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It is a well-established fact that the most religious modern societies are the poorest, having the least life expectancy, most infant mortality, hunger, wars, wild animals and everything that's on the Torah's list of curses.

It appears that the principle of reward-and-punishment should work for all nations, especially for Christians and Muslims that accept the 7 Noahide Laws and probably most of what the Torah could expect from gentiles.

Needless to say that this is true for the Jewish communities as well - compare Meah Sharim to Tel-Aviv or ... (I don't know about America).

How this phenomenon can be theologically explained at large (from Torah's viewpoint)?

(I already suggested "צדיק ורע לו" here.)

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  • From a Torah perspective the notion of "poorest" might not be applicable. אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר, הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ
    – rosends
    Nov 20, 2019 at 13:37
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    Maybe you shouldn't take Mean Shearim as the pinnacle of religious observance, but rather the Dati communities that actually bother to work for a living. Then the difference isn't as stark, and in fact God has granted them much success for their sincere practice of Judaism as it is supposed to be practiced.
    – Double AA
    Nov 20, 2019 at 16:11
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    @Mordechai We'll still talk to you :P it's good that we have people from different backgrounds on the site here
    – Double AA
    Nov 20, 2019 at 21:09
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    Based on the link to the Pew study in your question, your premise is false. The United States is listed as one where religion matters greatly. Similarly, if you look at the BRIC economies, it splits about 50/50 between those countries where region is important or otherwise. Also, just looking at the Pew study, they are excluding Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar along with many other very wealthy, and technologically advanced nations where religion is important. What is pointed out (if the study is accurate) is that western European countries don't care about religion any more. Nov 20, 2019 at 21:30
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    @Al if you are taking Meah Shearim and Bnei Brak as your models of religious communities, is your question why members of these communities who for the most part dedicate the large majority of their day to learning rather than parnassah are not, say, winning the lottery all the time? Nov 20, 2019 at 22:40

3 Answers 3

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The Torah specifically tells us not to "forget" God (i.e., become less observant) when we become wealthy and feel satisfied, implying that this is an expected phenomenon. [Deut.8] That's how we are wired. We just have to fight it. That danger is also recognized in later Sources. The Talmud [Berachot 32a] connects the sin of the Golden Calf with the fact that God encouraged the Israelites leave Egypt with much gold:

Thus spoke Moses before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, the silver and gold which You showered on Israel until they said "Enough" -- that it what led to their making the [Golden] Calf.”

A 19th-century Austrian sage, Rav Avraham Shaag, made investments and became wealthy, then sold everything, saying, “I am afraid my grandchildren will become wealthy. The dangers of wealth far exceed the dangers of poverty.”

Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. The Talmud recounts the story of a rich rabbi who lived as a pauper while studying Torah [Yoma 35b]. In the Mishna, Rabbi Yonatan said:

He who fulfills the Torah in poverty shall in the end fulfill it in wealth. He who disregards the Torah in wealth shall in the end disregard it in poverty. [Pirkei Avot 4:11]

This quote neatly sets up a perpetual motion machine through the generations: First poor and observant, then rich and observant, then rich and non-observant, then poor and non-observant, then back to poor and observant. Our very survival seems to depend on this pendulum swinging back and bringing some of our people back into the fold.

Note that “wealthy” does not mean “bad” in Jewish tradition. It just has pitfalls. Wealthy people can and do accomplish a lot. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch said:

Wealthy people are self-confident, have high self-esteem, are expansive, arrogant, and ridicule the poor. Poor people have little self-confidence, are contrite, broken, disheartened and self-deprecating. Among these ten characteristics are the finest of virtues and the worst of faults.

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I don't think this assumption behind this question is correct.

The atheistic communist countries certainly were/are significantly worse off materially than the more religious capitalistic countries.

As far as Bnei Brak vs. Tel Aviv goes, the people living in Bnei Brak would tell you that they are voluntarily giving up Olam Hazeh for the sake of Olam Haba. No one believes that if someone chooses to learn Hashem will give him MORE parnosah than someone who chooses to work. And Bnei Brak does have a longer life expectancy than Tel Aviv.

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  • Welcome to MiYodeya Schmerel and thanks for this first answer. Can I recommend you take the tour to get a sense of how the site works? Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Nov 21, 2019 at 4:22
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It's not that the non-religious are rewarded with wealth. It's that the wealthy are at risk for forgetting God, and too often succumb.

Deuteronomy 8

כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--תִּשְׁמְרוּן לַעֲשׂוֹת: לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּן וּרְבִיתֶם, וּבָאתֶם וִירִשְׁתֶּם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה, לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם. וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת-כָּל-הַדֶּרֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹלִיכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה--בַּמִּדְבָּר: לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ לְנַסֹּתְךָ, לָדַעַת אֶת-אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ הֲתִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֺתָו--אִם-לֹא. וַיְעַנְּךָ, וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ, וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת-הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ, וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ: לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ, כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם--כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי-יְהוָה, יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם. שִׂמְלָתְךָ לֹא בָלְתָה, מֵעָלֶיךָ, וְרַגְלְךָ, לֹא בָצֵקָה--זֶה, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה. וְיָדַעְתָּ, עִם-לְבָבֶךָ: כִּי, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת-בְּנוֹ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מְיַסְּרֶךָּ. וְשָׁמַרְתָּ, אֶת-מִצְוֺת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו, וּלְיִרְאָה אֹתוֹ. כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מְבִיאֲךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה: אֶרֶץ, נַחֲלֵי מָיִם--עֲיָנֹת וּתְהֹמֹת, יֹצְאִים בַּבִּקְעָה וּבָהָר. אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה, וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן; אֶרֶץ-זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ. אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא בְמִסְכֵּנֻת תֹּאכַל-בָּהּ לֶחֶם--לֹא-תֶחְסַר כֹּל, בָּהּ; אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲבָנֶיהָ בַרְזֶל, וּמֵהֲרָרֶיהָ תַּחְצֹב נְחֹשֶׁת. וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ--וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ. הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְוֺתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. פֶּן-תֹּאכַל, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ; וּבָתִּים טֹבִים תִּבְנֶה, וְיָשָׁבְתָּ. וּבְקָרְךָ וְצֹאנְךָ יִרְבְּיֻן, וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב יִרְבֶּה-לָּךְ; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-לְךָ, יִרְבֶּה. וְרָם, לְבָבֶךָ; וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים. הַמּוֹלִיכְךָ בַּמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא, נָחָשׁ שָׂרָף וְעַקְרָב, וְצִמָּאוֹן, אֲשֶׁר אֵין-מָיִם; הַמּוֹצִיא לְךָ מַיִם, מִצּוּר הַחַלָּמִישׁ. הַמַּאֲכִלְךָ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ: לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ, וּלְמַעַן נַסֹּתֶךָ--לְהֵיטִבְךָ, בְּאַחֲרִיתֶךָ. וְאָמַרְתָּ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ: כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי, עָשָׂה לִי אֶת-הַחַיִל הַזֶּה. וְזָכַרְתָּ, אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ, לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל: לְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה. וְהָיָה, אִם-שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהָלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, וַעֲבַדְתָּם וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לָהֶם--הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם, כִּי אָבֹד תֹּאבֵדוּן. כַּגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה מַאֲבִיד מִפְּנֵיכֶם--כֵּן, תֹּאבֵדוּן: עֵקֶב לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּן, בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.‏
All the commandment which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that He might afflict thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no. And He afflicted thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. And thou shalt consider in thy heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee. And thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him. For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. And thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD thy God for the good land which He hath given thee. Beware lest thou forget the LORD thy God, in not keeping His commandments, and His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command thee this day; lest when thou hast eaten and art satisfied, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; who led thee through the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that He might afflict thee, and that He might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; and thou say in thy heart: 'My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.' But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou shalt forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I forewarn you this day that ye shall surely perish. As the nations that the LORD maketh to perish before you, so shall ye perish; because ye would not hearken unto the voice of the LORD your God.

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  • TLDR: because they stop bothering to bentch.
    – Double AA
    Nov 20, 2019 at 14:09

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