Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Supporting a Family when Kollel Life Ends

A Jewish Wedding (Jozef Israëls,1903) - Wikipedia
I had an opportunity yesterday to speak to a young Charedi couple (probably in their late 30s or early 40s. For me, that is still a young couple). The wife was educated in the Beis Yaakov system and her husband went to a Charedi Yeshiva high school. The conversation turned to Shidduchim (dating for purposes of marriage). Their daughter is in - what is called ‘the Prasha’ - a euphemism for that kind of dating.

They both expressed concern about how their daughter would be supported once her husband left Kollel.  Did his ‘ Shidduch resume’ include a ‘plan’ for a livelihood in the future? And what was it?

They are concerned about a familiar response which they feel is vague and unrealistic. Something like ‘I’ll just go into business’. Unless he had relatives that promised to ‘take him in’ and train him, that kind of response shows how clueless they are to the reality of making a decent living. And yet this seems to be the general attitude among young Charedi men these days as they are  prepared for and directed into a life of full time Torah study.

Supporting one’s family is virtually ignored it seems. This kind of response raises concerns like the one expressed by this couple.  I assume that they are worried that their daughter was going to be misled by such promises.

I have always maintained that at least in America, young men get a basic secular studies education. And therefore they have an advantage over their Israeli counterparts that get absolutely no secular education at all. That might still be true. But it seems that the American attitude about it is not all that different than the Israeli attitude. The only difference being that in America they are ‘forced’ to take those courses – but not seen as in any way relevant to their lives now – or in the future. And if they had it in their power they would eliminate them entirely. Considering them a complete waste of time better spent in Torah study.

This is not about whether there is any intrinsic value in secular studies. It seems that they do not even see any practical value in them!  It seems that they are taught to completely devalue secular studies as much as their Israel counterparts do – and may even be jealous of them since they don’t have to put up with it at all.

This not how it was in my day. We all understood that we needed to support our future families. And that the best way to achieve that was by taking our secular studies seriously and going on to college. Which would enable us to get decent jobs. Back in those days, it was common for those of us in a post high school Yeshiva program to attend college at night towards getting a degree.

A good friend of mine who is about my age and attended Yeshivas Chaim Berlin told me that  80% of the students there did that then. Another friend just a bit younger who also attended Yeshivas Chaim Berlin told  me that Rav Hutner used to advise his students which courses take based on their personal strengths. But that was then. This is now.

The process of change began not long after my time in school. The value of secular studies has deteriorated immensely since then. The idea of learning full time has become the new standard to the exclusion of anything else. Including preparation to support a family someday. I have no real issue with being taught the importance of Torah study. I can even understand being influenced to continue studying Torah for a while after marriage. What I do not understand at all is the complete abandonment of any kind of preparation for a future livelihood… leaving it to fate.

Which brings me to another revealing comment made by the wife.  She offhandedly told me about her own experience along these lines when she announced her engagement just over 20 years ago. One of her  friends retorted along the following lines, ‘What?!’ ‘Your getting engaged to someone in medical school?!’  ‘I NEVER thought YOU would do that!’

What she of course meant is that her values had somehow been compromised. Having attended Beis Yaakov schools all of her life and a seminary of similar Hashkafa in Israel, she was surprised that she ‘settled’ for someone not learning full time.  

I asked her why that was considered ‘second class’? She could only answer that they were taught to that the ideal type of man to seek as a husband was someone studying Torah full time. If they weren’t, they were considered less than ideal – and at best second tier. It seems that marrying someone like that excluded you from that lofty community. In essence putting you outside the Charedi camp to a certain extent.

It didn’t matter that her Chasan was Charedi, and Talmid Chacham. Nor did it even matter he that had actually published a Sefer.  What mattered it seems was that by opting to go to med school instead of a Kollel, he was not first tier marriage material. And this was already the case over 20 years ago!

That they are concerned with this very issue now that their daughter is involved with Shiduchim is a good thing. But I wonder just how many are like that now?  Has the tide turned? Do Charedi parents think along these lines? Or are most Charedi parents on on the same page as their children, hoping their children will be living a life of full time Torah study and not all that concerned with the material welfare of their future families? 

Are parents these days able to do what parents of 20 years ago did? Support their children in Kollel? Or has the money run out? Are there are second mortgages still to be had - or not? Are parents still selling life insurance  polices to support their children? Are parents still willing to work until the day of their death to support their children? And do they even make enough to do that - especially if they have a lot of children? And even if they do make enough, is it right for a child to even accept help under these conditions? Do young couples feel good about being supported that way? I sure wouldn’t.