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‘If My Son Is Treif So Is His Money’

A few days ago, while out of town, I connected with an old friend. Reminiscing over old times as we sipped coffee, she excused herself for a moment and picked up the mail that had been slipped through the slot of her door. As she sorted through it, she took a few pieces that I assumed were junk mail and tore them up. I saw that one or two were from the local kollel and a yeshiva, no doubt asking for contributions. It’s not unusual for people to toss out mail soliciting funds (all of us are inundated with requests for donations) but there was something about the way she determinedly ripped the letters – that seemed out of place.


My curiosity piqued, I asked her why she tore the letters so quickly. I knew that she, like so many members of my generation, had recently recited Yizkor and no doubt had made a vow to give charity in memory of a departed loved one. I mentioned this to her and asked her why she wasn’t interested in sending a donation to the city’s kollel, since as they say, charity begins at home.


“Because if my son is treif, so is his money,” was her angry and, I sensed, anguished reply. And she proceeded to pour her heart out to me. Her son “Avi” was 24 and single. I hadn’t seen him for many years but remembered him as a very mature and sweet-natured young teen. He was very bright and was a top student in his yeshiva, both in his secular and limudei kodesh studies. I knew he was still unmarried but assumed that because he was a special boy, it was taking him longer to find that equally special girl who would be his intellectual and spiritual equal. But as his mother spoke, I saw this was not the case. The fact was that his dates were few and far between.


When he had started dating a couple of years earlier he was confident that he would quickly find what he wanted. However the choices were more limited than he would have ever imagined, for when he was suggested to several families, the shadchanim would report that even though there were glowing reports from his rebbeim and his chavrusahs – of which he had several – the girls or their parents were only interested in “kollel boys” (long-term, full-time learners). Though he had spent a couple of years in beis midrash, he decided it was time to get a reliable parnassah. He did not want to be a financial burden to his parents, in-laws or the community, instead wanting to be able to support a wife and kids, buy a house for them, pay for yeshiva education, and be a ba’al tzedakah. He went to college and earned a degree, yet made it his priority to learn at every possible opportunity.


After graduating and securing a well-paid entry level job with room to grow, Avi was ready for tachlis. And initially it seemed his journey in the shidduch parsha would be quick and painless.


After going out with a couple of girls, he was redd a shidduch from a family like his own – “black hat,” yet, both parents were college educated and the father had been the primary breadwinner. After three dates, he came home b’simcha. He had found what he was looking for! His elation, however, turned into shock and devastation with a call from the shadchan, who said that while he was a very nice boy, he was not the right “shnit.” In other words, since he was not of the “yeshivish” world, he was “cut from the wrong cloth” so to speak, and would not fit in with a family whose sons and sons-in-law were learners. Months later, the girl got engaged to a full-time learner and was now a wife and mother.


It had taken Avi a long time to get back in the parsha – one that became increasingly frustrating for him. Incredibly, earning a living was being held against him. What had been a non-negotiable requirement in his parents’ generation – parnassah - was now a liability. Despite setting aside much of his spare time for learning, he was not the right “shnit” as those boys who learned full-time – or successfully gave the appearance of doing so.


In the meantime, appeals to help support the kollel or letters from gedolim asking for donations for a yeshivishe family facing severe financial woes infuriated Avi and his family. “These girls and their parents rejected Avi because they wanted learning boys, and now they come running to him to help support them – something he has the ability to do because he didn’t go into learning,” my friend shouted, shaking in anger. “He isn’t of the right ‘shnit‘ but his income is. He isn’t acceptable as a husband or son-in-law, but is acceptable as a supporter.” Her son, she said, found it tragically (but at the same time hilariously) ironic that his donations – coming from the money he earned – could possibly go to the girl who rejected him, and enable her and her husband to live as a learning family. How would he feel if he ever bumped into her and saw her living a happy life with someone else – made possible by his being a “wrong shnit” earner?


“Her family, like many others, chose a learner. Why should we earners have to pay the price twice?”

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