Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reinstating the Old Fashioned Torah:Part 1 A Primer on the Torah World and Its Challenges

Guest post by Joe Orlow

What is the Torah World?

The "Torah World" is a worldwide network of Jewish communities. The communities are centered on the study and observance of the Torah. The men in these communities study the Torah in schools called Yeshivas. Another term used synonymously with "Torah World" is "Yeshiva World".

The children in the Torah World are sent to schools where all students are Jewish. The children study the Torah. To satisfy civil law requirements, and to prepare for working at a job, the schools also have classes in math, science, language, etc. Many communities have separate schools for boys and girls. Most of the students continue with the schooling until graduation, typically when the students are about eighteen years old. Students then often attend yeshivas (for the men) and seminaries (for the women). Marriage follows. Marriages are often arranged, with the bride and groom both raised in the Torah World. Families of ten or more children are common.

There is no strict definition of which families are in the Torah World, and which are not. Torah World families generally are part of a greater Jewish community in the cities where they reside. A general rule is that the men of the Torah World wear black suits and black hats, and will attend services, or Daven, at a Yeshiva and/or at Shuls affiliated with a Yeshiva, as well as study there.

In broad strokes, this is the Torah World.

It should be noted that there is no central governing authority in the Torah World. There are councils of Rabbis in various regions of the world. These councils, in turn, stay in communication with each other. In the U.S., Agudath Israel of America has a "Moetzes Gedolai HaTorah", "Council of Torah Sages", which self-selects Rabbis to discuss matters of import to the Torah World communities in the U.S. Each community may also have an independent council, or Vaad, and an independent Jewish Court, or Bais Din, that deals with, and decides matters of, Jewish Law, or Halacha.

Through marriage ties and through having ties to the same Torah leaders, communities in the Torah World are close-knit. In some Torah World communities, the homes of Torah families are in close proximity, to the extent that Torah World families form the majority of the population for many blocks within a city. In other communities, Torah World Jews live in near each other, but also among non-Jews and non-Torah World Jews.

The interaction of Torah World Jews with outsiders can be friendly and open in the public realm, but is also strictly proscribed, and limited, in the private realm.

How are families supported in the Torah World?

In some Torah World communities, the husbands do not generally work, outside of teaching or running camps or being paid to study Torah. Some of the money to support these Torah World families comes from tuition and camp fees paid by other Torah World families. Much of the income originates outside the Torah World from non-Torah World Jewish families who send their children to Torah World schools and camps, or non-Torah World Jews who donate money to these schools and camps.

Many husbands in Torah World families do work, and in some Torah World communities it may be most men. Other income streams for families with or without husbands with jobs or investments may be from wives working, support from relatives, support from government programs, etc. It's important to note that sitting and learning Torah full-time is still held to be the desired way of living even by those men who work. Working is seen as a fallback plan when the option of learning full time is not possible for reasons such as an unwillingness to live in near poverty.

However, even for those men who work, life can be on the financial edge, as staggering tuitions, camp fees, and cost of living in a nice neighborhood can drain the resources of even families with two incomes from husband and wife who have substantial income from professional employment. This is because poorer parents are given breaks in tuition costs. The upshot is that the wealthier families pay full tuition that essentially subsidizes the poorer families. This setup can be a disincentive for some men in destitute Torah World families to seek employment, since a large part of extra income may just go to pay tuition increases.

What is the standard of living in the Torah World?

The large families, relatively high percentage of non-working men, and cost of schooling, cost of Kosher food, etc., along with the unspoken obligation to support married children and grandchildren, leads to widespread poverty, near poverty, or just financial desperation.

How does the poverty impact the quality of life?

Many families struggle to survive in Torah communities. They willingly accept deprivation because of their high level of dedication to keeping the Torah. In some families, the women have to work to support the family, and are also responsible for the upkeep of the home, food shopping and preparation, and raising the children. It is not unusual to find women who have lost their idealism along the way, or who never fully embraced the Torah World mode of life, and who thus divorce their husbands. Constant lack of finances typically puts pressure on families, and that unrelieved pressure can be a contributing factor in divorce.

Large families can mean that the population of a Torah community expands 10% every year. Housing can become scarce in these communities, driving up the cost of living even higher. This can lead to borrowing and high levels of debt as families try to pay basic needs like utilities.

How does the Torah World leadership interface with families that are struggling?

A highly sought after qualification for a Torah World leader is a willingness to permit people to support themselves in ways that are legally and Halachically shadowy. This lends itself to disastrous results when violations of civil laws and Halacha that the corrupt Rabbis tried to keep hidden are exposed, as happens from time to time.

In other words, the corrupt Rabbis who condone wrongdoing are apparently being practical. These Rabbis are themselves under tremendous pressure to make a New Torah that sanctions sometimes ignoring civil law and Torah Halacha. Without this New Torah, the Torah World would disappear as many now permitted resources to survive would become forbidden fruit.

Thus, the very existence of the Torah World requires occasionally not following the Torah. Now, there is a concept of "Hora'a Sha'a", the need for expedient rulings on rare occasions. But even these rulings that allow breaking the Torah are part and parcel of the Torah. What many Torah World leaders permit or wink at goes well beyond the necessity to violate the Torah in order to preserve it.

A non-financial example of grinding the Torah under the heel is how the Torah World places paramount value on families appearing to be perfect by Torah World family standards. In a bizarre twisting of Halacha, some communities unofficially label children as unmarriageable if these children come from families that don't meet these community-set standards. This can lead to something as relatively benign as hiding the behavior of the sibling of a child seeking to marry, to activity designed to avoid divorce, which may include wife swapping and other adulterous under-the-radar transgressions. All this subterfuge is intended to give an outsider the impression that a home is perfect.

It is historically unusual that so many Jewish men in a community sit and learn and do not work. What will be the outcome in the long run?

It should be noted that the Torah requires men to work and support their families. There are indications that there may be a limit to how much longer the women in the Torah World will put up with being raised at home and taught in schools the lie that men not working is the highest expression of a Torah life.

After several decades of this lifestyle, we may be nearing the breaking point. The Torah World in the U.S. was born of the social upheaval of the '60's (non-Jewish calendar). The first generation of the Torah World was supported in large part by parents who worked, and by generous government programs subsidizing families and schools. The second generation was supported by these same parents, now supporting grandchildren. The family support is now drying up, since Torah World parents don't have money for themselves, much less for their married children.

It is interesting to note that the current presidential campaign in the U.S. is fueled almost entirely by a debate over whether those who work and have a comfortable life are obligated, through taxes, to subsidize those with less. The outcome of this election will have a far reaching impact on the Torah World.

We will explore further the role of women in the Torah World. In particular, what would happen if the women refused to continue to support the men?

The overwhelming burden of keeping the Torah World going falls on the Torah World women. These women are trained from birth to be the economic engine for the Torah World, in opposition to the Torah. The collective burden is growing to the point of becoming impossible to sustain.

It is becoming increasingly likely that women who have "chapped" the deception may begin to refuse to marry non-working men.

Men and women may opt out of marrying altogether due to the high divorce rate -- in other words, singles will not marry out of a fear of getting divorced and being wiped out financially and even socially.

Thus, Torah World communities will be impacted as many women choose to live a Torah-true life where their husbands work, or when singles choose, against the Torah, not to marry at all and write themselves out of the Torah World. Commensurate with this, the number of births into the Torah World will begin to dwindle. This will put even more financial burden on those left in the community, since the non-working adults will be an even higher percentage of the community at that point.

Some fault lines of Torah World communities are already apparent as significant numbers of school age children choose on their own to stop going to school. Some end up alienated from their families. Going to a school is part of the price for a ticket to a Torah World marriage. These young people, by leaving school, are essentially checking out of the Torah World.

While this breakdown of community integrity is occurring slowly now, the danger of a meltdown is looming. It would take just one generation of nineteen year old girls to rebel, and the edifice of the Torah World could crumble, as younger sisters might join the rebels, and an avalanche of refusal to serve in the ranks of the Torah World would ensue. The artifice of men learning without earning would collapse under its own weight.

Sara Schenirer revolutionized education of Jewish women. Tradition teaches that the Chashmonean only took up arms when a relative refused to be taken to the Hegmon on her wedding night. What Yeshiva girl is now studying up on the myriad of Jewish women in whose merit the Jewish People have been saved, from Sara Imeunu to Yehudis to the woman who single-handedly circumcised her baby in a concentration camp? Is this Yeshiva girl energizing herself to battle and lead us back to the Torah-true life? It would only take a few "texts" to her friends for her to pull the plug on the Torah World.

What does the future hold for the Torah World?

The Torah World has to morph, as a whole, into a Torah-true World. Men will have to find employment to find a wife and to increase the likelihood the marriage will last. This will have to be part of an organized movement, not ad hoc as is now the case.

The next segment will outline some possible ways of re-building the Torah World based on the Old Fashioned Torah.

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