Sha’alvim for Women
How much do we value our daughter’s education? Are her years in elementary and high school merely a perfunctory exercise in preparing her for the practical skills required for running a Jewish home and providing a modest income for her family? Is higher Jewish education for a young woman a luxury or a requirement? Furthermore, how important is it that her post high school Jewish education be accomplished in Israel, rather than at a local American seminary?
These were the questions that struck me as I read an opinion piece by Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin on the Matzav website. The main subject of his article was how the shidduch crisis could be helped if only girls did not put themselves “in the freezer” during their prime years of desirability by leaving home to attend Israeli seminaries. His statement,
“You don’t have to be a great sociologist or Chochem to know that a girl is most desirable and in the prime of her youth from the ages of 17, 18, 19. When a girl turns 20 she is already in a different category.”
caused a great ruckus among quite a few readers.
Rabbi Rudomin clarified that he was merely making the honest observation, that despite a communal push for young men to get married younger (somehow this solution will leave fewer girls “on the shelf” past 21), these younger 20-21 year old men will still want girls younger than themselves – which means 17, 18, and 19 years old. If the girls in that age range are wasting time gallivanting in Israel, there will be no girls of that age range left in America to marry these younger, yet still older, boys. The solution to have men marry at a younger age can only work if the women make themselves available to also marry at an even younger age than the men – because men will always want to marry someone younger.
I will leave the arguing over Rabbi Rudomin’s shidduch solution to the peanut gallery, but I was more interested in the responses he gave in the comment section of his article where he attempted to clarify his position, such as this one:
“A girl at 21 is not “more mature” just because she spent a great super luxurious vacation, all expenses paid by “PHD” (Papa Has Dough”) in Israel for a year or two than a girl of 18 who remains in Brooklyn or Lakewood or Monsey or the Five Towns or Chicago or Toronto etc and gets on with real life, study and everything else normal people do.
In fact, the girl who is “supported” in Israel like a princess Mamash for a year with her parents spending fortunes on her, in fact during her year “away” her royal highness has to come back to the USA to take care of “very important things” like Lemoshul, getting her tooth braces readjusted, seeing the dermatologist for a rash, attending cousin Rivkie’s wedding as well as brother Shloimie’s Bar Mitzva, and “has to be home” for Pesach as well as Sukkos (even though she has hardly settled in Eretz HaKoidesh since arriving), and she needs frequent changes of her clothes from her “Fall” to her “Winter” and then “Spring” wardrobe, not to mention constant airlifts to her of shampoos, rinses, creams and all sorts of Vaibisha Zachen, and much else, and one would think we are raising a nation of celebrities and people who will want to live in luxury and be treated like this for the rest of their lives.
Imagine, these darling Sheifalach come home and then they quickly get engaged and married and they find out that marriage is about cooking dinners, washing dishes, doing the laundry that includes doing your new husband’s socks etc, caring for a husband who is a complicated human being, respecting Ameilus BaTorah Yomam VaLaila, mopping floors, taking out the garbage every night, even going to work and hosting guests, not to mention having babies and changing diapers and running to the pediatrician, so tell me, how does any seminary program in Israel “prepare” them for that?
Teach your daughter how to get and hold down a responsible job, that will help her support a husband in learning, or how to be a happy, smart, supportive spouse and partner with her husband when he has to work and encourage this sense of Es Kumt Mir known as entitlement in English!
And then, how is any 18 or 19 year old girl who is not exposed to this fake life “inferior” or “less mature” than her 20 or 21 year old counterpart who has lived like Mamash a “Cleopatra on the Nile”?
You see, we have adopted messed up priorities, and that is why we have things like this ridiculous “Shidduch Crisis” — and we are very far from “Houston: ‘The Eagle Has Landed’!”
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin”
The glaring omission is that he fails to put American boys who attend Israeli yeshivas in the same category, and I would posit that there are plenty more reputable American yeshivas to attend for post high school boys than there are American seminaries for post high school girls.
Why then, doesn’t he describe the boys who put themselves in the freezer in order to have a “great super luxurious vacation, all expenses paid by “PHD” (Papa Has Dough)” in the same category? Why isn’t he exhorting boys to get married right out of high school and skip the Israeli gap year (or two)? At the very least, why aren’t boys encouraged to attend American yeshivas where they can study and date simultaneously, instead of being supported in Israel like a prince Mamash for a year with his parents spending fortunes on him?
So far, I’ve only had one child go to Israel (two are quickly following, one later this year, and one next year) and that child is a boy. He spent one year learning full time in Israel and part of one year learning full time in America. I can tell you with the certainty of actual comparison that it would have been much cheaper to have him skip Israel and learn in America. Girls might have different expenses when they are studying abroad, but boys have just as many expenses, just different.
One big expense many Americans can expect to pay for their boys is on food. Most Americans aren’t used to the sparse Israeli diet that many yeshivot offer – count on supplementing their school’s meal offerings by a lot – especially if he’s over 6 feet tall and built like a linebacker. Eating out at restaurants, fast food joints, or buying snacks at the local makolet is a staple of the yeshiva diet, and I’m willing to bet the guys eat a lot more than the girls.
Another area which wasn’t mentioned in the original article, but applies to both boys and girls, count on paying out of pocket medical expenses while your child is in Israel. Israel is a much more physical place than America. What I mean by that is that America is a nation on wheels. We are used to driving everywhere and have to make a concerted effort to get physical exercise. Many orthodox American Jewish day schools either have no physical education program, or offer some kind of gym class one period per week. To suddenly come to a place where walking most places is a requirement, steep hills are common, school sponsored hikes, zip lining, and water trips are standard, all done in searing heat – you have a recipe for injuries. Alternately, if your son plays a lot of sports, it’s likely that he’ll injure or re-injure himself throughout the course of the year. Thanks to football league, basketball, and an old back injury – visits to the chiropractor, physical therapist, and a new and better mattress than the one the dorm provided were among our expenses for sports related injuries.
Also, just because they are boys don’t discount the need for a new wardrobe (clothing that is appropriate for Chicago weather isn’t necessarily appropriate for Israeli weather), expensive new pieces of luggage, and sundries (American shampoo, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, cologne, etc.). Of course, another equal opportunity expense are the plane tickets, which cost the same for both men and women.
The point is, the year in Israel for boys isn’t much cheaper than it is for girls. Back in the 1980s, before it became standard for every boy (or every girl) to go to Israel after high school, there was more scholarship money available. My husband had no problem getting money for Israel, and we weren’t prepared for the high cost of our son’s education. We assumed that because our son had good grades and references that he would be offered a sizable merit scholarship. Think again. The truth is, that in most cases, the tuition from American students goes to subsidize the tuition of Israeli students, as well as to fund the overall operational costs of the yeshivot and seminaries. If an American student is truly impoverished, there are scholarships based on need to be had. However, anyone who can seemingly afford the full tuition on paper, will need to haggle to get even a fraction off of a tuition bill that seems to average between $23,000-$25,000 for the year. Merit scholarships of any significant size are a throwback of the 1980s.
When our son decided to come back to the US for a second year of learning, instead of remaining in Israel, there is no question that the tuition was cheaper. However, it was a completely different experience. It wasn’t better or worse, but it was different. Going to Israel was one of the best years of my son’s life. He wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for the world. Did he have fun? You bet! Did he immerse himself in Torah in a way that is only possible in Eretz Yisroel? Definitely. Maybe if you don’t have Zionistic leanings, learning in Jerusalem or learning in Brooklyn are interchangeable. Those who have a love of Israel, and want the chance to see firsthand not only the holy historical sites of our people, but whether or not aliya might be in their future, can have that opportunity by studying in Israel during their gap year. When would most of us ever get the chance to spend one or two years completely devoted to Torah study without the stressors of college courses, jobs, spouses, children, bills, etc.? The post high school years are the only brief period of time when a person can grow and develop as an individual, without the crushing weight of adult responsibilities.
Rabbi Rudomin’s solution would rob young women of that opportunity. As he mentions, once a woman marries and has children, her life becomes a cycle of dirty dishes, dirty laundry, dirty diapers, and a series of other chores that need doing again as soon as they are finished. Why have them start these responsibilities any earlier than they need to? Why not give them time to themselves to study, daven, see a bit of the world, live away from home and learn to be more independent (many girls living at home have their mother doing their laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the mopping, the grocery shopping, the financial budgeting –they might learn from observation, but nothing prepares a person more than doing for themselves).
Some communities have set up a system where appearance and youth are everything for girls. They can’t then be mad about the expense required to maintain that beauty and youthful appearance that is now required for shidduch consideration. How can girls be told that they need to attend the “right seminaries” in Israel because staying at home will be a red flag on their shidduch resume, and then have parents be angry about spending the cash needed for their tuition and expenses?
I’ve had conversations with people who claim that some seminaries are merely businesses designed to take money from rich American families who can afford full tuition in exchange for their daughters having the “Israeli Seminary” box checked off on their shidduch resume. These are institutions opened by amateurs who have little educational background, but do have a lot of connections in the community who will send their daughters and their tuition dollars. I agree that for families who care more about the checkbox than the depth of learning and unique environment that Israel offers, spending a seminary year in Brooklyn is a far wiser choice than attending such a school.
However, for those girls who really want to challenge their intellectual and spiritual growth, nothing can replace the Israel experience. I haven’t fully looked into Israeli seminaries for girls yet, although my daughter is just about at that point, but schools like Sha’alvim for Women, Darchei Binah, Michlalah Yerushalayim, Nishmat, Migdal Oz, Michlelet Mevarseret Yerushalayim, to name a few, are intense programs for serious minded students who aren’t looking for an Israeli Disney Resort experience.
The implied meaning behind the article seems to be that for women, going to an Israeli seminary is frivolous, while for men, taking time off for Israeli yeshiva is worthwhile (Holy books for men! Picture books for women! ~Yentl). If the sum of a woman’s worth is to be a wife and mother, than any other pursuit is merely a distraction from achieving her true purpose. With this mindset, it makes sense that sending a daughter to an Israeli seminary is simply a costly and misleading detour to her eventual destiny, which will be anything but glamorous.
So, how much do we value our daughter’s education? No two communities will have the same answer, just as no two families will have the same answer. It could be that Rabbi Rudomin’s opinion makes a lot of sense given the culture of the community in which he lives. If the main objective for the women in his community is to get married and start families as early as possible, perhaps spending a year in Israel is a waste of time and money.
Those of us in different orthodox communities who value higher education for our daughters, value the opportunity for them to build a spiritual foundation independent from the influences of the men they will be dating (it’s all too easy for a girl to agree to take on the customs, stringencies, or religious laxities of a boy she wants to marry, only to be regretful of the compromises she made after marriage), and value the experience they will have managing their own space away from home as preparation for managing their future marital homes, might have a very different take on the importance of sending our daughters to seminary.
We know that there are different methods of education that appeal to different communities when it comes to younger children. For example, it has been widely reported that Jewish day schools in some communities emphasize secular studies for girls, while those subjects are downplayed for boys, because Torah studies are primary concern for males, while supporting future kollel husbands and children are the goals for females. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that people from those communities are questioning the validity of sending post Bais Yaakov girls for further Torah study, when that was never an area of emphasis before. Likewise, it should come as no surprise that in communities where boys and girls receive a relatively egalitarian education with equal emphasis on religious and secular studies (even if the classrooms are separate sex environments), there should be equal importance placed on giving both males and females further Torah education at the geographical epicenter of Jewish spirituality – Israel.
I find that I no longer get outraged or angry when I read articles like this one by Rabbi Rudomin, because it would be the same thing as getting outraged on behalf of an Amish woman who isn’t allowed to adorn her shoes with buckles or becoming inflamed upon learning a Mormon woman can’t drink caffeinated coffee. These restrictions are a part of their culture, and they might be totally ok with it. I’m not part of the kollel community, and it isn’t my culture or lifestyle. If the men and women of the kollel community are fine with a woman’s primary route to spiritual greatness being through marriage and motherhood – who am I to protest? The communal attitude of my culture is equally as foreign, and in some cases objectionable, to those in the yeshivish velt. Thankfully, there isn’t only one derech to rely upon, and those of us who have different attitudes than our neighbors about women’s education or life in general, have other avenues available to us.