Ben Yeshiva: You Need Not Leave – A Yotzei Min Ha-Klal Perspective
I read the new (and fabulous!) edition of Klal Perspectives with great intrigue. Grappling with the transition from ben yeshiva to baal habayis is a very sensitive topic in general, but for those personally undergoing this transition, it is often one of disorientation, frustration, and even trauma and despair.
The solutions presented to enabling a smooth (as possible) transition, and the resolutions for balancing Torah and avodah, are delicate and often pretty touchy, but they make a lot of sense and are welcome and quite necessary. Yet in the end, to an idealistic ben yeshiva, they can reflect a sense of abandonment of his idealism, for if one has been bred and cultivated to embrace Torah excellence and focus on limud ha-Torah as the apex, a prescription that includes an abandonment of his ascent to the peak is an exceedingly hard pill to swallow.
Obviously, one needs to be practical and fulfill his responsibility to provide for his family and himself; the challenge, rather, is the perceived need to basically throw in the towel, say goodbye to the beis medrash and radically change course. Giving up one’s life ambition in Torah is not easy, no matter how important and rewarding a multifaceted life of kedushas baal habayis really can be.
I would like to put forth a counterintuitive solution that I have witnessed as greatly successful, and to follow up with a practical suggestion and a question.
Common thinking on the part of some b’nei yeshiva who transition to the workforce is that they need to stylistically recalibrate and reorient their Torah learning to accommodate their new roles. This usually manifests itself as joining a bekius-style daily Gemara shiur, or learning a masechta with a chavrusa before Shacharis and/or at night, with a focus on Rashi, Tosafos and perhaps a few other meforshim or points of interest. For someone who has (hopefully) until now been learning with exceptional depth, spending hours if not days at a time analyzing and arguing over singular phrases in the Rambam and hairline machlokos of Rishonim, the radical shift in learning style as a baal habayis can be shattering. Yesterday, the person was a ben yeshiva who was presenting a new solution, a bold personal chiddush, to an acute problem posed by Reb Chaim, and today, the same person, in comparison, feels that he is merely glossing over sugyos, vastly reducing his intensity, and not getting too far beyond the surface in Torah learning. Coming from an advanced beis medrash experience, in which deep, exciting and spectacular analyses of sugyos was the norm, the transition to the “baal habayis” derech in learning can be quite a jolt. And coming from a culture in which the highest goal is excelling in lomdus, profundity and chiddush, the contrast can be a seismic shock and a letdown, as one feels that he is forfeiting his lifelong aspiration in Torah, which has been one of the most important things in his life.
What is the solution? It is that the ben yeshiva should retain his yeshiva derech in learning and continue to learn b’iyun, even though his seder for it may be brief. The exhilarating experience of daily immersion in the depths of Torah, be it for even a small fraction of the day, enables the baal habayis to learn like a ben yeshiva and maintain the sensation of yeshiva learning for his entire life. Not to mention continued growth in learning and ascent, at whatever pace, to the apex of Torah understanding.
I know several baalei batim who have taken this course, and despite their resultant inability to knock off numerous masechtos a year bekius-style, these baalei batim are immensely energized and focused on their learning. Their iyun seder, no matter how brief, keeps them involved and growing in yeshiva learning, and it carries them through the day.
The father-in-law of one of my friends attended a daily bekius Gemara shiur for decades. Feeling that he was not getting the most from the learning, this man instead joined a small iyun shiur for baalei batim, taught by a maggid shiur every morning before Shacharis. My friend’s father-in-law states that, as a result of his new iyun seder, his learning and his whole life have been transformed. Despite being an attorney with a grinding schedule, his daily early morning iyun seder makes him feel like he is still in yeshiva, stimulating and inspiring him to think in learning during the course of his day. So many other people whom I know well – all with demanding, full-time office jobs or graduate school schedules – have likewise taken on learning b’iyun as their early morning and/or night seder, and they are able to feel immersed in sugyos and to seriously think and talk in learning as anyone else in yeshiva. Yes, the time for one’s daily learning may be limited, but the sensation and growth in Torah when learned b’iyun are present and strong.
A baal habayis does not need a private maggid shiur in order to have a meaningful iyun seder. I know baalei batim who upload a daily iyun Gemara shiur from YUTorah.org or alternative sources, and others who maintain a chavrusa for their early morning or nightly seder b’iyun. Accessibility to serious in-depth learning is broad and varied.
One major impediment to substantive Torah learning on the part of the baal habayis, as well as to general efficiency in numerous other ways, is residing in neighborhoods that are extremely distant from one’s place of work. In some cases, such as when a person’s office is located very far from Orthodox neighborhoods that feature proper chinuch and limud ha-Torah opportunities, one has no choice but to live far from work. However, there are cases in which Orthodox neighborhoods with affordable housing and very solid “Torah amenities” exist not too far from people’s places of work, yet people instead opt to live in extremely distant locales, commuting three or four hours round-trip each day to and from work. This obviously cuts deeply into available time for regular learning – not to mention time with family and so much else. These geographic considerations are a huge factor in the life of a ben yeshiva who transitions to the life of a baal habayis.
I conclude with a very delicate issue – one that is often the elephant in the room – and I broach it with great anxiety. It is an issue that cannot be ignored, and whatever the answer is, I respectfully submit that it needs to be forthcoming. Here we go:
In many (certainly not all) traditional-style yeshiva circles, young men who are in yeshiva are systematically denied access to any training or education that is necessary for most careers, even though it is expected and known that the majority or a sizeable plurality of these young men will leave the full-time yeshiva setting for the secular workforce. We can spend from today until eternity discussing how to make this transition smooth, but the most glaring obstacle here, staring us in the face, is how someone in his mid-20s, with no secular career education or training, is to now start looking for a job that can support a wife and a growing family. Such a person cannot now start college, he is not eligible for admission to graduate school (absent a BTL (Bachelor of Talmudic Law) and law school – and even then, who will support him and his family for three more years?), and hence 90% of the available employment for such a person is menial work that cannot really support a frum family. I most respectfully ask the aforementioned yeshiva establishment if placing its talmidim on such a trajectory is desirable? A prospective life of unemployment and/or wages that cannot come close to sustaining a family and paying the bills, concomitant with the potential emotional toll of frustration and despair, are not things that one would expect the Orthodox community to invite upon its youth. I ask whether consideration for some type of educational training that can lead to respectable and remunerative employment needs to be made. While several yeshivos in the traditional yeshiva world make room for their talmidim, after a year or more of full-time learning, to take a limited college load two evenings a week, many yeshivos do not, and I fear that this latter policy will eventually backfire and lead to a churban. I therefore respectfully suggest that the policy be revisited.
With siyata di’shmaya and forethought, the ben yeshiva can continue his yeshiva learning trek throughout his career as a baal habayis. Sometimes, thinking out of the box is exactly what is needed in order to be able to remain in the box.