Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark
Why Can’t We See that the “Jewish Home” is in Crisis?
Five thousand seven hundred and seventy-two years ago, Hashem created woman to be an “aizer kenegdo,” a help-mate, to her husband, to bear and raise children and to bring up the next generation. This was no small task by any means. The woman has performed this task for 5772 years with a different emphasis and in different forms during different eras. Until roughly the beginning of the 20th century, the woman’s role was clearly defined as the homemaker.
Our Yiddishe Mamme was not only the creator of the next generation, she also served as the conduit of our mesorah (tradition) and of Yiddishkeit, causing it to flow midor le’dor (from generation to generation), passing on the torch of Torah.
This was all wonderful until the Jewish woman was exposed to the outside world and its influences – in as far as the role of the woman is concerned – and she wanted a taste of the same. This exposure caused her to look down on the yeshiva bochur (student) and to perceive him as an archaic “lo yutzlach” (good-for-nothing), a relic from another age whom she would most certainly not wish to marry. And so she began drifting away from Torah.
Frau Sarah Schnierer, a”h, stemmed the tide by creating the Bais Yaakov school system, with the teaching of Torah for all Jewish girls at the core of its curriculum. She taught them what their role in the world was to be and what it means to be an ovedes Hashem, to serve Hashem in accordance with His will. She taught how the woman can feel fulfilled, that the raison d’etre of woman was to become an aizer kenegdo, a support, to a husband by managing and directing their family and being the akeres habayis, the homemaker and anchor of the Jewish home.
Sarah Schnierer was so successful with the methodology of Bais Yaakov that our gedolim credited her with the greatest innovation of her time, as it saved Yiddishkeit for all future generations. Frau Schnierer was given such accolades because Bais Yaakov uniquely instilled into its young charges the infinite value of building a bayis ne’eman beYisrael, a home true to its inception as an undiluted, proper Jewish home based on Torah ideals. The young woman could accomplish this through her aspiration to marry a Ben Torah who would dedicate his life to Hashem and to His Torah and mitzvos.
The mesiras nefesh (selflessness) of the Bais Yaakov graduate to build a bayis ne’eman beYisrael knew no bounds. She not only created and nurtured a home true to Torah and mitzvos, she also instilled in her offspring the desire to build their own such home, notwithstanding the insidious influences of the all-encompassing world that surrounded her.
And if this phenomenal and extraordinary accomplishment of this aishes chayil (capable woman) was not enough, she went on to seminary, showing an indifference to university and to a “career track.” She became more accomplished in Torah u’mitzvos in order to do a better job as a wife, mother, homemaker and as a true akeres habayis in accordance with our mesorah and to follow the will of Hashem.
Our bas Yisrael was so dedicated to a Torah way of life that she would take educational courses in seminary so that she would be able to teach children other than her own in the ways of our mesorah and tradition.
However, she never lost sight of her goal – to have a husband, a head of the household, who was steeped in Torah. To achieve that end, above and beyond her work as a wife, homemaker and mother, she became a sort of “super mom,” undertaking to teach part time in order to absorb at least some small amount of the household financial burden so that her husband could devote himself as long as possible to full time learning in kollel. Without her help, this would have been an impossibility. She was able to become this “super mom” because her teaching was only part time – three or four hours a day and only 180 or 190 days a year. Her dedication and drive for Hashem and His Torah made it all possible, as this was a labor of love – an extension of her deeply felt values and beliefs. Otherwise it would have been an impossible task.
With all of this, she was literally saving Torah learning. Yeshivos and kollelim exist only because of her mesiras nefesh. The Jewish women, our neshei chayil were literally saving Yiddishkeit.
But all of this is history.
During the past half-century, we have seen the world around us change in an ever-so-subtle, sinister and menacing way – and at such a fast pace that we don’t have the time to stop and reflect on where it is taking us.
The western world has created a situation where to be mistapek, to be satisfied with what Hashem wants for us, does not seem to be possible any longer. We live in a world in which extravagance has become necessity – despite the fact that tuition alone for a family of five children necessitates an extra full-time job. And what about housing and the need (I underline the word need) for a large family to have two cars? The list of growing expenses is unending. Someone must earn the money to pay for all of this. At the same time, keeping up with the emotional and physical needs of children in our present-day society is not getting any easier.
Sadly, the accomplishments of yesterday’s “super mom” are insufficient for today’s needs. No longer can families get by with the akeres habayis preserving a Yiddishe mishpacha (true Jewish family) while helping to get by with a part-time teaching job. She is called upon to extend herself even further – at what sacrifice?
Torah ma tehei a’leha – what is going to become of the global growth of Torah that the past few generations have been so fortunate to experience? Are we perhaps blinded by the wonderful explosion of Torah learning into every nook and cranny of our lives, whether it is the multitude of shiurim, the daf yomi, the unbelievable growth of our yeshivos and kollelim the likes of which we have not seen since Bavel (Babylonia)? Do we tend to forget that all this only became possible because of the aizer kenegdo?
Because of the situation in which we find ourselves, both frum homes and schools are trying ever more to instill into our daughters the chashivus, the supreme importance, of Torah learning. I think the schools are doing as good a job as was done in Frau Schnierer’s time. However, our girls are now finding it increasingly rare to find teaching jobs; the market is quite saturated. Even when they do find a job in teaching, assuming that they are capable of being educators, the pay is extremely dismal, and certainly nowhere near sufficient to sustain even a frugal, kollel lifestyle.
Yet they are not giving up and they continue to search for any means of employment – in addition to their duties in the home – that will allow them to continue to help support a learning lifestyle in these trying times of excessive materialism. They seek employment in other fields of endeavor with greater earning power, even if it means attaining at least a B.A. degree, or even an M. A. These are not always attainable in a “kosher way” that is reflective of our lifestyle.
Additionally, many areas of employment require full-time work, which translates into a new reality as far as the home is concerned. The wife enters a career that brings her into a new environment which may not be appropriate to her way of life. Though she may start her career for the Torah’s sake, she will often continue it long after her husband leaves kollel. Even though the wife’s motives were certainly at one time leshaym shomayim, it seems that the western culture and lifestyle has crept into our lives and has taken on a life of its own.
It has been heard again and again that the kollel style of life is the cause of our present day family crisis. Perhaps this is only being said because it is easier to stop kollel than to give up life’s non-essentials, which have caused the home problems in the first place. We don’t seem to want to make a 180 degree turn and change our lifestyle.
However, I maintain that thanks to our noshim tz’idkonyios, our righteous women, we have Torah. They saved Klal Yisrael at least twice: “bishvil noshim tzidkoniyus nigalu avosaynu miMitzrayim” – Chazal tell us that we were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of our women folk. Torah was then saved again during the 20th century – also in the merit of our women folk, as we explained.
I don’t believe that they are able to do it a third time – certainly not by exchanging the “Jewish home” for a career.
This crisis is taking place primarily because we have allowed the western lifestyle to creep into our Torah homes. We must therefore look for solutions in our relationship with the general society and hope and pray that our children will not, chas ve’sholom, learn from us by choosing the new lifestyle over the Torah lifestyle. Both cannot be maintained. They are a contradictory. The proof in the pudding is that the pressure in our homes cannot be alleviated by our wives. Except for the very few who are significantly gifted, the average woman cannot and certainly should not be expected to do it all.
Bais Yaakov teaches to marry the best ben Torah that one can find, be moser nefesh for a Torahdike life style, but never to cross the “red line” by choosing a whole career outside the glorified one you were given by Hashem.
We have always asked and continue to ask our Roshei Yeshiva, gedolim and dayanim every type of shayla (question), imaginable. It seems that the shayla of how to provide for a home in a balanced way has been swept under the rug. Not enough of our yungerleit (young men) are asking these types of questions. I have observed over the past fifty years that those who have asked this personal shayla, have received a satisfactory answer which suits their personal situation in terms of the needs of their Jewish home.
I think it is the responsibility of the chinuch community to inculcate into our bnei Torah that in order to achieve nafshi choshka ba’Torah (“my soul hungers for Torah”), it is very important to ask for and receive proper direction. We should really say nafsheinu (plural) choshka ba’Torah, as wives are the major components in the shayla (question). This type of shayla cannot be answered with a “one size fits all” type of answer. It must also be handled in an individual manner relating to the circumstances of that particular family situation.
If we are successful in encouraging our bnei Torah to ask these types of questions, then our Torah homes will no doubt become more emotionally and spiritually healthy.
Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark is t he Dean of Bais Yaakov Bnos Raizel Seminary of Montreal.