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Double Messages
by Rabbi Yonasan Rosenblum
This article orignally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine

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11/12/09

Double Messages

I envy the ability of my fiction-writing colleagues to sometimes get under the skin of readers in ways that mere "deah zoggers" rarely do. Recently, A.M. Amitz hit a sensitive chord with a story, "Goldmine," about a family that chooses young women in high-earning fields for their sons, each an outstanding bochur In one respect, things work out pretty much as planned. The wives are successful, the husbands do not have to work, money is even set aside for the next generation, and the husbands' parents are spared immense financial strain.

But, as the great economist Milton Friedman used to say, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." Part of the package is that the young mothers are too tired from their high-pressure jobs to ever bring the grandchildren to visit; the grandchildren are raised by babysitters, and the major responsibility for nurturing, as well as housework and cooking, falls on the husbands. Rather than the husbands being left free to devote every moment to learning, all we get is an inversion of the traditional roles, with the woman as the breadwinner and the husband as the mainstay of the home. The story provoked a spate of letters arguing about its meaning, the implications, and the relative guilt of the various parties.

To me, the story highlighted the plight of many of our daughters, who are receiving in subtle and not-so-subtle ways conflicting messages. On the one hand, their entire education is designed to instill in them a feeling that raising children is the most noble and rewarding task possible – the one for which they are naturally inclined; Chava, the name of the first woman, explicitly refers to her quality as a mother (Bereishis 3:20).

On the other hand, they realize that to become a mother one must first get married. And as they look around, they cannot fail to notice that more and more young men are seeking girls who can take upon themselves the major burden for supporting them in long-term Torah learning. That is especially so as the "rich shver," able to maintain his daughters for life in the style to which they have are accustomed, becomes an increasingly rare figure. To have any hope of purchasing any apartment in Israel at today's prices, most young couples will have to take on their own mortgage, plus the expenses of a large family.

As a result, young women are torn. What exactly is expected of them? Is their primary role to raise another generation of Torah Jews, or is it to support their husbands in Torah learning?

Nor is this ambivalence limited to them. Virtually every Israeli seminary has opened training programs in computers, architecture, graphics, and accounting, alongside the traditional teaching and special education tracks. And programs in new fields, like speech therapy, are opening all the time. But the seminaries are not offering academic degrees, lest the girls become "careerists." (Whether the latter restriction has resulted in fewer young women pursuing academic degrees or simply switched the venue for doing so outside of the seminaries is not clear.)

THE SAME LOGIC that propels boys to seek wives among those in high-earning fields pervades the whole area of shidduchim. Ironically, the more Torah-oriented our society becomes, the more financial considerations enter into the shidduchim process. Even people who are not materialistic in their own lives – sometimes davka the ones who were the least materialistic and, as a consequence, now have few resources with which to marry off their children – find themselves devoting an inordinate amount of time to the financial resources of the other side in discussing shidduchim.

Yet, if we look in Chumash, we will not find one of the Imahos described in terms of her large dowry. In this week's parashah, the Bais Halevi describes the qualities Eliezer was testing for when he met Rivka: chesed (she rushed to offer Eliezer to drink); intelligence (she did not bring home the same water from which a stranger drank); and sensitivity to others' feelings (she found a way to get rid of the water without insulting Eliezer by pouring it for his camels).

On its own terms, the concern with money is perfectly understandable. But it nevertheless exacts a high price. The emphasis on money in shidduchim corrupts us and sends our children a false message about marriage. Rav Dessler used to tell the chassan and kallah under the chuppah that their future happiness depended on maintaining the great desire to give to one another that they felt at that moment. A shidduchim process in which the parties are focused on securing their own security or comfort is antithetical to the attitude described by Rav Dessler.

AT A RECENT KENESS of the Simcha B'M'ono organization in Bnei Brak, twhich seeks to find ways to lessen the financial strains connected to shidduchim today, the speakers directed themselves to the necessity of uprooting attitudes that run counter to Torah that are being advanced in the name of Torah learning. Rabbi Y. Pfeuffer, a rav on the Beis Din of Sheiris Yisrael, began by quoting the Steipler Gaon to the effect that families should not incur debts in order to purchase apartments in Bnei Brak. When someone pointed out to him that the "shpitz" bochurim demand apartments in Bnei Brak or Jerusalem, the Steipler answered: "Klal Yisrael has never been built by 'shpitzim.' Only those who learn with humility and without demands will emerge as talmidei chachamim. Nothing will come of those who make excessive demands." The next speaker, Rabbi Yehoshua Ravitz, the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Beis Mattisiyahu, also decried the destruction of middos that comes from the desire to secure a "rich" shidduch.

In the A.M. Amitz story, an approach justified in the name of Torah ended up producing less Torah, with the husbands giving up their second seder in kollel to take care of the house. Is that not what we would expect from all attempts to turn the Torah into a kardom lachpor bah

Even those bochurim who end up with a shidduch that seems to promise financial security may find their "victory" illusory. Innate talent, even early excellence in learning, the Steipler emphasized, are far from certain predictors of future success in learning. If a boy comes to believe that the desired shidduch itself represents success in learning, it may only result in stunting his ambition for future growth in Torah.

As a community, our emphasis should not be on rewarding those asking, "How much is my wife/shver willing to sacrifice for Torah?" but in creating Yissachar/Zevulun support systems for those who have proven over years of intense study how much they are prepared to sacrifice for Torah.



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1. Amitz articles     11/15/09 - 10:00 AM
Anonymous

In "Mishpacha" magazine, the column is called "From the True Stories by A.M. Amitz." But in his article, Rosenblum writes, "I envy the ability of my fiction-writing colleagues" and refers to Amitz!


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2. other double messages     11/15/09 - 10:39 AM
Anonymous

I think this is very important. Here's something else worth exploring: the double message we're giving our kids as far as chinuch goes. On one hand the girls are being told to be as marketable as possible, and take a few years to do that. OTOH the boys (and the girls who are to date them) are being told that maturity is overrated, start dating younger to ease the demographics crisis.


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3. Many Problems     11/15/09 - 1:11 PM
Ak

Hi,

Maybe we need to take the recommendation to annul Rabbeinu Gershom's ban and allow a husband in full time learning to be supported by 2 fathers-in-law

Imho all the focus has been on the full-time learners , with little expectations being made on ba'alei batim to be more active in their learning than just passively listening to a Daf Yomi shiur.

It is not only the financial stress and the lack of time to care and enjoy the children that is the problem, it is also the realization that at the age of 30+ you are not made for full time learning and you are burnt out, and you have to enter the job market with no academic degrees or experience, and also there is the disappointment and bitterness of young women that have made sacrifices just to find out that their husbands are just wasting their time or cannot make it in the Torah world.


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4.     11/15/09 - 8:41 PM
Benzion Twerski

The concept of double messages exists in many aspects of shidduchim. With regards to the situation in Eretz Yisroel, the view from America is especially sour. Davening Shacharis in most shuls is a trying experience. It seems that every chosson-kallah in Eretz Yisroel has someone collecting in America for "hachnosas kallah". I also observe that those who do collect for such causes, as well as many others, once were often given dollars or larger donations, but today emerge with loose change.

Aside from the additional challenge in davening with many more collectors at your sleeve, some have been forced to become almost rude and pressure when given small amounts. It is often that the same people remain in America for longer periods, frequenting the same beis hamedrash every day. I feel quite badly for them, their suffering for our economic decline and their absence from their homes and families.

I remain appalled that many of us in America are struggling to be able to marry off our children, yet we are also given the task of paying for all the chasunos in Eretz Yisroel. Some people investigated this issue, and the feedback was most alarming. It seems that there has not been adequate efforts to make the prospect of marrying off a child any less of a burden. At the announcement of the shidduch, the families negotiate who will do the fund raising mission in America. This is generally based on the derech that has become commonplace where the parents of the chosson-kallah are not working, avoiding the work environment at the expense of requiring "schnorring" to subsist.

While all generalizations have many exceptions, and many are simply untrue, this one appears to have some merit, even if limited. If true, such a scenario is grossly irresponsible. The occasional mechutan who struggles is truly deserving of assistance from the public. But if this is the norm, we have a serious problem. Great article, but painful.


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5. AK's comments     11/16/09 - 10:43 AM
anonymousfornow

I think we need to have a different outlook to kollel. In my time (25 years ago) the feeling was, wow, it's great to start off marriage in kollel, and there was no feeling of letdown if the men went to work when it was clearly time.

I think that our boys need to start with an exit strategy so that if and when they leave, they will do so with the same simcha and resolve to accept the responsibilities of this new stage in life as they have every other stage till then.

I think we also have to really know our kids. There are some guys who will be capable of starting (or finishing) school after a few years of marriage and kids; others who won't be able to juggle everything and would do much better getting training before marriage and starting to work part time. This latter group might really be able to maximize their learning long term by learning and working, for more years after marriage than they might in full time kollel.

There is a "learner earner" movement. I think we have to broaden it and make it accessible for boys who have been learning well, and with the program all along but who just shouldn't be put in the untenable position of having to juggle too much.


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6. a girl's dilemma     11/16/09 - 12:51 PM
Anonymous

'As a result, young women are torn. What exactly is expected of them? Is their primary role to raise another generation of Torah Jews, or is it to support their husbands in Torah learning?'

Id express the dilemma our young women face a bit more coarsely: Do they want to get married and go along with whatever will make that happen or do they want to stay single and be principled? What the Steipler is saying worked for my generation, but today's generation is hearing a different tune and so given the guidance they are getting in the beis medrash, by and large most boys are not getting a job anytime soon which means a girl who wants a husband needs her father to be either rich or willing to go into hock. Or she needs to work long, hard hours no matter how badly she really wants to raise her own kids. Caught between a rock and a hard place is how i see it.

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