< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
I recently called a friend in Israel and we exchanged news about our families. My friend’s nineteen-year-old daughter is currently involved in shidduchim and is looking exclusively for a husband who will be a full-time learner. My friend’s description of the process provided revealing insights into the Israeli counterpart of a world I know well in chutz l’aretz.
Her daughter’s wish to marry someone who does not plan on working is quite the ordre du jour these days. But in light of current and past circumstances in Israel and their effects on the Jewish people as a whole, it seems to me that this wish involves ramifications that should transcend a personal choice.
My friend’s daughter never lacked for anything and seems quite unprepared to live a life of Torah under privation, despite her protests to the contrary. Her parents plan to pick up the tab, as many parents in such a situation do. So many of these girls’ idealistic pursuits are buttressed by the pocketbooks of those who enable them.
But there are limits, especially with younger siblings in the household. My friend’s daughter will not even consider someone who may have a long-term plan to support his family, and my friend’s dismay at this extreme attitude is not unlike that of many other families in Israel and in America. I have attended countless shidduch meetings in New York where mothers bemoan this stance their children have adopted yet seem powerless to do anything about it.
Of course Torah is the bedrock of Judaism, and of course Torah learning is what sustains this foundation. Without it we Jews would simply not survive as Jews, as evidenced by those who have thrown off the yoke of Torah and vanished through assimilation.
And yes, the concept of koveiah itim, setting aside time for Torah learning, is obligatory on all Jewish men. It is imperative that we have among us those who devote their lives to such a course so that we have talmidei chachamim to serve as rabbanim, dayanim and mechanchim in our communities.
Torah scholars are not mass produced, however, and not everyone has the potential to become one. The single-minded drive to pursue a kollel life at almost all cost is a relatively new phenomenon. One does not need to go back to the days of the Tannaim to ascertain how the greatest of our sages worked for a living. My mother grew up in a rabbinic (chassidic) home in Transylvania during World War II and clearly remembers the role of the father as the breadwinner of every household. She recalls how shameful it was for a husband to have to rely on his wife’s earnings.
My friend in Israel attributes much of her daughter’s leanings to her teachers. She told me that teachers in her daughter’s school in Petach Tikvah will not even use the word “work” when referring to an eligible young man’s plans for the future. They have come up with a euphemism to replace the dirty word, and they admonish their students not to even consider dating someone who plans “la tzeit” – “to go out.”
I wonder if these young men recognize the irony of their having achieved a similar status to that of the ideal bat Yisrael, who is extolled by King David for not going out (“kol kevodah bat melech pnimah“– Tehillim 45).
Opting for such a lifestyle places an enormous burden on the wife. She usually becomes the sole earner of the family and no longer serves as the akeret habayit to her children at home. Invaluable opportunities to teach children basic lessons in manners and rules of social interaction based on Torah values are frequently squandered without the proper mentors.
While no one denies our obligation to support talmidei chachamim in kollel, a carte blanche invitation to all has engendered dependency as a matter of course.
In Israel the situation is particularly acute. Unlike my friend, many parents are not in a position to support their children. The stipends of the typical kollel do not go a long way, nor does whatever government assistance is available. Further, restrictions on attending college have limited the options of those who are forced to reconsider a kollel life and provide sustenance for their family.
And then there’s the larger picture: It is by no means a stretch to make the connection between the poverty afflicting this sector and ill-fated Israeli government decisions. Many of these citizens have grown accustomed to handouts in some form or another, and there is no shortage of willing politicians eager to fill the demand at any cost.
No wonder the Torah insists that the judges of Israel be independently wealthy (as were many of the leaders) and thus impervious to bribes. Needy leaders who represent needy followers are easy bait for corruption and coercion. And the leaders of political parties in Israel that represent the vast majority of this segment of society have supported policies whose consequences have been horrendous for their fellow Jews.
Shas’s endorsement of Oslo enabled the accords to pass in the Knesset – a debacle that spiraled downward into tragic consequences. How can a party steeped in Torah knowledge have agreed to give up parts of the land Hashem promised His children?
Even if one were to excuse Shas’s judgment as a mixture of naivete and a deep desire for peace, how can one forgive subsequent decisions? After thousands of Jews were slaughtered and maimed as a result of Oslo, how can Shas now sit in the government of Prime Minister Olmert, who reportedly plans to give the Palestinian Authority a state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and much of Jerusalem?
How did UTJ (United Torah Judaism-Agudah) justify joining the government coalition that approved the Gaza Disengagement? For that matter, why were so many of their American counterparts silent at the time? If ever a time of pikuach nefesh warranted action, that was it.
And what can one make of the endorsement of Shimon Peres for Israel’s presidency by Rav Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas? Peres, who has made a career of castigating the Jewish religion at every opportunity, won approbation from the likes of Rabbi Menachem Porush of Agudah and won the presidency through the enabling of Shas.
The moral compass of a state that should be directed by Judaic values is increasingly off-kilter. The religious right could have been at the forefront of combating this sickness and taking stands that would have made for a tremendous kiddush Hashem. As attested by their success at halting the gay parade last summer in Jerusalem, the potential strength of Torah Jewry should not be undervalued. Just imagine the results that could be achieved if dedication to Torah study were linked with Torah action in the political realm.
The personal dilemma my friend in Israel is grappling with has national consequences. Her daughter’s decision to subscribe to a system of living that does not promote working impacts more Jews than just those who adhere to it. The rumblings against Israeli government cutbacks that affect kollel families underscore just how intertwined the lives of those families have become with government largess – and highlight the necessity of financial independence in order to avoid conflicts of interest and outright corruption.
The Annapolis conference looms ahead and forebodes disaster. To relinquish any part of Eretz Yisrael – especially Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria – is to relinquish the heartland of the Jewish people and create an immediate and irrevocable threat to Jewish lives. At this juncture we cannot afford to witness more tacit support in or out of the Knesset for such perfidy.
Where are the rabbinical leaders in Israel and America who will stand up and make a Kiddush Hashem worthy of the imprimatur of Torah scholarship?
Sara Lehmann, formerly an editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, is currently a mother and freelance editor residing in Brooklyn.