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Dilemmas Of The Kollel Wife (Conclusion)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: Several weeks ago, I published a letter from a young kollel wife who wrote of the conflict that she was experiencing in trying to be an akeres habayis – wife and mother, and at the same time a breadwinner for her family. She wrote that while she had, Baruch HaShem, succeeded in making her niche in the business world, the toll that her schedule was taking on her emotionally and mentally was overwhelming. Despite the fact that she had competent Jewish help, she missed being a ‘hands-on’ mother, and found it painful that, upon returning from work, she collapsed and lacked the energy to communicate with her husband and child.

In that same column, I also published a letter from a young girl who was in the shidduch parsha and was committed to marrying a full and long-term learner, but she too was conflicted by the fact that her parents could not lend any assistance and she would have to be the sole breadwinner. These letters evoked much comment, and I published two of the responses – one from a 23-year-old young woman who has been dating for the past three years hoping to find someone who is machshiv Torah (devoted to learning) and also capable of earning a living. The second letter came from a 22-year-old Beis Yaakov girl who was experiencing the same frustrations, but who also had to live with the reality that her mother is an almanah – widow, and is unable to offer any help. Both young women come from yeshivishe families, and are determined to marry bochrim to whom Torah learning is a priority, but who would also understand that mothering children cannot be relegated to strangers.

‘I want to be the primary mechaneches – educator of my children…’ ‘I want to be able to be alert, awake and relaxed enough to create a warm, Torah-filled, loving home for my family…. I want to imbue my children with love of Torah and Yiddishkeit, and I don’t want to rely on a babysitter to fill this role…’ ‘I want my home to be a makom Torah, my children to be b’nei and bas Torah, but I also want to be able to do this… to have my children see their mother actively involved, and if I am working, how will they ever see that? Children need a mother in the home who will actualize these lessons? wrote the 23-year-old. While she was open to the idea of supporting her spouse for a year or two, she wrote that the ‘good boys’ who are machshevei Torah want to learn full-time for many, many years. Her question is, should she date these boys even though she knows that neither she nor her family can provide long-term support, or should she restrict her search to those who are planning to earn a livelihood? She also writes that she is confused and doesn’t quite understand when and how the roles of men and women were reversed. Traditionally, it was always women who were in charge of the home and the husbands were the breadwinners. Today however, women are expected to assume responsibility for both.

The second letter writer wrote that the mother of a young yeshiva man who had been recommended to her, actually asked her how much money she was earning because she wanted to be certain that her son would be supported comfortably. Her question is: Is it fair for young women to run themselves ragged while juggling the impossible, and is it fair to see parents working two jobs and killing themselves to support their sons-in-law?

Dear Friend:

This is not a question of what is fair. Actually, the word ‘fair’ does not exist in Lashon HaKodesh – the Hebrew language. Either things are right or they are wrong, and there is no quick or easy answer. For some people, working and homemaking may be right, while for others – women who run themselves ragged, parents who have or work two jobs, it is wrong and disastrous. Each person must be aware of his/her own limitations and not allow peer or social pressure to place them in an untenable situation. Not every girl can be a Rachel and not every man can be a Rabbi Akiva, but we must all be Yirei Shamayim (G-d fearing) and make our hishtadlus ‘ put forth our best efforts to fulfill our mission in life.

You are quite correct when you note that somewhere along the way, a role reversal has taken place. And as a result women are expected to be both homemakers and providers. In the Kesuba however – the marriage contract, it is clearly stated that it is the husband who must commit himself to supporting and sustaining his wife and yet, despite this, there are mothers like the one described by the second letter writer, who have the audacity to interview a prospective kallah and ask how much she earns, and whether she will be able to provide for her son comfortably. It is neither right nor realistic to expect women to be supermoms and super-earners. Under such pressures, something is bound to give. In many instances they just collapse under the pressure.

Undoubtedly, there are exceptional young men who should be learning full-time and undisturbed, and there are families, Baruch HaShem, who are able to support them, but this does not apply to everyone. There are some excellent young men however, who are ‘learner/earners’, who are kovea itim - who set time aside daily to pursue their Torah studies and at the same time, earn a livelihood, and I believe that it is in this direction that you should both focus when considering Shidduchim. To accept dates from Yeshiva young men who plan to be full/long time learners can only lead to disappointment and conflict since you cannot deliver that which they seek.

I know that it is not-easy to find that special young man who meets all those qualifications, but the Ribbonoh Shel Olam is ‘Mezaveg Zeevugim’ - It is He who makes the matches, and surely, your shidduch is already waiting for you, You need only maintain your bitachon – your trust and faith. Do a lot of davening (especially mincha) and make your hishtadlus – spare no effort in contacting friends, neighbors, and rebbeim in yeshivos, and you can call upon me as well. May I suggest that you come down to Hineni either in Tuesday evening at Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85 Street, at 7:00 p.m. or on Thursday at The Hineni Heritage Center, 232 West End Avenue at 8:15 p.m.

B’Hatzlocha!

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