Dear Rachel, I am writing this letter to share my experience with your readers, one that I consider to be an ongoing “crisis in our community.”
If I would title this piece, I’d call it “How A Bais Yaakov Education Has Affected My Life.” But before everyone starts rolling their eyes and prepping themselves for another graduation speech, just read on.
I graduated from a very academic frum high school where tremendous emphasis was put on grades, Honors classes, AP courses, and the type of seminary one would get into. Our Hebrew classes were extremely intense, deep and very difficult.
Chumash class was filled with all sorts of deep meforshim, a lot of memorization and intense tests and quizzes. When it came to Navi, any girl who completed all the classes could easily cream any yeshiva bochur in a Navi challenge.
And Halacha class — oh, how we studied Halacha! We were taught the halachos of brachos, hilchos mezuzah, halachos of yichud, halachos of challah, halachos of shechita, halachos of building a kosher mikvah, halachos of when brachos can or cannot be said, (in front of clad women, men, etc), halachos of Shabbos, and of course before an upcoming Yom Tov we learned the halachos pertaining to that Yom Tov.
Pretty impressive, one might say. As many older ba’alei teshuvah I encountered would say: “How lucky you are to have such a good Jewish education! Oh, how I wish I would have learned what you are learning!”
I respectfully disagree. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the depth of Torah knowledge I gained; it’s just that today, as a mother and a wife, I find most of it extremely unusable. Not only are most of my high school class studies irrelevant to my everyday life, but I have also found them to be obstructive to my shalom bayis.
Allow me to elaborate. In Yiddishkeit there are many facets to halacha. We learned one approach and were hardly informed of the existence of others. We were taught to know and memorize the halacha we were learning about so that we could get the right answers on the test and hopefully remember it for life. (Little emphasis was placed on how to ask a shaila — after all, we were taught to KNOW the halachos.)
The average (female) student walks away from her schooling confident in her mastery of halacha — small wonder after having spent 4 years plus learning it! But what happens when she marries a man who holds differently from the way she was taught or practiced in her own home? What if his minhagim differ from hers and he holds of an opposing psak halacha?
This happened to be so in my case, and I’m certainly not alone.
As a young wife, I questioned my husband on many aspects of his avodas Hashem, despite the fact that he was a full time scholar. I looked down on him because I knew Navi better. (Of course I wouldn’t come right out and say so, but he felt it.) I started many arguments in regards to halacha and was only pacified when he showed me black on white (in sefarim) how his way was backed by many poskim as well.
Oh, how I wish I’d have spent my school years learning how to live! Learning communication skills would have been so much more useful for my shalom bayis than having to memorize all the kings of Yehuda and Yisroel. Lessons on emunah and bitachon would have served me better when facing the reality of life’s challenges than would the laws of shechita.
Today I feel like most of my high school years were a waste of time. To be honest, I do not recall much of what I have learned. It is my wish that schools, especially frum schools, initiate lessons for girls that will teach them the skills they require in order to be a good wife and mother, because ultimately most frum girls and women find themselves facing the same destiny: that of raising the next generation of klal Yisroel.
Although society has changed and education for many is a number one priority, I am pretty confident that most men would appreciate their wives’ proficiency in whipping up a sumptuous meal and being adept with needle and thread over their ability to rattle on about the Ohr Hachayim from Parshas Ki Seitzei.
I’m not a sexist; I’m a realist Dear Realist, Since your “loud and clear” message has taken up most of this column’s space, I will defer to readers to express their own sentiments regarding a subject that many no doubt relate to.
As we celebrate Chanukah, we recall Yehudis, one of our Jewish heroines and one who figures prominently in the miracles of this holiday. Yehudis was a wealthy widow of great beauty inside and out, an extremely pious woman who prayed to G-d every day in a special room in her home that she designated solely for this lofty purpose.