Sunday, January 3, 2010

And some more about the life of a full-time Torah scholar's wife

Once more, someone mentioned the issue of women supporting their Torah scholar husbands, and even though I have covered the subject before, I can't help bringing it up again.

The Ultra-Orthodox women used to be primarily kindergarten and school teachers. A teaching post is a job outside the home but it's one of the more flexible ones. A few years ago, some companies had the brilliant idea of integrating these women by providing training in high-tech jobs which are full-time and energy-consuming. The financial situation of a woman who takes such a job may improve, of course, but now even more is expected of those who chose that path.

"Do you know why so many of the Ultra-Orthodox women have a child every year?" said my husband. "Because they have to go to work very soon after giving birth, to support their families, and so very often breastfeeding doesn't work out for them." I think he might have a point there.

I don't want it to sound as though I think very closely spaced children are a bad thing. Each child is a gift from God. But I also believe the Almighty made our bodies in a certain way - we are geared towards breastfeeding, and initially, most of us aren't supposed to be perpetually pregnant.

If a woman is naturally supposed to have spaces of one and a half or two or three years between children, but has a child every year because she is unable to breastfeed and doesn't believe the use of birth control is acceptable, it will put a toll on her body. Throw in exhaustion and malnutrition into the equation, and you'll understand why many 30-year-olds in those communities are suffering from osteoporosis.

I expect there are at least a few women who are happy with the arrangement and want a scholar husband at all costs. But there are many who are pressured into accepting the path I just described. In my eyes, it's the oddest mix between misogyny and feminism.

It should simply be a top-rank priority that a mother of a rapidly growing family has the opportunity to stay home and nurture her children. Especially in a community that talks so much about the importance of a woman building her home.

I will be the last person to say we don't need full-time Torah scholars in our troubled and corrupt generation. But wives and children aren't supposed to bear the burden of a husband immersed in spiritual studies. No lofty ideals are enough to excuse a husband from his obligation to support his family.

There are scholarships and donations, but the problem, in my opinion, is that they are divided among too many Torah students. My suggestion? The truly gifted scholars should be given scholarships that will allow them and their families to live decently. The rest should get professional training and continue studying Torah part-time as they can.

I know it can be difficult to determine who is talented enough, as we are talking about a spiritual realm, not mathematics. But personally, I see no other solution to take some of the burden off kollel wives' shoulders.

15 comments: said...

There are several problems associated with the modern charidi model. The first is kollel. According to the rambam it is forbidden to accept tedaka in order to learn Torah. Torah is not allowed to be used for making a living. This law (pesak) of the rambam is repeated in the tur and shulchan aruch.
The second problem is rabanim--a judge who takes money to judge his judgment is invalid. This according to the rambam means a judge can't get a salary for being a rav of a judge. This invalidates all current rabbis.
The only model which makes much sense to me is the old European model of the secular leaders of a community going out a finding the smartest yeshiva fellow somewhere and making him the rav of the cit to perform the regular religious obligations. In the meantime that rav learns torah but does not get paid for learning and he might even begin his own yeshiva in the city by the bachurim having "kest" eating meals at peoples homes

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree (for once...!)
I think you put it best when you said, 'it's the oddest mix between misogyny and feminism'. These women are worked to the bone, but they are supposed to feel empowered by it.

I just want to add that the number of men who stay on as full time kollel students long-term is not that large. I wish I had the statistics, but many only stay a few years. Then they try to combine it with a paid job. The problem is that they have little secular education and therefore very few job opportunities. So their wives need to continue working full-time even if their husbands do eventually get a job.

For those unfamiliar with this topic,the ultra-orthodox sector in Israel is very weak socio-economically. They don't hold great jobs, they value (male) learning over career, and they have huge families. They get huge tax breaks because of their poverty level, and thus the cities they live in (like Bnei Brak) are among the poorest and most neglected in Israel (no funds).

The whole system is problematic, although some will say all sacrifices are justified in the name of spirituality. Personally, I do not envy their women, who seem to carry the brunt of the burden.

Sarah Brodsky said...

I just commented the other day on the importance being able to disagree in the comments, but that's not necessary here, because I agree completely! Great post.

Mrs. Reverend Doctor said...

This has led me to wonder who takes care of the children in these families when the men are studying and the women working?

Anonymous said...

I think that your husband is right. My doctor told me that breastfeeding can hold ovulation at bay...but only if you are feeding on demand throughout the day. Only being able to "pump" on your 30 minute lunch break would not accomplish this. A lady at my work (elementary school) actually suggested that breastfeeding mothers should pump in the bathrooms rather than locking themselves in an unoccupied room. I asked her if she enjoyed taking her lunch into the ladies room.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I do agree with your opinion, and I feel you have a strong feelings for this matter.

In catholic faith we have several ways of living - we can be ordained in priests or nuns, or live in a celibacy, but in world, having a mundane work, meeting people and being able to show them by example how God works in their life and be available for others to talk to them about God, and teach them, and of course - marriage.

Every way of living our faith is respected and is having it's specific duties, challenges and dignities. I guess it is really nice having a priest, who deeply knows his faith and who is able to come to your place anytime you are in a kind of trouble, to bless, pray with you, or just listens to you. Which he of course can not do if he is a married man with several children. And part of my spiritual life is largely influenced by my friend who is numerary of Opus Dei (one part of Catholic church) - who lives in celibacy and besides earning money for sustaining their home where she and other woman have beautiful and godly dormatory for lady-students (girls are lovingly protected there) - she teaches other woman. She knows so much about faith because she doesn't have all this things to do which we - married woman do most of our days.

So, in this aspect I am deeply satisfied with how my spiritual mentors live, and how our church provides spiritual food, guiding and understanding for every human being in it's own life. It is just not the same being married or being single, and in celibacy.

So, I do agree - no woman should support man in his study so that her life and health is threatened. Not to mention well-being of children, and family. There must be some more women-appraising way to enable to sufficient number of man to study religious books. Maybe scholarship isn't a bad idea at all! Or collecting money as charity from other families? Or celibacy? I don't know... Wish you all the luck with your writing!

Analytical Adam said...

As I have said it takes two to tango and to be fair it is a mix of hate on both sides. I go to single events with Rabbi's who always put down other men and their wives love it. Nothing angers me more then this.

Many of the women are just as guilty as the men are and in both cases neither are following the torah.

In my heart of hearts I do feel that many people who are misandrists hide behind this ideal in the torah. Yes, I think some of the Rabbi's deep down have contempt for women and their role. I feel the women deep down also have contempt for the men so in a way they both deserve each other which is why they were likely attracted in the first place.

However, the BIGGEST PROBLEM is I believe most of the support doesn't even come from the women. It comes from the government and many of the women work government jobs. They basically are getting their money from secular people who work.

So please let us not make the women here victims again. Many of them do (and I see it myself) openly hate men and masculine behavior and hide behind the torah for it. They hate their own sons with a passion.

I don't believe any religious leader that doesn't work can even be a religious leader in the end. He has become a G-d since he is not following the torah.

There was an article on one of the talk shows I listen to Michael Savage. That most religious leaders of both the Jewish and Christian faiths support giving illegal alliens jobs. Most of the rank and file DO NOT. This is what happens when religious leaders have never been in the trenches.

Many who hide behind this lifestyle do hate men just as the men who don't allow the women to raise their children hate women so they deserve each other although they should not get money from the gov't and they ARE NOT RELIGIOUS LEADERS except that some Jewish people are corrupt and full of hate.

The torah does not believe in special rules for anyone and this idea needs to stop IMO and is a complete distortion of the torah and our holy G-d. Let more men be involved on specific area's and this problem would be solved just as Yitro asked Moses to do.

Jasmine said...

I am not familiar with Jewish Life, but can see how it is an odd mix.

I feel for these women; for these families. It should not be like this.

Thanks for sharing.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, celibacy is a forbidden path for a Jewish man. Everyone are commanded to marry and have families, and to support their families. All our great men were married.

Analytical Adam said...

Here is the link by the way of what I mentioned before of how the rank and file of both Jews and Christians have a complete opposite view of illegal immigration then the relgious leaders do.

I understand this is NOT a political blog but I think this is exibit A among many of what happens when relgious leaders do not have to work like everyone else as in the end they only serve special interest (in this case illegal aliens) which includes feminists at the expense of the mother and homemaker and the vast majority of the rank and file are opposed to many of their idea's which they know from being in the trenches is unfair to them.

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

May I ask what is the ultimate purpose of all this Torah study? What I mean is, what do they do with their learning? Do they teach? Lead a congregation? Write books? Or do they just study with no goal in mind outside of just learning for themselves?

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anne Marie, it might be any of the goals you mentioned. Or not. You see, all men are commanded to study Torah, but there are way too many full-time scholars for them all to become leaders of congregations.

Analytical Adam said...

They just want the men to learn talmud even if they don't know tanach which makes the learning useless. ANd they really don't care if the women learn at all which is why so many of them are attracted to strange men at the end and leave us decent men up a boat without a paddle and many of the women support horrible ideologies and then the rank and file man is blamed for it. The women are unable to resist the snake because they don't even know right from wrong.

None of it makes sense as we say in SHema you should love your G-d with all your soul all your heart and all your money and if women don't learn torah they have no right to comment on it or it is only optional how do I know they don't pick and chose. Just another example of how feminized Judaism is which I understand after flipping through this book Chruch Impotenet the feminization of Christianity. It is on the LAF site. Make demand after demand on men and let women do what they want. And you wonder why most JEws don't trust the religious world and why most men in the Jewish world don't care about feminism. And why most inventions have been made by secular Jewish men. We haven't learned much from Pharoh who tried killiing the men and was very harsh to them.

And anyway Hillel does see that action is more important then learning excpet Rabbi's want to lock men up in a Yeshiva (and I know this from a number of experiences) because they are afraid of other men being involved in anything else because they like to control everything and they don't want allow men to do anything and hide behind G-d for this horrible evil.

Anonymous said...


I just want to give a word of caution, I know 2 women who have become pregnant while nursing. One was my cousin who became pregnant when her baby was 3 months old - she was nursing on demand. Breastfeeding should not be counted on as a form of birth control because a woman can still become pregnant while nursing.


Anonymous said...

The Torah also says "those who won't work, won't eat!"