Friday, June 30, 2006

A Kolel Guy Is A Sexy Guy

I am of the opinion that young unmarried frum women are the driving force behind the growth of the kolel movement. After all, the burden of keeping it all together falls on their shoulders. They are expected to go to work to help support the family, since kolel incomes are never sufficient to support large families. In addition the women put pressure on their own parents to help financially. If the girls didn’t want their potential husbands to sit and learn they are free to say so. Certainly in America most young women who want a husband who is going to school or a husband who holds down a regular job are not pressured into marrying someone who will not work for many years. And in fact there are many, many very Orthodox women who say upfront they don’t want a kolel guy, and that’s the end of it.

If the women said no, the men who wanted to learn Torah would find it very difficult to marry. The opposite is in fact true. A young yeshiva ‘bochor’ (single, unmarried) with a good reputation is much sought after. Frequently potential father in laws, egged on by their daughters promise the young scholar a certain number of years of financial help should he choose their daughter. Everyone wants the ‘best’ guys, and the competition is frequently fierce. It’s what traders would call a seller’s market. The bocherim(pl.) and their parents make the market, so to speak. Many poorer families get priced out of the competition for the guys with the best reputation and scholarly abilities. There are of course many other factors that go into deciding who marries whom, but there is no question that in most instances the upper tier of yeshiva students are in the driver’s seat. All this would not be happening unless the demand for these young men effectively outstrips the supply. The only segment of the market that is even tighter are Ultra Orthodox yeshiva people with graduate degrees from Ivy League Schools. Very Rare. As one astute observer once remarked to me, “You gotta find these guys before they take the M-CATS or GRE. Afterwards it’s pretty much impossible”’

So what is it about these guys who desire Torah study above all else that makes them so attractive? My answer will come as a bit of a shock to frum people, but should not be very surprising from a secular perspective. I feel that what is happening is a largely unconscious libidinal cathexis of intelligence. In English I am saying these young women unconsciously sublimate their desire for a sexually strong and virile man to a desire for a man who is intellectually strong and powerful. The larger the reputed intellect the sexier he becomes in their eyes. They desire, chalish, yearn for a young man who is adept in the intellectual combat involved in Talmudic study. (milchamtaw shel Torah). These men are not emaciated, unheroic weaklings, incapable of earning a living, dependent on their wives, in laws and parents for their daily bread. Not at all. Underneath their refined and modest exteriors are knights of Torah and princes of scholarship, engaged in the heroic undertaking of understanding the Talmud and its many commentaries. The language used to describe the combatants in Torah disputes is the language of chivalry: jousting, fighting, and vanquishing one’s intellectual opponent. Tell me which young woman doesn’t want a shining knight, devoted to her and to their children. These knights will never stray, will always be home for Shabbat, will sing of their love and devotion to their supportive wives, and mean it.

What a rare find is a capable wife?
Her value is far beyond that of rubies
Her husband puts his confidence in her,
And lacks no good thing.
She is good to him and never bad,
All the days of her life.

Her husband praises her.
Many women have done well,
But you surpass them all.

Sheker hachen v'hevel hayofi
ishah yir'at Hashem hi tit'halal

Charm is deceptive
Beauty is vain
It is for her fear of the Lord
That a woman is to be praised.

This chapter from Proverbs, sometimes referred to as “A Woman of Valor”, is recited in all traditional Jewish homes on Friday evenings, after returning from the synagogue and singing "Shalom Aleichem", and before sitting down to the Shabbat evening meal. In kolel homes this hymn acquires a special poignancy and significance. Kolel wives are truly women of valor! The husbands and their wives both know who is making this life materially possible. He might be her knight, but she is his CEO.

My blog has grown enormously in the last month. I believe I now might have four readers for which I am grateful. I would like to wish each and every one of you a wonderful 4th of July.


At 10:32 PM, Blogger Zackary Sholem Berger said...

Daniel Boyarin talks a great deal in his work about the traditional Jewish redefinition of masculinity.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Yes Iam familiar with Boyarin's work and will eventually get around to say something about his work. I think he exaggerates the sissy aspect of traditional Jewish masculinity. Bnei Torah have a much stronger masculine core than he acknowledges. He has his own uber- gay & Neturei Karta agenda agenda.Way too hip & Berkley for a midwesterner like me.

Thank you for pointing this out.

At 6:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My answer will come as a bit of a shock to frum people, but should not be very surprising from a secular perspective. "

No - this is eitehr conscious or almost so for many if not most.

(BTW many dont sing eyshes chayil).


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