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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 7/04/08

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Dear Rachel,

Like so many other readers of The Jewish Press, I turn to your column first each week. You have won over many readers by your willingness to provide a forum for a number of delicate topics and to handle them with great sensitivity, compassion and common sense. All of which, however, only makes it so much more disappointing that you would choose to provide such a wimpy, head-in-the-sand response to A Disgusted Onlooker (Chronicles 6-13) who was very distressed by kollel couples who “feel that it is their parents’ obligation to work to support them.”

Your response, like that of so many others, is to completely ignore the enormous problems entailed by the kollel arrangement as it has been implemented in recent years. You state: “The bottom line is that there are different strokes for different folks and families are entitled to their opinions and to be using their assets in any way they see fit.”

Do you really believe your own words? Are you aware of how many parents are dragged into this arrangement unwillingly and with great distress? I personally know a married 27-year-old who is learning without any end in sight despite the fact that neither set of parents has the resources to subsidize this lifestyle. When I asked the father how the young couple was doing, he replied sarcastically that they were “playing house.” Does this sound to you like a father who is spending money in a way that he sees fit? Or perhaps, more accurately, in a way that gives him fits.

I know of another couple that agreed to provide support, by no choice, if they wanted to make their daughter’s shidduch happen − whereupon the wife immediately ran to the bathroom to throw up out of her great distress in knowing they did not have the resources to grant the young couple the support they were forced to promise. Is this the Torah way?

What about girls with the finest middos and yichus whose parents do not have support money? Are these girls supposed to settle for “inferior” shidduchim? Is it the Torah way that the first question asked of these parents is whether they are willing to support for five or more years?

What about the fact that an entire generation of these kollel couples’ children will be brought up by housekeepers because the wife is forced into the labor market on a full-time basis? Is this problem not worthy of even a passing comment?

As yet another example of the extreme behavior engendered by this full-time learning frenzy, I know a young boy (highly regarded in his yeshiva) who is looking for a girl willing to support his learning lifestyle. When I asked him what his response would be if the girl asked him for a time limit on his learning after which he would head into the working world, he replied that he would not even consider going out with a girl who would ask him such a question.

Many yeshivos where full-time learners ply their trade set no standards, have no exams, nor impose pressure of any kind to achieve any particular goals. Does it make sense for parents, in-laws and wives to work their hearts out to pay for this learning while these men proceed at their own leisurely pace and accomplish very little if they so choose? Where is their responsibility to show something for the incredible sacrifices made by their families?

It is my observation that many working people who learn at every spare opportunity know a great deal more Torah than a large number of full-time learners. Not in the least surprising, since a person who is working and with great self-sacrifice sets aside regular times for learning will take his learning very seriously and progress much further than the full-time learner who has all the time in the world and feels no particular pressure to accomplish anything.

The above is only a sampling of the many enormous problems associated with the full-time learning binge that has exploded these past few years. Did you not feel any one of these problems worth addressing? Is “different strokes for different folks” the best you can offer in response to A Disgusted Onlooker? It seems to me that you have been unwittingly intimidated by the yeshiva establishment that has somehow managed to get so many people to unquestioningly buy into its full-time learning mantra.

In reality, there is enormous distress out there. Ignoring the problems or pretending they don’t exist will not make them disappear any time soon.

Another Disgusted Onlooker

Dear Onlooker,

In your justified indignation over those who misuse the kollel environment, it may have escaped your notice that I clearly drew a distinction in my response to A Disgusted Onlooker, by emphasizing, “provided the young man is worthy learning material.” (They may not be the majority, and they may not garner as much attention, but they are out there!)

Numerous pages of arguments can indeed be devoted to this subject, but that still does not alter the fact that A Disgusted Onlooker is not justified in “assuming” the circumstances of, and “deciding” the type of lifestyle another family should adopt. Moreover, if people would concentrate their energies on the authentic needs of their own, versus the goings-on everywhere else, the kollel charade – in large part generated by the “me, too” syndrome – may start losing momentum.

The Kollel system is undeniably being used and abused by imprudent individuals who are abetted by their enablers − shortsighted educators, guileless young ladies and hapless parents. Yet, with all that, can we really afford to dismiss or ignore the learner who earnestly dedicates his life to his Divine calling (and demonstrates his sincerity with his modest existence and without outrageous demands on his parents and society)?

I think not. Just my humble opinion … and I thank you for yours.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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