Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Sheni”: Reflections > Economics and Workplace > Men Are from Mir, Women Are from Intel

Men Are from Mir, Women Are from Intel

Turning women into primary providers does not merely affect the male self-image. In many ‎cases, it also creates significant gaps between spouses. The working world of women, often a ‎place of growth and development far away from life at home, can create a real chasm between her ‎and her husband.‎

Elul 5782; September 2022

In her important article on the “Kollel-Man’s Masculinity Crisis,” Shira Carmel focuses on the Charedi man, painting a picture in which a significant portion of Charedi women set out to be providers while men remain ensconced in a Torah world that also involves the reversal of traditional family roles. Carmel describes this reality as a “utopian dream of the feminist movement,” one in which men successfully take charge of the household while women “enjoy” long hours at work. The sad descriptor she chose for this reality was “Harsh Labor” of the type that Pharaoh imposed on the Jewish people, “2020 Style.”

Her words inspired me to reflect on the situation in the Kollel household. I understood that beyond the change in women’s status, which (contrary to some) I actually view positively—female empowerment without the ideological baggage that threatens the very institution of family and home—the growing gap between the couple is a point we need to note. In a Kollel household, especially when the woman has attended an academic institution, a deep chasm often opens between the male and female sides. This is not just due to the challenging status of Charedi men, the focus of Carmel’s piece, but primarily because of a disconnect between spouses. Working women live in a different world from that of their husbands. This divide could have a dramatic effect on the Charedi family unit. In the following lines, I wish to focus on this growing gap and its ramifications.

At the outset, I should mention that my primary trigger for writing this piece is my own experience. I was raised and educated in Litvish institutions, and during my high school years, I fervently beseeched God to allow me the privilege of marrying a Torah scholar who would study Torah night and day. Ultimately, my dream became a reality. I leave daily for a taxing yet rewarding job and support the household with my income. In the lines below, I want to share the challenges this reality invites—a reality I know from my own home and from those of multiple friends who share the privilege of establishing Torah homes centered on full-time Torah study.

 

Developing an Egalitarian Mindset

The situation whereby women go out to provide while men are ensconced in the study hall can create a development gap between the sexes. While not without its challenges, Charedi academia has flourished in recent years. But according to the data from the last annual Charedi report, some 70% of Charedi students are women who turn to academic studies (often right after marriage) to boost their chances of finding quality employment or out of personal interest and growth. By contrast, men with academic training are far fewer, and those who enter academia often do so only later in life.

This disparity between the sexes makes an impact at home. Charedi women, raised in traditional homes and graduates of Charedi seminaries (high schools), are suddenly exposed to academic articles, acquire the tools of critical thinking, and radically expand their horizons. In a nutshell, they become students. They acquire new knowledge and skill sets and receive positive feedback independent of community norms and customs. The more studious and brighter of them will finish courses with top marks, celebrate the completion of a BA with honors, and sometimes proceed to graduate degrees.

Coming out on the other side of the academic track, the mindset of a Charedi woman is much changed. No longer the innocent girl from the Charedi high school, she feels empowered and emboldened by her academic success, which she achieved irrespective of her being a woman (boys and girls go through the same academic journey), and, certainly, irrespective of her being a Charedi woman. Without a day’s exposure to gender studies and feminist ideologies, she internalizes an egalitarian mindset very different from that of her high school days. The creeping thought of “what else didn’t they teach me in school” starts to jostle her everyday comfort.

After completing a special ed track at her Charedi seminary, a friend of mine received an MA in communication therapy from a recognized university and is now a qualified and respected practitioner. On one occasion, she told me of the complicated challenges she faces at home as a woman with a deep western education. These include internal convulsions at hearing her husband speak with her sons about issues related to women’s status (“is that really how you look at me?!), harsh sentiments at family gatherings when she and the other female family members are expected to serve at the table while men continue to enjoy their lively conversations, and second thoughts over the boys’ education track that lacks even a modicum of general studies.

We are affected by our surroundings. Academic methodologies, critical thought, ideas of equality, and exposure to feminist academic discourse—all these do not simply pass over our heads

We are affected by our surroundings. Academic methodologies, critical thought, ideas of equality, and exposure to feminist academic discourse—all these do not simply pass over our heads. The girl who comes out with a university degree is hardly the same seminary girl who fell into line with the social arrangements placing her within traditional roles. Neither is her relationship with her husband.

 

Woman as Authority

A consequence of the change women experience is their attitude to authority.

Over time, after getting her degree and starting a job, a woman might find herself promoted, leading a team, and commanding a range of authorizations, sometimes over large projects and budgets. At work, she has the final say. She delegates authority, knows every detail and is proficient in the world of finance, marketing, public relations, and more. Yet, upon returning to home base, she is expected to follow her school teaching, accept her husband’s authority, and ask his opinion and advice. What if she believes she knows the answers herself? And what if she feels she doesn’t need her husband’s advice in medical, financial, or even educational matters?

The gap between the world of work, where women sometimes reach impressive achievements and stature, and the modesty and humility expected of her in traditional education, can, over time, bring about complex challenges for the Jewish home.

Our woman is not a rebel. She has no problem with her husband making Kiddush on Friday Night or taking the halachic and educational decisions at home. But, somewhere deep down, she is frustrated by the gap between her workplace persona and her persona as a wife.

The woman I’m speaking about great up in a “good home” and studied at an “excellent seminary” where she was taught the honor and status she must afford her husband. Her life circumstances led her to study in academia, and now she is in proud possession of two degrees. She was promoted at work, is responsible for time-sensitive seven-figure projects, and manages a not insignificant number of workers who follow her instructions and seek her advice. Facing the gap between her and her husband raises a real challenge. His life, between home and Kollel, is eminently simple, juggling between household chores, taking kids to school, and doing (more or less) the same thing in the same Torah institution for multiple years, with no sign of promotion and development in sight.

Our woman is not a rebel. She has no problem with her husband making Kiddush on Friday Night or taking the halachic and educational decisions at home. But, somewhere deep down, she is frustrated by the gap between her workplace persona and her persona as a wife.

At the same time, it must be noted that the picture above describes a possible but not necessary case. Doubtless, there are many glorious Jewish homes where the woman is successful at work while her husband makes great strides in his studies, and the communication between them is wonderful. A successful accountant once told me how she often consults with her husband on client cases, knowing that he is blessed with a rare gift for analysis. Yet, alongside such homes, the current reality can also lead to other cases, such as that described above.

 

Secular Women and Holy Men

Beyond the employment gap noted above, we should also take note of the religious-cultural gap present in many Kollel homes. The routine of the Kollel student generally includes the home, the Torah study hall, and the journey between them. That’s it. Your regular Kollel student will not own a smartphone, will not spend time surfing sites, and will not read literature beyond the community norms. His sources of general information and news will come from the Charedi Press, in its narrow varieties.

She is exposed to stories and reporting from perspectives outside of the Charedi community, and sometimes distant or even opposed to a Torah perspective

By contrast, the Charedi woman might be part of a general (and primarily secular) workplace, where she encounters colleagues from different worlds daily. She uses a computer, and though it might be filtered, she still encounters an array of perspectives and narratives. She is exposed to stories and reporting from perspectives outside of the Charedi community, and sometimes distant or even opposed to a Torah perspective. She might surf news sites and be exposed to a variety of YouTube clips. Recommendations of movies and TV series pass by word of mouth, and anyone who claims there isn’t a significant number of Charedi women with smartphones is lying.

It is somewhat awkward to mention this, but many Charedi women are fully familiar with Israeli and international TV shows and can engage in deep conversations about celebrities with their colleagues at work. This is indeed a reality that is hardly pleasant, but denying it means planting our heads in the sand. To many secular people’s surprise, Charedi women, wives of Avrechim engaged in full-time Torah study, often demonstrate acquaintance with the secular world barely less than their own.

How does this encounter between the Charedi woman and the secular world affect the Jewish home? What challenges does it present to Charedi couples, in which the wife shifts between WhatsApp groups, websites, and Hollywood movies while her husband—sometimes, though, of course, not always—is ensconced within the four cubits of halacha and holiness? Can we claim that the world of content that women are exposed to remains her exclusive domain, or do their influences seep into the lives of the couple and the home?

I should stress again that this description is not true for all or even for most Charedi women; I do not wish to give the impression that the phenomena above are universal when this is surely not the case. But, it is undoubtedly true that many homes must deal with the complex challenge brought about by the encounter between Charedi women and the secular world.

 

Dreams and Cruel Awakenings

Men and women whose life is close to the descriptions above find themselves at an impasse. I am not referring to extreme cases that ended in divorce, God forbid. Instead, I refer to women who dream of building a Torah home and making a decent living but who ultimately encounter a reality that takes them to places they never dreamed of when first embarking on married life.

This reality is somewhat reminiscent of the grave problem faced by the generation before the Holocaust, that of Sarah Schenirer, founder of the Beis Yaakov movement. Schenirer saw how Jewish girls were drawn to the world of non-Jewish education and culture while the Torah and its mitzvos were abandoned to men alone. She sought to imbue Torah and fear of God in these young women, ultimately leading to the great project that continues to educate hundreds and thousands of female students worldwide, including myself and my friends.

The challenges of the previous century, those that Sarah Schenirer encountered, were related to girls before marriage. Such issues continue to exist, but the challenges I wish to highlight in this piece are those of gaps emerging between men and women after homes have been established and dreams—pure, sincere, and elevated dreams—realized. Children born into such homes absorb the challenges and ramifications, growing up with a career mother and a Kollel father who helps with the house chores and takes the children to school. Is this bad? For certain activists, it might sound like the realization of a feminist utopia. In real life, it can be a tough reality to live in.

I do not have a quick fix for the situation. Though a trend is underway of more Charedi men going to work, this is clearly a process that will take much time to gain momentum, and I am hardly qualified to weigh in on the matter. As noted, my own husband does not work; he is in no hurry to leave the study hall, and I, certainly, won’t be the one to pull him out.

Within the current circumstances, I can only offer a tip: establishing regular Torah-study sessions between husband and wife—a home-chavrusa, if you will. This joint study will allow the family’s husband to shine, bringing his field of expertise to bear on the couple, and allowing the Torah itself to light up the home spiritually. Moreover, it can enable a deep and meaningful dialogue among the couple and serve to resolve some of the tension between husband and wife—between Mir and Intel. Just raising the issues and airing them out, even if no concrete solution is in sight, can bring succor and well-being to tortured souls whose dreams crash before their eyes on the shoals of harsh reality.

***

In a certain sense, I hope that this article will be valuable in a similar vein to the study sessions I just mentioned. Though it does not offer magical solutions, I believe there is substantial value in putting up a mirror that reflects our reality and allows us to observe it with an eye to improving the situation. I hope that every couple who identifies themselves in these lines tries will be inspired to seek balance and harmony within their unique relationship and iron out the creases where the balance was disturbed. May we continue to inspire ourselves and our children with the admiration of Torah and its students, even as we realize that a return to high-school innocence is neither possible nor desirable. And may we fill our homes will love, friendship, and peace.

 

Photo by Hoang Nguyen on Unsplash

14 thoughts on “Men Are from Mir, Women Are from Intel

  • Yes, there are challenges. But as the Chazon Ish and other leaders decided, the Avrechim and their wives are the front line in our campaign to remain loyal to God and to stay afloat in a sea of secularism, promiscuity, moral relativism, and so on. The way of privates is to pay a cost, and there are plenty of these, but we should not underestimate the value of the “Torah world” that Israel has established.

    • Kool-Aid. We drank it in Bais Yaakov. Worked in a yeshiva with a kollel. Got wiser…

    • Didn’t you write in another comment that women have become prohibited to their husbands in the workplace?

  • Interesting piece, I just wonder how widespread the phenomenon is. I do know Kollel couples in which the wife continues to highly respect her husband, even though she is more “senior” than him in ways of the world etc. Every social system has its plusses and minuses, and the system of women being the main breadwinners is no exception, but wondering if this is one of the main issues.

  • Excellent title and great & thought-provoking article. Thanks.

  • I don’t know, the bottom line is that there are way too many avreichim who are just not made for full-time Torah study, that’s the true root of all these issues, and unless the system changes (where the default is ful-time Torah for years and years) nothing will improve. Havruta time for couples is sweet, but not even a plaster on this gaping social ill.

  • I think this article, while raising a valid point, glosses over the many benefits of Kollel couples. If the man is learning well, I think most do, his study makes him vibrant and content, and the entire house dances with his Torah study. The family is spiritually uplifted, the Torah is always the focus, and overall there is much joy. Perhaps I’m idealizing, but this is the case for many.

  • The issue Mrs. Katz describes is self-inflicted. Driving the phenomenon of women heading out to high degrees and high-powered professions is the higher standard of living and “keeping up with the Schwartzes” that has taken Chareidi society in the past couple of decades. When a car, vacations (whether in or outside of Israel) and new set of matching outfits for all the kids every Yom Tov becomes the norm, the family finances have to keep up. The girls with higher earning power (and its accompanying exposure to the secular world) have become more enticing shidduch prospects than a gannenet or a seamstress out of the necessity to fund the now-normal, fancier lifestyle. Living simply has (in broad, generalized terms) become a thing of the past. I speak based on anecdotal evidence, but families in which the wife works part time in a fulfilling job that enables her leave her work in the office and be home in the afternoons for her kids seem to have struck a good balance. Of course, the husband still helps out in the home but the roles have not been entirely turned on their heads. However, this family will, sadly, probably be seen as “lesser” because of its lower economic status.

    • Franny, your comment is on the mark, but will not be relevant for most. There is very much a “race to the top” for young Haredi women in terms on careers, and this shows no signs of abating, propped both by the school-taught ideologies and by the free-ish Shidduch market. Sometime down the line, couples can, of course, strike their own balance, but a broader re-set will only come when the mindset, the education, and the way of life goes through real change.

  • While haredim would like the world to believe that haredi means fear of the A-mighty, in reality it is fear of just about anything and everything that might put them at a remove from their insular society – things like English, math, military service, sitting on a bus next to someone other, saving money by not overspending for a ‘superior’ kashruth, engaging in conversation with a member of the opposite sex, or simply holding down a real job.

    All this is fine and well. One may build as many walls around themselves as they wish so long as it does not cause harm or pick the pockets of someone else. Yet all of this smacks of a supreme insecurity, a lack of self-trust, a belief that every crutch is needed in order to maintain their ‘frumkeit’.

    Part and parcel of this system is the axiom that women are inferior to men and that it is inconceivable that a wife or daughter would ever presume to match or exceed any man in thinking and decision making. How many times have we heard that women can’t learn Gemara because “data nashim kalot” women are bit light in the gray matter department.

    Yet the one unsealed hole in the litvish-haredi dyke is that of allowing their women to acquire formal educations in order to get high paying jobs. Between the belief that no woman would ever presume to challenge her husband, and the enfettered greed for the good life while sitting jobless in a kollel, a haredi man will allow his wife to confront the real world on its own terms without her ever coming to question the axioms of haredi life. Surely being congenitally too feebleminded to learn a blatt Gemara presumes that anything she might learn in the real world would be child’s play. Hence, she would return after a long day’s work ready to be the voiceless drudge who worships her learned husband.

    If haredim want their world to continue as it was, the one thing they better start doing is keeping their wives chained to the menial jobs available within the community. But I don’t expect this to happen any time soon. Looking at litvish bochurim and kollel men it is amply evident that for many, if not most, self-sacrifice is not high on their list of priorities.

  • another band-aid to a serious problem. I must say I was amused by the accountant utilizing the advanced analytic skills of her husband. Undoubtedly there are such situations to be found, someone who would have kollel potential in Slabodka or Vilna. However, that number is a miut sheaino matzui among the myriad who have adopted the newfangled lifestyle of lifetime learning. I wonder if a kollel student would consult his wife with a Ph.D. mathematician to understand the subtle error in the famous table built by Rav Heller ztl in his peirush on kinnim? (If you have good mathematical or logic skills, I will explain Rav Heller’s innovative use of combinatorics and his very subtle error. Ask the editor for my email.)

    the issue raised is real, if needs to be addressed more fundamentally. Every generation from Rav Saadyah to Rambam to the Rav to Rabbi Sacks has brilliantly adapted the philosophy of their era Le”hagdil Torah ve’la’adirah. Sadly, that is entirely not even conceivable in today’s Hareidi world.

  • I. wonder how many of the commentors here are Haredi – some comments are quite vitriolic and sound more like a rant. You have important, legit things to say, but I can’t hear them when they are rife with disdain.

  • “His life, between home and Kollel, is eminently simple, juggling between household chores, taking kids to school, and doing (more or less) the same thing in the same Torah institution for multiple years, with no sign of promotion and development in sight.”

    Perhaps the last sentence illuminates the real source of the problem. Namely, that for many kollel is more a way to stay in a safe religious environment than a way to grow in Torah. Perhaps more of a system of exams and promotions when earned would be in order. Or at least some notion that if one is not growing in Torah, one ought to leave and support the family.

  • My Rav has long been of the opinion that bachurim who have learned mathematics have a large advantage in learning over those who haven’t.

    The Rambam learned all there was to know of science in his time. This doesn’t seem to have made him intellectually poorer.

    R’ Shlomo Zalman understood how electricity worked at an expert level.

    The world of gemara has always been one of applying principles to concrete cases and extracting principles from concrete cases.

    Perhaps the mistake here is thinking that the standard learning lifestyle should specifically exclude being aware of how the natural world works, and should be purposely divorced from the concrete realities of finance and the difficulties of making a living?

    I put this forward as someone who sees a lot of value in spending a few years in yeshiva just learning, to the exclusion of (nearly) all else.

    In an alternate world where the standard avrech understood graduate (or undergraduate of their minds are less suited) level mathematics, material physics, electrical engineering, and microeconomics; was aware of most professions in the country and how they ply their trade and interact with one another professionally, hopefully all helping to give him more insight in his Torah study-

    In such a world, avrechim would not be “stuck” in their studies, there would be outside sources to advance their understanding of the world and allow them to use their broadened perspective and sharpened wits in their studies

    In such a world, women would of course still be more “worldly” in their niche (as was always true), but overall their husbands would feel erudite and profound to their wives.

    Of course there would still be yechidim who are suited to pure torah study, but even they would benefit, as many of those surrounding them, who in reality aren’t able to be valued their peers, would have different perspectives benefiting from deeper understanding of reality in some respects.

Write a Comment

Please write down your comment
Name field is required
Please fill email