What Do You Wish You Were Told?

A recent Torah-oriented email newsletter discussed the fact that BTs are often exposed to a beautiful life of harmonious family life, Tzinius dress and festive Shabbos meals but are not informed of the food, clothing, tuition and other costs involved.

What are the things you wish you were told?

And would knowing those things have affected the path you took?

14 comments on “What Do You Wish You Were Told?

  1. I was exposed to my Bubbe and Zayde’s sensible Eastern European Judaism at an early age and I found it meaningful and joyful. It was their kind of household I wanted to set up.
    I was also taught in a Hebrew School in which we learned Pirke Avot and Chumash as texts. There was no particular hashkafa involved. We were not only allowed to ask questions, we were encouraged to do so. Unfortunately, everything was done on a pshat level.
    The Orthodox Jewish World has changed dramatically since I was a child. I never heard the word Hareidi when I was young. The label, “M.O.” didn’t exist either.
    Right now, the only websites that teach Torah that I can find, with the exception of the Y.U. and O.U. websites are Hareidi ones.
    The Hareidi ones elicit reactions of contempt in me because they strike me as being so extreme and dogmatic. At times, the content I hear or read on some of them tempts me to stop davening and saying tehillim for 2 or 3 days.(Please forgive me for my candor.) The Y.U. and O.U. ones meet some of my needs, yet they don’t take me back to the Camelot days of Bubbe and Zayde’s house.
    I will never give up on Orthodox Judaism. I will find some way to celebrate my Jewish heritage by hook or crook. Bubbe and Zayde, G-d bless your memory for ever and ever.

  2. I was also appalled by what I privately called the “glorification of stupidity” in the frum community. I grew up among non-religious Jewish kids who were encouraged to be smart and to get good marks and to go on to college and graduate school. It wasn’t until I became frum that I met women who were actually proud of dropping out of college, and men who didn’t care about going on past the bachelor’s degree, or even about going to college at all. One baal-teshuva remarked in an article in a Jewish newspaper: “We tell our girls not to care about their secular studies because they’re just going to get married, and we tell our boys not to care about their secular studies because just they’re going to learn, and that’s awful because you wind up with young men and women who don’t know anything.”

    I was also appalled by the inability of young frum men and women to spell correctly, as well as their inability to do simple math or to fill out forms correctly. I’ve even met frum people who couldn’t write a name correctly even after it was spelled out to them. One young man who had to write down a sentence which he heard as part of his citizenship exam couldn’t do it; he flunked on the word “family,” writing it down as “feline.”

    I know that part of the problem is that English may not be the first language at home, and that Yiddish has a very free, loose phonetic spelling (an extra “ayin” here or there doesn’t seem to matter) but I think there’s a much larger sociological problem going on here. IMHO the yeshivos are failing certain RWO frum and Chassidic kids in their secular studies, and frankly nobody cares.

  3. I just thought there should have been a little more honesty about the difficulties of supporting a large family. To hold back the information that he had the benefit of family wealth is to deceive young frum men into thinking, “Well, if Rabbi Plony was able to sit and learn his whole life and still support ten children, I can do it too.”

    Also, there should be more honesty about the whole topic of birth control. Granted, it’s an extremely sensitive and controversial subject, and not necessarily something to bring up in a shiur or public forum. However, I have yet to hear any rav say anything to the effect of, “My wife and I decided after (three) (five) (eight) children that we had reached our optimum family size.”

    That’s one of the reasons why I admire Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander so much: he had the courage and the ability to create a practical solution to the problem of obtaining a good parnasa without going to secular college. He for me typifies the saying: “You can 100% foresee the future only if you are the one who creates it.”

  4. Judy, aren’t there any examples of rabbis who had the same views, but did not have access to wealth?

    Also, don’t many rabbis counsel against birth control as a general rule, but recommend it in specific instances that warrant it? The same may be true regarding college.

  5. There’s one thing I wish people would be more honest about. Rabbi XYZ used to speak out against Jewish people who used birth control to limit family size. He and his Rebbetzin had 15 children. Well, I later found out that Rebbetzin XYZ was from a wealthy family; in other words, Rabbi XYZ received major financial help from his in-laws. I’m not begrudging Rabbi & Rebbetzin XYZ for getting financial help from her parents, I’m glad they did get that kind of assistance. I only wish that Rabbi XYZ had had the courage to be more honest about the financial hardships faced by large families who do not get that kind of monetary help from their relatives. So too, Rabbi Plony (also a pseudonym) who talked about raising ten children who went on to marry and build their own families, houses, cars, etc. all without going to college; of course then I also discovered that Rebbetzin Plony had come from a wealthy family. I would like to see more honesty from those who tell frum Jews not to go to college and to have a dozen children; give us a realistic aitza (guidance) for earning a decent parnosa and paying the bills for a big family. For that I congratulate Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander of blessed memory for his practical wisdom in founding Touro College as a place where frum men and women could learn to earn (or as one of Touro’s own institutions is called, a Machon L’Parnoso).

  6. For a seeker, Step One in assessing Torah as one’s potential guide is seeing the alternatives to it clearly. The amount of false lifestyle advertising, paid or otherwise, in this society is staggering, so there is much societal conditioning to overcome. A proper appraisal of the alternative lifestyles would show their many bad points (spiritual, moral, ecological, economic, you name it).

  7. Regarding Ross’s comment (#7):

    If we are forewarned about downers and perks, we can do a calculation and make an arithmetic decision. This leads to a numerical decision. I did a downers and perks calculation several years ago, and its outcome was negative. That took me “off the derech” for a number of years. While I am back “on,” that hiatus will have long-term consequences.

    If we view these not as downers and perks, but as obstacles and achievements, we can try to work around or through the obstacles, while completing achievements to Hashem’s satisfaction and our own. (To paraphrase Bircat HaMazon/Grace After Meals, we want to be found satisfactory in the eyes of G-d and man).

    L’havdil (a comparison equates the objects figuratively but not spiritually), we can look at an athlete’s suffering in preparation and competition. These are made worthwhile by the final achievement. The athlete can include mastery of the obstacles (a strong opponent, a steep hill,etc.) as something to be addressed in training and in competitive tactics. These concepts can be applied to our spiritual growth as well.

  8. Steve’s right. If I had been “forewarned” about these things mentioned (any many others, including the possibility of family alienation) at the beginning stages of becoming frum, I would’ve taken out my mental scale, weighed the downers and the perks, and said it’s just not worth it.

    It’s true: “One must be initially excited about and attracted to a life of Torah and Mitzvos before one comprehends that being a Torah observant Jew entails Mesiras Nefesh.”

  9. I think that the question has to be considered in the context of the oldest models of Kiruv abd Chizuk. The exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah represent both the emotional and intellectual building blocks of Jewish education and are the model. All of the inspiration of the Exodusb required concretization in the form of the committment of the Jewish People to the Torah. One must be initially excited about and attracted to a life of Torah and Mitzvos before one comprehends that being a Torah observant Jew entails Mesiras Nefesh.

  10. A more global, professional survey of these costs would be really helpful, but it would need major funding and high participation, both of which are unlikely to happen.

    Don’t think it needs major funding, though I found it does need minor. High participation is harder to come by, but it is possible.

    In fact, working on that soon. ;)

  11. It’s called the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Also the Miranda warnings: “You have the right to remain silent….” If the conversation is happening at a Shabbos table rather than a police interrogation, you can always change the topic to something impersonal, or just praise the cooking.

    No, seriously, Mr. Cohen, I myself had this problem a few years ago, when I injudiciously revealed certain personal information to women whom I thought were friends, only to find in my horror that it was later used against me. Now I know better and keep the conversation harmless.

  12. With the Shidduch crisis and the infertility crisis, I can’t imagine that frum families hosting impressionable truth-seekers, not-yet-BT’s and not-yet-Gairim would talk about the costs of tuition, clothes and food for a large family. It’s almost an ayin harah to say to a not-yet-married or a divorced-without-kids person, “Well, after five children it gets tough to pay full tuition to the boys’ and girls’ yeshivos.”

    People really don’t know what the future is going to hold in store for their personal lives. Yes, it would be realistic to talk about how many middle class frum families do find themselves financially squeezed, but I think that’s something most truth-seekers discover rather quickly, as nobody’s trying or able to hide the financial realities of large frum families. Also, for many people, money is a personal and sensitive topic (it has been said and not jokingly that there are individuals who can talk for hours with strangers about every last detail of their intimate lives but change the topic immediately to avoid discussing their finances).

    BT’s and Gairim understand the financial problems involved on both ends: the possibility of reduced income from a career due to certain career choices, along with greater expenses down the road. One can only hope that the concept of Bitachon comes along also: that ultimately one’s own efforts (although one must make the proper Hishtadlus) do not create a Parnasa, it all comes from Hashem.

  13. People can tell us what they know about food, clothing, tuition and other costs that are specific to them and their circles (assuming they aren’t afraid of disouraging us by sharing this info!!).

    The more people speculate about costs and situations outside their immediate experience, the more their advice will be off base.

    A more global, professional survey of these costs would be really helpful, but it would need major funding and high participation, both of which are unlikely to happen.

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