Monday, September 13, 2010

Has She Lost Her Mind?!

She’s lost her mind! That is what a Yeshivishe Kollel father looking for a Shidduch for his daughter thought Shadchanim (matchmakers) would say about her. What was the issue? His daughter was not seeking a mate that learned Torah full time to the exclusion of all else. She was instead looking for a man who could support her. A radical concept in those circles.

Unfortunately the picture painted by an article in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine (not available online) is one that is sadly all too real. As the article unfolds we find what the mindset of a typical Charedi family really is. How do they view the world outside of their own – the world outside a life of Torah learning full time? They see it as inadequate. Men who do not learn Torah full time are unacceptable marriage partners. They are lesser human beings. Some in this community might find the word ‘loser’ an apt title for them.

This attitude permeates the article as the father tells of the anguish he experienced because his daughter had not chosen to seek a ‘Ben Torah’ for marriage. In his world only someone who learns Torah full time qualifies for that title.

The attitudes expressed by the parents in this article coincide with my own perceptions and beliefs about today’s rapidly growing right wing Yeshiva world. Therefore the fact that as an adolescent she had expressed a desire to marry a working man made her father angry!

Was his daughter ‘Off the Derech’? Not at all!

She was by her father’s own words an exceptional daughter – a true daughter of Israel who wanted a create a Torah home; who had a fear of Heaven; who was a kind and giving person - a Baalas Chesed; who was meticulous in Mitzvah observance; who displayed exemplary Tznius; and who was an excellent student. Her parents never thought she would ever have a problem getting married. Indeed the best and brightest Yeshiva Bachurim were offered to her by Shadchanim. She rejected all of them – knowing that their goals were to learn full time and not work.

Her parents could not deal with her attitude. They called her desire to marry someone who works – nonsense! They prayed she would come to her senses - never even considering honoring her wishes to find a working man. They thought that doing so would ruin her life!

Year after year passed. She finally turned 25. In Charedi ‘girl years’ - age 25 is old. They are considered past their prime and nearly unmarriageable. Shadchanim had given up on her. Her younger brothers were getting married. All her friend had gotten married and already had children. The atmosphere in the house deteriorated becoming unpleasant and even stifling.

This story has a happy ending. His daughter ended up marrying exactly what she was looking for. And her father learned a valuable lesson. One can be a Ben Torah and nonetheless work for a living. He met the 30 year old young man before his daughter did and was duly impressed by his piety and his love of learning.

He dedicated every free minute – when he wasn’t working - to learning Torah. And later when a younger daughter had opted for the same thing her ‘rebellious’ sister did - seeing the success of his older daughter, he no longer sweated a Shidduch for her. At least not as much.

I’m happy for this family. They ‘saw the light’. They realize that one can be a Ben Torah – even a Charedi one – and not necessarily be learning Torah full time. But he is only one person. I believe a negative attitude about the working class is typical of the right wing Yeshiva world. Certainly in Israel and even in the US to a lesser extent.

One must ask the question. ‘Why?’ Why has that attitude become the mindset among so many on the right today? I think the answer is obvious. They are indoctrinated from day one to believe that only those who learn full time are Taamim – perfect Jews. No matter how great a human being might be in other ways – it doesn’t matter.

I am reminded of the words spoken by Rav Malkiel Kotler, the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood. He had given a private lecture to some of his Yeshiva students wherein he referenced Touro College founder Dr. Bernard Lander. And though he praised him as a fine Jew – he nonetheless said of him that he was not a Tammim – perfect in his ways.

Why? Because even though Dr. Lander had the best of intentions with the successful establishment of his ‘Frum’ college system - he pulled people away from full time learning. Thus he was incapable of being the perfect Jew. In other words only learning Torah full time can lead to perfection as a human being and a Jew.

This is the attitude that every Yeshiva Bachur in right wing Yeshivos has been taught since the establishment of major Yeshivos in the US. By now it is in their mother’s milk. Lip service is paid to the idea of Yissachar/Zevulun - where Zevulun goes to work and forms a partnership with Yissachar who learns Torah full time - supporting him financially. But the subliminal message is that Zevulun is a lesser Jew – imperfect. And certainly not Shidduch material.

If I said it once I’ve said it a million times. This system that the father in this article is a part of is not sustainable. But the attitude that got us here still exists as seen from the Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva’s words. Thus he helps perpetuate it. There was a time where such an attitude was perhaps needed to help stem the tide of the best and brightest students going to college instead of Yeshiva post high school – and never opting for careers in learning Torah.

But times have changed. The opposite is now the case as the article in Mishpacha Magazine suggests. The pendulum has swung all the way to the right and seems to be stuck there. I’m happy that at least one father now kind of gets it.

But one is not enough. It needs to be taught at the grass roots level to every Yeshiva student. Not everyone should be in learning full time for the rest of his life. And that does not make him a lesser human being - incapable of becoming a Ben Torah. If that doesn’t happen we are going to have one big mess on our hands. Much bigger than it already is.

Hat tip: Marty Bluke