Restoring Balance in the Jewish Home
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die… I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected: denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed… When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here is one of the most common five: I wish I didn’t work so hard. This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners.
– REGRETS OF THE DYING, Bronnie Ware. Republished on aish.com
In the future, this sentiment might become the number one regret for our working mothers, too.
“Working mothers” have been commonplace for years. Whether the work was for the family’s financial need or for altruistic reasons, however, Mom’s hours were usually shorter than a full day. When the children came home, Mommy was there to prepare supper or to help with homework, or just to lend an ear to the children so they could share their day in school.
I vividly remember my children playing “Mommy and Totty” with “Totty” putting on a hat and saying, “I have to go to Yeshiva to learn” or “I don’t have time now, my chavrusa (study partner) will be here any minute.” The pseudo-mommy answered, “That’s O.K. ‘cause I have so many papers to grade!” How proud I was that they were growing up in an atmosphere of learning and teaching. This classical family paradigm is fading at a faster pace than ever anticipated.
Our high-school girls are well educated by our strong Bais Yaakovs. They absorb and integrate into their life a strong commitment to marry a “learner,” and they are ready, and dare I say more than willing, to accept the role of breadwinner. I, too, fit into this category when I got married: wife teaching, husband learning and a life that revolved around the yeshiva schedule. After six years in kollel, my husband accepted a position as a Rebbe yet I continued teaching; what started as a need had evolved into a “calling.” We embarked on a new partnership, and continued teaching despite the low pay.
While teaching was never a very high-paying job in those years, it had never plunged to today’s dismal lows. Following a family member’s salary, I discovered that after 14 years of teaching, and being considered an unusually effective teacher, she finally crested the $20,000 plateau, while her husband – in his first year of teaching – earned $35,000! Speaking of fair! Aside from the unfairness of female salaries being so low, the real tragedy is in the serious consequences: just a minimal number of young ladies are now turning to teaching as a career.
While on a personal mission to promote teaching, I asked the principals of high schools and seminaries to have at least one or two sessions on the topic of becoming a teacher. To my dismay, one distinguished leader of a major complex in Israel, which houses half a dozen seminaries, flatly refused my request to promote the teaching profession. “If you pay peanuts,” he said, “you get monkeys.” Of course, he was not disparaging the teachers who are teaching now, despite the low salaries. He just couldn’t see himself promoting teaching because of the often dismal pay.
So, where have all the potential teachers gone? They’ve chosen the therapies, accounting, computers and now nursing. Why? Higher pay – but it comes with a heavy price. While it is true that the standard hours for the above work choices pay at least double or more what a teacher receives, they necessitate a full 9-5 day of work away from home. This forces mothers to relegate care for her children to the hands of strangers, and too often they are not even Jewish. Is this the way to raise a family, year after year?
What must happen to change this growing reality?
When Rav Aharon Kotler, זצ”ל, instituted a kollel and encouraged others to do the same, it was because he recognized the great need to build Torah scholarship in America. It was a social imperative. He was so right! It changed the world of Torah learning. Who could foresee that thousands of talmidim (students) would yearn to join this kollel? Nevertheless, as today’s wives do not have an alternative to being the breadwinner of the family, they are left with minimal time to be the akeres habayis.
As a certified family therapist, I deal with a fair number of “newlyweds” in their second or third year of marriage. It is the wife who presents the issue: she gets up in the middle of the night for the baby, and then gets up early to catch the bus to New York for her well-paying accounting job. She is also the one who rushes home to prepare supper, but only after stopping at the grocery store. “I didn’t know that supporting the family was going to be so hard,” she says. “But I do want him to continue learning in kollel!” How she wishes that her husband could be there to help with putting the kids to sleep.
So again, what must happen to change this generally complicated reality of women being the breadwinner in the marriage?
Night seder in most kollelim, though not mandatory, is very well attended, nonetheless. Kudos to our eager learners! Is there some way to encourage the husbands to consider at least some of this time as family time, thereby helping the family and wife immensely? Homework and putting to bed can become the routine of both the husband and wife. What a welcome help it would be!
Is it permissible to indulge in some wishful thinking and roll back time to once again have the practice that after the first 3 or 4 children it might be time for the husband to find a part-time job? He can still attend kollel the full morning or afternoon and bring in a salary from that job. That might enable the wife to reduce her hours and be there when the children come home from school, and possibly even pick up the little ones from their play group.
If you roll back the years even more, there had been a time limit to how long an average young man would stay in kollel. In my husband’s time, it was 5-6 years. I understand from my oral research that there are yeshivas which now have a kollel limit of 8 years. Students then go to work while, of course, continuing to learn regularly.
Before I end, I would strongly support the notion of a mini-course being given to high school seniors, or at least to seminary students – both here and in Israel – about the halachos and proper outlook when entering the workplace. There are many pitfalls out there and it behooves us to prepare the girls properly. A suitable curriculum can be designed by Torah Umesorah.
I strongly support husbands learning full time for a number of years. I strongly support mothers working part time, whether it is out of need, altruism or personal desire. I strongly recommend that the mother should have a work schedule which allows her to still be a role model to her children בדרך ישרא-ל סבא (according to the time-honored ways of Israel)!
As it says, מרבה תורה מרבה חיים: מרבה ישיבה מרבה חכמה, פרקי אבות פרק ב משנה ז’ – The more Torah, the more life; the more yeshiva the more wisdom (Pirkei Avos 2:7).
Mrs Chaya Newman is the Director of Torah Umesorah’s National Council of Yeshiva Principals for Women.