Friday, January 10, 2014

A Working Husband? God Forbid!

The 'learner' - cookie cutter products of Jewish education
What are young Orthodox Jewish women looking for in a husband? What are they taught to look for? There is no single answer to these questions. It depends upon which segment of the Orthodox community you were raised in and to which you now belong.

What seems to increasingly be the case - even among some young Modern Orthodox Jewish women on the right (RWMO) - is that they seek ‘learners’. That is the common term for someone who seeks to continue full time Torah study indefinitely beyond marriage.  This is now the ‘ideal’ husband.

In right wing Charedi circles that has been the case for 2 or 3 decades if not longer. But now even many young Modern Orthodox women attend seminaries in Israel and are taught to seek this new ‘learner’ prototype. A lot of post high school seminaries in Israel target Modern Orthodox young women. These seminaries appear to have moderate Hashkafos. But their true Hashkafos are Charedi. The people who run these places can best be described as ‘sheep in wolf’s clothing’. 

What I mean is that they advertise as being oriented to Modern Orthodox sensibilities but their real goals are to instill Charedi values into their students. Perhaps the most prominent of which is putting the full time ‘learner’ at the top of the prestige pile. Often  these seminary leaders are from a Modern Orthodox background. But they have become Charedi via their own prior immersion into the Charedi world during their time in Israel post high school. They too have gone to Yeshivos that target Modern Orthodox families under the guise of moderation - and those Yeshivos grind out Charedim.  As I often say, there is no greater zealot for any cause than one who is converted to it.

This issue is discussed quite brilliantly by Ari Lapin in a Jewish Press article entitled, ‘What Were We Thinking?’

He makes the case that the Torah world has turned into the complete opposite of what Torah True Judaism (to borrow a favorite Charedi phrase) teaches about the importance of supporting a family: 
As you would expect of a nation with the mission of being an ohr lagoyim, we have avoided this problem entirely. In fact, we have pulled a hoax of such proportion that one almost expects to see the Elders of Zion crouching in the shadows and pulling the strings to effect it. We have educated our young women, our future wives and mothers, to believe that not only is a young man with a job or a degree not to be sought after, but he is in fact someone to be avoided at all cost. Our daughters now seek precisely those men who are incapable of supporting them and their children. 

What is the fallout from this new world we have produced? Among other things: poverty, family dysfunction, and children at risk. While that is certainly not  the rule… and does not apply all at once or in equal measure, these problems not only exist, they seem to be growing by leaps and bounds.  As is another problem - the so called Shidduch crisis.

There are a lot of young women who are having difficulties getting dates. Not because there aren’t enough men or because of the so-called age gap. It is because they seek ‘learners’. Not only must they still be learning and promise to continue doing so in a Kollel, they must be good at it. Meaning that when doing research about a potential date, they will want to know how well they are thought of by peers and mentors.  No mediocrity accepted.  Certainly no ‘fake-offs’.

Imagine how limited such a pool of young men must be. Imagine further that the cream of such a crop is usually advised to look for women whose parents have lots of money. Enough of it to support them fully for a very long time - perhaps even indefinitely! And then consider the fact that it is a lot easier for a woman to want a ‘learner’ than it is for a man be a ‘learner’. This increases the ratio of ‘good’ women to ‘good’ men substantially.

For the average 19 year old in the Charedi world (and increasingly in the Right Wing Modern Orthodox world) that leaves precious few men who are considered worthy enough for marriage.

If one really wants to know why there is a Shidduch crisis, they should pay attention to this phenomenon and try and do something about it.

There are a lot of solutions being bandied about by rabbinic figures these days about how to help these poor young women who become ‘old maids’ at age 21. They are now advocating that men marry earlier in order to reduce the age gap. A questionable tactic at best.

I sometimes wonder how the rabbinic leaders can ignore the very real issues I mentioned that contribute to the problem.  Those issues need to be addressed. Orthodox Jewish men are being taught to avoid supporting their families and women are taught to see this as the ideal! The poverty and all that it entails cannot always be avoided. Their latest suggestion that men marry earlier just contributes to the problem since the responsibilities of supporting a family begin even earlier.

The solution to this problem is not rocket science. What needs to be done here is something that would clearly help to solve many of the problems that this community suffers including -and perhaps especially -  the Shidduch ‘crisis’.

Instead of indoctrinating every single man and women that learning Torah full time is the only value worth pursuing for all males, they need to go back to a time where young men were taught to become Frum Baalei Batim. This should be an across the board attitude no matter how great a ‘learner’ one is or is capable of becoming. Young women should be urged to seek such men too and consider them first class marriage material – not second class ones. The old(new) paradigm of ‘learners only’ has to be discarded.

What about the need for Torah leaders who require full time Torah study to achieve that pinnacle? They are the elite among us who are represented in every generation by the few. They are the R’ Moshe Feinsteins and the Rav Aharon Kotlers. They are the Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchiks and the Rav Ahron Soloveichiks, They are the Rav Yitzchak Hutners and the Rav Yaakov Kamenetskys.  

Young people with this potential; with these kinds of qualifications exist  and should be encouraged to proceed along that path. They are currently buried in the tens of thousands of students all doing the same thing.

Now these brilliant and highly motivated young men may someday rise to achieve their full potential. But the rest will not. In most cases they should not be in Kollel. Certainly beyond a couple of years or so post marriage. They should be prepared in the earliest stages of their education to have the tools to find decent jobs by getting a fundamental secular education. They can then go on to become professionals or well trained people in business world, in the crafts, or in the arts. And women should be taught to seek out these people for marriage as first rate husbands .

It is common sense. Unfortunately common sense is becoming a very rare commodity these days.