Parnasah – Taking It Beyond Mishpacha

A recent article in Mishpacha (“Making it Work, January 3, 2013) provided advice to young men on the cusp of leaving kollel and entering the job market. The article was a good beginning in publicizing the need for making vocational guidance available to all.

While any valid advice is better than none at all – which unfortunately is still what many of our young people are provided – the article stopped short of spelling out some realities of the job market. Several Cross-Currents readers submitted reactions to the Mishpacha piece, hoping to continue the discussion. I selected two of them, both by frum professionals who also own many hours of hands-on experience in guiding frum young adults who are entering the job market. Both convey some frustrations and apprehensions that deserve a hearing. Both provided strong reasons for having to remain anonymous if they are going to continue serving the community as mentors. While we generally turn down anonymous submissions, we felt that there was room for an exception here.

The first submission:

Making It Work: A Rejoinder

(1) The article begins by painting a context of a kollel yungerman who now needs to make a parnasah which includes the requisite transition to the workplace. The inference is that kollel is an expected stage in every frum young man’s life. The full-time kollel yungerman represents an important cohort of our population – but it is not the only one. There are several other models already at work in the Orthodox world, with thousands of participants. They, too, need guidance about parnasah. By restricting the Mishpacha article to full-time learners with no secular training, issues of college, training, and skill development during more formidable early years can be conveniently side-stepped. We do a disservice to our children by pretending that they are all living according to a single script.

(2) While a yungerman might start to look for a job in his early 30’s, the job search really starts 10-20 years earlier. It begins with obtaining a legitimate secular education. Yeshivos that take pride in advertising minimal general studies or mention the term with a friendly wink might need to reexamine the viability of that posture. After all, parnasah challenges may be connected to deficiencies in general studies. To give a crash course in reading, writing, math and science at age 30 when the last serious general studies class may have been in Fourth Grade is a challenge. Projections for the near future show the greatest strength and growth in the STEM (Science Engineering, Technology, and Math) fields which require requisite foundations, training, credentialing, skills, and experience. Those of us with hands-on experience with hundreds of young men who have come to us have serious doubts about whether climbing on to the bandwagon at age 30 (with a wife and a few children to boot) works in the fields that hold the greatest promise b’derech hateva.

(3) Making a parnasah requires hishtadlus. It is not something that can be accomplished “yesh ma-ayin”. Plus, hishtadlus is incremental and in most cases, takes many years. Furthermore, how much parnasah is enough? Well, that depends. Is the goal of parnasah financial independence which is not reliant on community, family, or government subsidy? Furthermore, what are the income targets for a family of 6 (2 adults, 4 children) to “make it” in City X? Factoring in kosher food, clothing, sheitels, simchos, tuition, insurance, and real estate in frum areas, there might be rules of thumb calculation for living at a subsistent life style. Plugging in some numbers, it might take $120-$150K in gross annual income in order to break even. Each year below that would represent a shortfall that would either be debt or subsidy by family or community. And annual deficits merely accrue; they don’t go away.

(3) While the article discusses the role of Rabbeim and sometimes others as advisors in this important endeavor, the role of the parents is conspicuously absent. Should all guidance about career and parnasah be outsourced to individual Rabbeim in yeshivos? Is it healthy when parents do not to take an active role in discussions about career planning in particular, and fiduciary responsibility in general. With so many young men leaving the home starting with Mesivta, how can a Baalabus father function as a role model, even he is a Ben Torah?

Furthermore, should the roles of any classic Yeshiva include career guidance? And if so, what are the resources allocated and the accountability? To my knowledge, very few Yeshivos track the vocational outcomes of their bochurim or yungeleit to measure the validity of their assumptions about where suitable parnasah can be found.

(4) The article ignores the relative contribution of a frum man’s wife towards the family balance sheet. What role will she play in balancing the family budget – sole breadwinner? Contributor? Stay-at-home mom? These are important questions which should inform the training tracks for young women in the frum community. However, since vocational choices always require a confluence between man and wife, any discussion of careers cannot exist without considering them functioning in tandem.

(5) The tone of the article appears to overplay the value of “Yeshiva skills” in making someone an attractive candidate for a job. People in general society who have never learned in Yeshiva or worked through a Reb Chaim will have the requisite acumen to analyze a problem and develop a solution. Furthermore, it downplays or ignores the fact that Yeshiva bochurim face stiff competition from the general population. They will be pitted against those with resumes that have college degrees and recognizable employers. Prior work experience on those resumes includes working on cutting edge systems and software and accountability for deliverable work. It is naïve and just plain wrong to assume that employers will consider years of learning (and the gifts that we insiders know come with them) as competitive equivalents to the more typical resumes presented by others. While the economy is currently a factor in employment challenges nationally, it merely exacerbates them and is not the root cause. Even with an improved economy, deficits in training and skills will continue to exist.

(6) It is interesting that some of the examples of successful parnasah outcomes portrayed in the article were beneficiaries of community and family connections who provided a break into a job or field. Even without such “protexia”, the question is whether a positive outcome is simply an exception rather than the rule.

(7) Any serious discussion of careers today must include credentialing. And that includes a legitimate degree. The how, where, and when if often a personal decision. Many people get caught up in the notion of a degree being “accredited” or not. That’s not the point. The fact that someone has a degree from an accredited program, does not entitle someone to a job over others. Accreditation is not a right to a job. Take a person shopping for ketchup in the supermarket. If the name brand is available and the same price as one of unknown quality, the consumer will invariably select the name brand with the track record of satisfaction on his dining room table. While experience and skills on a resume play a role in an HR Manager’s decision, the reputation of the degree granting institution does make a difference. Furthermore, many online programs even accredited ones have developed dubious reputations among employers. Let the buyer beware. And this comes in the form of parents doing due diligence before any investments of time and money.

(8) Finally, there is mention of various advisors who are providing guidance to bochurim and yungerman. Are they trained to do so? How current is the information on which they are basing their advice? Do yungerman feel good about leaving the Yeshiva? Or do they feel guilty for doing that and procrastinated because of the associated stigma?
While the article might be a good way to start a discussion on the topic of careers, it was far from thorough. Parents might want to consider a greater ownership in this endeavor. After all, the consequences of children’s ruchniyus and gashmiyus depend on it.

The second submission:

Confronting the Human Carnage

Yesterday I met with another man who was struggling to make ends meet for a large family, after having gone the kollel route and become a rabbi along the way. Listening to his rebbeim and spiritual mentors, he dutifully pursued the path depicted as spiritual fulfillment by following their footsteps into klei kodesh. He never did complete real college, good yeshiva bochur that he was, as that would have taken time and focus away from learning, and likewise married a nice Bais Yaakov girl with only rudimentary professional credentials. Together they had a houseful of children and focused on raising them the Torah way.

Fast forward a dozen years and he is now in his mid-40s with a succession of roles in Jewish organizations in which he did some good, but never made ends meet, in a Jewish world with rising demand from yeshivos for tuition, shuls for membership, and increased costs from providers of virtually every service and commodity. He looks around and sees everyone else doing “just fine” and plenty doing “much better” and wonders where he went wrong, after all, he was only following his Rosh Yeshiva’s advice! Having hit rock bottom, he recently had the opportunity to join a business for sweat equity in addition to earnings from his sales. Although we met to discuss business strategy, I got to hear part of his story and couldn’t help asking him: Have you gone back to your rebbeim and told them where their advice got you? Where are the mechanchim who advised that university is no place for a Jewish boy? Where is the Bais Yaakov teacher who told girls that you can only be a teacher or work from home if you want to be a good wife and mother? Somehow, everyone decamps when it comes to paying the bills!

Unfortunately, this gentleman has plenty of company. In the past year alone, I have met with numerous young men and women, some in person, some by phone and email, who seek advice on getting out of their earning constraints. Not all were going the chinuch or kiruv route. Many of the boys have BTL degrees, some with MBAs, almost all from quickie or online “executive” programs. They are incredulous when they find out their MBA is worth close to nothing because their rebbi told them MBAs earn six figures, at least! The girls have BA degrees from seminaries masking as colleges or accredited from some virtual third party. By and large, they all heeded their rebbeim and Torah advisors, going the kosher route.

We don’t go to an investment banker to get advice about childcare and would not dream of approaching a rocket scientist for guidance on finances, but somehow, Roshei Yeshiva, Rebbeim, Bais Yaakov teachers and Principals seem to have no trouble or qualms advising their mentees in areas outside their expertise. What is especially disturbing is why otherwise intelligent people seem to be lose the faculty of clever decision making when it comes to following advice of their rebbeim. This can be due to a number of factors.

Firstly, there is no transparency about money in the Jewish community. What percentage of yeshiva students know their school tuition fees? Does the typical yeshiva graduate have any idea what childcare costs? utility bills? rent? What about the earning potential of various professions or vocations? We are frustrated by the fact that our yeshivos and bais yaakovs keep their balance sheets top secret, yet we withhold household expenses and personal cash flows from our own children. While this may be well-intentioned, financial literacy needs to start somewhere. If you try having this discussion with the typical yungerleit headed for years of kollel and a vague idea of life in klei kodesh, the answer is always the same: somehow everyone else (in chinuch or kiruv) is making it, so I can, too. If you wait until then to instill financial literacy, it is much, much too late.
Secondly, when successful, yeshivos and mechanchim give their students a sense of purpose and belonging. Instead of nagging, demanding parents, who issue orders and harbor unreasonable expectations, good rebbeim provide uplifting moral messages and build students’ esteem. With such positive interactions, the student feels a valued member of a corps, with a sense of purpose and meaning, particularly so if their skills in learning grow. All this without any accountability, unlike the situation in family life at home. Once engaged in that environment, a young man or woman is highly susceptible to revering their teachers, even in areas beyond their scope. It is only human nature to exercise such power and influence. Who can blame the Rosh Yeshiva, rebbe or Bais Yaakov teacher who think they are providing spiritual guidance and keeping the student from harm?

But this human carnage must end, because eventually, the math doesn’t add up and reality intrudes on idealism. Other articles have dealt with the rage of the middle class for having to float the ones who may be just as capable, but are not pulling their weight. This article is a plea for turning the tides so that our young men and women can take their place in society with confidence and the self esteem that comes from independence. Supporting one’s family is klei kodesh too. Relying on parents for support into adulthood makes one a katan (ha’ochel al shulchan aviv). How do we get this to the attention of our mechanchim? Not only do they need to own up to the fact that they are not qualified to provide guidance on career and financial issues, they also owe me for hours of mentoring in an attempt to undo the wreckage they left behind.

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39 Responses

  1. Rami says:

    To be honest, this sounds like a sales pitch for YU (to which I am a proud alumni). Finding a balance in life to be a ben Torah in the work force is what the modern orthodox community has been preaching for years(sometimes more successful and sometimes less). Finding the proper professionals to give advice and not just rely on ‘daas Torah’ is something that the YU community has been pushing its musmachim and its talmudim. Unfortunately, it has been my experince that the yeshivish community looks down on these ideals. Why the change now?

    [Alumnus. (Or alumna). Unless you suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder.]

  2. avrohom katz says:

    Seems like the perfect topic for the next issue of Klal Perspectives.

  3. Abe says:

    As a frum professional who has been in the business world for close to 20 years, I just want to say the following about these 2 submissions:

    Bravo! They are 100% on target.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Trusted advisors have an awesome responsibility to do what’s right for those they advise, putting aside their own individual and institutional interests. Whatever the advisor needs to know before offering advice, he should be careful to find out in accurate detail. There is no place for shooting from the hip based on unexamined assumptions.

    One useful form of quality control in this area is for advisors to get and understand feedback from people who took their advice and then did well or poorly. This only works when there are proper lines of communication and mutual respect.

  5. lacosta says:

    what percentage of gdolim , RY’s and similar senior klei Kodesh know the nitty-gritty of family budgeting. current hagiography idolizes iconic rabbonim who have never used a credit card, don’t pay for children’s tuition, get tickets for free from laudatory admirers etc

    askonim almost definitionally are rich. who speaks out for the grunts in the street.
    the ratio is probably 1 % fabulously wealthy 10% anxiously comfortable 30 % barely heads above water , and 60 % somchin al hanes…

  6. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Should be a valid and obvious point however the reality as I see it does not seem to concur with the arguments presented above. Drive around Lakewood NJ and see building development after building development selling like hotcakes. These houses start at $300,000. How pray tell are people affording it? Obviously some people without “accredited” degrees are making out quite well. Perhaps it is a mix of government aid, income and parental support but by the appearance of the houses, cars and clothing it seems to be working fine.

  7. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Annonymous #2 over generalizes in the negative connotations derived from his comments about Mechanchim. Many Mechanchim are aware of the limits of their expertise and knowledge and many Mechanchim advise their talmidim to get proper job education and go out to work. This is true even if many Mechanchim do not.

  8. cvmay says:

    Excellent postings except you are preaching to the professionals, working ben/bas Torah, learner-earners on this site.

    Were either of these articles submitted to Mishpacha for publication? or to D. Konig the head of the Parnassah Expo which will be taking place in a few short days?
    There are a talented group of post-Kollel yungermen who are successful in real estate, business endeavors, establishing creative on-line companies, networking, etc.. yet they are the minority. Those who continue in the chinuch, kashurus, Judaic route are bound by a specific salary and will need the assistance of a talented, professional, college graduate wife.
    As severe as the problem of parnassa is in America, the difficulty and stone wall facing post-Kollel men in Eretz Yisroel is indescribable. These two posts if expanded with a few additions describes the “Sharing the Burden” dilemma effecting Klal Yisroel today.

  9. joel rich says:

    Otoh one who buys into the system ( granted if you stop secular studies in 4th grade, one likely can’t give informed consent) and consents, can feel proud that they played their part in the system that r’ dessler described.
    For my part I’m proud to be part of the system that R Soloveitchik described.

  10. Pini Schmeltzer says:

    Crazy Kanoiy wrote:

    “These houses start at $300,000. How pray tell are people affording it? Obviously some people without “accredited” degrees are making out quite well. Perhaps it is a mix of government aid, income and parental support but by the appearance of the houses, cars and clothing it seems to be working fine.”

    This is one root of the problem. If people buying houses starting at $300 000 are taking government aid there must be something wrong in terms of yashrus and personal responsibility.

  11. Pini Schmeltzer says:

    I add: If someone is not being yoshor with the government this reflects a problem in middos that cannot help but spilling over into not being yoshor in other areas of life.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    One big problem with education being a separate profession is that the educators may be great role models – of educators. If they had spent their entire lives in the 4 amot of Torah, they might not be ideal models for emulation for the majority of students who will need to go outside that.

    From what I understand, it is difficult to bring anything other than Torah into a Yeshiva or a Kollel. But a few shiurim given by Ba’alei Batim (either those who have time to teach, or retired ones) might do a world of good. Their Torah knowledge may not be as extensive, but their perspectives on Halachot related to their work (business, medicine, etc.) should be interesting.

  13. Kman says:

    This is an excellent overview, however there is one important point that hasn’t been considered.

    In the Lakewood branch Yeshivos that I learned in about half of my classmates went the professional route at age 21 or so and the other half stayed in learning. Of the latter half, most of us were out of Kollel and into the working/chinuch world (getting jobs in real estate, insurance, medical supplies, nursing homes, finance) after 5 years.

    It has been fascinating for me to note that almost all of the half who stayed in Yeshiva were made to feel bad about taking too much from parents/in laws (I have heard how I was a Kollel leach more times than I could count) and by and large the ones who demanded the most assistance from parents/in laws were the professionals – 6 figures in grad school tuition and lavish lifestyles expected by the wives of the professionals had to be supported by someone. (The one who ripped Kollel the most was the same couple taking 6 figures from the shver.) Plus there was no guilt for taking from totty since they were the “productive” ones. Only one of the 9 friends of mine who went to law school paid his own way.

    Yet us who remained in Yeshiva and our wives, learned to live with less, our wives worked hard and the men learned how to cook, prepare a house for Shabbos, take care of kids when our wives weren’t around, etc. Many of my friends and I took from our shvers whatever he offered and even then for a year or two. Rav Mattisyahu Solomon’s first shmues to those in shidduchim is not to demand much $ from the prospective shver.

    I have been hearing since the 80’s about how the American Kollel system is unsustainable and will soon collapse, but 25 years later it is still here and growing.

  14. dr. bill says:

    perhaps it would help if people started being brutally honest – the torah-only lifestyle is about maintaning religious observance. it is not a halakha per-se. it may even be contrary to halakha and a horaat shaah, an approach geared to our overly threatening modern environment. changes and adjustments are what one does when giving advice. advice is situational; giving the identical advice because it was given previously, is grounds for malpractice not sainthood.

  15. Reb. Dr. R. says:

    Kman, I am sorry you were made to feel bad about taking from your parents/in laws, but if you felt it was the right thing to do, why do you care what others thought? Were you, perhaps, conflicted? That only means you were not so self absorbed that you did not realize the ramifications of your decision to pursue kollel and had not at least considered if you should or should not. Kudos to you, because many just follow along heedlessly with societal mores or pressure, without a plan for what they want to do in life, without even thinking whether they need (or can even handle) 12 hours of Torah learning vs. 12 minutes, to fulfill this unparalleled mitzva.

    As for taking 6 figures for graduate school, that too is a personal choice, particularly in a day and age when science & engineering grads still GET PAID for PhDs and where there are options for virtually every professional program that do not require 6 figure tuitions (eg: some states still have reasonable tuitions, but act fast because these too are disappearing). We are fortunate to live in a country where there are even ways to pursue educations in medicine, dentistry and the like without asking parents & in laws for 6 figures (eg: the military or experimental programs like UCF’s. Of course, there is that ol’ standby: plan ahead, work, save up. You may still have to take out a loan for graduate school, but it won’t be like paying a second mortgage or asking parents for anything more than basic living expenses, remembering that basic living expenses for 2 people is very different than that for 7 or 8…

    If you at least think ahead and PLAN, you may find you don’t need to ask mommy & totty for 6 figures to put the plan into action. And you can STILL put up a pot of macaroni, take the kids to the park, help before Shabbos and live modestly (which is most likely going to be the case if you have children for whom you are now paying tuition!) if you have to leave Yeshiva to do so!

  16. DF says:

    “Work ethic” is a big problem. Punctuality has become a joke in our circles. There is no testing or accountability for anyone in klei kodesh – bochurim, avreichim, rabeeim, and rabbanim. One large frum employer in my region said he had a problem with hiring guys from yeshivah, because they seem to think they can come late every time someone makes a Bris. And forget Brissin; in yeshivah and kollel you can stroll in at 9.15 or 9.30. In real life many jobs, with commuting and all, begin at 8am or earlier. I’ve heard guys leaving kollel saying “I’m not a morning person.” But in the working world, you dont have a choice in the matter. Our weak work ethic means that even those of us who are lucky enough to GET a job, often have difficulty holding it down. What has become of us?

    That’s just one of many problems. An enormous percentage of yeshivah graduates cannot speak English coherently. It is hard to pick up on this when one is surrounded by similar speakers, but it is very noticeable in the working world. We speak extremely fast, use sloppy shortcuts like “I’m saying”, and otherwise have difficulty communicating with non-Jews on THEIR terms.

    On that note, and just between us, let’s sound a note of realism when we speak about our “gifted” students in yeshivah and the logic or mental skills they learn therein. The logic they use – the 13 middos of R. Yishmael, plus rishonim/achronim – has zero application in the modern world. The sevaros casually tossed off in yeshivah would be laughed at, if they could even be articulated in English. The rest of the world lives in Reality, a stubborn fact we are not forced to contend with when analyzing Kodshim or Yevamos. Moreover, all of this assumes that every one in Yeshivah is indeed dilligently studying and accumulating Gemrara knowledge, even on its own terms. But of course, this is not the case, not nearly so.

    None of this is to “condemn” the yeshivah system and its prodcuts; far from it. I think it is a necessary feature of Jewish religious life. But if we are going to take a long hard look at things, we’d better not tiptoe around the issues. The problems we face are not minimal, and require fundamental rethinking of what our principles are, and who indeed are the real leaders who represent these principles.

  17. Tal Benschar says:

    The part about advise giving has halakhic ramifications. One of Chazal’s udnerstanding of the issur of lifnei iver is not to give a person improper advice — eitzah she’eynah hogenes lo.

    I once heard an apropos story about the Beis HaLevi. It seems that the children of the town shochet in Brisk enrolled their child (the schochet’s grandson) in the local gymnasium — the secular school. This was considered quite a scandal. So the heads of the community went to the rav (whom we know as the Beis Ha Levi). After hearing them out, he told them that while they could not fire him, they should encourage him to leave for a different post.

    Shortly thereafter, the shochet came to the Beis HaLevi, told him he had been approached by the community leaders, etc. He had procured another position in another town, and asked the Beis HaLevi his advice about whether to take it. After going over the pros and cons, the Beis HaLevi advised him not to take it, it would be better for him not to leave his current position.

    The shochet accepted this advice, and turned down the community leaders, mentioning the BHL’s advice. As you can imagine, they then came to the BHL to complain that he had given advised them to do one thing, but the shochet something else!

    He answered them that the Torah requires one to give the best advice you can to the person asking — that is a requirement of lifnei iver. “When you, the community heads, came to me, I told you what I thought best for the community. But when the shochet came for advice, I had to advise him as to what was best for him, not best for you. And that is what I did.”

  18. Eli says:

    I’ll add that I have found the same issue (Rabbonim “Paskening” and then leaving the questioner holding the financial “bag”, especially with tuition) to also be a problem regarding birth control.

    That being said, “making it” certainly is doable (and not by buying a 300K HUD or dowery home). It does take effort, and the one thing this generation has none of.


  19. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    DF says that “There is NO testing or accountability FOR ANYONE in klei kodesh – bochurim, AVREICHIM, RABBEIM, and rabbanim.” (emphasis mine)

    This is a blatant falsehood. All Rabbeim in my community are accountable to a school principal. All Rabbeim in my community are required to be certified by the Federation as teachers and all Rabbeim must take CE courses to keep their certification. Almost every school that I know of holds in house teacher workshops to help improve teachers teaching techniques.

    Furthermore their are some Kollelim that do test regularly and many out of town Kollelim do condition pay to on time performance or “shmiras hasdarim”.

    Please do not over generalize and therefore be “motzi laz” in your otherwise partially legitimate criticisms.

  20. Kman says:

    @Reb. Dr. R, I think you misunderstood my comment, I guess I was unclear.
    While those who supported me never made the Kollel leech comments, I heard it around me all of the time, as did my colleagues who chose to go to Kollel. We were well aware of professional opportunities our friends had chosen and still we opted for Kollel because it was what we wanted.

    Most of my friends who went to Kollel took minimally from our shvers, the “rich shver” stereotype that people talk about is quite rare. Most of us had to make it with a little help (I almost never asked for anything but gratefully accepted what was offered) , but mostly on our own and some got help from Uncle Sam. Most of us went out to work by the 5 year in Kollel mark.

    OTOH, almost all of my friends who chose the professional route received close to 6 figures in tuition money to pay for their grad school. In addition, they were married during their grad school tenure and had to be supported – and they weren’t living in someone’s basement either.

    Look, it’s a free country, people can choose to support what they value. But the notion I have heard since my youth that young Kollel people are leeching off of others while young professionals are financially independent has simply not been my experience.

  21. Joseph says:

    While there is the over generalization that there is no accountability in the Kollel “system”, as a former Kollel Yungerman who participated in Mifal Hashas, taking monthly tests on 40 blatt at a time, who participated in shmiras sedarim, both in order to receive “bobkes” that barely helped us make it, I do agree that most yungerleit are not under real pressure regarding punctuality and testing. That being said, on any given day, my personal observations in Lakewood were that most yungerleit were on time for sedarim and had a good grasp of what ever it was that they were learning when they were learning it. The kind of learning done by most is not of the very high pressured, deadline variety that I chose to experience and that could be what engenders the lackadaisical attitude that at least one of the commentators here has alluded to. The bottom line is that even if one does have a plan and gets himself a real degree there are no guarantees in life; especially regarding parnassa. However, there is one guarantee: Barring any stroke of mazal, such as a lottery win or long-lost-rich-great-uncle’s yerushah, without real hishtadlus and without one cannot make an honest and ethical living. Hishtadlus lets us see Hashem’s hand in our successes and humbles us when we fail.

  22. CJ Srullowitz says:

    Though I am a working Baalabus, and agree in theory and practice with the two essayists and most of the commenters, the tone of this post leaves much to be desired.

    There is no recognition of what Kman points out: that somehow – against all “practical” odds – the kollel “system” has been working for a long time. I agree it’s painted into a corner, but hasn’t that always been the case in Jewish history? The smug, condescending, “we told you so” attitude has to go. It’s unbecoming of those who claim the mantle of Torah Im Derech Eretz, and does nothing to make the “learner-earner” model an attractive alternative to a straight up yeshiva guy.

  23. L. Oberstein says:

    I think that parnassah has become harder in recent times due to the downturn in the economy and the rapid increase in prices for everything. Before the stock market and real estate crash, lots of people without college degrees made lots of money . In fact, they ridiculed Ner Yisroel by saying that our graduates are mere CPA’s and their guys own the company. It also used to be easier to get a computer job with a short course and work your way up on the job. Many companies merged or closed and those guys in the back rooms lost their jobs. So, it is tied to the overall economy. I hear that there is plenty of money in Satmar, that they have many very successful people who take risks, buy housing projects, own shopping centers all over the country,etc. They don’t go to college,but they have business acumen.
    Perhaps, part of the problem is that we are lazy, want instant gratification and want to make big bucks from the start. Years ago, people lived in semi-detached houses,now they want to start with a one family home on a large lot in a better section. It is the culture of the country we live in, not just the culture of the yeshiva world.
    If 50% of kids from modern frum homes are going off the derech (see other articles on this site), how can we send our childrent to good colleges where they will be exposed to hedonism? Is the loss in nefesh yeshudi worth the increase in income? Every frum family is trying to perpetuate our people and the course is fraught with danger.
    Is Ner Yisroel the model or is it small compared to Lakewood? What really is the popular way, high schools without secular studies (in the US and even more so in Israel) or schools with a decent secular curriculum. If it is so bad, why then are the anti-college people growing so much faster and dominating our communities more and more.
    In conclusion, a secular studies principal of one of New York’s finest yeshivos told me the following anecdote. In that yeshiva,taking the Regents is voluntary. A boy told him that he had no intention of getting a Regents diploma. The principal asked him what he would do, he said he would marry a girl and she would support him. He retorted, “so you want to be a parasite”. “No, rebbe”, the boy answered., “I don’t want to live in Paris.”

  24. Arnie Lustiger says:

    This discussion is among the most important I have seen on Cross-Currents. One element that has been left out, however, is the seminal teshuvah from R. Dessler on secular studies and employment (Mikhtav Me’Eliyahu, V. 3, pgs 355-60) :

    “…the philosophy of Yeshiva education is directed towards one objective alone, to nurture Gedolei Torah and Yirei Shamayim in tandem. For this reason university was prohibited to their students, because [the Gedolim] could not see how to nurture Gedolei Torah unless they directed all education towards Torah exclusively. However, do not think that they did not know in advance that through this approach, G-d forbid, many (students) will be ruined, since they will be unable to survive such an extreme position, and [therefore] separate from the path of Torah. However, this is the price that must be paid for [producing] Gedolei Torah.”

    “Of course, [the Gedolim] must keep watch to do what is possible to maintain those who cannot be Bnei Torah, but not through means that will influence those who remain [in Yeshiva]. For example, those who must leave… [should become] storekeepers or other jobs that are not professional careers, which require no [educational] preparation and do not attract the [other] students.”

    The number of Yeshiva High School graduates learning during the day and going to Brooklyn College at night, de rigeur at Breuer’s approximately 30 years ago, is rare today. The degradation of secular studies in RW Yeshivos today is similarly well known. Over the last few decades, R. Dessler’s philosophy has clearly been ascendant.

  25. YM says:

    I also bemoan the tone of this post, and wonder why the author and commenters think this is an Orthodox Jewish issue? Good jobs are difficult for many people to obtain in this economy, including many with Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees. A secular education is no guarantee of success; just look at all the unemployed lawyers out there. I don’t think someone who has been thru years of beis medresh and kollel can be compared negatively to others in our society who lack a post high school (secular) education. I am sure that the average annual income for a FFB family in the New York area is higher than the average for all area residents, even with the relative lack of secular education. I don’t believe there is data showing a negative relationship between kollel attendance and lifetime earnings. So a man who went to Kollel is struggling to make it financially? Him and millions of other Americans are also struggling financially. Anecdotes are not facts. “Worthless MBAs?” I know of one person with a BTL from Lakewood who went directly into Seton Hall’s MS in Accounting program and is a successful CPA. His secular education, I believe, consisted of whatever he learned at Yeshiva of Spring Valley and Philadelphia Yeshiva. Of course everyone has to make hishtadlus, some more than others.

    I think we should be careful about casting negative aspersions on those whose efforts in learning Torah should be applauded and esteemed, not slammed and denigrated.

  26. Ex-Kollel Guy says:

    Having spent 7 years in kollel, in a kollel that tested us monthly on many pages of Gemara/Rashi/Tosfos, and 6 years in beis medrash before that, I can vouch that there are plenty of Yungerleit who take their learning very seriously. I am witness to many fine bnei Torah who understand the responsibility they have to use their time learning to the fullest.

    On the other hand, to those who say that the fact that the kollel world continues to grow is proof that it’s a system that works, I’d like to share the following:

    Over the 20+ years since I left kollel, for the most part eeking out a living in chinuch and chinuch related jobs, with my wife working in a professional capacity, I have received the occasional phone call from an old friend from those kollel days. They call me (kind kind of sad, because I can’t help them) for financial aid to help pay for a bar mitzvah, wedding, or just to share their burden with me. One told me that while I may envy him for remaining in kollel all these years, there is little to envy. He spends a lot of his time going from g’mach to g’mach to flip the loans he can never get out of. He has little menuchas hanefesh and his learning is not doing well. I asked him why he doesn’t leave kolle and get a job. He told me he has no skills to get one. He has a large family in Israel, but he isn’t Israeli so he can’t land a job teaching in an Israeli yeshiva. He can’t land a job in a yeshiva for American boys, because he isn’t charismatic and there are competitors who get those jobs. He can’t land a shteller overseas because nobody would pay that amount to bring in his large family.

    This is not a good situation!

  27. Eli says:

    “His secular education, I believe, consisted of whatever he learned at Yeshiva of Spring Valley and Philadelphia Yeshiva.”

    Philly used to be known that its secular studies department (believe it or not) was much better than most Yeshivos. That being said, being a “successful CPA” alone means that you are not making ends meet and need to request a tuition “discount”. Such is the state of Yiddishkeit in NY.

  28. Shlomo Ben Meir says:

    Great comments on a very important issue. The main economic issue facing the frum yeshiva world today is underemployment caused by the lack of education and meaningful credentials. Some causes are laziness, following the “herd” over the economic cliff, “advisers” who are way over their heads on career options, absence of the parents in directing their children’s career options, unrealistic expectations from spouses, in-laws, and parents, and following the “short-cut” mentality to nowhere, etc.

    How do we turn this around? Not sure, but it begins with each family- the parents must get back into the picture and push the “advisers,” who out of touch with realities of the job market, back into their areas of competence.

  29. Josh Kahn says:

    RE: YM and Joel Rich

    I’ve always looked at the decision to not be a kollel guy as being very much in line with Rav Dessler’s message of being a giver rather than a taker (admittedly, as a BT this wasn’t the default option for me, but I have friends who did make that choice and if I’d have thought that was the best way to contribute to the Klal, I’d have done it). B’emmes, the heroes of the kollel system are the women who support their husbands’ learning by accepting a low standard of living and earning enough to support that standard (doing that while paying full tuition and being truly independent is a deeply beautiful feat). That doesn’t get emphasized nearly enough.

    YM’s point is important to remember – that the Eastern European system was about producing Gadolim, not educating the masses (Rav Schwab’s reply essay to Rav Dessler arguing about the effectiveness of the Eastern European model is a must read, although I imagine most people on this site have already read it). Although it’s important that not everyone went to yeshiva and I would be interested to know whether the leaders of that period would have made the same choices about their educational program if that hadn’t been the case (in other words, would they have created the same kollel system given the conditions of today rather than those of their time).

  30. dr. bill says:

    Arnie, teshuvot are situation. in all due respect to r. dessler, the needs of a community that will become 30% of Israel in 1 or 2 generations, was not his audience. a famous posek, r. dovid karliner, outlawed secular studies in white Russia, but in a tshuvah addressed to the old yishuv, asked how can a jewish state survive w/o secular studies. his teshuvah of a century ago, is a more relevant one. i suspect you agree.

  31. Sholom says:

    “His secular education, I believe, consisted of whatever he learned at Yeshiva of Spring Valley and Philadelphia Yeshiva.”

    Both of which have very significant general studies departments. And both of which take those departments very seriously.

    You’ve just proved the point.

  32. Airee says:

    Kman, most guys you know who chose the professional route got six figures from their in-laws? I’ll be attending grad school in the near future and am looking at a total cost of about 160 – 400k. I’m still single and do not expect to receive a penny from either my parents or my in-laws. I had no idea my future in-laws would give me anything at all let alone that kind of cash. In fact, I find it hard to believe anyone in their right mind would just hand over that kind of cash even if it is their son in-law! Is it really true, can I expect that kind of windfall just for marrying someone’s daughter? I had always assumed that other younger professionals were going at it the same way I am, paying for it themselves.

  33. Kman says:

    Airee, it wasn’t always in laws, often parents and grandparents were supporting. Sometimes the ones screaming “Kollel leech” were doing so at the same time that they were having their expensive grad school tuition paid for them and being supported financially – and they weren’t living cheaply either.

  34. A.Schreiber says:

    YM’s comparison of those in grad school to those in kollel is misplaced. The majority of the former dont sponge off their in laws, simply because there are student loans available to them, which include living expenses. Moreover, the former will shortly become productive members of society, and so whatever they do get is short-term. And in general, the whole “taking” attitude to life is found in the kollel world, not the working world.

    YM’s last line says it all: “I think we should be careful about casting negative aspersions on those whose efforts in learning Torah should be applauded and esteemed, not slammed and denigrated.” EXACTLY. A lot of working people sacrifice some of the precious few spare hours they have to learn, often with great dilligence. That’s the type of effort we should be celebrating. The average guy in Kollel lives no better or worse than his working, contributing peer. There’s hardly any true sacrifice. Not much there to applaud, to tell the truth.

  35. YM says:

    is the issue a question about the quality of secular education in American men’s Yeshivas pre-Beis Medrash or is it about whether Kollel is the cause of parnossah problems and the resulting “human carnage”?
    My point is that Kollel isn’t the cause of any carnage and that in any cohort of men or women, some are going to struggle mightily to earn a parnossah, even if they graduated from college.

  36. Yitz Turner says:

    Re: Ex-Kollel Guy
    regarding the anecdotal report from the gentleman still learning, it would be interesting to know if in such circumstances the parents are encouraging their children to continue the path that they have taken, or are they encouraging their children towards business/professional careers?
    My gut instinct tells me that their children are also heading towards the Kollel lifestyle.

  37. Shlomo Ben Meir says:

    The core issue hovers around the parents. Where have all the parents gone? Why do they think they can ignore their children’s economic fate and rely on the community, the government, or the chesed of others to support their children? It amazes me how many parents with advanced degrees (MDs, PhDs, etc.) allow their sons to have no marketable skills to support their families?

    Don’t they realize that down the road a few years these underemployed, underpayed families will struggle to make ends meet and their “learning” sons will be forced to learn even less than their professional peers, who can earn more? Is this frumkeit or the yetzer hora talking?

  38. SA says:

    Shlomo Ben Meir: First of all, many of today’s parents who are in their 40s and 50s were subject to the same “Torah uber alles” arguments that their own children experienced, but didn’t dare choose that life for themselves, since their own parents wouldn’t hear of it. (Incidentally, that was also a generation that overwhelmingly respected their parents, particularly those among them of European extraction who were Holocaust survivors).

    In turn, many of these parents (often both of them) obtained advanced degrees, got good jobs and/or ran successful businesses, and thought that their good incomes would last forever and — whether out of guilt that THEY didn’t stay in learning, or having been dragged into these situations by their (far less respectful, let’s face it) sons or daughters — believed that they could support their learning sons or sons-in-law for as long as necessary.

    Well, the economic problems of the past five years have pulled the rug out from under that assumption. That’s probably one reason why this issue has suddenly become so acute.

  39. Formerly Orthodox says:

    Shlomo Ben Meir and SA: I am speaking as a parent who had no intention of letting my children participate in the tzedaka-supported kollel lifestyle instead of getting a good higher secular education, but was thwarted by the “Rabbinic Establishment” which converted one of them to the “Torah Only” approach. At least he is attending a yeshiva whose certified rabbinical program is training him to be a rebbe, which is a career, although not the one that he might have chosen if he had not been convinced not to explore his other talents in college. My point is that rebbeim and Roshei Yeshivos can be more influential than parents in this generation of less respectful children, especially when the parents are BTs. Unfortunately I feel that these rebbeim don’t have the best interests of young people or their families at heart, and are concerned mainly with the survival of their own institutions and/or ideology.

    I don’t understand YM’s logic that since some college graduates are having trouble finding jobs, then one is just as well off without one. I think it is well known that a lack of higher education seriously hampers one’s ability to secure a good parnassa in this era. Although a kollel educated person may be more attractive to a potential employer than the average person with just a high school diploma, the kind of jobs available to those people do not provide the income necessary to support an Orthodox lifestyle. I’m also surprised by his implication (perhaps unintentional) that only people earning a parnassa should struggle, and those who are learning full time should get a comfortable free ride.

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