Sunday, February 12, 2012

Naked Extortion for Shiduchim

In last week’s Mishpacha Magazine there was an article about a young Charedi man’s trek through the dating and marriage process. It was at the back of the magazine – in a sort of ‘filler’ fashion. A filler is an article that is used just to fill up the pages of a magazine and is not a featured article. I think it should have been given more prominence.

It actually had good intentions. It made the point that putting price tags on Yeshiva Bachurim is not necessarily the best way to assure continued learning. By price tag I mean that Yeshivishe Shadchanim encourage their better Bachurim to insist on marrying a young women who has a rich father so that the couple can be supported in ways that will not cause worry about how to survive while in Kollel. The husband will thus be able to learn with a clear head.

The story goes on to tell us about a young man who was not the top student in his class over the years and was nonetheless told to do the same thing. Having enough integrity to not do this he found a young woman that was willing to live modestly while she worked to help to support the family. Her father was not asked for a dime.

In the end her father volunteered to help on his own. Combined with his wife’s income and his own efforts in various side jobs (like tutoring) they made ends meet. He has now been in Kollel for eight years and counting. He contrasts that with some of his classmates that were considered better and brighter than he was. They did put price tags on themselves – and got it. The bottom line is that he was still in Kollel and the others were not. A victory for common sense.

But what was not said in this article was what was screaming at me from between the lines.

First there is the very idea that someone who is not the best and brightest is nonetheless encouraged to spend all of his time in the Beis HaMedrash for as long as possible. Is this really the best way for him to serve God? Is it possible that if he had not been indoctrinated to sit in Kollel as the only way he could be a first class Jew, that he may have found his true niche where he could have made an even greater contribution to both God and Klal Yisroel?

That said, if someone wants to do that and does not ask for support from anyone – including society, he has every right to do so. My only quibble – as I said - is that he is indoctrinated to do that instead of seeking a field in which he is better suited to contribute.

The bigger issue in my mind is the very concept of putting price tags on Bachurim at all. The Rosh Yeshiva who was also the Rebbe of this young man actually speaks in terms of looking for a father in laws instead of a wife!

Even though this young man was presented by the article as a hero for not buying into it – it is pretty clear to me that this kind of thing still goes on. His Rosh Yeshiva considers Rich father in law support to be a cornerstone of learning Torah L’Shma! He believes that high level Torah learning will only survive if fathers in law will pay the price of fully supporting their sons in law in Kollel!

The pressure this brings to bear on the typical family is enormous. Back breaking financial decisions have to be made that in some cases puts parents who can ill afford it into hock for the rest of their lives.

People who work hard all of their lives have a right to look forward to nest-egg that will help support them when they retire. But that dream is virtually gone from families who have daughters that have been indoctrinated to seek the very Bachurim whose price tags are the highest! The vast majority of seminaries in Israel preach this idea to their young and impressionable female students -including those from more moderate Charedi backgrounds.

This is true in some cases even for some students from Modern Orthodox backgrounds. There are Seminaries that cater to modern Orthodox students that are run by Charedi Menahalim who may have come from modern Orthodox backgrounds themselves. They target students from these backgrounds and indoctrinate their students to follow the same Charedi path they have taken. And to seek as an ideal - young men who will choose Kollel. And if a young man comes with a price tag, he will appear more valuable to them.

I know moderate Charedi parents who have sold life insurance policies to play that game. I know have close friends who have told me that Shadchanim mentioned the price tag before even considering their daughter for a potential date. If a parent says he can’t afford it - game over! Their daughter will have to settle for less (as defined by her Seminary indoctrination).

That is no way to look at potential Shiduchim. And people wonder why there is a Shiddach crisis in the Yeshivishe world?!

This is a very sick development. The idea that the only way learning torah at the highest level can only be achieved at the expense of the financial retirement security of a parent is truly perverse. And yet that seems to be the current status quo in the Charedi Yeshivishe world. Why should modern Orthodoxy care about what happens in the Charedi world?

As I have said many times in the past, they hold the keys to the future. Their demographics are increasing by both their birth rates and their increasing numbers in Chinuch. Many modern Orthodox day schools, high schools are forced to take Charedi Mechnchim because of a shortage of Modern orthodox Mechachim. And then there are also Yeshivos in Israel that cater to students with Modern Orthodox backgrounds but are in reality very Charedi. It is the wave of the future.

In my view this is a grossly unfair system of Shadchanus. It will eventually go the way of the Dodo bird. It – like many other practices in the Charedi world cannot be permanently sustained. The numbers of Yissachar cannot keep increasing exponentially while the numbers of Zevulun decline.

In the mean time the naked extortion by Shadchanim of parents looking for Shiduchim for their daughters continues. Judaism is an inherently fair religion. The current price tag system is grossly unfair. It ought to stop and stop now! It is a shame that rabbinic leaders do not have the vision to change the paradigm sooner. They have the power and influence to end - once and for all - the poractice of putting a price tag on any Yeshiva student.