Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Should Women Seek to Marry a Kollel Man?

What every Charedi woman wants her future husband to be a part of
An article on the so called Shiddach crisis in the Charedi world appears in Gil Student’s Torah Musings. The author, Efraim Vaynman suggest that we rethink the issue in light of what appears to be a watershed moment in the Charedi world.

It is a moment where even the Charedi world itself is beginning to recognize that its current emphasis on full time Torah study for all men is unsustainable. I am frankly very happy to see that. That should be as clear as day to anyone with even the remotest knowledge of basic math.

The way the system was supported in the past was in large part by parents and grandparents contributing mightily to their Charedi children and grandchildren who were in Kollel. The obvious problem is that with family size typically so large it becomes impossible to support each and every son or son in law learning in a Kollel.  If you multiply the 6 or more children one typically finds in Charedi families by the 6 or more children each of them will have, you end up with 36 or more grandchildren per grandparent to support. The generation after that will not have any earners to support the exponentially growing learners

One would have to be literally be a millionaire in order to contribute funds significant enough to each grandchild. Add to that the cost to parents of educating children through high school and it isn’t too hard to see where this is going. The money available from both the parents and the grandparents is just not going to be there. The current system is unsustainable and everyone know it.

In Israel the problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is virtually no preparation for the workplace through high school. Combined with the push to learn full time in Kollel – it makes the problem even more acute.

But as Mr. (Rabbi?) Vaynman points out the Israeli problem is being corrected by government fiat. The number of boys that will be able to learn full time will be reduced significantly as most of them will be drafted and opt for the training provided by the army. This will enable them to get good jobs once they complete military service.  Hopefully Charedi leadership will no longer fight this and realize that they will actually benefit from this both materially and spiritually. The poverty of the community as a whole will decrease. And the caliber of Torah study of those who do study full time will increase

The American Charedi scene does not have anyone being forced into a draft. But Americans by and large have some preparation for the work place since secular subject are taught in most of their schools. At the same time however, the pressure to stay in full time Torah study is immense. Both from mentors and from peers.  At this point I’m not sure who is better off. But I do think things may in fact be moving in a direction of better viability for Charedim in both countries.

The evidence for this in this country is something I talk about all the time: the emergence and growth of moderate Charedim who do prepare well for the workplace, many of whom become professionals. While retaining their Charedi Hashkafos - their lifestyles differ little from the Modern Orthodox right.

These are all good signs. But what does this have to do with the Shiddach crisis? Mr. Vaynman says that while realities for Charedi men are changing - what Charedi women are still looking for in a man is not. They are all looking for Kollel men. While there are many reasons why the Shiddach crisis exists – this situation contributes mightily to the problem.

Woman who attend seminaries in Israel are infused with the importance of Torah study for men. They are taught that these are the kind of men they should seek as husbands. They are taught that the highest level of Judaism a woman can attain is to marry and support a man who is in Kollel and encourage him to do so as long as possible.

As the pool of men who study full time decreases, the pool of women seeking them increases. Thus there are less marriage prospects for these women.  The Kollel system is apparently beginning to go down the trek of servicing only the best and brightest. The rest of the young men in the Charedi world will be working. Less learners will be better supported by more earners. And the money raised for learners will not be diluted by the masses. Something I have advocated for many years. This is as it should be

But what about the young women being taught to demand husbands that learn full time? Is that going to change? I think it has to. That may not solve the Shiddach crisis for the Charedi world. But it sure would help if these young women are not indoctrinated to seek only Kollel men.

What is unfortunate here is how we even got to this point. Why do we now have a system that either rejects or places so little value on secular education? It was not always like that. Even in the Charedi schools. My first 2 years of high school were spent in Telshe. Secular subjects were taken seriously then.  

We had a full load of course work that included math, science, and social science, and English. We were required to a full load of courses. We had to study Shakespeare. In some cases term papers were required. We had homework from every teacher and were required to study hard for tests. Grades were based on (among other things) mostly how well we did on those tests. Many Charedi Yeshivos, including Torah VoDaath, Chaim Berlin, and even Lakewood’s high school in Philadelphia had curricula like this and required their students to do homework.  

High school graduations were matter of pride among teachers, parents, students, and even Roshei Yeshiva. Today those studies have been reduced to a bare minimum. If I understand correctly Philadelphia which once prided itself as having an excellent secular studies program has reduced the number of hours per day they study those subjects and no longer allows their secular teachers to assign homework!

Why did it change? How did we let it come to this? How is it that what was perfectly acceptable – even laudable has become barely tolerated by now?

Well necessity is the mother of invention. Or in this case – reinvention. There is going to be a paradigm shift – like it or not. I happen to like it. I think seminary heads in Israel ought to like it too and stop teaching their students to seek only men who study Torah full time.