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‘The Kollel Wife’ (The Readers Respond)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: A few weeks ago, I published two letters – one from a Kollel wife, the second from a young woman who was aspiring to become one. The letters evoked much comment, and I am pleased to share two responses from readers with you.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

Thank you for the advice and chizuk you give to the frum community. I read your weekly Jewish Press column and was particularly interested in the two letters you featured this past week (‘Kollel Wife’). I think it’s significant that you featured the two of them side by side, because it gives a very interesting perspective on an important issue. I’m 23 and have been dating for about three years at this point. I’m looking for someone who seriously appreciates Torah learning, while at the same time has a parnassah (livelihood), so that I will be able to bring up my children, with G-d’s help, instead of having to go to work every day from morning till night and get caught up in the exhausting cycle that your first letter writer mentioned. I want to be the primary educator of my children, and to be able to be alert, awake, and happy enough to have time to make my home a warm, Torah filled place for my family. The only real way I can see to accomplish this is if I marry someone who has a definitive way of making a living.

Yet, herein lies the problem. I come from a Yeshivishe background, and I am also college educated and value educational and professional accomplishment. I am looking for a person with a similar background. Many of the men that are mentioned to me have no intention of ever going to work, because they want to spend the next several - or rather many years – learning. Of course I want someone who values Torah and lives his life for Torah! But I can’t see how living life as described in the first letter last week, is a life of Torah. In terms of my own personal situation and personality, I know that I can contribute more to a family – and as the person I’ll be in my family – if we can live a life where the children spend a significant amount of time with their mothers while growing up, and where the mother, and not the baby sitter, imbues them with a love of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

I am open to the idea of someone learning for a year or two before going to work. But so few of the good, smart boys who are machshiv Torah want to do this, and most want to learn full time for much longer. What should I do? Should I only date boys who say, at the outset, that they will only learn for one or two years and then pursue a parnassa? Or, in fear of limiting my options, should I continue dating boys who will be learning for many years, when I know that neither I, nor my family, can provide the necessary support and I would just fall into the ‘live and survive’ cycle described in the first letter, and in which so many of my friends now live? (And when I say necessary support, I’m not talking about materialistic New York living standards, but mere basics.)

I’m really confused. Since when did it become the Torah perspective that a bas Yisrael should be the one to leave the house and work full time, while her children are being raised by someone else? I always thought that education and the home were the domain of the Jewish woman, but apparently, no one provided for this. Rebbetzin, of course I want to marry someone who will learn as much as possible. And I want my home to be a makom Torah and I want my children to be bnei and bnos Torah. And I want to bring Moshiach, with all of them. But I also want to be able to actually do this, and to have my children see their mother actively involved in making the world a place of Torah. If their father is in yeshiva all day, and I?m the one working, how will they ever see that? Children can’t only hear about and perceive what their father is doing, but they need a mother in the home who will actualize the lessons about the importance of limud and kiyum haTorah. Please advise – Thank you.

Letter # 2

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I’m writing in response to the two letters you printed last week, from the struggling Kollel wife and the girl who was upset that her father would not support her for 10 years. I’m coming from the other side. I’m a 22-year-old Bais Yaakov girl who is now in the parsha of shiduchim. The difference is that I’m looking for a boy who does not want to be supported indefinitely, and I’ve discovered that such a thing is hard to find. My mother is a widow, and I simply don’t have the chutzpa to ask her to support me. Baruch HaShem, I have a job which I’ve been at for a number of years, but I could not see my job as a substitute for raising my children, should I merit to have them. Although I doubt I will have the luxury of being a full time ‘stay at home mom’ and would of course help with the parnassa, I would not want to willingly make the choice of leaving children from early morning to late at night to be raised by a stranger. I’m therefore looking for a boy who would be willing to help out with the parnassa at least for the first few years of marriage. My family and friends seem to think that I?m a very reasonable person, with no outrageous demands, but more than one shadchan has told me that such a thing in the Yeshiva world simply does not exist.

Recently, a friend tried to set me up with a boy who was learning. One of the first questions the mother of the boy asked was how much money I was making and would it be enough to support her son comfortably, as she would not contribute and her son wants to learn for many more years. Is this marriage or a financial arrangement? Is this really what the Torah demands of us? Can the Torah really endorse forcing parents to struggle to support their married children, and wives to juggle large families and demanding careers while their able-bodied husbands learn? I see too many of my friends wearing themselves ragged while juggling the impossible, and I cannot see this as the ideal situation. Nor can I see parents working two jobs and killing themselves to support their sons-in-law as the Torah way of life.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that there are definitely those who should be learning undisturbed, but can this be for everyone? Where will the Baalei Habbatim be who will support Yeshivas and other institutions if we go on this way?

From what I see, boys are not presented with any other choice. If one wants to be considered a ‘good’ boy, then one is expected to learn. They are not taught any other alternatives. Rebbeim don’t present the boys any ‘kosher’ ways for them to make a living. Girls are expected to get college degrees and good jobs to support their husbands, but it’s practically unheard of for a boy to do the same. I believe that learning is important, but is it right to do so at someone else’s expense?

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