The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Poverty: A Parent's Lament

I received the following comment to my second post on poverty:

As college educated centrist Orthodox Jews, we fully expected our children to go to yeshiva/seminary and then get professional or vocational degrees so that they could support their families and fully participate in Jewish life (pay tuition, shul dues, give Tzedaka, buy a house etc.)The joke is on us and others like us - the Yeshiva system steered them away from our rational thinking and convinced them that Kollel and being stay at home mommies, dependent on parents and in-laws was the correct hashgofa. 10 years into this chaos, these smart not-so-young people -with growing families -can't see their way out of their desperate financial situations. We have slowly weaned them off the parental payroll, but there are no adequate pay checks to pick up where we left off. The only way the system will change is if the Yeshivas and Seminaries point the youth on to a path of education and careers with reasonable earning potential - and remove the guilt associated with college and secular careers. In our view, the real winners in Jewish life are the young people that have what to give to their families and communities, not just take from others, and still make the time for Torah learning every day. Who's going to pay tuition, pay for orthodontia, make weddings, etc. for their children?
A few thoughts....

1. I have seen this scenario play out time and time again. Professional people raising kids who are convinced by the Yeshiva/Seminary system that the only way to have a meaningful life is to sit in Kollel. The children are not really prepared to make the sacrifices called for by such a lifestyle and, instead, end up sponging off parents. The stress and pressure put on parents is apparently of no concern to the Yeshiva world that promotes this hashgafah.

2. So, what's a parent to do? My approach is de-programming from an early age. One must explain to his children in the clearest terms that if they choose this lifestyle they will be poor (or, if they know you won't leave them hanging, that their children will be poor). Explain that you've done your fair share and it isn't in your plan to work until you're 80 years old so that you can support them. Explain that being poor is not as good as having money. Being poor creates a huge amount of stress and, often, dysfunction. Explain that, notwithstanding what the seminary says, one can lead a very fulfilling, meaningful Jewish life by marrying someone who works hard, gives back to the community and is kovei'a itim in learning. (I am firmly of the view that, after 120 years, we will find out that the One Above values this kind of lifestyle more than that of the child who learns full time but lives on the back of his parents**).

3. At the end of the day, grown up children have to make their own choices. Our avodah, our responsibility, is to teach them what's right and try to raise normal children (and then hope that they marry someone normal).

(** A Note: There are exceptional children who do belong in bais medrash and who the community should be supporting. If we get rid of the 80% who don't belong, we will be able (and privileged) to support them in a b'kavodik way).

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  • At 2:40 AM, Blogger Fern Chasida said…

    Excellent post! Whenever my 13 year old daughter starts saying maybe I'll marry someone who... I always answer "As long as you can support yourselves." I hope she's listening.

  • At 9:41 AM, Blogger tnspr569 said…

    How about sending the kids to schools, seminaries, and yeshivot that actually advocate self-sufficiency, hard work, and education? Such schools do exist. If kids are internalizing these "Kollel-only" messages so easily, perhaps some parenting methods need to be changed.

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger ThePeoplesChamp said…

    What a great line, MO, I applaud you!

    "Explain that being poor is not as good as having money."

    As for the rest of the post, I think if your sage advise would be followed, we would have a lot of unemployed Mechanchim!

  • At 1:15 PM, Blogger PsychoToddler said…

    I have been doing that from the start. Still, living where we do, we have virtually no options vis a vis the hashkafa of our local educational systems.

    I've complained to various boards in the past that we need to give our kids a stronger basis in secular education so that they can do well in the workplace. It's fallen on deaf ears.

    I've worried that my kids are already at a disadvantage compared to even public schools with regards to useful computer skills (ie not just hacking game servers).

    Why can I program in HTML better than my kids? It's ridiculous.

    If the frum education system wants to steer kids into "kosher" careers, that's fine. Channel them in such a way that they can support their families (and local institutions) and still be shomer shabbos.

    But this head in the sand approach is self-destructive.

  • At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Jeremy said…

    Which yeshivot are you talking about? None that I've had dealings with...

  • At 5:19 PM, Anonymous The Hedyot said…

    > My approach is de-programming from an early age. One must explain to his children in the clearest terms that if they choose this lifestyle they will be poor (or, if they know you won't leave them hanging, that their children will be poor). Explain that being poor is not as good as having money. Being poor creates a huge amount of stress and, often, dysfunction.

    As sensible as this approach is, you need to know that the yeshivas deliberately counter this message. When I was in yeshiva, they very clearly told us ideas which were meant to repudiate any ideas we were hearing from more moderate circles.

    They downplay the negatives of not having enough money and talk up instead all the evils of those who are financially independent.

    They talk about the importance of minimizing materialism and how true avodas hashem requires one to sacrifice, just like R' Akiva and Rachel did.

    They especially talk about how it's important to do what hashem wants even when it goes against what other people (like, uh... your parents) might be telling you is right.

    They talk about how some people might be very fine people and be shomer mitzvos to the best of their ability, but a real eved hashem and ben torah has to devote himself fully (i.e. full time learning) and not compromise to the false gods of financial prosperity and American ideals.

    Parents need to know that in plenty of yeshivas they deliberately undermine any hashkafic message that parents might be trying to inculcate in their child. Explaining your view to your kids might be nice, but if their primary spiritual role models are telling them something else, your attempts at molding them won't stand a chance.

  • At 6:36 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…

    the hedyot

    I don't disagree. My friends and I all talk about whether it's better to send kids to a more moderate school and work to keep them shtark, or to a more RW place and work to keep them from going over the egde. We have chosen the former approach. Many of our friends the latter.

  • At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Criticalmass said…

    How 'bout educating older kids that having babies that they cannot support should be an embarrassment and is disgraceful.

    I have found that there are many more organizations and entities looking for money handouts these days. Everyone is more broke than at any time in recent history that I can remember. At the same time, I see many families who have at least parent in the workforce having more kids. I also see kollel parents doing the same- the wife is pregnant on a regular basis, and she is supposedly the one who is working!

    What the hell is going on here? There are so many heterim for the use of birth control (ok, you gotta ask the right Rabbi, but its not hard to find one...) but I doubt the option of using it is not explored often enough.

    How can a person live with themselves if they bring children into the world that they have no ability to support?


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