A cursory reading of the Jewish "populist media" (blogs, letters to the editors of newspapers, etc.) would seem to indicate that there are a plethora of "crises" plaguing the Orthodox Jewish community. From truly important subjects such as child molestation and shidduchim to the downright silly (remember the "Gedolim card crisis?") we seem to abound in crises.
Yet, after giving the matter some thought, I began to wonder how many of these situations are truly a crisis caused by external forces and how many of them are self-inflicted.
An example of a crisis from an external force would be the case of an agunah (in the classic sense, not the modern one). A woman whose husband went on a business trip and never returned is in a crisis situation which was caused by an external force -- her husband's disappearance.
The shidduch crisis, on the hand, is either entirely self-inflicted, or else greatly exacerbated by our own actions. It's a crisis that doesn't have to be -- if we wanted to change our behavior, we could either eliminate or greatly ease the problem. I'd like to take a look at several of the "crises" that face the Orthodox community and see whether or not there really is a true crisis, or one that is caused by our own behavior.
Since I brought it up already, I might as well start with the shidduch crisis. There are those who state that the shidduch crisis is mainly a demographic one – that there are simply more boys available for marriage than there are girls. That may be the case, or it may not. To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve seem some people who try to explain the problem mathematically, but I’m not certain that the math holds up to scrutiny. (To be fair, I’m not certain that it doesn’t either – I haven’t given the matter a really close look.) However, even if the problem is largely demographic, there is a great deal that we are doing to exacerbate the situation. We “check out” our prospective dates looking for the silliest of things (do they have plastic tablecloths on Shabbos? How would you describe the girl’s communication skills? Loafers vs. laces? How heavy is her mother?(!!!)) Instead of checking for pertinent matters (is s/he a kind person? What type of sense of humor do they have? Is there a family history of genetic illness [yes, IMHO, that’s a legitimate question]). We have singles that don’t go on dates because the prospective date doesn’t score a 100% on some odd, quirky test that they develop. And, heaven forbid they should even *consider* someone from outside their immediate grouping. And the matter is only getting worse, not better. We’ve come to the point where there are organizations that are *offering money* to people who set up boys with girls who are older than they are.
What we need to do is to make it *easier* for people to date each other, not harder. If Rabannim want to ban something, they should ban silly questions as a pre-date condition. Seriously… there are certain questions that a prospective employer cannot ask (in the
Conclusion: Possibly self-inflicted. But even if it isn’t, we certainly are doing a great deal to exacerbate the situation.
I was originally going to lump this together with the Parnassah crisis, but I decided against it, as I realized that they really were two separate issues.
I’m not going to spend a great deal of time on this because, quite simply, I’ve never run a school, have never tried to run a school, and aside from the very basic generalities, don’t know what it takes to run a school (from a financial standpoint). All I know is that my kids’ schools charge a *large* amount for tuition. I know that the school has to pay the salaries of the staff and employees. They have to either pay rent or for infrastructure. They have to maintain various forms of insurance. Books, computers, furniture and other supplies do not magically appear – they cost money. Schools have very real expenses.
But do we need so many schools? I’ve often wondered if schools could combine operations and save money in the process. Do we truly need twenty Bais Ya’akovs in
So, is it possible to combine schools? For example, do we need 10 girl’s schools in
Of course, there is also the issue that in many sectors of the frum community, education today is not what it was twenty years ago. Extracurricular activities, services for special needs children (disabled, learning impaired, special education, etc.), education in computers and other “modern” subjects that didn’t exist years ago, and probably half a dozen other extras that I missed have all driven up the cost of education. And while it is true that the state probably pays for a portion of these, I have little doubt that the schools cover a fair portion of it as well. Since today’s schools provide far more (in terms of services) than they did years ago, it makes sense that tuition costs will rise faster than the rate of inflation. However, to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this post – I don’t really know enough to make an educated guess as to what it really costs to run a school. These are just my thoughts on the matter, and I could easily be well off-target in my assumptions. I invite readers who do have education backgrounds to chime in.
Conclusion: I don’t know if this is truly a crisis or if it is self-inflicted. But I think we can probably do more to alleviate the situation.
As anyone who reads the “Readers Write” section of the Yated knows, there is a parnassah crisis. People simply cannot seem to earn enough money to support their families in a (minimally) middle-income lifestyle. Part of the problem could certainly be attributed to the “Tuition Crisis” listed above. Requiring parents to pay $8000 (on average) per kid for six kids will put a crimp in the budget of all but the wealthiest of people. But there seems to be more to the problem than that.
Part of the problem, IMHO, stems from the fact that higher education is devalued and discouraged (and, in many cases, outright prohibited) in large segments of the frum community. While one certainly can do well without a college education, the fact remains that it is far easier to earn a larger salary with a college education (and even more with an advanced degree). While it is true that correlation does not prove causation, there is still an undeniable correlation between the amount of education that one has and the amount of money that they earn. By cutting off higher education, you are limiting large sections of the population to low salaries. Couple that with the larger than average size families that are common in Orthodox families and you have a devastating combination.
By prohibiting higher education, we are, in effect, forbidding people from entering certain professions. Law, medicine, dentistry, therapy, nursing, accounting, finance and many other professions are utterly impossible (usually with good reason) to get into without a Bachelor’s degree at minimum (and, in many cases, an advanced degree). By discouraging (or outright prohibiting) people from making the investment in these fields, we are preventing them from reaping the rewards. In addition (and I know this is a bit off track), we hurt ourselves as a community by telling people that they cannot enter these fields. We *need* frum doctors, lawyers, therapists, etc. We *need* professionals who fully understand the unique religious needs of our community. If they truly had their way and there were no frum doctors, etc., we’d be a much poorer community – and I don’t mean monetarily.
Of course, there are some sectors in frum society that go beyond this. Not only do they think that secular education is bad, they disagree with the entire notion of working for a living to begin with. They feel that it’s better for a man to sit and learn all day rather than work. As such, they put extreme pressure upon men to stay in beis midrash and learn, even if they aren’t really suited to the task. This is especially true in
Does this mean that I think that everyone should go to college and pursue a Bachelor’s (or advanced degree)? Of course not. Not everyone is suited for college. In addition, some people can make a nice living without a higher education. However, not everyone can do so – and, in fact, I would argue that most people can’t. There are only so many plumbers, for example, that a community can support.
Does this mean that I think that no one should learn in beis midrash? Of course not. But extended learning in beis midrash should be restricted to those who show an aptitude for it, are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for it, and who want to become the gedolim of the next generation. Just as in the secular world, where entrance to Ph.D. programs are restricted to those who have the aptitude to succeed in the field, who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for advanced intensive study, and who are prepared to spend the rest of their professional lives in the fields that they are studying, so too we should make the same restrictions in the yeshiva world. As a community, we should work to produce people who are poskim and experts in halacha. But we should only be supporting those who are actively in pursuit of that goal, not people who are merely benchwarmers in yeshivas.
Conclusion: Largely self-inflicted.
I hadn’t counted on this post being so long, and there are still several crises that I haven’t even gotten to address yet. I’ll have to save those for a future post.
What do you think? Do you agree with what I said? Do you think that I’m totally off base? Let me hear from you.