| As They Grow |

Earner or Learner?

Rabbi Greenwald's column in Issue 1011, advising a mother with a daughter in shidduchim to clarify whether she wants a husband who learns or one who works, generated significant reader feedback. Two letters are presented here, along with Rabbi Greenwald's response.

When the Honeymoon Is Over

Baruch Hashem, I am a married 33-year-old father of several children. I believe that I am a yerei Shamayim, I prioritize my learning... and I am also a physician. Gasp!

Twelve years ago, at age 21, my wife was looking for a working young man. (The column kept referring to “boys” and “girls,” which I believe needs to stop. If your kids are old enough to get married, they are now called “men” and “women.”) She was redt to me, and the rest is history.

I am thankful to Hashem and my parents for the high school and yeshivah they sent me to. I never got the impression from my rebbeim that working was a concession to learning. There were two options presented to me. Learning full time was one path, and being a frum, working baal habayis was another path. I believe those are the only two valid options for anyone, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of frumkeit, or what “lifestyle” you want. As the column states, a man has a chiyuv to learn every single day. Period.

The column stated that there are “two kinds of boys and girls that can sustain a life of Torah learning,” the first being “those who are infused with a love and dedication for learning.” There are many young families who fit that description, my own included. The column implies that only those fully immersed in the beis medrash day and night have a true love and dedication to learning.

I believe the frum working balabos who gets up early to learn before Shacharis and is out late at night learning after Maariv, who brings a pocket Mishnayos to learn during lunch, shows his own love and dedication for learning. And his wife is equally committed, and shows it by sending her husband off to learn while she cares for the children. Exactly like the revered kollel wife does.

The second kind of couple described in the column is “those whose families can financially support them.” When parents are blessed financially, does that automatically make the young man a talmid chacham? Are you more worthy of “the zechus of learning Torah day and night,” just because you come from wealth?

I believe that every group has a handful of yechidim who are real illuyim, really belong in the beis medrash. When those guys get married, it is understood that they will live in the beis medrash, and they will fortify Klal Yisrael from that makom. They deserve to be supported, because they are supporting Klal Yisrael.

However, they are far and few between. The vast majority of guys are not cut out for long-term learning, whether or not a parent can write a nice monthly check. Many of my full-time learning contemporaries live in a gorgeous modern dirah, their wives wear expensive clothing, push the fancy stroller, and choose between the “various types of sushi” mentioned in the column. I, along with Rabbi Greenwald, bemoan the fact that many of today’s kollel couples live fancier lifestyles devoid of the mesirus nefesh that once separated the men from the boys.

Is such a couple more “worthy” to be living that life? Are the boy’s Gemara skills any better than mine? Is her commitment to tzniyus and raising a home founded on Torah any stronger than that of my wife?

The young woman whose mother wrote to Rabbi Greenwald wants “the comforts” of a husband who will support her. Since when does a husband who provides parnassah get equated with “comforts”? I personally bring in parnassah, but by no means do I provide “comforts” to my family at this early stage of my career. I am bli ayin hara able to pay my bills, and while I don’t take that for granted, my bank account currently does cover any “comforts.”

When husbands (and wives, for that matter) go out into the working world to provide for their families by paying the utility bills, the mortgage, the grocery bills, why is that frowned upon? My wife and I received years of support through medical school, and as our children were born. That in itself was a tremendous luxury. Our parents were financially able to help us toward our goal — to have a frum bayis, rooted in Torah values, learning, chesed, all the good stuff... and the ability to be financially self-sufficient.

The column suggests that learning full time is the ideal, and anything else falls short, whether that’s “only” learning for a year or two, or working. The Rambam was a physician! He was mechaber sifrei halachah, and he had a job. He didn’t have a rich father-in-law paying his bills. Do we consider him any less?

To the parents of this “girl” (remember, she is a woman!): When you ask, “Who is paying the rent and heat and electric?” you are on the money, pun intended! I’d like to add some more expenses to this list: Groceries! Clothing! Day care! Tuition! You have every right to be concerned, and I commend you and your daughter for wanting to be financially responsible. Just because your daughter doesn’t want to be a kollel wife does not detract one iota from her avodas Hashem. She has her head on straight, and knows that life costs money, and would rather her husband pay the bills than swipe Tatty’s credit card.

A true ben Torah has the ability to be mekadesh Sheim Shamayim in the workplace. From my own personal experience, everyone is respectful of frum hanhagos. “Oh, he doesn’t eat with us during lunch,” “he doesn’t shake hands,” “he’s friendly and appropriate, but never uses vulgar language,” “he says a prayer when he walks out of the bathroom.” These are all comments that I’ve personally heard from non-Jewish co-workers. Working men (and women) have the zechus and chiyuv to be mekadesh Sheim Shamayim wherever they are.

Why is there this stigma that working guys have unfiltered smartphones? My smartphone is filtered. I take offense to the assumption that a “working guy” is a modern, unaffiliated boor who isn’t machshiv Torah. I am living, breathing, proof that this is false, and I’m not a yachid. Most of my friends and neighbors are out in the late hours of the night, shteiging hard.

The Gemara in Chagigah 5a describes how Hashem cries daily over the people who should be learning Torah, but don’t, as well as for the people who shouldn’t be learning Torah, but learn nonetheless. While it is admirable for someone to lead “the kollel lifestyle” for two, five, or ten years, those doing so should not adopt a holier-than-thou attitude toward those who are working.

One line in the column says this young woman wants a “ben Torah… which means he will learn every day, who will respect talmidei chachamim, who has a rebbi, and follows halachah... but who will be working.” The word “but” should be replaced with “and.” “But” implies that it’s a chiddush for a ben Torah to be in the workplace. The sefer Ben Torah for Life by Rav Aaron Lopiansky, featured in these very pages, explicitly states that a young man entering the working world is fulfilling ratzon Hashem by providing for his family.

I agree with Rabbi Greenwald that it is incumbent upon all young men and women starting to date to do an honest self-assessment about what they want.Of course a young couple must be on the same page, or they will be miserable. Additionally, it is incumbent upon every shadchan, parent, and rebbi to be open about life’s financial responsibilities, and to do a better job at clarifying that while learning short term is a beautiful way to begin a marriage, there needs to be a financial plan when the honeymoon is over.

A Young, Frum, Working Balabos


Who Is Refined?

I am a fan of Rabbi Greenwald and I look forward to reading, dissecting, and discussing his articles at my Shabbos table. We have been privileged to host his seminary students in the past, and it’s clear he’s a real expert on educating young women.

However, I was taken aback — and personally insulted — by the following statement in his last column: “It is difficult to find a young man today who is working who has managed to remain refined and a yerei Shamayim.”

Apart from this being stated as fact, when it clearly isn’t, I would like to know by what criteria Rabbi Greenwald decides who is “refined” and who is not. And how does he judge a yerei Shamayim? By the cleanliness of his fingernails or how many sedorim he keeps? Are only long-term learners yirei Shamayim?

All my sons earned semichah from some of the most eminent rabbanim in the world. All chose not to sit in kollel; they married quickly, and chose careers that enabled them to provide for their growing families. They all learn either b’chavrusa or in a shiur —or both! — in addition to working long hours to bring home paychecks.

In addition, they are all baalei tzedakah and baalei gemilas chasadim. They daven three times a day, they keep to the highest standards of kashrus in food and behavior, both in and out of the home. They are respectable. They are refined.

Their wives and children show them the utmost love and respect, as do others in their communities. When we visit, we are constantly approached by local rabbanim who tell us how wonderful they are and how much they contribute... not just financially, but also by setting a good example.

We are in the middle of a shidduch crisis, with no end in sight. Rabbi Greenwald’s point of view, as I understand it, is that choosing a working boy is setting up a tzadeikes for a life of “unfiltered smart phones” and disappointment. (How does Rabbi Greenwald know definitively that only working boys have unfiltered smartphones? He should take a bus from Bnei Brak to Jerusalem some time and see what bochurim are watching “shtil a’heit.”)

Surely it’s better for a girl to follow her heart and wishes, and if she wants a non-kollel lifestyle, to search out a husband who suits her? If not, this attitude is certainly not helping solve the shidduch crisis!

Look around. We can all name incredible professionals, businessmen, and electricians (like one of my sons), who live exemplary frum lives, who raise their children l’kavod Torah, and whose generosity helps support kollel families. Stereotypes that constantly demean and belittle working men are actively discouraging achdus and respect for every Jew. The message I received is: You’re not worthy if you’re not in kollel.

I still don’t understand why a working man is not refined. But I can tell you this: I couldn’t be prouder of my hard-working sons who constantly give back to Klal Yisrael.

A Proud Father of Working Sons

Dear Readers and Responders,

Your criticism, your questions, and even your angst are a brachah. They give me a chance to rethink, reword, and clarify some points that were not clear enough.

Yes, the “ideal” is to learn Torah day and night, always. The mitzvah of “v’hagisa bo yomam va’lailah [you shall toil in Torah day and night]” is not a new idea. It is not a fanatical goal. It is the dream of every Yid who knows why we are here in this world and what we can take to the next world.

Saying that with the full force of emes does not mean that it is accessible to every person all the time. Let’s think about this ideal with real honesty.

It is also ideal to never speak a word of even avak lashon hara, to respect our parents as we respect Hashem, to never hurt, insult, or disrespect any human being. It is ideal to know all of hilchos Shabbos in the finest detail, to say 100 brachos every day with kavanah, and to never allow a stray thought to intrude during davening or a bad thought all day. It is ideal to wear tallis and tefillin all day long and to love every Yid as you love yourself. It is ideal to never get angry and to do every mitzvah with simchah and a full heart.

Anyone who can do any of the above will clearly be living the ideal life. And considering that learning Torah is greater than all the mitzvos, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, and many others lived the “ideal” in the fullest sense of the word. We are not all living the ideal, and it would be foolish to think everyone can reach that level.

When Yehoshua said to Moshe Rabbeinu, “My master Moshe, destroy them” (because Eldad and Meidad were prophesying although they were not among the 70 elders), how does Moshe Rabbeinu respond? “U’mi yitein” — literally, “who will give,” or “If only all of Klal Yisrael could be neviim.” It is the same “Mi yitein” that HaKadosh Baruch Hu said at Sinai — “If only their hearts were with them thus, to fear Me and to keep all of the mitzvos always.”

That is ideal. But Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu bemoaned the fact that the world in its present state does not meet the ideal. The mefarshim explain that only after Mashiach will the ideal be realized, and it is to that end that Hashem and Moshe were referring.

So, from the time of the Golden Calf in the desert until today, and now: Wanting a working husband is not a concession, and working is not a bedieved but a responsibility that every husband signs off on when he gives his wife the kesubah. Not everyone can live the ideal. Someone who truly wants that will require an enormous dedication of heart, soul, and body.

Here I want to clarify an important point. I made it very clear that I was not speaking about living the “kollel lifestyle” when I was describing that dedication. My words were:

Limud Torah is not a “lifestyle”; it is a commitment of love and dedication, surrender and value. When a lifestyle gets uncomfortable, we tend to make changes. When a commitment gets challenging, we work harder to refresh, renew, and get chizuk. [emphasis added]

This is true whether the learning happens in a full-time kollel setting or in kevias itim, set times of learning that are prioritized above all else. I was not questioning the real learning that takes place in shuls and batei medrash the world over by serious, dedicated balabatim, pillars of our communities and supporters of Torah.

These letters from A Young, Frum, Working Balabos and A Proud Father are heartwarming proof that Rav Shach’s vision — working men who know that life without Torah is not real life — is coming to fruition. That does not mean that such young men are easy to find. As a principal of a seminary, I can tell you that when a girl is looking for a man who will be working immediately after the wedding, who has left yeshivah even at the age of 19 or 20, with the expectation that he will still be holding on to real learning and remaining a ben Torah and a yerei Shamayim — such a young man is very hard to find.

A boy who finishes high school and a year later is in college and then the workplace — I will state this with conviction, from personal experience — he will invariably not be a yerei Shamayim or ben Torah. The occasional exceptions to this do not refute my statement.

This is where the conversation about “lifestyle” begins. I spoke about the challenges facing the average young man who starts adult life without the grounding of a few extra years of learning after high school and a year or two after his wedding. In such case, even if his learning is only a lifestyle choice, he benefits from every year in a protected learning environment. Yes, these young people are living the “kollel lifestyle,” with unlimited access to their father’s credit card; but would their lives be so much more productive if they were not in yeshivah, under the same conditions? I’m not sure.

Where the “lifestyle” choice goes wrong is when it becomes so comfortable and easy that the couple loses sight of responsibility. When the young man’s learning is not in fact serious, when the parents cannot afford to support but do so anyway due to social and peer pressures of the lifestyle, we face difficulty.

The mention of unfiltered smartphones was not intended to cast aspersions on working people who do not actually have them, but rather to raise a question as to why a young man leaving yeshivah almost automatically gets one. The question is only stronger when a young physician tells us that he has a flip phone.

Once again, let’s be honest. The “working world” is far from ideal. Suffice with taking a quick look through the advertisements in any weekly to see the superficiality and endless search for luxury and comfort in the frum world.

In summary, with great respect to every Yid who grasps that learning Torah is the single most essential, nonnegotiable element in our lives: The kollel system allows many young men to continue in a learning venue with sincerity and commitment for an amount of time that is usually necessary for building a solid foundation in life.

There are bookkeepers, accountants, CPAs, and actuaries, all wonderful people who can never be judged for their investment or achievement. But anyone who says that everyone should be an actuary is a fool. When a girl is looking for her husband, she needs to clarify for herself where she stands on this spectrum of goals and commitment, and then find the partner with whom she can build a Torah life.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1015)

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