Thursday, February 02, 2012

Another Charedi Voice of Reason

Yet another sane Charedi voice is that of Rebbetzin FeigeTwerski. She is the wife of Rabbi Michel Twerski of Milwaukee who has built an incredible Orthodox community there.

There seems to a consensus that a full time working mother is far more likely to have problems in raising children properly. This is true for every segment of society including non Jews. And yet this is what is being asked of almost all women today. 2 income families seem to be a must these days. This is especially so in religious families just to enable them to pay their share of tuition for their children. And if the father is in a Kollel there is little choice but for a mother to work just so the family can survive. Children are thus not given enough time for parenting by their parents. Quality time is not enough. Quantity is important too - as Rebbetzin Twerski points out.

A new issue of Klal Magazine has just come out. The theme was about women in the workplace and the impact it has on Jewish family life. Rebbetzin Twerski wrote an article that addresses something often written about here. The idea that there are too many adult males in the Charedi world that should be working instead of learning in a Kollel. This is a view for which she says she was practically branded a heretic when she spoke about it at a right wing convention. And yet privately they know she is right. Here is a pertinent quote:

Following the convention, a Rosh Yeshiva of note called me and said that, while my comments were on target, public pronouncements of this kind were not the way to go. He asserted that changes were beginning to happen incrementally. Yeshivas that combine Torah learning with preparation for a trade were becoming more prevalent and accepted. At last, “Torah im derech eretz” was gaining some momentum. Be that as it may, he advised that patience was required and that change would come organically because the old system was imploding – collapsing under its own weight and rendering itself unviable.

Rebbetzin Twerski goes in to detail about what some of the pitfalls of full time working mothers are, not the least of which can be family dysfunction. But what spoke to me the most was something she recommended, that I have been advocating for a long time. The end of the Kollel system as we know it.

I do not mean that we should close down all Kollelim. Far from it. I mean that we should limit long term full time Kollel learning to the elite Talmidei Chachamim among us. The rest of us should learn a few years and then go out into the workplace and become not only the primary bread winner, but perhaps even the only breadwinner and let our wives be the mothers that our children deserve.

I have argued as Rebbetzin Twerski does that there should indeed be a Yissachar-Zevulun relationship. The elite Torah scholars among us should be supported by the community. And they should be paid a lot more than the typical Kollel stipend. But the elite Talmidei Chachamim are not the only ones in Kollel. The current numbers cannot be supported - even in the amounts they are paid now.

The economic burden on the Orthodox world is back-breaking. Even f we are only talking about paying tuitions for elementary and high school. For each and every child of the typically large religious family (4 or more children – usually a lot more) - the funds left available to pay Avreichim in Kollels raised from this over-taxed population is severely limited. And yet the right wing leadership refuses to do anything about it – even while they privately the problem. They insist on leaving things as they are and hope that attrition will do the job.

The problem is that if you do not prepare these young men for the workplace they will end up with menial jobs unless they have a connection or have the where-with-all and determination to become trained in a productive career. Letting them just fall out of the system piecemeal is unfair. Not only is it financially unfair, they are left with the impression that they are second class citizens since they couldn’t ‘make it’ in Kollel.

I do not believe it was ever meant to be like this. I do not see this model any time in history. There was always an elite that learned – Yissachar, and a Zevulun that supported them. They did this by choice not by attrition. It was an agreement to share the spiritual reward for learning Torah full time with those who supported them. Today, every single male in the Charedi world is pushed into becoming a Yissachar.

I don’t think even the pioneers who are responsible for the current system ever even intended that to be the case. They certainly didn’t expect it. They had to fight for every single Bachur they could get to sit in their Beis HaMedrash full time. When Rav Aharon Kotler died in 1962, he had succeeded in building a yeshiva of about 300 students from the time he arrived in the 40s.

Today Lakewood has about 7000 students with a goal of having 10,000. Why is that their goal? Why shouldn’t they instead encourage those not suited for full time to prepare themselves for the workplace while they are yet in the Yeshiva… and then get married and spend perhaps another year or 2 in Kollel and then go out and work in the field in which they were trained? Doesn’t that make more sense than what we have now?

I have said this many times. And I think Rebbetzin Twerski would agree. It would be far better for the right wing religious leaders to change the paradigm… and to change course. Rebbetzin is the teacher here. The Rabbinic leaders should her students. She is the one with wisdom on this issue. She is out in the trenches and sees the damage this system is doing to the very thing they so dearly want to hold on to.

But by insisting on the Status Quo of encouraging learning full time for as long as one can and forbidding any time during their learning careers to be trained for the workplace, they are undercutting their own goals. And are at least indirectly by their unwillingness to speak out publicly about the truth they know – they are contributing to all the problems created by forcing their women into the workplace and away from their families.