precipitate a cheshbon hanefesh among ourselves.

Single-Handedly Raising a Family…With $7.50 in the Bank

Rebbetzin Ginsburg was widowed at a young age and was left with five orphans at home. This was in 1960, before the times when massive collections were made for widows and orphans. When she stood up from shivah, she had $7.50 in the bank.

She single-handedly served as father and mother to her children, while simultaneously serving as the family’s breadwinner. She raised them lesheim uletiferes and merited seeing her children become great talmidei chachomim, prominent roshei yeshiva, and marbitzei Torah.

I once asked her, “How did you manage? How did you support your children and eventually marry them off, all alone, without any help?”

She answered with a simplicity that made a lifelong impression on me: “I never spent a penny that I didn’t have. If I didn’t have the money, I skimped and simply didn’t buy.”

She would often say that it is insufficient to simply teach people who do have the means not to overindulge in gashmiyus. Rather, it is even more important to focus on teaching those who don’t have the means not to have kinah, not to envy others.

So, before we start condemning the Biden administration and the far-left who are currently driving his agenda to curb their socialist instincts, perhaps we have to revisit the issue in our own communities.

Perhaps we have to infuse our children with enough of a shtoltz about what they do have and about what they do stand for, so that they won’t feel compelled to raise the bar so that everyone has to conform with the highest common denominator in their class or group.

I know this is not a simple matter. I know that decisions that parents are forced to make are often not what they would want to do lechatchilah. My heart goes out to them. I and many people I know constantly grapple with this issue and how much we push.

I do, however, want to be mechazeik people who are doing the right thing. Let us think for a second about what is right, what is just, and what truly constitutes “Torah equity.” Let us decide whether we want to continue playing that terrible game of going into spiraling debt and accepting handouts just so that we can have the exact same thing as those in a far higher economic bracket.



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