Sunday, June 02, 2024

The Malaise Within the Charedi Yeshiva System

BMG -  Lakewood (BMG website)
First the disclaimer. I believe wholeheartedly in the supreme value of Torah study. I fault no one for choosing that path for life if that is what they are best suited for. On the contrary. I encourage them to follow that path.

That being said, there is little that upsets me more than what happened and is probably still happening to Yoni M. I don’t know Yoni M. Never met him and don’t even know his last name. All I know about him is how he signed his name in Mishpacha Magazine’s  ‘inbox’ (letters section) and what he said in his letter.

What Yoni suffers from is a phenomenon that in my view is the twisted path that the Charedi Yeshiva world has taken since it was transplanted from Europe to these shores and to Israel - post Holocaust.

I have long lamented this phenomenon. It is a phenomenon whose philosophy devalues the study of Limudei Chol (secular studies). A philosophy that vilifies the state of Israel to the point of refusing to participate in anything remotely connected with the state. like the prayer for the safety of the soldiers even as those brave young men risk their lives for the entirety of Israel’s residents (which of course  includes Charedim). A policy adopted as well by their American counterparts.

But what bothers me in this case is the injustice of what happened (and is probably still happening) to Yoni and others like him. Yoni is a  victim of ‘Torah Only’ Hashkafa. A Hashkafa that belittles other Hashkfaos. No matter how great the exponents of those Hashkafos were. Casting them all as - at best B’dieved (of secondary value) or outright counter to the Torah

 ‘Torah Only’ means that the best way for a Jew to lead his life is to study Torah full time for as long as humanly possible. No matter one’s abilities. No matter his natural talents. If one wants to serve God in the right way, one must study Torah full time no matter what. If they choose not to, they fall well short of a Jew’s mission in life. They will not have lived up to the ideals of the Torah. They are second class citizens that are looked down upon.

If someone raised and educated in that world decides that his own talents are best suited serving the Jewish people in other ways and to therefore divide their time between serious Torah study and the study of Limudei Chol he is not considered one of them. He is considered kind of an outcast of the Charedi world. The same thing is true if one decides that he is not suited to full time Torah study and instead decides to divide his time between Torah study and work. Of course their community will never say it out loud. But that is how they will be treated by their peers and former Rebbeim (Torah teachers). 

And by Shadchanim.

This where Yoni M. comes in. He is Charedi and has gone through the system. However, he chose to divide his day between Torah study and work. Nevertheless he is still looking for a young woman from that community who will share his Charedi values.

When he reveals to a Shadchan that he does not learn in a Yeshiva full time he basically gets the cold shoulder. Yoni notes that a ‘working boy’ has a bad name in those circles.  Young Charedi women will never consider going out with anyone that is not leaning Torah full time. More about that later.

Yoni reveals that he has a lot of friends that ‘stayed the course’ - do not work, and are still in the Yeshiva full time. However, their Torah study leaves a lot to be desired. To say the least. In some cases they don’t do much Torah studying at all. But they do get dates with Charedi young women because they play the game and stay full time Yeshiva students.

Most of these young women have no way of knowing how dedicated a particular recommended young man is to his Torah studies. Other than what their Shadchan tells them. Who might not even know themselves – or may know but gloss over in the recommendation process.

This is patently unfair and a gross injustice to people who do the right thing by choosing not to waste their time pretending to learn Torah full time and instead divide their time between Torah study and work or pursuing a career through advanced study of Limudei Chol. I’ll bet that the quality of Yoni’s Torah study runs circles around  that of his above mentioned friends who are enrolled in Yeshivas full time.

This is not to say that all those studying Torah are faking it. I’m sure that most are putting in the time expected of them. It is to say that there are plenty that are Yeshivos like BMG (Lakewood) that are attended for Shidduch reasons. Which is why BMG has a ‘freezer’ policy that doesn’t allow dating for the first six moths after enrollment.  

And yet this Torah Only’ phenomenon has become a rigid part of the Charedi Yeshiva culture. A culture whose population has grown exponentially over the past few decades and will continue to grow at that pace into the future.

The problem is not only with the cradle to grave Charedi male is indoctrination, it is also with the cradle to grave female indoctrination that compliments it. Once these young women become old enough to think about their future, they are taught to seek only full time ‘learners’. Only they will be the ideal mate. Anything less will not do. They are discouraged from dating working young men whom they are indoctrinated to see as 2nd class citizens. Who wants to marry a 2nd class citizen, anyway?! They would never accept a date with someone like Yoni. 

And that is tragic. It perpetuates the malaise of too many good people not living up to their potential. It perpetuates the malaise of  those staying in the Beis HaMedrash for Shidduch purposes when they could actually be contributing to the world instead of taking from it. And it perpetuates the malaise of good people being overlooked for marriage because they don’t play the game. 

There is something wrong with a system that is so rigid that encourages people to waste their time in order to keep up appearances.  A system that encourages appearances for purposes of marriage. A system that hurts people like Yoni M. 

I wish there was something I could do about it other than complain. But there isn’t. So I will continue to complain everytime a story like Yoni’s pops up.  He deserves a lot better than he is getting and he shouldn’t have to sacrifice his Charedi ideals to get it.