Klal Perspectives, Vol. 1 Issue 2

With considerable pride and collective exhaustion, the editorial board of Klal Perspectives announces the publication of our second issue, devoted to the changing dynamic within the Orthodox Jewish family.

Readers will instantly grasp that it is women who have been disproportionally impacted by adding “breadwinner” – in whole or in part – to all of the other line-items in their resumes. Thus it is appropriate that women contributors to this issue outnumber men 8 to 5. Once again, contributors represent a wide swath of contemporary Orthodoxy, center and right. Once again, readers will be pleased to see discussion of important issues that are not monolithic and monochromatic. The sheer difference in style – in perspective – speaks eloquently of the talent that we possess as a community.

It would be foolish to represent that the writers could speak openly about everything on their minds. Discretion is still very much in evidence, and should not be surprising. The first step in responsible change in the Torah community is discussion and sharing ideas – not storming the Bastille. Even with writers holding back, the response from readers to the first issue was incredibly positive. Many found chizuk simply in finding diversity of opinion, rather than a party line.
I found Feige Twerski’s submission breathtaking in its courage and honesty. (It seems to run in the Twerski family, apparently extending even to those who marry into it.) I suspect that it will attract a cult-following, even though I can’t figure out how families that are already cash-strapped will be able to free up women from participating meaningfully in bringing home the kosher bacon.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb states the unexpected: remove all financial need, and many Orthodox women are still going to elect to pursue vocations that express their considerable talent and ability.

Debbie Fox focuses entirely on the practical, and is eminently sensible in calling attention to small changes in attitude that are realizable and will make a difference.

I shouldn’t give away much more. Readers are invited to see for themselves, and help continue what we hope will become an important forum for ideas and change within the Orthodox world.

Once again, it is hard to beat a price of “free.”

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9 Responses

  1. Orit says:

    Great, timely topic, great essays. Wow.
    But why are comments closed on KP? Isn’t the idea of this to foster communal discussion?

    [YA – For many reasons, we want Klal Perspectives to be more of a journal than a blog. We will publish selected letters, and hopefully some feedback from the authors. None of the advisory board have time to supervise a blog-like enterprise, even if we wanted. We haven’t fully come up with a time-table for publishing the letters, but BEH it will happen sooner, rather than later.]

  2. cvmay says:

    Where can we read the Klal Perspectives?

    Heard that Rebbetzin Feige of Milwaukee was perfectly on target (as usual) on Women Issues.

    [YA – I linked it in the article. If the link is broken, it’s at http://klalperspectives.org/
    I agree that she is daringly on target, although I don’t see that she has any proposals for solving the economic crunch that drives women into the full-time workplace.]

  3. tzippi says:

    Possibly the biggest chiddush to me was the thought, I think attributed to Rav Shach (I might be wrong, I only skimmed KP and have limited computer access for a week so can’t check it now) that there is a great danger of aiming for mediocrity. I appreciate this, tremendously. But the first round of post-churban “chemotherapy” has created a generation of young men who see things as either-or: one can only be a ben Torah if one is going on the kollel trajectory. We don’t see as many bnei Torah working young men. The median age of our local Dirshu kollel is 40+. I only hope it’s because B”H our community has grown to include many learning centers and options.

    I’m not going to say much about the girls’ side. It’s important that our girls feel they are given options, but all the talk in the world about how much the young women have to cherish their roles as the akeres habayis won’t matter if the boys aren’t concurrently being given their own shmuzen. (And incidentally, these girls are second generation. We need to remind the mothers of all this too. Mine was the first generation who could actually feel a conflict staying home to daven during the yamim noraim, that’s how mixed up things have got. [B”H, never my battle.]

    It’s heartening the discussion is starting, but as so much is going on behind the scenes, and can only be said with great “[d]iscretion”, we parents will just have to continue on our lonely path of being mechanech our children al pi darkam.

  4. David F. says:

    I loved the first edition of Klal Perspectives and look forward to reading this one as well. To me, the lack of comments is a plus because I already know exactly how every single regular commenter on CC will respond so there’s not much to learn from them. More importantly, it forces me to spend more time contemplating the words of the author which were doubtless written with much forethought and contemplation and are worthy of extra deliberation. In the end, I may or may not agree with all or some of what they’ve written, but my perspective and understanding will certainly have been expanded.
    To all who’ve invested so much effort in creating and producing KP – Yeyasher kochachem and may you go from חיל אל חיל!

  5. joel rich says:

    Summary I gave someone who asked: economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources to unlimited demand. As individuals, families and communities we seem to have a problem agreeing on allocation priorities. (but I’m sure David F. knew I’d say that :-)).

    So since there seems to be no stomach for a community wide process to resolve this alolocation issue, it will happen in the usual “messy” way and allow HKB”H to paskin through history.

  6. Ilana says:

    Two issues I don’t think were raised:

    Our society expects women to be available to fill certain jobs – for example, nursery teachers for girls and boys, and teachers and administrators in girls’ schools and seminaries straight through. Many of these teaching jobs can be somewhat part time (at least the out-of-the-house component can be part time); senior administrators generally don’t have very young children. But we couldn’t manage without women, presumably including mothers, in the workforce.

    The disappearing extended family. As several writers pointed out, women have always done more than mothering and basic housework (with an interlude for the middle class in the mid-20th century). I really cannot imagine how one could do any serious spinning or weaving, or laundry at the local riverbank, with an infant, a toddler, and a preschooler underfoot! But for most of history, extended families lived in the same community, or even the same household. The young mother did not carry everything on her shoulders. There are families where this is still true – certainly in Israel it is standard for a young woman to come “home” to her mother after the births of her first few children – but increased geographical mobility and the ubiquitous nuclear family model have reduced the support network of aunts and grandmothers that in some societies is central to childraising.

  7. Dr. E says:

    Having read some of the articles, I would say that some are on the mark, some are bold, some merely try to be bold, and some are downright off-the-mark. But, I guess that is what diversity is all about. But, as a topic, there is a forum of at least giving it a somewhat intellectually honest treatment (unless someone of course feels that the open expression of ideas by both men and women warrants its being put into Cherem.)

    To take two examples, Rabbi Weinreb is spot-on. (He certainly “gets it” and that’s not surprising in light of his professional training, his experience as a pulpit Rav, and his unparalleled scholarship in all of the above.) He understands that there is room to take the role of women in our community seriously, and appreciates the fact that they will add value in leadership and professional roles. The current Bais Yaakov system has evolved in a way that there is no real path for professional fulfillment or leadership. Some may say that it exists in theory, but practically speaking, there is no longer any real room in the Bais Yaakov system given for the possibility of a Ph.D. in Biotech, and Attorney, or Physician. Furthermore, there is even little room for an credentialed Accountant or Financial Analyst, which require less of an educational commitment. The fields that are mainstream and tolerated are skewed towards teaching (in a Bais Yaakov) or towards vocations that are part-time friendly. Furthermore, the permitted work environments in which young women can go are quite limited, often restricted to the frum community. While this might be fine if their incomes were secondary to their husbands. But in the Kollel-era, the income contributions of married women are both primary AND secondary. The result of the limited available options is financial underachievement in the short and long term. And even if a woman can succeed in getting into Finance, IT, Law, or Medicine, there is an intellectual disconnect. This manifests itself in her to play a “permissible” professional (management) role in her company; but, when it comes to a meaningful leadership role in the community, her potential contributions (if represented by certain titles), cause discomfort and are off-limits. Beyond the earnings aspect, Rabbi Weinreb “gets it” when it comes to understanding that the need intellectual fulfillment and individality is not limited to males.

    On the other hand, I feel that a couple of the articles were off off-target, inasmuch as there is too much focus on the challenges that women face in the workplace. This either intimidates emerging young women or discourages them from considering potentially viable professions. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Connecting the dots of causal inference is merely speculative and anecdotal. Of course, in some cases, there is a kernel of truth, but in aggregate this represents an erroneous generalization. Despite the intent of these pieces, there is little by way of solutions beyond being prescriptive. I would have preferred to see references to the young “women” of our community as such, rather than the less-mature nomenclature used. I was also uncomfortable with the tone of another article which seemed to be a combination of objectifying women into a Bais Yaakov box with a related attempt to somehow turn the clock back to the 1970’s (or even to the times of Sarah Schneirer). If that goal were to be realized, then the clock would have to similarly be turned back on the young men’s side to the pre-Kollel era.

    An overall observation is that “Bais Yaakov” has become an end in-and-of-itself, rather than a means-to-an-end. This has no doubt become the case because of “branding” in the community has the only wholesome environment for our daughters. (And many look at the bursting schools as theological validation.) But, there are single-gendered girls schools which have emerged, which are not part of this ideological network. They no doubt struggle with some of the same issues. So, I am glad that an article from someone affiliated with a good example (Mrs. Lerner) is included. This alternative model for women’s education is certainly not immune to other issues, which have to be thoughtfully addressed in their own right.

    The red herring in my mind is all of the multiple and conflicting messages that exist in the Bais Yaakov education for the young women of our community. Academic knowledge; Tzniyus; getting into the “elite” seminaries; shidduchim; dating; marriage; getting a degree, but not going to real college; working; supporting a husband and making money by working full-time; doing all of this within a few years timeframe; having many children; and eventually being able to pay tuition when her kids become school age. Gevalt! Is this prevalent ideological curriculum really one that leads to a manageable equation? Assuming that it is not, who is accountable for the failed outcomes on individual and systemic levels? [A Rav recently pointed out to me that unfortunately, a prevalent middah that has emerged in the BY’s is conformity. Combined with a prescritive posture of often reactive rules, this is not working in the big picture.]

    Furthermore, the “elite” Torah-only (and even those with weak college programs) yeshivas for young men have also become ends in-and-of-themselves. We see this manifested in shidduchim all of the time, reinforced by both Mechanchim and parents as litmus tests for ideological and social acceptability. There is certain sense of triumphalism as to the quantitative success of the Yeshivos because of the numbers in the thousands. As a community, we need to challenge them to articulate metrics of (long-term) success beyond the proud enrollment numbers indicated in newsletters. Transparency and accountability for outcomes are often lacking. If these numbers are indeed so impressive, then we would not be having this discussion of women being forced to traditionally male roles in order to satisfy familial income needs. Honestly, I don’t see buy-in by these institutions to some of the issues alluded to in this edition of KP for both ideological and self-sustaining reasons.

    There are a couple of areas which are glaringly omitted from the articles. One is how adult learning for frum women in the community fits into the equation and schedule. Many women are fixated in the level of Torah understanding of their youth, which is often overly simplistic and Midrashic. While that might help them eventually teach their own children at that level, many women fail to ever develop a more sophisticated adult understanding of Torah–which is a prerequisite of philosophically navigating the world in 2012. For some this might take the form of text based study. Similarly, does some level of Tefillah B’Tzibbur for women by attending shul have a place, and if so, what level of priority is that in the parental responsibility allocation formula? Finally, where does chessed outside of the home fit in? Obviously, chessed should first start at home. As it turns out, many women who do not work outside of the home, feel a dearth of fulfillment from that alone and overcompensate by spending too much time doing chessed out of the house.

    One pervasive “given” that pervades many of the pieces is that Kollel is a non-negotiable for any Torah-centric family. That is troubling and is at the root-cause of many of the challenges that frum women face. Unfortunately, “Kollel” has been equated to the Halachic construct of “Torahso Umnaso”, which is simply not true.
    At the risk of sounding heretical, let’s set the historical record straight about the Yissachar-Zevulun paradigm, as it has been thrown around in recent times indiscriminately to elicit support for a broken system. #1, Zevulun was Yissachar’s brother and not his father or father-in-law. And #2, Yissachar was only one twelfth of the Jewish people.

  8. DF says:

    I ordinarily enjoy Dr. Bill’s comments, but I have some reservations about his comment above. Much of it assumes that all the men in the orthodox world are in kollel. Well, he isn’t, and I’m not, and none of my neighbors are . . . you get the picture. The reality is, the majority of orthodox men are NOT in Kollel. And these men, like men since time immemorial, DO expect to be the primary breadwinners. And I fully support Beis Yaakov’s program in this respect. I dont think it’s healthy, in many ways, for a mother to be a breadwinner on a par with their husbands. Most working men, Jews and non-Jews, are much happier with their wives with more (not to say exclusively) domestic responsibilities. If this means Beis Yaakov has to “turn back the clock”, as Dr. Bill says, that’s perfectly OK with me.

    I agree with him that this problems with respect to kollel men, who depend on their wives for income. This does not mean the whole Bais Yaakov system has to suddenly start mimicing modern feminism, which has failed so spectacularly, in order to make life easier for the Avreichim. No, the other way around. It means the yeshiva system has to change, and start producing men ready to assume their responsibility as the head of a household.

    [I’ve not read Rabbi Dr. Weinrib’s essay that promoted Dr. Bill’s comment. I have a lot of resepct for the Rabbi, but he is a product of his time, and I often think his viewpoints too liberal for me. To the extent Dr. Bill’s comment mirrors that of Rabbi Weinrib, I respectfully disagree with him too.]

  9. sima says:

    I passed this link to some of my friends and family, and I received the following remarks from an elderly relative of mine, who is not religious. I haven’t finished reading yet, so I won’t comment, but I think her comments are worth publishing:
    “I read all the articles with varying degrees of interest. Thanks for posting. A couple of writers seemed to dwell on the past…when, supposedly, women didn’t work outside the home. That point reminded me of my mother’s grandmother (on her father’s side). (1800s) She ran a farm and an inn and gave birth to 18 (!) children, 12 of whom survived …three girls and nine boys. Her husband? He ‘lernt Torah’. She was quite an amazing woman, I think, and assuredly “worked outside the home”. Not sure how much individual parental attention their children got. Precious little, I suspect.

    I appreciated those articles that suggested that we should limit the ‘gimmes’ from children and adults.

    Parts of one article annoyed me. Rebetzin Twerski should be more careful in her references. Yes, Betty Friedan decried loss of an emphasis on family by a few (certainly not all) feminists but she did not negate the movement for greater rights, opportunities, etc. Have you read her books? (I heard her lecture once in Ottawa). And as to saying that even Barbara Walters wishes to stay home…what nonsense! Perhaps she was a bit tired after returning from Syria and her interviewing Assad a few weeks ago, or some one ‘biggie’ at another time. She is my age, has plenty of money and could stay home lying on her chaisse lounge and munching choclate éclairs all day, every day…and chooses not to. And, oh yes…do spell Friedan’s name correctly.”

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