In last week’s column I published a letter from a young man who felt that he was treated unfairly in his quest for a shidduch. A yeshiva graduate, who excelled in learning, he was also determined to become a professional, and that is where his woes commenced. He complained that the Torah community was intolerant of someone who earned a livelihood and was not a full time learner. He was troubled by a value system that looked askance at those who learned and at the same time were gainfully employed. Born into a good, observant family in which he witnessed his parents’ devotion to Torah and their commitment to the work ethic, he wondered how earning a livelihood could be regarded as a negative.
As a respected “learner” in yeshiva and keeping up with his learning regimen while attaining a college degree, he never anticipated that he would encounter difficulty finding a shidduch. To his dismay however, he discovered that what he thought would be an asset, was looked upon as a liability. Shadchanim informed him that “good girls” were simply not interested in “working boys” even if they are kovea itim- follow a disciplined regimen of daily Torah study.
I published excerpts from his letter in which he decried the duplicity of those who masquerade as learners but in essence are just putting in time in yeshiva for show so that they can make choice shidduchim and enjoy a honeymoon lasting a few years after marriage in Yerushalayim. On the other hand, he complained, people like him, who sacrifice for Torah and get up every day at the crack of dawn to learn before going to work, and then return to the beis medrash in the evening, are relegated to second class citizenship.
When discussing the problem with shadchanim, he was advised to take time off from his profession and return to yeshiva so that he might make the best possible shidduch. He cites a friend who did just that, although his friend has no feeling for learning and is not particularly bright, he has become the “it thing” – the most sought after shidduch simply because he is sitting in a highly respected yeshiva, while he is labeled a “working boy” and encounters rejection upon rejection. The hurt and the bitterness that one senses in his letter are palpable. The young man feels betrayed by the hypocrisy of a system that values those who are not really learning, but are going through the motions, while people like him, who sacrifice daily to fulfill their commitment to Torah study while earning a livelihood and giving tzeddakah, are given short shrift. The following is my reply:
My dear Friend:
I understand and sympathize with your disenchantment. It’s very hurtful to be treated unfairly. Obviously, you are devoted to Torah study and are at a loss to understand why you are being labeled, but in all fairness, aren’t you doing some labeling yourself when you write, “All the good girls are looking for full-time learners?”
Is that really a fair statement? I happen to know many good girls – girls committed to Torah, from excellent families, who are desirous of marrying young men like you who are kovea itim – maintain a regular regimen of daily learning, daven with a minyan and at the same time, have become professionals – so it’s not as black and white as you make it out to be.
I believe that we have altogether too little tolerance for anyone who is out of our box and doesn’t fit into our mold. So, while you may have been unfairly judged, I am afraid that you are also judging unfairly.
As for being brain-washed – which you claim is the case in regard to most girls who spend a year studying in Israel, here again it depends on how you view things. Certainly, rabbis and teachers have the right to impart to their students the values that their institutions represent. Girls and their families have a responsibility to do their homework when choosing a seminary, and are, therefore, very much aware of the values espoused by the school of their choice.
Today, Baruch Hashem, there is a plethora of seminaries in Israel that reflect various shades and attitudes, and people are free to choose the school that best reflects their priority. What is important to remember, however, is that even if we do not personally subscribe to that particular point of view, we should regard it with respect.
Just recently, in the parshah, we studied about the degalim – flags of the Shevatim – Tribes of Israel. Each of the tribes had a different flag, which symbolized its own unique gift and mission, but despite that diversity, all the Tribes were united as one. They were one, because at the center of their encampment was the Mishkan – the Tabernacle of Hashem. Similarly, we too must forge our unity through our common love of Torah. The classic example of this is Yissachar and Zevulun. The tribe of Yissachar was devoted purely to Torah study, while Zevulun undertook Yissachar’s support, but the Torah regards them as equal – as one.
So let us not deride those rabbis or seminary teachers who focus on learning, and by the same token, let us not label yeshivas and seminaries that are supportive of programs committed to work and learning. Nor should we label an entire institution because of some individuals who are a poor reflection of the school’s goals. In every system, there are those who fail, those who take advantage, those who are hypocritical and unfortunately, those who are a source of shame.
But that doesn’t mean that the system is all wrong. It’s the individuals who are lacking. Obviously, not everyone in yeshiva who claims to be learning is learning, and there are many whose interests and growth would be better served if they were gainfully employed. Unfortunately such students give bad press to the school, but that is not necessarily an indictment of the entire program.
We are too few in number to allow ourselves to be further fragmented by finger pointing and labeling. The Torah is the center of our lives and every Yid has a place in the great mosaic of Klal Yisroel.
After our liberation from Bergen Belsen, my beloved, revered father, HaRav HaGaon, HaTzaddik, Rav Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, with tears flowing down his holy face, would say in Yiddish: “Noch a zoie churbon, men darf kushen yeden Yid” – after such a catastrophe, we have to kiss every Jew.
Now, let’s get down to tachlis – a shidduch for you – May I suggest that you come see me on Tuesday or Thursday evening. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85 Street (corner Lexington), or Thursday evening at 8:15 p.m. at the Hineni Heritage Center, 232 West End Avenue (between 70 and 71 Streets).
As I mentioned at the beginning of my response, there are many fine and good girls – yes, fine and good girls who would cherish someone like you, someone who is committed to learning, davening with a minyan and giving tzeddakah, but at the same time, pursuing a profession. B’Ezrat Hashem, I would be honored to try to help find your shidduch.