1 Sivan 5763
Dear JemSem Readers,
Below are three of the many letters I received in response to my Adar Bet letter on college issues, followed by my response.
Mrs. Chana Silver
Dear Mrs. Silver,
Thank you for all the chizuk and eitzos you give to young girls and women through your letters on Jemsem.
Concerning your response to the three college age girls in the most recent Jemsem e-mail, while I agree wholeheartedly with your answer, I think that, with all due respect, you neglected some important pieces of information. The starting point, which you mentioned in your letter, that our primary and only-goal in life is avodas Hashem, is non negotiable. It’s the starting point, the middle, and the endpoint. There were other things, though, that as mechanchos, we have the responsibility to say – and to be neglect this is to do our chanichos a tremendous disservice – that while avodas Hashem is the only ikar in life, there is no mitzvah to be uneducated and poor. There are many, many women who are supporting learning husbands, as I myself do b’ezras Hashem, who are not struggling from day to day. As wonderful as the parenting skills are, children do not thrive as much when there is constant worry about money in the house. There is no question that in the United States (Israel may quite well be another story), a college degree in the majority of cases will raise a person’s salary significantly, and a Masters degree will raise it above that. We’re not talking about enough money to buy a house in Lawrence; we’re talking about basic subsistence for a frum family.
It’s a disservice to not even mention such a fact to these young, impressionable girls who don’t understand that to live a life of Torah, you need to do everything possible to make that life the best that it can be, mitoch the gashmius and ruchniyus. There is no reason whatsoever that a tremendous number of American kollel couples are living below the poverty line in certain areas, often due to the fact that the women do not possess any degree above high school. If seminary and twelve years of yeshiva served their purposes, then hopefully we can expect strong, erlich girls to be able to face the challenges of college. And few people except in the Ivy League, where clearly none of the letter writers were going, attend college for a full four years any more. Most people, with AP and other credits, can do it in two or three maximum. It’s grossly unfair to these girls to only present one side, let them know that their parents mean well, and that if they want to live a Torah life, they need to do everything possible within Halachic and hashkafic means to do it. All I’m asking you to do is to present fair pictures of both sides – or else these girls face the likely prospect (unless they marry rich, which is not b’yideihem) of living with much less simchas hachaim and menuchas hanefesh than they deserve.
[Concerning the possible answer that people should learn to live with less – that’s possible and true. However, in America, these girls have not grown up with that mentality, and as inspiring as their teachers in seminary are, the girls are not psychologically equipped to live at a standard below that which they are used to].
Anyway, much more remains to be said on the subject. I urge you to present fair sides in every letter that you write.
Kol hakavod for all your efforts.
Name Withheld – Mechaneches
In response to the letters written by girls concerned about college, and your response, I would like to bring to light another point.
Many of us think or plan that we will get married young, have children, and not work. We may also think that we can do our jobs without degrees. Many times, this does happen – I am now married and pregnant, and teaching without a degree, and it is only two and a half years since I left seminary. However, for many people this is not the case. Many girls unfortunately do not get married for several years, or have trouble conceiving, and work full time even though they are married.
Even for those of us whose plans have worked out, the future is always unknown. We never know what Hashem has in store for us. I remember a friend of mine talking to my mother about the fact that she was ready to get married and wanted to not go to college, and her mother forbade her. This friend could not understand why this was. My mother delicately pointed out that this girl’s mother had very valid – and personal – reasons for wanting her daughter to get at least a college degree. You see, my friend is the second of five children in her family, and her father was niftar when this girl was in fifth grade. And so, her mother, who did not plan on going to work, was all of a sudden left with the burden of supporting a family with five children by herself.
Since we do not know what the future holds, we must always have a contingency plan. As a teacher, I know that I can continue to teach without a degree. However, I also know that a degree will ensure me a higher salary, as well as guarantee me a job wherever I go. Therefore, even though I already have a job, I plan on finishing my bachelors AND master’s degrees.
I firmly feel that there is always a “kosher” program to attend, and it is extremely important to find these programs and attain an education. Hashem helps those who help themselves. If you go through college and graduate school with the firm belief that you are doing this to help provide for your future, and the future of your bayis, then college, wherever you go, can become a part of your avodat Hashem…
I have no idea if you’ll want to publish this, but I think Chana left
something out that my mother strongly impressed upon me.
My mother got married shortly after high school. A couple of years later she got divorced, B”H having not had any children. A few years later she married my father, and bli ayin hara they are soon going to celebrate their 29th anniversary.
My mother realized that if you are, chas veshalom and lo aleinu, in a situation like she was, where a divorce was her only option, if you have never been in charge of yourself and have no way of being self-sufficient, you may choose to stay in a God forbid mentally or physically abusive situation rather than take that difficult leap out of it.
Dearest fellow sem grads, B”H I am happily married and so are many of my friends. However, situations like my mothers are becoming more and more common. For you to CHOOSE not to get a college degree when you have the opportunity (i.e. when you’re after seminary and before marriage) can be locking yourself into a mindset that you can’t support yourself. College grads make much more money in the US at the exact same jobs, and here in Israel as well – even the unemployment funds you get as a college grad is higher than otherwise! Because B”H there exist good, kosher environments to get a degree, and B”H there are also scholarships and so on, before you decide not to think very carefully. My mother had gotten a two-year degree and part of what enabled her to get divorced, was knowing she COULD go on without him, if necessary.
IY”H no one reading this should ever know from divorce. But the statistics say some of you will. Please, consider this before you decide to forgo a college degree.
Name withheld to protect my mother’s identity
Dear College-Concerned Readers,
Thank you for giving me another opportunity to express myself on this important and sensitive topic.
My first letter was written with assumption that the overwhelming majority of JemSem readers include college as part of their hishtadlus for a livelihood. How concerned should we be for our role as breadwinner? Should it include the possibility of poverty (Name withheld Mechaneches), divorce (letter from BTI graduate), or chas veshalom death (Naava’s letter)??
That’s precisely why I wrote, “a Rav should be consulted about these very big decisions” (twice, to be exact). In other words the trade off between bitachon and hishtadlus will by definition change between community and community and between person and person.
The two points I wanted to make can be summarized as follows:
1) Our choices have to be “lishma”. Let’s not get trapped in to a secular mentality that gives disproportionate weight to the importance of career. If someone asks you, “who are you?” you don’t want to answer, “I am a dentist”. The goal of college is not that mom can kvell in shul, “my son the doctor” (or in our readers cases, “my daughter the therapist…) but rather in legitimate terms of our avodas HaShem. In shamayim we will not be asked what letters we have after our name, we will not even be asked if we had a career. We will be asked what we did in this world for Him.
2) When choosing a college, our first consideration should be the environment. The options for women to find a college with minimal ruchniyus compromises are increasing. Similarly, when choosing a degree and career, all the ruchniyus ramifications should be thought through well in advance.
So, as you can see, the point that I was articulating in my first letter is not so much whether to go to college or not, [as I can appreciate the issues voiced in the above letters], but HOW one would go about it all. This should include the factors, thoughts, and decisions that must be considered and weighed concerning this important subject.
With Warmest Wishes,
Mrs. Chana Silver