Double Messages (More on Shidduchim)

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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 an 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, an organization which seeks to find ways to lessen the financial strains connected to marriage, 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.

This piece was written prior to the dust-up with Chananya Weissman. I did not discover yesterday that age differentials are not the only problem connected to our system of shidduchim, as long-time readers of this site will hopefully remember. This article did not appear in the Hebrew Mishpacha.

Mishpacha Magazine, November 11 2009

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25 Responses

  1. tzippi says:

    Jewish Observer, who was giving whom in the last few hundred years?

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    “You don’t see that anywhere in the Torah”

    – you see it in Europe last several hundred years

  3. JoelG says:

    “They brought large doweries with them”

    You don’t see that anywhere in the Torah: There’s no mention of Sarah’s dowry; we’re told of the presents Rivka is given by Eliezer but she only brings her wet-nurse with her; Yaakov has to work for Rochel and Leah and isn’t given a dowry.

  4. tzippi says:

    Mrs. May, I thought your point was that even young women who grow up in affluence can develop good middos.

    And as much as they brought money with them into the marriage, the avos (or surrogate, in the case of Yitzchak) brought lavish gifts with them for the young women. There was money on the men’s side too; Yaakov only came penniless to his father in law’s household, says the medrash, because he gave over all his wealth to Elifaz. (I can’t believe you think Lavan’s money made the shidduch more attractive, or was at all relevant.)

  5. cvmay says:

    JOEL G. You completely misunderstood my post.

    “our Matriarchs developed majestic midos despite their “prominent” families, not because of them”. Of course, no debate on that point YET they were all born to families with monetary resources that were benefical and helpful to their marriage life. They brought large doweries with them.

  6. Dr. E says:

    (1) Many “shpitzim” and “not-so-shpitz” in the System fail to remember that Zevulun was Yissachar’s brother, not his father-in-law.

    (2) To me, there is a significant attitudinal component here as it relates to “going to work”. Will women only feel comfortable working (professionally) among those who dress the same, have the same Hashkafa, went to the same type of seminaries, etc. And is one made to feel guilty for working, as if it is a b’dieved, a drag, or shirking their maternal or spousal responsibilities? Is it “muttar” for a woman to get any social and intellectual satisfaction out of professional endeavors in pursuits other than chinuch/kiruv or child rearing; or is it merely viewed as a “job” or parnassa? If the prevalent attitude to employment is that it’s just “parnassa”, that will not exactly be endearing to employers in poor economic times, or even in better ones.

    (3) Have the seminaries collected longitudinal data as to the ultimate success of their training programs vis a vis the “careerists” (Chareidi or Dati) who took a more tried and true track of a traditional academic program? Have they spoken to employers or potential employers who have evaluated the resumes or job performance of their graduates before promoting their tracks as being “equivalent”? Perhaps the laws of “lifnei iver” need to be revisited.

    There is the ubiquitous one-liner about the prohibition of marrying two wives being phased out because it takes two wives to support a guy in Kollel (and perhaps at the same time alleviating the shidduch crisis). The broken System has transformed the joke into a sad reality on many levels.

  7. dovid says:

    “Will the wife never have medical problems? If anything hurts the wife’s ability to support the family, what’s the fallback?”

    Will the husband never have medical problems? If anything hurts the husband’s ability to support the family, what’s the fallback?

    We don’t know the answer, but while still healthy and going strong, put a good word from the heart to the proper Authority that you (husband OR wife) continue to stay healthy and go strong.

  8. Dov says:

    Are any of the statements quoted from the Kenes Simcha Be’Mo’ano in print anywhere?

    One aspect of the situation not addressed is being somech al ha’nes. Will the wife always be able to return to work right after a birth? Will the wife never have medical problems? If anything hurts the wife’s ability to support the family, what’s the fallback?

    I live outside of Jerusalem, and have several ani’im PER DAY knocking on my door collecting tzedaka for “mishpacha be’matzav kashe.”

  9. Julie says:

    For some time, I have thought about the following: How ironic is it that (the now defunct?) Jewish Observer magazine provided the material for the book edited by Sarah Shapiro (I think the title was “Of Home and Hearth”) whose basic message was that it is bad for the Jewish woman to be out in the secular workplace and how necessary it is to stay at home with the children–fast forward several years later– when the JO was still being published, it had an issue devoted to women in the workplace. All but one or two of the articles were lauding the concept of women working either to support husbands/because they needed to get out of the house. Sure, there was the one obligatory article praising the stay-at-home mother, making her out to be a saint, but the tone overall seemed to be that frum women are thriving in the workplace.
    What a radical change in attitude in just a few short years….

  10. JoelG says:

    “These young ladies were blessed with majestic midos indeed” – cvmay

    Look at your Chumash again: our Matriarchs developed majestic midos despite their “prominent” families, not because of them. Sorah married Avraham HaIvri and rejected their powerful family; Rivka was called “a rose among thorns”; Rochel and Leah told Yaakov that their CEO father Lavan treated them like strangers, sold them and took all their money.

  11. cvmay says:

    BTW just for accuracy;
    Sorah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah came from the most prominent, powerful, real estate & investment businesses (livestock, monopoly on water supply, land owners, etc.) and partners with the strongest CEOs (Eshkol, Aner & Mamre), FAMILIES in Caanan. These young ladies were blessed with majestic midos indeed.

  12. Tal Benschar says:

    The gemara in Berakhot 35b quotes the dispute between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai surrounding the verse (in Keriat Shema), “You will gather your grain, wine and oil.” Rabbi Yishmael sees this as a source for combining Torah study with derech eretz (literally, the way of the world; here, a worldly occupation). Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai counters: Is it possible that a person will plow in the plowing season, sow in the sowing season, reap in the harvest season, thresh in the threshing season, and winnow in the winnowing season [and still learn Torah seriously]? What will become of the Torah? Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is forced to limit the verse to when the Jews are not serving G-d properly and must fend for themselves agriculturally.

    Abbayei concludes the passage with the observation: “Many followed Rabbi Yishmael’s approach and it worked for them; . . . Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s and it did not work for them.”

    The Gra explains that even though the appropriate approach for the “many” is that of Rabbi Yishmael, there are a number of “yechidei segula”, unique special people in each generation, for whom the Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai approach can work.

    The yeshiva world has tried to creat a whole generation of yechidei segulah. While many aspects of that are admirable, the bottom line is that most people are simply not cut out for it. It’s an open gemara — for the many, the approach of R. Shimon b. Yochai is lo alsa be yaddam.

    (That’s not a halakha — it’s a reality.)

  13. tzippi says:

    Re 6: I don’t know if we’ll get a massive or official endorsement of alternatives. But it would be nice to know that more Roshei Yeshiva and mashgichim are dealing with the boys as individuals and giving them the guidance they need. Boys need to develop a relationship with someone who will give them such guidance (yes, I know, they’re called parents but I’m referring to the valuable relationship with a mentor from the education world) and they’re not always in one yeshiva long enough for that to grow. I think we’d have more luck in encouraging the fostering of such relationships than the sea change you envision.

  14. Leizer Openheim says:

    This is a commendable overdue article. But I wonder if this is daas torah. If so, how could it have changed so suddenly. If not, why is it being printed in Cross-currents.

  15. Random Thoughts says:

    “Only those who learn with humility and without demands will emerge as talmidei chachamim. Nothing will come of those who make excessive demands.” Then let the Rabbanim say outright that it’s preferable to learn with sincerity for 2 years and then GET A PARNOSSA AND LEARN IN THE AFTER-HOURS, than to make demands in shidduchim.

    So, let’s say half of your society advocates that you spend all day in self-directed and self-paced personal growth (changing institutions if need be), and half of your society advocates that you submit yourself to the expectations and schedule of others on a daily basis – which would you choose?

    “The emphasis on money in shidduchim corrupts us and sends our children a false message about marriage.” And about social responsibility – a bayis ne’eman bYisrael. Planning for future financial needs is considered bailing out early, which leaves families less able to help one another and more likely to become the next poster or dire mailing.

    “(This article did not appear in the Hebrew Mishpacha.)” So I assume it’s scout’s honor not to translate this for anyone. Unfortunately even if we did translate it, it still wouldn’t speak their language.

    “A large part of life consists of trade-offs where you have to choose which is better. In our generation we tend to be so ambitious that we refuse to acknowledge that, but it is still true.” Ori – come back to Israel we need you!!!!!

  16. Random Thoughts says:

    “Only those who learn with humility and without demands will emerge as talmidei chachamim. Nothing will come of those who make excessive demands.” Then let the Rabbanim say outright that it’s preferable to learn with sincerity for 2 years and then GET A PARNOSSA AND LEARN IN THE AFTER-HOURS, than to make demands in shidduchim.

    So, let’s say half of your society advocates that you spend all day in self-directed and self-paced personal growth (changing institutions if need be), and half of your society advocates that you submit yourself to the expectations and schedule of others on a daily basis – which would you choose?

    “The emphasis on money in shidduchim corrupts us and sends our children a false message about marriage.” And about social responsibility – a bayis ne’eman bYisrael. Planning for future financial needs is considered bailing out early, which leaves families less able to help one another and more likely to become the next poster or dire mailing.

    “(This article did not appear in the Hebrew Mishpacha.)” So I assume it’s scout’s honor not to translate this for anyone. Unfortunately even if we did translate it, it still wouldn’t speak their language.

  17. Eytan says:

    Is it my misunderstanding or isnt the piece called the ‘true stories’ of A.M. Amitz

  18. Martin says:

    This “shidduchim” problem bears a striking resemblance to the episode of the Egel HaZahav. Rather than following Toras Moishe, a large segment of the so-called frum community in North America is dancing around the avoda zara of “gold” i.e. materialism.This is not only a personal tragedy for the many innocent victims caught up in this shidduch plight, it is a hillul Hashem.

    Perhaps the recent global financial down-turn is HaShem’s way of solving the problem.

  19. lacosta says:

    don’t get me started— i can’t recall a more infuriating article than am Amitz ‘s piece of fiction [ if you read it, you would know that no frum yid could imaginably be as kfui tov as this mother, who is not cursed with girls….

    and talking about the avos. they all took the achrayus of being mfarness their family as their ktuba demanded. the role of yechidim has become expectation of every bachur. the added pathology of elective poverty
    has not been measured. ironically , in the alter heim 100-150 yr ago , jews left yiddishkeit due to teh crushing poverty. so , these families must be given credit. but this economic model has been untenable since Man[na] ended on entry to Knaan…..

  20. Bob Miller says:

    This article points to the need for Roshei Yeshiva and community leaders to endorse a variety of study/career paradigms that would cover the broad range of aptitudes and financial situations. The idea that all but one paradigm represents failure has already caused damage.

  21. Ori says:

    A large part of life consists of trade-offs where you have to choose which is better. In our generation we tend to be so ambitious that we refuse to acknowledge that, but it is still true.

    Which is better, from a Torah perspective?

    1. A family where the husband spends long hours in Kollel learning Torah, the wife works long hours at a lucrative job, and the kids are raised by baby sitters. When the kids are old enough to find (or lose) their own way, they are more likely to go off the Derech(1), because they were not raised by their parents.

    2. A family where the husband and wife both work, but because they make two incomes they don’t need to work as hard, and spend more time with the kids.

    3. A family where the husband works long hours at a lucrative job, and the wife stays at home does most of the child rearing?

    If this question is too big, I’d like to ask a similar question that is much smaller. Which is better for a father to do?

    A. Attend a Daf Yomi(2) shiur(3) on his own, with the wife watching the kids.
    B. Attend a Parasha(4) shiur, taking with him those kids that are old enough to benefit from the lesson.

    Note: Some people reading this blog don’t know Hebrew very well, but those terms felt right for this. Here is the glossary for people who need it:

    (1) “Derech” means road. “Off the Derech” is used in Orthodox circles for teenagers and adults who leave Torah observance.

    (2) Daily page of Talmud. Those classes require you to be able to learn a page of Talmud in about an hour, which is pretty advanced.

    (3) Lesson.

    (4) The weekly Torah portion, which is often a lot simpler to understand than the Talmud.

  22. another Nathan says:

    What’s so terrible about a man earning a living? Why is that considered the less desirable path? There are certainly enough ma’amars endorsing it.

  23. DF says:

    There is an ever larger “conflicting message” than the one you describe. And that, of course, is the concept of “kol kevudah bas melech penimah”. I need not tell you that there are many halachaos based upon this concept. How can we maintain this position with a straight face, while simultaneously pushing our daughters out into the workforce?

    And the fact that is the yeshivah element of society that promotes the idea of girls working to support husbands turns yet another misconception on its head – “old fashioned” ballei battim are more the guardians of authentic tradition than yungermen learning in lakewood.

  24. joel rich says:

    An alternative hashkafa might be: 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 show they have the ability and desire to be amongst the yechidei segulah (IIUC this is the posoition of R’ H Schachter)
    KT

  25. tzippi says:

    “(This article did not appear in the Hebrew Mishpacha.)”

    So I assume it’s scout’s honor not to translate this for anyone. Though it could be interesting to find this “translated” into the American reality, which is similar, but not identical to Israel’s.

    I think that in the past there was a proportionately higher amount of Zevuluns to the Yissachars than there is now. Today, everyone wants to be a contender. This is a beautiful thing to be true, that Torah is so valued by so many. But I’m beginning to wonder what the solutions are. I think the best solution is for parents to feel confident in their own abilities to raise their children, finding and supporting institutions, mentors, rabbanim, etc. who will work in partnership in, not at odds to, their raising their individual children as… individuals, and working in the best interests of the children.