Facing a generation without strong and inspired mothers
he following story is true. Only the name has been changed. We’ll call her Rivka.
When Rivka returned from seminary about 20 years ago, she was passionate about teaching. In every interview she was earnest: She believed Klal Yisrael needed energetic, inspirational teachers who could connect with their students and she thought she could be that person. She had been inspired by her own teachers, and she wanted to pass that on.
But the market in Brooklyn was saturated. No one wanted to hire a single girl with no experience. Rivka considered herself lucky to land a job teaching “English,” hoping that with experience she’d eventually find a job teaching limudei kodesh. In the meantime, she found plenty of places in the chol curriculum to inspire her students.
Rivka’s salary was $7,500 for the entire year. When the school ran into financial difficulties mid-year, they stopped paying her first, since she was single and therefore “didn’t need the money.”
Rivka wanted to marry a ben Torah for the same reason that she wanted to teach Torah, but with teaching salaries — even limudei kodesh salaries — as they were, the two seemed to be mutually exclusive. At the end of the year, Rivka consulted with one of the gedolei roshei yeshivah in America. If she left teaching, would Hashem hold her accountable for wasting the gift He had given her?
The rosh yeshivah replied, “If you have a chush for chinuch, you will use it for your children.”
Rivka left chinuch and took an office job. Within a few years, she was earning 50k plus benefits. Her dream of marrying a ben Torah came true, and Rivka likes to say that the chinuch of her kids does take every ounce of the creativity, inspiration, energy, and “chush” she once believed she had — the fulfillment of the rosh yeshivah’s words.
That’s Rivka’s story.
But it’s also our story. Because in a generation where parnassah credentials are crucial for a young woman’s “shidduch rèsumè,” and where families are reliant on the income the woman of the house brings in, women simply can’t afford to teach. When Rivka returned from seminary there were no jobs, but now, there are no teachers.
You know the feeling you have in a nightmare, when the monster is coming closer and closer and your feet won’t move? That’s where we stand with chinuch habanos. We can see the problem, but we are frozen.
But that is not whole story.
The factor identified above — girls need well-paying jobs to support bnei Torah — has also spawned other unintended consequences.
We have become successful at teaching girls the value of their husband’s Torah role. It’s taken for granted that girls will seek bnei Torah to marry. But have we, at the same time, taught them the value of their own role? Girls do not recognize the value and imperative in their roles as mothers, so they relinquish it in order to support their husband’s Torah.
At the same time, and to the same degree that we emphasize our girls’ roles as supporting their husband’s Torah learning, we must reinforce our girl’s value of their roles as mothers. Maybe we assume it’s intuitive or self-understood. Perhaps it would be intuitive and self-understood, but the girls abdicate their mothering roles so early on and are so intensely pressured by parnassah responsibilities that the natural instinct may be suppressed and sometimes consciously denied.
When a Jewish girl sees no loss in her children spending full days at daycare so she can work, that is a failure of her chinuch.
Without inspired and inspiring teachers, soon we will see a new trend: girls who value neither the role of their husbands’ Torah nor their own roles as mothers.
The challenges of our world are unique and changing rapidly. The only fortress is the home. The woman is the home. But what if the woman is never home?
The future of Klal Yisrael has always rested on the mothers. We are facing a generation without strong and inspired mothers. I miss Sarah Schenirer.
So with vacation finally here, I want to say thank you to all our girls’ teachers. I know how hard you work. I know how little you’re paid. I know you didn’t have to make this choice. You make sacrifices for our girls, every single day. You make sacrifices for the entire generation.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 767.