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A haredi man trades stocks in Simple Trade’s shared workspace in Ramat Gan.(Photo by: SIMPLE TRADE)
Three Ladies, Three Lattes: To work, to work, ‘l’haim’
Secular Pam, modern Orthodox Tzippi and haredi Danit answer your questions on percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric.
I am a 28-year-old haredi man who grew up secular in the United States, became more observant there and embraced an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle when I spent a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem when I was 19. My wife is pregnant with our third child and I feel that I have to work and earn a living, although by doing so I am betraying my belief system – my ani ma’amin – as well as my community and my raison d’etre: Torah learning. I don’t usually read the newspaper, but your column was open on the table at my dentist’s surgery and I decided to ask you about whether I should feel guilty for going out to work. I’m not really trained for anything, so it won’t be so easy.

– Working Nine to Five? 

Tzippi Sha-ked:

A haredi friend once asked me to do something surprising: come to her house before her daughter’s wedding and ‘chat’ with the bride-to-be. My role? To spell out the repercussions of having a kollel husband. She wanted her daughter to understand the whole megilla of no breadwinning male, yet she touted the virtues of Torah scholarship.

My speech went something like this: “Shiraleh, dahlink, buy yourself a spot in the next world via his learning.

Meanwhile, here on earth, six-year-old Miriam will have the sniffles and Moishe a toothache and your ‘flexible’ boss will say you can’t take another day off.

You won’t have done the laundry in four days because your back aches as you’re eight months pregnant. Your last salary barely put spaghetti on the table, leaving no money for a Rav Kav, so you walk miles in Jerusalem to do major shopping. Your mother-in-law complains you haven’t hosted her in a while. You’re just one person, on one salary, often not comparable to a man’s.

Your husband says he’s changed chevrusa partners and needs to concentrate. It’s then that you’ll look in the mirror and remind your former self you willingly signed up to be a super-woman extraordinaire.”

My friend’s son-in-law soon found a job.

Considering 9 to 5? Know your wife works 24/7.

Your ani ma’amin must encompass a Torah that includes braces for Ruchami, proper food, Rav-Kav fare, and to do what’s fair.

Dear Haredim, Please stop “working” towards your own financial disintegration.

With love, your partners in Torah.

Danit Shemesh:

We must sustain both body and spirit. We cannot fully live without being in touch with the “why and how” of living.

You and your wife made the decision to live according to Hashem [God], meaning learning Torah while keeping body and soul together; the “why and how.”

You built your life around that decision and chose a community as a support system. In my mind that is to be admired; all power to you! The idea of learning originates from prioritizing what we value most. If the secular community values contribution to progress and technology, to higher academics and changing the face of the world through capitalistic endeavors, the haredi community values Torah ideals, the mechanism of the entire creation, and our role in it.

However, when community transforms from “Jiminy Cricket” pulling your coattails to stop you from doing something you don’t want to do into “Big Brother” watching your every move, criticizing and threatening to oust you, then community becomes a burden and not a help.

If your physical needs are not being met, you must unravel yourselves from the protective labyrinth you have woven around your lives, cut the guilt strings, and make a new decision. Feel good about your decision to work.

Rather than get upset with the community for doing the job you appointed it to do (the haredi community is not fickle; it sticks unwaveringly to its belief), appreciate it. Then make your individual choice, again.

Pam Peled:

So what can I say? I think the Messiah is standing tiptoe on the misty mountaintops just waiting to rush in and say hello. Haredi men wanting to work, Danit encouraging the notion; there seems nothing for me to add.

Of course, OF COURSE, OF COURSE I think you should work. I think you should have felt guilty in the years that you didn’t. I feel sorry that men like you are not “really trained for anything,” but I feel sure that your brain is honed and alert after years of poring over sacred texts; you will surely be able to study something while you make some money and end up with a good and satisfying career. At least you know English; pity the poor haredim being educated here, they couldn’t read The Jerusalem Post even if it landed in their bedroom by mistake.

Good, good, good for you. Good for me, too – if you are part of a trend this will save me some of my hardearned money that at present goes on income tax to pay for your friends’ study habits. Just thinking of it makes me rejoice. In fact, I think I’ll consider my taxes lowered already and, with the shekel I’m going to be saving soon, go and splurge on a good cup of coffee and a chocolate muffin. Yay.

Shabbat shalom.

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