Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Full Time Torah Study is Not for Everyone

Typical Yeshiva Beis HaMedrash, - growing  exponentially every generation
Once again, another observer has noticed the obvious. I say ‘once again’ because she is not the first one to notice it. It has been noticed many times in the past by many people. And yet nothing changes.

In this instance it is the so called Shidduch crisis. The 1 minute audio clip below is as revealing of the problem as any I have ever heard. In it a young woman was asked why a 25 year old friend was not married yet. As though age 25 makes you an old maid. Nonetheless this is how many young women age 25 are seen.

The numbers of young women like that are increasing, despite attempts to reverse the trend. There have been many explanations and attendant solutions for this unfortunate situation. One of the more prominent ones being the age gap – the difference in age between when men and women ready to get married. Which is around 19 for women and 23 for men As the rate of population increase in the Charedi continues more women become available at age 19, than there are men looking to get married born 4 years or so earlier. The solution? Get married at a younger age – thus decreasing the gap.

I have said many time that this solution is not a good idea. I hardly think a male age 23 is mature enough for marriage. Let alone age 19 or 20. Immaturity is a sure prescription for divorce in my view. As always there are many notable exceptions. But that’s what they are. Exceptions.

The quick answer given by this young lady was that the 25 year old has simply not found her ‘Bashert’ (intended).  But more to the point she explained  the problem the way I have many times. Young Charedi women today are indoctrinated to seek top tier Yeshiva students. They are encouraged to prepare themselves to support their husbands in full time Torah study by being educated or trained in high paying jobs.  These young women are taught to seek a husband worthy of that support. And as I’ve said many times, it is a lot easier to want a budding Talmid Chacham than it is to be one. That is where the shortage comes in.

The Chinuch that has evolved in the non Chasidic Charedi world over the past 60 year or so is that every male is made to beleive that his highest calling – and perhaps his only calling – is Torah study. There are no other options given to him. It is all Torah all the time. This has caused a myriad of problems in addition to the Shidduch crisis.– not the least of which is what has come to be known as the ‘Off the Derech’ phenomenon.

Young men whose talents and aptitudes lie elsewhere are not given any opportunity to develop them. They are forced by their circumstances to see full time Torah study as their only path in life. They are indoctrinated not to worry about making a living – since Parnasa comes from God. While it is true that God is the ultimate source of Parnasa, one is nevertheless obligated to do his part in achieving it.

As I have always said, if someone has an aptitude for a profession unrelated to Torah study, that is what he should be encouraged to pursue, and be given some basic educational tools so that he can pursue it.

But since that isn’t happening, there are students that are at best mediocre in their Torah studies and nonetheless follow that path – negating their natural talents. While some can overcome this lack of preparation later in life; get trained and find decent paying jobs, may do not. They end up missing their opportunity to succeed at what that are really good at. In too many other cases there are those that are simply incapable  (for a variety of reasons not all of which are not necessarily related to their level of intelligence) of the kind of Torah study taught at Yeshivos. So they completely tune out and become turned off to their Judaism – going OTD or worse.

For their part, young women are given the same message. But instead of telling they must study full time, they are indoctrinated to believe that only those that study full  time are worthy of marriage and their support. And that their purpose in life is to support them – thus getting a share in their Torah study. And as noted above - the pool of budding Tamidei Chachamim is relatively small. Thus the so called Shidduch crisis.

I think the Charedi world already knows all this. But they are doing nothing to change the paridigm. The Hashkafa of pushing full time Torah study for men and pushing young women to seek only them for marriage – not only continues, but is getting more intense

Back in my day, all the Charedi schools had excellent secular studies programs. (There were few if any Chasidic schools back then) When I was in 9th grade in Telshe or example, we studied Shakespeare. As well as all the standard subjects. Like English, math, science, and history (both American and world). We had a 5 day a week (Sunday instead of Friday) program of secular classes lasting 3 hours each day. We had homework. We had a general studies principal – himself a Telzer - who had a college degree.

The Philadelphia Yeshiva (Philly) was known for its excellent Limudei Chol Program as well as its excellent Limudei Kodesh program. Their Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Eliya Svei famously said that if you’re are going to have a secular studies program – it is no Mitzvah to waste time in it. He therefore made sure it was a good one.

Today, such thinking is denigrated. Many Yeshivos have reduced the time spent on secular studies. Philly now forbids teachers to give homework assignments. And there are more schools than ever popping up that do not offer any seculars studies at all. Those schools are becoming the most valued ones in the Charedi world. It is almost a status symbol to not offer any secular studies. Is it any wonder that so many young people end up staying in Kollel after they get married? Is it any wonder that increasing numbers of them opt for full time Torah study, no matter how good they are at it?  Is it any wonder that young women see only the best and brightest among them worthy of marriage? (It is relatively simple to find out who they are in any given Yeshiva.)

The problem is obvious. But they not only refuse to change the system, they won’t even acknowledge it publicly. Instead they are doing everything they can to perpetuate it. Which in turn serves to perpetuate the problems associated with it including the Shiduch crisis.

Why are Yeshivos and seminaries doing this? They are following the example of people like Rav Aharon Kotler who promoted this Hashkafa as the means  to recreate in America the world of European Yeshivos destroyed in the Holocaust.

What has happened is that instead of recreating it, it has surpassed Europe to the point of being detrimental to the Klal. We now end up with a lot of mediocrity. Caused in large part due to the narrow focus on only one thing - Torah study. Instead of unbridled growth in quality we now have unbridled growth in quantity.

The European Roshei Yeshiva sought only the best and the brightest for their Yeshivos. Today’s Roshei Yeshiva do not differentiate. In Europe those not invited to be part of a Yeshiva were therefore far more able to find their true calling in life and do what’s necessary to succeed at it. In America where opportunities are even greater, they could succeed even more if allowed to by a paradigm shift to the pre-war European model.

If that happened - young women would very likely be taught to seek men of good character instead of only the best and brightest studiers of Torah. If that happens, the Shidduch crisis will begin to turn around. And the overall welfare of the Charedi world will improve. Will it happen? I doubt it.