Author’s Response: Addressing the Materialism Debate

The uproar over my recent TLS letter, where I called out the excessive materialism in Lakewood, seems a bit off the mark. Do I owe everyone an apology? Not really.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not some nostalgic kvetch yearning for the ‘good old days’ of cramped apartments and simple shtiebels. Those days had their charm, sure, but this isn’t about recreating the past.

Frankly, it’s about creating a better future.

Lakewood doesn’t need to rewind back to the austere lifestyle of the 1970s. Quite the contrary. The growth, expansion, and higher standards of living is actually, from my personal perspective, a positive thing.

Living comfortably in today’s era is not just permissible; it’s practically a necessity. A big house to accommodate a large family, a nice car with leather seats, a fresh steak on the grill – none of these are at odds with living a genuine Torah lifestyle.

The misplaced notion that one must live like a pious hermit, and cut yourself off from everything pleasurable in society, is both preposterous and hilarious.

If you thought my letter was saying otherwise, maybe give it another read.

THE PREFFERED CHOICE OF FRUM FAMILIES

Let’s face some hard truths.

Why did you choose to live specifically in Lakewood?

Why the 08701 ZIP code, instead of another vibrant Jewish community like Teaneck, Miami Beach, Woodmere, Los Angeles, or Staten Island?

After all, these wonderful Jewish places have got the very same essentials: shuls, yeshivas, kosher restaurants, Hatzolah volunteers, Daf Yomi shiurim, and just about everything else you need to live comfortably as a Jew.

So, what’s the draw to Lakewood?

The attraction is simple. It’s what the pundits call the ‘ultra-Orthodox lifestyle’ choice.

Lakewood was chosen by you, not for its zip code, but for what it represents – a commitment to a higher standard of frumkeit, a deeper dedication to the Torah way of life. A place where your yarmulke type, sheitel length, or hat color mean something profound about your commitment to Hashem and the Torah.

You want your sons to know how to learn gemara well, and spend their formative years studying in kollel. You want your daughters to dress a certain way, with appropriate skirt lengths and modest outfits that cover their elbows. You want your wife to wear a sheitel that meets specific halachic guidelines and imbue your children with an enhanced level of frumkeit. You want your family to lead a lifestyle that doesn’t include going to movie theaters and attending pop concerts.

Living in Lakewood means something. It’s about the level of your observance – how you dress, the hechsheirim you eat, where your kids go to learn. It’s supposed to be about aspiring to be a better Jew, getting closer to Hashem.

CONFRONTING THE OBVIOUS CONTRADICTIONS

If none of this rings true for you, then sure, Miami Beach might suit you better – sun, sand, and all. But if it does, then we have to talk about the elephant in the room – our growing infatuation with material excess.

This unavoidable reality leads to the crux of my message: the extravagant lifestyle we’re flaunting in Lakewood is becoming antithetical to all these aspirations.

The town is transforming into a playground for the frum elite, a showroom of luxury where simplicity and humility are as out of fashion as last year’s sheitel styles. It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? We preach about higher frumkeit, yet our driveways, wardrobes, and dining choices tell a different story.

Think about our kids, the ones we’re raising in the shadow of our mixed messages. We send them to yeshivas where they learn about modesty and humility, only to come home to a lifestyle that could give the rich and famous in Beverly Hills a run for their money. What kind of mental gymnastics are we expecting them to perform here?

LIVING THE VALUES WE PROFESS

This isn’t a call for an overhaul of your lifestyle because, let’s face it, who am I to tell you what to do? But if we’re serious about the values we’re instilling in our children, maybe it’s time for a reality check.

By choosing to live here, in Lakewood or its immediate surroundings, we are by default, the poster children for what true ultra-Orthodox Torah Jewish living is. We aspire to uphold the purity, the unabashed commitment to Torah and mitzvos, the focus on ruchniyus over gashmiyus.

If our choices are more about flaunting wealth – whether it’s those brand-name Canadian winter jackets, luxury European cars, or gourmet Las Vegas style restaurants – then aren’t we missing the point? Aren’t we drifting away from the core values that supposedly brought us to Lakewood? When showing off becomes our norm, aren’t we straying from why we came here?

Let’s not just play the part. Let’s live it.

M.A.G.

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54 COMMENTS

  1. Good follow up.

    How apropos that it is posted directly after a post advertising “an indulgent breakfast” featuring an Instagram-style video of foods “you dream of”.

  2. Dude so really? Let me break it down to you. Some people come to Lakewood for BMG lifestyle the learning etc…. And I have news for you… These days some people come to Lakewood or surrounding towns for the nice restaurants and to try to compete with a Jonesand everything you wrote about… My advise to you is please stick to what values you have and be proud of them and let the guy driving the Bently do his thing. And let the yeshiva man do his thing too!

    Live and let live
    You do you

  3. You are completely missing that communities grow and change organically. The children of many of the people who lived here in the 80-90s with those values you speak of, no longer share them. And their friends move in for THEM. You say that you are not being stuck in the past, but you really are.

  4. We came here because my husband was and still is learning in BMG. Brooklyn offered the same frumkeit some 30 years ago but there’s only one BMG. As for the extravagance, well a lot of that came from out of town families unaffiliated with BMG who bought up real estate. And we all know the rest. And i won’t knock any eateries even though we can’t always afford it. That is their parnassa. Don’t mess with other ppls parnassa. Everyone’s trying to make a living and everyone’s standards are different. So even though we don’t agree with everything’s that’s changed over the years and it’s not what lakewood was meant for, we still have BMG. BH that’s all we need.

    • The change in Lakewood came approximately 30 years ago. That’s when Lakewood became a hangout/clique as apposed to being only BMG. You’re also making a factual error. There isn’t only one BMG. There’s one in Eretz Yisroel as well. There used to be a concept called having a rebbi muvhak, I would be willing to bet your husband hasn’t had a Rebbi muvhak in 30 years. That makes him less a ben Torah then you think your family is. This is something that is lacking in Lakewood more than anywhere else in the world. The vast majority from your age bracket and down, no longer have a Rebbi or a rav that they consider their exclusive placew for hadracha.

        • I do know. I studied this and 50% admitted not having a relationship with a rebbi muvhak. Not having a dedicated rav who they go to for shailos in all over shulchan aruch. Not a handfull of people either. A very large quantity. The vast majority told me there is no Rav or rebbi that they talk to about their personal life issues. What hapepns with their children. Choosing the best derech for their teenage children. They decide for themselves. That’s not the Torah way. In particular today, when there are so many taivos outside the home. There are parents that have no idea what their children are up to. I’m telling you what thry addmitted to me.

  5. What’s you point exactly? Being a good Jew is about changing your bad middos and doing chessed and making Hashem a part of your life and not speaking bad about others etc . It’s Not only about the outer appearances and sheitels. Why is that your one problem? As if the antithesis to learning torah is walking around in fancy coats. You’re wondering about a simple fact. as a population grows by leaps and bounds so do different lifestyles abound. Nothing new under the sun and nothing to do with caring about an individuals closeness to god. You are so not leshem shamayim. Dig deeper to see why you care so much about such a pointless “problem”.

  6. All I can say is that its most important for a community is to get along and and for everyone to respect each other no matter what. 90% of the time that someone has something to say about someone or a group of people that its a bad reflection of themselves. The other 10% are reserved for leaders of communities which their job is to guide their group the way they feel is right…

    If your not a Rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva or any kind of leader. Just stay in your lane because your not Mr Elite….

    • If the most important thing is to respect each other and get along, why did you chose to disparage the post. Where’s the respect and all that getting along stuff?

      Respect would actually be, reading a post you might not agree with and either not commenting on it or stating you disagree in a polite way with no ad hominem attacks.

      So it’s not the getting along you are really advocating for, it’s your opinion and your way of life. Funny how you think respect only has to go one way for everyone to get along.

    • Lakewood is lacking that leadership you speak of on an extremely high level. Reb Matisyahu ZATZAL tried so hard to get the girls high schools to not open until every single girl was placed. So far every single year there are girls left to fend for themselves on the street, and Lakewood hasn’t followed his leadership. Stop making believe everyone in Lakewood believes in Daas Torah, when so many don’t have a rebbi muvhak or even a rav they consider their go to for all halacha inyanim.

      • It was actually just that one year.
        After that he realized that too many people were taking advantage of that position and he changed his position.
        His new focus was to try to get each child into school while not hindering the children who were already accepted.

        The following is my own opinion (shared by many in the know): if the parents of children who were accepted to a school (that wasn’t their first choice) would stop holding their children hostage and keeping their children out of school until the school of their choice caves and accepts them, it would lower the pressure and simplify getting the smaller number of girls who weren’t accepted anywhere into a school.

  7. I feel for you – I believe it can be helpful if you can start doing some soul searching of your own.
    Alot of what you brought up is all external, not internal hence it will bother you when the town changes…. All changes in growth, getting closer to g-d has to come from within, not as you where saying.
    People came and come to this town because it’s a great place to raise a family. Whatever the person decides to do is not anyone to judge. Each individual needs to build themselves up, ask the hard questions – why do I do what I do? Is it for the “look” or it’s part of my essence.
    Once it starts becoming part, I believe we can look at everyone with love without all the negativity.
    Am yisrael is diverse, that’s part of the beauty.
    There is not one way to serve our creator.

  8. To the writer of this letter:

    Your absolutely correct and so was your original letter with the intentions of writing it.

    The kedusha of the Lakewood community-which was originally started by hagoan Harav Aharon Kotler ZT”L for people who are ready to devote their life to Torah-has sunk so low that it cannot be written clearly. From a world of gashmius and technology to expensive restaurants and fancy cars etc…. too much to list. As a original born Lakewood NJ resident and living in Lakewood for many many decades I mourn in tears as I watched from year to year what has happened to such a holy town originally made to be devoted to Torah and Ruchnius. Today if a person wants to devote their life to Torah and Ruchnius a more simple Torah community like Denver or Detroit etc…. is the correct place to settle with your family and live a life of Torah and Ruchnius and simplicity AWAY FROM ALL THIS UNNECESSARY GASHMIUS THAT HAS SADLY BEEN ALLOWED INTO THE TOWN OF LAKEWOOD.

    • I agree with everything you wrote. Except one thing bothers me. Reb Aaron ZATZAL wanted Lakewood to be a place for a short stint. Then go out and become a marbitz Torah. He never intended Lakewood and BMG to be a lifetime parking spot for bnei Torah.

      • Actually, according to the book on Rav Aharon his ideals always were for the yungeliet to learn as long as they could. When another Rav spoke in the Yeshiva and advocated going out to be Marbitz Torah after a certain number of years Rav Aharon was not happy and made sure to correct him in his next Vaad. See the book Living Mishnas Rav Aharon for more info.

  9. I truly appreciate this letter and the original one you wrote I have never written on any public form before but doing so to say Thank you!

    The sad part is most of the materialism people indulge in general is purely to impress others that are not impressed but rather jealous. Any they in turn need to Portray a lifestyle that’s beyond their means. It’s a cycle… no cares about what you have or don’t have.

    Be part of the change .. personally I try… Iv put ridiculously overpriced products back on the shelves drive a 8 year old car and even thought I earn seven digits.

  10. The problem is that for the most part ,those happy with the meatboards and fancy lifestyle ,dont necessarily care about the Torahdike lifestyle. They want frum community ,daf yomi ,schools ,kosher eateries etc They like Lakewood and Toms River because of the nice huge housing available that you cant get in other locations for the money . The Toms River mansion for 1.2 million would still cost 3 million in five towns if you could find it . So once this gashmius permeates the town , everybody gets affected ,even the yeshivaleit .

    • Not all that true. Reason I say that is because the meat board fad, for example, started in Lakewood. You can’t blame the outsiders for bringing it, when it started in Lakewood and only recently became available in Brooklyn. There are many, many Brooklyn stores that don’t have meat boards, and hopefully will never have them.

  11. This that you say why the people moved to Lakewood is very interesting. I have no idea where you got that from. I, for one, moved from BP to Lakewood simply to be able to buy a house to live in. NOTHING ELSE!!! Yes, I know that’s not affordable now as well.

  12. The point is well made. Basically, the yeshivos tell our children ‘nohr torah’. The parents tell our kids ‘nohr gashmiyos’. And then we complain about how there is such a big kids at risk issue in Lakewood. What did everybody think was gonna happen??

  13. Really sad that this writer is saying nicely written words of introspection and we can’t take it to heart. How can you become a better person if you respond to meaningful criticism with indignation and Leitzonus?

  14. You started off your first letter acknowledging that as a non resident you shouldn’t be writing this. So why are you doubling down and writing it again?

  15. I think the author has, once again, spoken well. I used to ask how come certain things could happen in Lakewood ( and really, any other city) where are the rabbinim? And I was always told there is no one Rov that everyone will listen to. And from all your negative comments, you see it is true. Look at all your negative feedback. The shoe doesn’t fit you, so let’s make sure it won’t fit anyone.. Lakewood was started as a ‘growing in Torah ‘ community. It has in some ways deviated from that. All the author is trying to say is that we should remember why we moved here. If you can’t take the tochacha, please don’t ruin it for someone who may be able to grow from his words.

    • No. The author is advocating for some sort of misplaced sense of obligation to people who lived here or started the town half a century ago. It doesn’t work that way though. Different generations want different things. Today is not perfect and neither was then. Todays people aren’t obligated to indulge the perceived ideals of people who lived here 50 years ago and pretending that it they in any way are is ridiculous.

      • That’s not really his point. The point is that people in Lakewood act, outwardly to the world, like they are more holy than the rest. Only if you live in Lakewood and go to BMG are you a Ben Torah. Than live a life that is full of gashmiyus, doesn’t add up. It’s one big contradiction to reality and to Torah.

  16. As someone who lived in Lakewood his whole life (1969) and witnessed the growth and change of Lakewood I can tell you this has been happening since the 70s. Albeit at a slower pace however the world moves slower then. When yungeliet started moving to 14th area etc this change was taking place. When the villas was built this change continued. When BMG built the Beren building the change continued. You get my point. Relax. Lakewood was and is a gevaldik place to raise a family. Each man for himself has to set the tone for his family. I am from the zvulons in town and still maintain a Seder in yeshiva. What I see in yeshiva each day reminds me that Lakewood hasn’t changed its fundamentals. Walk into any yeshiva building and you’ll see what I mean. 85% of the yungeliet I see each day will agree with this. A new Sefer coming out each day. Another shuir added. Another chabura said. Another chesed org. Yes things take on a different color but it’s the same flavor. (I’m not bringing the chasidim into the equation and the way they changed (in a positive way) the tune of parts of town- that’s a whole different topic) My old friend who now lives in Brooklyn (you could have stayed here like me) – Shveig! Don’t be mikatrig.

    • The fact that you’re in Lakewood so long and enjoying how people have twisted shitas Reb Aaron ZATZAL into a total makom gashmi, is completely bothersome. Can you name a single talmid of Reb Aaron who spent his entire life in Lakewood, and wasn’t part of running the town? Running the town means something as follows; running the cheder, girls school, mikvah, a small grocery store for the town etc. That’s what Reb Aaaron ZATZAL wanted BMG and Lakewood to be. Anything but is a corruption of his shita and of his lifestyle. (moderated)

  17. But that’s exactly what he’s commenting on. That organically or not, we did change. Our values have declined as we’ve taken on these lavish lifestyles.

    He’s not stuck in the past, he’s reminiscing on the past and wondering if there’s any way to, at least in a slight way, go back to a more wholesome simpler lifestyle of Lakewood’s heyday.

    • Why should anyone who rejected that way of living, want to go back to that? They also don’t necessarily want to move. This “heyday” was not some beautiful panacea. Many people thought it was not ideal, and don’t long back longingly to those “simpler times”. So they grew up and live differently.

        • According to whom? For many it was a nightmare of poverty, boredom, and terrible antiquated schooling run by burnt out traumatized rebbeim. So they created what they perceive as a better life. You can of course disagree, but to pretend that anyone “should” agree with you is just wrong and not constructive

          • You can’t call yourself a strong kolel ben torah and want all the gashmiyus. then come to me and say that I’m a working and should support you. You want more then I have and ask me to support you. No way. When I come to Lakewood I see gashmiyus I don’t even dream of, all by people who tell me they are learning and have no luxurious at all. And live a life is all ruchniyus. Sorry. You’re talking to the wrong person.

          • Who said anything about anyone supporting anyone? I personally don’t think people learning in Kolel should “expect” support from anyone. If someone wants to support them, then fine. I’m not sure what you are talking about.

  18. To all those defending their Rolex, Moose knuckles and Tesla’s. It’s obvious that this is too high of a madreigah for you as is apparent that your are missing the point. Regardless if you moved here for BMG or for cheaper housing. This is something every “frum” SHOULD BE in touch with. Thank you for writing both letters. Hopefully some one will start a too much gashmiyus awareness event now.

  19. I eat out once a week. If you don’t eat out once a week than your cheap. If you eat out more than once a week it’s excessive.

    I lease one car. If you don’t lease one car than your cheap. If you lease more than one car it’s excessive.

    My house is 3,000 square feet. If your house is smaller then your cheap. If it’s larger than it’s excessive.

    As you see, I set the gold standard.
    What we need more than anything is to judge favorably. Remember, the only person you can change is yourself.

  20. I would like to put forth another idea. Everyone, author and readers, are missing something.

    My dear author: Even though you feel strongly about someone’s behaviors, there is still a chiyuv to be dan lkaf zchus. You see someone enjoying excess and you assume things. Thats normal. Thats why the torah guides us to judge favorably. The person eating the big juicy steak while driving his bentley into his 7 car garage may be doing so l’shma. Maybe he supports 6 yeshivos and a handful of shuls. Many of these wealthy people own businesses – in lakewood – that hundreds of families rely on for parnassah.

    And to the wonderful readers and commenters. If someone sees another yid doing something that may be wrong, there is a mitzvah to give mussar. We must be dan lkaf zchus that the author is weiting this out of pure intentions. Perhaps there is a lesson for us in his words and perhaps there is not. But we need to judge him favorably as well.

    Im not rich by any means. I struggle to get by like many others. (I call it economically hindered). But we all need to stay b’achdus and judge favorably.

  21. This is a topic that those that understand, get it. Those that don’t understand, fight it!

    The only solution to this issue and the housing crisis is that there will be a new town opening up in the next few years, based around a yeshiva. MARK MY WORDS!!

    BTW if you go into BMG, most of the yungeleit don’t live on these standards and the learning is beautiful!

    • Most yungerleit do live that way. On a smaller level, though. They have newer cars then I do or can afford. Many have 2 cars as well. They live in large apartments, yes basement, but large if not in a house. Why can’t they be moser nefesh like Kolel people in EY? There are people there that have 6 or more children in a 2 bedroom apartment. And they learn better, while being much happier in life. Not everything needs to have a gashmiyus attachment. Kolel life isn’t a way to live if you need new clothing 2-3 times a year or newer cars.

      • The author is not telling people to live like on a level of people in EY, he is trying to wake people up that there is a crazy pull towards materialism in our town.

        I think there is a normal level for our time and place, R Avigdor Miller said you can have a large house, it need not be attracting so much attention, there is a way to tone it down.

        Most Yungeleit live a normal level, without this over the top materialism.

  22. At the end of the day the cat is out of the bag and nothing can change it (except for hashem deciding that we have a massive recession or chas veshalom that our pleasant stay in the US should come to an end – not out of the realm if you see the anti-semitism out there).

    Greater Lakewood is now a few towns with large frum populations with many different types of people which also happens to have a very very large yeshiva in it. And yes, there is lots of torah, lots of wealth and lots of gashmiyus. All other frum communities do not have as much torah but also have less gashmiyus.

    If I was still a kollel yungerman that did not have family wealth, I would not want to live here anymore but that’s just me. I am 46 and when I was a young kid in Brooklyn we were into lots of stuff but we did not talk about people’s wealth much – today I see from my children that talking about wealth and other people’s wealth is the norm. I am assuming that is a function of the town we live in and it is less of an issue in towns with less gashmiyus and less conspicuous wealth consumption. Not walking into stores does not change the fact that children see what’s around them, the billboards, the magazine ads, etc.

    So yes, I think Lakewood will not change and while the yeshiva will iyh grow, the amount of other types of people will also grow and so nothing changes. I was sitting in a cafe yesterday and noted to my wife that the types of people there and walking in and out are no different than the people I grew up with in Flatbush.

  23. On the highway of life, one needs to learn to stay in their own lane & not worry about every1 else’s level of materialism or lack thereof. How sweet life will be.

  24. To all commenters:
    Please be aware that the contraction for “you are” is spelled “you’re.” “Your” is the possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to you.
    Thank you!

  25. This whole thing is (moderated). Lakewood is not what it used to be and never will be. Get used to it. People are different, more materialistic and less religious than we once were. Its life. You don’t like it? Move to a more insulated community.

  26. Please don’t bash Miami! We moved here from Lakewood and have not looked back! The community is warm, genuine and yes, MUCH less materialistic than many areas of Lakewood. It’s a simpler life, and a much less stressful one. Yes, not everyone here will match the exterior standards of Lakewood, but most are beautiful ovdey Hashem, each in their own way.

  27. in many ways what the author is referring to is happening everywhere. It is us, not just 1 place. Like I previously said, Hashemi gave us a nisayon of prosperity, and by and large we failed. It is just more striking in Lakewood because of its roots. Being able to support many yeshiva and beautiful and worthy causes does not allow that same person to live a life of extraordinary materialism ( you mentioned the 7 car garage). 4 or 5 course meals advertised for $125 or brunch delivery of delicacy that cost upward of $100 is advertising a life of ‘too much over the top’. And then comes the peer pressure, don’t tell me every parent has to do what they can do. Its not right that this was introduced into our society. Neither are the $800 coats and $5,000 Shabbos rentals, or $1000 a night vacations. Even if people can afford this, we should never have gone that road. Honestly, do you really think Hashem is proud of that? Don’t let the yetzer Hora pull you down with this, he is only wanting to take away your zechusim

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