Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In a front page essay (2-20), Jewish Press columnist Dr. Yitzchok Levine described a rather disconcerting state of affairs regarding the chareidi communities in Eretz Yisrael. Levine quoted a report issued by Israel’s National Insurance Institute that stated, “the poverty rate in the chareidi community had increased in 2013 to 68%, up from 60% the year before. Half the 64,000 children in Bnai Brak live under the poverty line.”

He also mentioned an article in a chareidi publication that described how parents are failing financially as they support their married children – beset by a monetary obligation caused by the prevailing attitude that “a ben Torah is entitled to be spared all life’s worries and to be able to live in comfort so that he can learn in peace.”

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To that end, aging zaydies who have been working for decades – having reached adulthood at a time when it was still “kosher” for the male head of the household to work for a living – are supporting numerous households, often depleting their savings and/or taking on debt. The inevitable outcome is many are compromising their physical and mental well-being by continuing to work and postponing their own dream to study full-time in their well-earned retirement. Many are chronically stressed due to the financial pressure they are under, but feel they have no choice since their children’s shalom bayis may be at risk if they fall short in their support.

Yet, as Dr. Levine points out, the ketubah clearly states, “Be my wife in accordance with the law of Moshe and Israel… I shall work, honor, sustain and support you, as Jewish men are obligated to work and to honor, sustain and support their wives in truth…

The declaration of the male spouse’s obligation to support his wife is in fact mentioned twice – no doubt to emphasize that this what the Torah expects.

Nowhere is it stated in the ketubah “except if he is studying full time.”

This marriage document is thousands of years old, so one could logically conclude that it has always been understood that a husband will provide for his wife, not her parents.

Why the “sea change” after so many centuries? That is not for me to answer. However, another heavy-duty question that begs to be asked is this: How are the couples who are being supported long term by their in-laws going to dish out thousands of dollars to support their newly married children? They won’t have the income or savings that their working parents accrued after decades of employment.

Years ago, someone told me of the concerns voiced by her friend, a woman worth millions of dollars. She was worried about the financial wellbeing of her grandchildren’s children. While she and her husband, Holocaust survivors who had worked very hard creating and building a thriving business, had been able to support their children and later their numerous married grandchildren who were studying Torah full-time, they wondered what would happen to the multitudes of great-grandchildren, the offspring of over a dozen grandchildren, whose number likely could hit 60 or 70 or more. If she was worried that her very large fortune would be diluted by her numerous descendants, how much more so should average income earners.

While countless wives of full-time learners have college degrees and careers, lessening the burden put on their parents, there are rumblings in some chareidi circles regarding the wisdom of frum young women attending university. I have read articles in which some rabbanim have opined that women should not go to college because they may be exposed to problematic ideas that could turn them off of Yiddishkeit. If that mindset gains traction that will mean that the main breadwinner of the family – the wife – will be restricted to mediocre jobs that do not pay well.

For those in the Israeli chareidi community who are afraid that young husbands and wives will be contaminated by treif ideas by going to a university, there are options that provide both an academic and Torahdik environment. One such institution is Machon Lev – the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT).

The founder of JCT was Professor Ze’ev Lev, born in Vienna in 1922 to a rabbinic family of Tchorkov chassidim. During the war he was sent to England, where he studied at the Talmudic College in Gateshead. He later obtained both a PhD and smicha and won the Israel Prize for his work in the field of paramagnetic resonance. Professor Zev was typical of a generation of frum young men who successfully integrated a long-term, intense secular education with their Orthodox beliefs and practice.
Perhaps what motivated Lev to create an institute of higher secular and Torah learning was the wisdom of Rabi Elazar ben Azariah who in Pirkei Avot (3:21) said “Eem ein kemach ein Torah; Eem ein Torah, ein kemach. If there is no flour there can be no Torah, and where there is no Torah there can be no flour.”

The message being conveyed is that without “flour,” without the means to support oneself and one’s family, one’s focus on Torah will be impeded by worry. Dependence on in-laws is risky since circumstances can change – a father-in-law, for example, can lose his job or business due to an economic downturn.

Rabi Elazar’s statement also teaches us though, that earning a living is devoid of meaning without Torah to infuse it with a spiritual and ethical dimension.

Several years ago, JCT created an integration program that reaches out to chareidi men and women and encourages them to obtain an education that will lead to viable careers in an environment that respects their religious sensitivities. There are preparatory programs to help those who are behind to catch up academically.

According to Stuart Hershkowitz, vice president of JCT, close to 2,000 chareidi students currently study at JCT, with more than half learning computer science and engineering. Other popular subjects include management and accounting and nursing. The school recently opened a high tech accelerator for chareidi entrepreneurs.

To sustain their chareidi students’ learning, a beit midrash was built alongside the academic buildings, and all students combine their Torah studies in the framework of a Yeshiva gavoha with academic studies.

In 2000, Tal Campus was created to provide a venue for higher education for religious women – as well as continue their Judaic studies – giving them the opportunity to participate in Israel’s booming high-tech and science industries. It includes nursing, business and engineering schools. Thus, those who support their learning husbands have the option of obtaining an education that will lead to higher paying careers.

Last year, JCT launched TVUNA – a program for Yiddish-speaking chareidi women that leads to degrees in computer science. Recently, 30 female students obtained MBAs from the school’s Machon Lustig, an additional campus located in Ramat Gan, near Bnai Brak.

At a recent fundraiser in Toronto hosted by the Canadians Friends of JCT, the institution’s president, Chaim Sukenik stated, “When STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education was not yet in vogue, JCT pioneered engineering and management programs for women that have advanced a generation of women into leadership positions in many sectors of the Israeli economy.”

The Gemara exhorts fathers to teach their sons a trade so as to have parnassah. Machon Lev goes a step further – and teaches the daughters as well!

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