Sunday, November 15, 2009

Success That is Breeding Failure

Once again, Jonathan Rosenblum hits the nail on the head in an article published in Mishpacha Magazine and republished on Cross-Currents. Although I’m not sure he intended it this way - the message cannot be clearer. It is something I write about constantly. The system is broken.

I refer to the system of perhaps the largest and certainly one of the fastest growing segments of Orthodoxy: the right wing Yeshiva world of both Israel and America.

His focus is on Shiduchim and how that has evolved. Shiduchim in that world are chosen based on money. Money is perhaps the most important feature sought in a relationship. Midos? Intelligence? Parenting skills? Yes - of course they are important. But the focus has turned more towards money: How will a Yeshivishe family be supported?

The world of Yeshivos has evolved into one of the most successful enterprises in Jewish history - if success is defined as achieving one's goals. There are more men learning full time than ever. But that success is not without some very severe consequences.

Over the years the emphasis in Chinuch was constant and consistent. It was for men to learn full time and for women to seek those men as their ideal mates. As such women’s Chinuch has evolved into how to best accommodate that goal. Rich fathers in law are becoming scarce so the focus is on how to maximize incomes of women. They must find good jobs themselves so their husbands will be free to sit and learn full time for as long as possible.

So now instead of women looking for security by landing a husband who will provide a good income - it is the men looking for women who will do this. Women’s seminaries in Israel are now apparently geared toward that end.

No longer are they taught about the virtues of being a mother. That has become secondary to them – perhaps considered a given. They are taught the highest aspiration a woman can have is to find a husband who learns Torah full time – just as all men are taught that their highest aspiration is to sit and learn Torah full time and forgo making a living.

As Jonathan points out many of the seminaries in Israel have now even opened up vocational training centers for their students so they can be better prepared for their tasks as wives of Bnei Torah. Of course they stop short of offering them the kind of education that can produce higher incomes for fear of making them careerists. But that does not change the facts on the ground.

Traditional Jewish values have turned topsy turvy. Insteed of woman as mother raising children in the home, and husband as provider- women are now the providers. And men are increasingly taking over as caregivers for their children at home – supplementing daycare centers and baby sitters.

This is how upside down this community has become. Men who seek Shiduchim now look for women who will be good providers. I defy anyone to claim that this is God’s intent for His people!

Fortunately this situation has caused some backlash. Rabbis in that world are now turning to the sage advice of past giants like the Steipler Gaon. From the article:

Rabbi Y. Pfeuffer, a rav on the Beis Din of Sheiris Yisrael, began by quoting the Steipler Gaon to the effect that families should not incur debts in order to purchase apartments in Bnei Brak. When someone pointed out to him that the “shpitz” bochurim demand apartments in Bnei Brak or Jerusalem, the Steipler answered: “Klal Yisrael has never been built by ’shpitzim.’

Only those who learn with humility and without demands will emerge as talmidei chachamim. Nothing will come of those who make excessive demands.” The next speaker, Rabbi Yehoshua Ravitz, the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Beis Mattisiyahu, also decried the destruction of middos that comes from the desire to secure a “rich” shidduch.

In the A.M. Amitz story, an approach justified in the name of Torah ended up producing less Torah, with the husbands giving up their second seder in kollel to take care of the house.

I think they are right. Not that I don’t want those in learning to live well. I do. But that should not be a value or a goal for them. Those who seek money so as to live a certain standard are not the ones who will become future leaders. They will not become the next Steipler Gaon or Chazon Ish. They will just be another victim of the system whose children will become victims too. And there are lots of children.

Whether Jonathan realizes it or not, this article is an indictment of a failed system. Not the learning. That is a success. But in its ability to survive. It's not that the goal of learning full time is an unworthy goal. It is a very worthy goal for those who are capable of becoming future leaders of the Jewish people. It is to be encouraged for them. And there is room for many such leaders in every area of Jewish life.

But it is a failed system for the majority of it’s participants. One that has produced a topsy turvy world; one that is filled with poverty. One where large families guarantee an even more impoverished future if things continue as they are.

Although Jonathan doesn’t say so, the upshot of his article is that if one is truly interested in ‘living standards’ and ‘income’, one should change his goal from learning full time to eventually working full time. He must therefore prepare for that eventuality by getting an education that will enable it - whether it is college or vocational school. Because if that doesn’t change and men continue to be encouraged to learn full time as long as possible without any thought or preparation for the future that world may implode and come to an inglorious end.