The Cost of Free

Last Updated on Friday, 6 July 2012 05:16 Written by bryfy Wednesday, 13 June 2012 09:22


So recently I gave a talk about the “cost of free.” Well actually it was entitled “The Value of Jewish Life and Living in the 21st Century” – but free was certainly the major focus of the presentation.

Let’s just say that the talk created a bit of buzz in the Jewish world. But I did want to take this opportunity to set the record straight on a few things:

1.  I deliberately never mentioned any single initiative by name. In fact, I actually had 4 very different programs in mind when constructing my argument. Now I imagine you are all trying to guess which 4….

2. The issue of what is Free! in the Jewish world is as much about what is not being funded as about what is being funded.

3. One of the major points that I was trying to make was that we should be concerned not only with Free! but with who is making the decisions as to what is Free! in the community. Likewise we should be concerede with who is allowing those decisions to be made and particularly who has relinquished their  communal responsibility in making these decisions. (In some cases not only have communal organizations relinquished this responsibility but are actually contributing to these Free! initiatives)

4. I followed up this presentation with one on a  completely different topic at the annual Network for Research in Jewish Education Conference held at Hebrew College. The point I made there was a quip I made during the ELI talks – the Free! initiaves often have solid research that supports them – and in almost all cases this research has been commissioned by the same people who fund the initiatives. The world of research in the Jewish community is completely skewed by researchers with vested interests and lack of impartiality – there I said it!

5. For those who actually heard the talk or read the Op-Ed it should be clear that I did not come down on either side of Free!. In fact I make a deliberate point of suggesting that Free! in context is actuallly a brilliant strategy (both in the general world and potentially in the Jewish world). But what I cannot accept is that this is not a topic worthy of our consideration, debate and ongoing conversation.

6. And one last point. I know that this argument is not unique. I know that several others have expressed it before And so here i just want to take a moment to plug the medium and not just the message. With thanks to the folks at the Avi Chai Foundaiion perhaps we have launched a new way in the Jewish community to stimualte some important discussions in the 21st century.

The original ELI talk can be found here

The Forward’s Jane Eisner wrote this small piece immediately after the event (I particualrly love some of the comments) – The Communal Cost of Free 

My Op-Ed in The Forward – Free (is not) For Me – Please note that this is not my sub-heading and that this sub-heading was placed with my strong dissaproval and despite an agreement that my piece would not appear mentioning any specifc initiatives by name. That being said, i love the discussion that it has stimulated.

EJewishphilanthropy published – David Bryfman on the Consequences of Free

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld on Confessions of a Free!aholic

One person’s blog: How Bad is Free (For Jewish Continuity Purposes)?


And a couple of great books to recommend:

Free: The Future of Radical Price, by Chris Anderson

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, By Dan Ariely

What’s cool is that people keep sending me even more resources about Free!. here’s just a few to keep the conversation going:

Letter to Emily White at NPR (forwarded by Ari Kelman @aykelman)

And someone even disagreed with me (how dare they): The Benefits of ‘Free”: People Still Pay for Freebies with Their Time and Energy by Dan Markel

1 Comment

  1. Shalom Orzach   |  Wednesday, 13 June 2012 at 10:25 am

    Greatly enjoyed the talk. You thoughtfully presented these with impartiality and hopefully encouraged these issues and their implications to be considered, they should be

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