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Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Working Kollel Wives: Is It Fair?

Before writing anything on the subject I need to state that I have nothing against people who choose to spend their lives learning the Holy Torah. In fact part of me envies and respects them.

I myself was not zoche to spend a few years after my wedding in one. Yet when a collector for a Kollel knocks at my door, he will be very welcome.
In spite of all that, based on what I witnessed by Kollel families and read on blogs I have come to question the very right for a man to choose to spend his life in such a manner.

I’ve heard many opinions on the subject, both pro and contra women shouldering the responsibility of Parnassah .
Interestingly enough the Torah ‘s (the Chumash) view appears to be completely irrelevant when the question is brought up.

Bereishis perek ג passuk יט
בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ, תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם
“By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread”

Far from being an expert on Chumash and it’s major commentaries, I believe it’s universally agreed that this Passuk means that man was punished with the need to labor for food.
Previously the fields and trees would be self sustaining, until the moment of the sin. As a result of Adam and Chava’s transgression, H’Ashem cursed the earth, the snake and both humans.

Since not everyone can work in the food industry, the punishment can mean any form of work whose purpose is the ability to purchase food and nourish oneself and one’s family.

The women (who in all fairness started the whole mess in the Gan Eden a little more than 5000 years ago),

have received a punishment of their own.

First of all women didn't start the whole mess-the snake did :P

Second of all, most kollel working wives understand when they choose that kind of lifestyle and husband that they will be shouldering the financial responsibility. The CHOOSE that life.

Yet there are many who don't. Who life turns and they get put into the situation where they are forced to work. About those I think you have a fair question. And my personal opinion is that unless the wife is given a choice it is not fair.

But then there are so many working husbands whose wives work too, in order to make ends meet. Is that any better?
Exsem-Yes it is better; you can't blame someone if they have done a proper Hishtadlus to accept their punishment.

Perhaps women should be given a choice, but the questions really is whether they even have the right to take upon them the punishment intended for their husband.
prag I agree with exsem - as long as a girl knows before that this is what she is getting into then its her acceptance. However as much as she can know before she is in the situation may possibly change when she is living the life that was in theroy all glory and wonderful but in reality she has to shoulder the financial responsabilities of the household.

I too look back and wish that my husband would have gone to Kollel for a year or two I think those first years of marriage would have been "easier" and perhaps more carefree then him and I both being thrown into the financial deep end. Oh well what do they say about hindsight 20/20 vision.

And in all fairness a working guy may also need the "help" of his wife to bring in the income but most working fellas know and accept that it is their burden to bring home the mulla. (some women like to get out the house for a few hours to keep their sanity).
I think this feeling of being kollel wife is mostly peer preassure (not to judge everyone who is one) but if you are in a certain community where your entire life has been focused on this and in sem it is the focus and when it comes to shidduchim "the best learner" then its what is expected of you UNLESS you are strong willed and will go against this grain and marry a working boy because this what you truly want and sod the yentas in the community!!
I guess it has to be what the girl is signing on for.
For those not being supported when the wives are forced to work it is unfair. Usually the wife doesn't realize what the lifestly will entail when agreeing to support. When the wife gets out of control the husband should be willing to work and have some means.
LOL. Yet another way of men shirking their responsibilities. Ok seriously... kinda makes you wonder, huh.

Did you ask your Rabbi?
I think it's perfectly fair for a husband to give over his punishment to his wife - as long as he's willing to take hers.

(And no, you can't switch back after the first contraction.)
That's an interesting way to look at it - giving someone else your punishment. I look at it more as responsibility than punishment (although that was the origin). I don't think it's fair or reasonable to ask women to take on the jobs of being the breadwinners and raising children and running a home. I think it's too much to ask for - no one is superhuman and something has to give. I think it's important to be able to have the time and energy to raise your own children. Of course, every case is different and people have to know what works for them. But I think it's possible that many women may be pressured into a situation that is too much for them to handle.
the question is if the woman have the right to asked thier husband to spent his time in kollel.

most of the "Kollel guys" that i know want to get out of there sooner than possible. for somebody who don't like to sit the whole and studying Talmud it's a hell of a place. they're afraid to tell their wives that they hate to learn. (in the same time that the wive is afraid to tell him that she want's him to stop learing...)

on the countary it their own fauld, who asked them to pretend as a "fiena bochur"
Anon1-Well starting a marage as a kolle couple is quite nice, not that I am able to speak from experience.
But I wasn’t talking about that type of Kollel life at all, I meant long term Kolle families.
I’m not sure it mlatters if the wife agrees, in effect she’s still absolving her husband from his punishment.

Anon2-I agree that it’s definitely a factor, and going against the grain (in real life as opposed to blogging), is very tough.

Kasamba-see Social worker’s comment

Social-I agree, if she can handle it then it’s different, otherwise it’s up to the man to take up the responsibility.

Frumgirl-Nah I didn’t as it’s not really a sh’eila for me, I was just wondering.

Genendy-Well said!

Mata Hari- Finally someone who sees what I’m trying to say, but if the origin was a punishment I believe it still is, why would it have changed?
True there was no ‘Torah’ then, but meforshim often bring down that Adam, Avraham and others learned Torah before the giving of it at Sinai.

Anon3-Well everyone ‘pretends’ to be a fine bachur, at the dates it’s the time to peel of some layers of the disguise.
I guess communication between spouses would solve a few problems in that area, of course that’s easier said that done..
once again, you have to blame 'the system'. In some circles it pas nicht for anybody not to be in learning upto and after marriage, at least for a while- so if at the shidduch stage the girl said she didnt want a learner or the boy said he wanted to work right away, the marriage would never go ahead. Its easy to be outside those circles and talk about being strong, but almost impossible from within, plus the strong element of brainwashing. Most times, especially where there arent wealthy parentsb behind them, I think the girls just don't fully comprehend what they're taking on.
Prag, you're right to bring this to the forefront and Socialworker is right on the money (I guess that's why they pay her the big bucks!) Even the Chofetz Chaim worked for Parnassah and there was no shame in that.

I got a phone call in the Shidduch office the other day from a mother asking for a 'modern' boy for her daughter- I assumed she meant TV, cinema etc.. she said, no she wants someone that works instead of sitting in Kollel. Since when is that called 'modern'?
loved Genendy's comment - lol

i have no clue as to an answer -
but it's an interesting question!

my thoughts -

since TORAH was given for MEN to LEARN- and the responsibilities of CHILD REARING to WOMEN...

THEN the means of SUSTENANCE should technically be something that is acquired without too much difficulty... because there isn't much time left for it...

so WHAT would THEN be the PUNISHMENT in this case?

perhpaps the 'punishment' is 'lack of clarity' in 'seeing
G-d' in our daily lives -
it's hard for us to really make ourselves trust in Him the way we are meant to

and so the REAL punishment is 'lack of BITACHON-
and THAT makes providing
for one's family - an ardurous, backbreaking and scary venture..
and therefore a punishment..

hmmmm - does that make any sense...?
kasamba unfortunately this labeling in our society extends to shidduchim - modern means not learning in Kolel. I actually have full respect for those guys that go out to work, yet get up early for minyan go to work, have a shiur in the evening and are also able to assist the wife with the family. Such people should be made an example of and admired and respected.
Kollel is not a factory producing plant.
Jemima-You’re rights easy to criticize as an outsider.
My post however, was not so much a criticisms of the people in the system as I was trying to point out how unfair it is.
Women were not punished with the need to labor (pun intended).

Kasamba-It’s been so for awhile. Now if you think that (some) learners do not watch Tv etc..? they’re just lousy at hiding their dvds.
Now redt this fine intelligent mother a fantastic smart, gentle working boy!

It makes a lot of sense, thanks for this very insightful thought.
If anything answers my query on this matter, yours will definitely be one too seriously consider.
Anon answering to Kasamba-I agree, Torah im Derech Erets(both meanings)are the ones I look up to.
thanks prag!
that feels good -

i remember reading that the punishment of eating from the eitz hadaas was that confusion gained a foot-hold and reigned - as opposed to the beautiful clarity there was before -
therefore the resulting lack of bitachon, etc..
the only - thanks :)
Genedy-I shoul've written it before, but I thought it was a great comment as well.
Thanks for posting.
Eh, no problem! Thanks. :)
The midrash tells us that before giving the Torah to us, Hashem offered it to all of the other nations. Before deciding whether or not to accpet it, each of the nations asked what's in it. To the yishmaelim, Hashem said it says you can't steal, so they rejected it. To the children of Eisav Hashem said, it says you can't kill, so they rejected it. To the kollel guys, Hashem said, it says you have to work six days..... they too rejected it.
I, too, have been seeing this issue popping up in many blogs- and from what I can see, it seems that there is a problem in that many men really aren't cut out to learn full-time. They're not scholars, they don't really have the burning desire to learn full-time- but they don't know what else to do, they haven't been trained to do anything else, so they just go to Kollel and that's it.

Another issue I see is the money issue- that many kollel husbands expect financial help from their parents or in-laws. What happens when these families can't afford to help? The wife has to work AND take care of the kids, and/or financial help from the poor parents- this picture just doesn't seem right if the husband isn't the kind of guy who should be learning full-time in the first place.

And what about the Rambam, who was a doctor AND a scholar? He seemed to have his priorities straight. Why not learn AND work?

Very interesting way of looking at this, Prag- with the whole "punishment" question. Very interesting!
prag, you are completely on the nose with this one. WHY SHOULD A WIFE HAVE THE BURDEN OF BOTH???? great analogy. very interesting how you showed us from the begining how a man should work. I know there is an inyion for a guy to learn but thoses men are the exception, not the majority. I dont really understand why it has become a pressure to learn. ANd the wives surrender out of pressure as well. The wives dont CHOOSE it they have no choice. If they dont marry someone like that they feel look down upon. sad sad world.
I agree with exSem,Kasamba, SW/FM, FrumGirl,Genendy, Mata H and Chavera.

Disagree with all the anon comments (cuz they are anonymous)and with TOWIK.

Man, it's great to join a conversation so late. I get to post a comment with out having to say anything fresh..LOL

Great post BTW
easy to disagree
can you pinpoint why?
okay, maybe i'm missing something, not being ffb and all, but whatever happened to men who learn and work? surely, i would think that a woman who has the burden of raising the children and the burden of working to make ends meet, probably never even has a moment to just catch her breath. shouldn't this be recognized and changed, even a little, by the community?
A frum-it would be a supreme irony to state that those who learn Torah the most, rejected it, but well it could’ve been.

RR-This is really sad, some of these young men would have so much ambition but anything else is forbidden and considered a waste of time.
Besides the Rambam, many Gedolim of previous generations we make Hishtadlut for Parnassah as well.
I often wonder why they are not an example?

Chaverah-It’s true that many women don’t really get other options.
How unfair…
I’m glad you understood I wasn’t just trying to ‘hack’ on the Kollel sytem, I was intrigued on this subject based on the passuk.

Almost Frei-Thanks for stopping by and joining, albeit late, the discussion.

Bec-It definitely should be, and you mustn’t think that all orthodox men spend their days learning, many do in fact work, some really hard.

YY-Hi YY, what’s new?
towik that was an amazing comment, very insighful
Great discussion....
and lol at genendys comment.

What if someones a workaholic...?
Is that making a mockery of Gods punishment?

The Torah is comprised of Halacha and Hagadda..The only part of the Torah that we should be basing our actions on is Halacha.
The fact that working is a punishment is now a working order..its not a commandment it is what it is...but we dont base annything tangible on it.
Would you say that having an epidural is spitting in the face of the punishment for women?
I have something new to add....
I've read somewhere on this topic that a true kollel learner WORKS on his Torah learning. That is what he labors on. He works tireless day in day out to understand that blatt gemarah to find that answer etc. learning and trying to find clearity (which is the real punishment- that man can no longer see things with clear vision as Adam was able to in Gan Eden ) thats his "sweat on his brow".

That doesn't mean he can't bring in some money too by tutoring or leining on shabbos or something like that. A kollel mans job, his work, is sitting and working out and laboring over that blatt gemarah.

Also, I think that a big part of the wife being able to handle it,is if she's seen it in her home. If she grew up in that environment then she understands (more so) exactly what it is she is signing on for.

The bottom line is that, if the wife is able to handle it (in every way) and he is honestly sitting and WORKING on his learning then, kol hakovad- that is a beautiful life where the wife gets FULL sechar for helping and supporting her husband in Torah learning.
Just learn from Rachel, R' Akiva's wife.

on the other hand, I personally agree with anon when he/she wrote:
"I actually have full respect for those guys that go out to work, yet get up early for minyan go to work, have a shiur in the evening and are also able to assist the wife with the family. SUCH PEOPLE SHOULD BE MADE AN EXAMPLE OF AND ADMIRED AND RESPECTED".
David-Interesting comment, but not a good example, epidural does not punish the husband instead of the women. Unless he hates her of course…

Shopaholic- Interesting view, as I wrote at the very start of the post, if someone does that seriously (with labour) then I admire them.
Personally i believe that a kollel guy that gets married and knows he will be in kollel for a while has a big issue with his kesuba being signed at his / her wedding. Its a fat open lie that he will be supporting when in fact he will not.
Interesting post, but I think that Bec's comments are quite on point: Why is it not possible for a man to work as well as learn? That being said, you know that I also think that women should be allowed to do the same. Our laws do not prohibit us from learning and working, as women, quite the contrary. For me, this is why the these laws must be interpreted in the context of the time when they were written. It was entirely possible for there to be a strict division of labor at that time, based upon men doing certain tasks, and women others. Now, life is too complicated, demands too many, and even in the Jewish communities, keeping up with the Cohens is an issue many must deal with face on.
Here's a cute joke I just read:

A Jewish girl brings her fiancé home to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out about the young man. He invites the fiancé to his study for schnapps.

"So what are your plans?" the father asks the fiancé.

"I am a Torah scholar," he replies.

"A Torah scholar," the father says. "Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she's accustomed to?"

"I will study," the young man replies, "and God will provide for us."

"And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?" asks the father.

"I will concentrate on my studies," the young man replies, "God will provide for us."

"And children?" asks the father. "How will you support children?"

"Don't worry, sir, God will provide," replies the fiancé.

The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father questions, the fiancé insists that God will provide.

Later, the mother asks, "How did it go?" The father answers, "He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I'm God."
Look back thruout the ages, there were many great rabbis and tzadikim who wouldent let themselvs live off kollel like charties, they went and made sure to work themselvs.

On the other hand every city has to have 10 batlonim, who sit and learn all day, so I dont think everyone should just go and get a job, but willingly putting your livelyhood into tzedakas hands should not be the norm.
Barbara-Of course women are allowed to work, but changing time or not it’s my opinion that men have a bigger responsibility when it comes to providing for the family.
I also beleive that women in general have better instincts when it comes to raising kids.
Well for me it's also hard to understand why women choose THAT life. Even though we are not religious my mother-in-law is and with her second marriage she is a kollel working wife. For her it's an honour that her husband "just" studies. Well in her case I don't mind she earns quite well and has all her children out of the house. But for a mother with ? number of children, household, raise the kid, where in G-d name does she take the time, strenght and willingness to make sure that somekind of income is around. I do not think that this is fair by all means. No mather if she choose it or not, maybe she did not have any other option. And anyway where is the young generation heading to. Poverty is raising with all the young religious men besides yeshiva not making any other education. Unfortunately many rabbis encourage that. Just a few decades back most of the religious men had a secular education and were in the normal working industrie.

BTW if you're interested in the wedding of Mia I have it on my post!
The real-I agree we need some learners, future Rosh yeshivas etc…
But as you said, the norm, or a must even for those who’d rather work, that’s an issue.

Head over eel-It’s a problem and it’s frightening to envision the financial status of many young couples in the (near) future.

I’m very curious about Mia’s wedding!
The burden of a kollel wife? Are you kidding me? The kollel wives never really make enough money. Usually her parents are supporting the kollel and his wife? If you are from lakewood, you would know that...
Anon-I'm not, so that explains it, but it's not that only the children of wealthy parents go to Kollel, in many cases the parents of either spouse are unable to make a significant contribution, in which case the Kollel stipend and the wife's earnings are all the couple have.
you dont have to be consider wealthy to recieve aid from your parents
No but parents who give have to own something before they are able to support a couple.
There is support and then there is help.

Two different things.
Kollel men sustain the world. It's in our interest to support them, not only our SILs but in general. What then of "our income"? Well, we don't have an income. We've received a deposit for Hashem to be used for His purposes, not our personal lifestyles. All those new cars in our neighborhoods were bought out of our daughters' dowries.
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