What does the Torah say about… unemployed youth?

With Rabbi Zvi Solomons.

IT IS well-known that Judaism imposes six specific responsibilities on parents towards their sons.

These are outlined in Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 29-30. First, they must give the sons a brit milah – clearly denoting his identity in the covenant of Abraham. Second, they must redeem the firstborn. Third, he must teach his child Torah.

Fourthly, he must find a husband or wife for them. Fifthly, teach them how to earn a living and, finally (according to some), teach them how to swim. The logic of providing for the identity of the child – particularly for boys, whose Judaism is not passed to the next generation unless they marry-in – is obvious.

The importance of a life- partner has been confirmed recently in the findings that the life of a person is lengthened by a happy and fruitful marriage. But it is the fifth that is perhaps most interesting. There is a tendency in the Charedi world today to insist on huge numbers learning in yeshiva; this goes against the ethic in Judaism that work is noble.

The work of the week is what makes Shabbat special. Productive earning is not limited either to one sex or to those of ‘lower’ intellectual ability. It is notable that the woodcutters of Eastern Europe used study as recre- ation and not as an end in itself, because work was primary and learning only secondary. In previous generations, the most religious of Jews taught their children a trade or profession. It was Jewish cabinet-makers and tailors who flooded the East End of London with their high skills.

The reasoning of the rabbis in the Talmud is that if you do not teach your children a useful trade, then you teach them to be thieves. Yet in our country, recent news reports indicate that we have been channelling our children into useless degree courses, which turn out as dead ends.

One in 10 young people languish in unemployment. Their prospects have been dashed. The recent apprenticeship programmes have redressed some of these problems. There are indeed jobs available here in large numbers. The dignity of labour is that it gives a person independence, self-respect and spirit.

In my town of Reading, we are proud to have the highest employment rate in the country. Now that’s something to boast about.

• Rabbi Zvi Solomons is the rabbi at Reading Hebrew Congregation