Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is there such a thing as "ideal"?

Wow, I haven't posted in a while.

(Truthfully, my life's been somewhat boring. I worked in a law firm for a few weeks, sat around on the computer, and then ran off to Chicago, where I had a most adventurous Friday visiting the Museum of Science and Industry, spraining my ankle, walking through the streets of Chicago after 12 a.m. on crutches, coming back to a pitch-black house because there was no power, and being woken by a house alarm 4:15 a.m. Shabbos morning.)

But anyway!

I've been wondering something for a while:

Is there such a thing as a universally ideal lifestyle?

Is it a good idea to teach that there is a certain ideal lifestyle that every Jewish household should aspire to or try to be?

What are the consequences of such teaching?

What happens to the people who can't (or don't want to) live up to that ideal?

I have been doing a lot of thinking on this myself (and maybe I will follow this up with a post on what my background is on this), but I would like to hear your thoughts.

P.S. In case you weren't sure, when I say "ideal lifestyle," I mean being a man who is learning Torah full-time or being married to a man who is learning Torah full-time.


Ezzie said...

Funny, that's actually NOT what I thought you were talking about, but the same answer I think applies across the board: No.

I think there are certain basic parameters, but there's a WIDE range within those parameters. It depends on so much: The people, the place, the situation, and all that surrounds them.

Even in regards to the specifics of the Q: There's a difference in what someone who for whatever reason has a lot of money and could afford to (say) learn all day at no cost to others and another person with the same ability. Perhaps one is best suited to learning, while the other can have a greater impact through utilizing his resources to allow others (who would make excellent Jewish leaders, poskim, etc.) to pursue such a thing.

I wonder if people get sucked in by the idea that "well, who do we know of from times past: Gedolim! Must be, that's who we should all be striving to be like!" Meanwhile, perhaps that's just it - people in those days knew that they had their roles. The Rabbonim led their communities, put their thoughts and understandings down for eternity, while others accomplished other things for the community. In time, those were forgotten, but they are as important. They followed the ideal that Chana mentioned recently about stepping off the stage when your time is done.

Anyway, no. :)

the apple said...

What did you think I was talking about?

Ezzie said...

I thought more general.

Scraps said...

I don't think that there is one ideal lifestyle--heck, even in the times of the Beit HaMikdash, not everyone learned full time! There was shevet Yissachar, and arguably Levi and Shimon (who were teachers), but other than that, people were merchants, farmers, artisans, etc. Even life back in the shtetl, which tends to get painted FAR more rosily than it ever was, was not a system in which everyone learned. Only the very best and brightest got more than a rudimentary cheder education. And guess what? People were still frum! (Granted, that's up for debate as well--a lot of people in Der Alter Heim were not nearly as frum as they're made out to be either, but that's a discussion for another day.)

I think that absolutely some people should be sitting and learning. If a guy has the head for it, great! But a lot of the guys--I'd even go so far as to say the majority of guys--sitting and learning are not necessarily cut out for full-time learning. However, they've been told over and over that to be a "good guy" they have to learn full time, and that guys who work are bums, and if they learn full time they can extort X, Y, and Z out of their future or current in-laws to support them in their learning. So what guy wouldn't want to learn?! Sounds like a great deal, right--spend your time shmoozing in the beis medrash, learn a little bit, and get an apartment, thousands of dollars in support to supplement the kollel check, whatever it is that a Good Guy gets where he's from. And of course, the girls are taught to want a husband who is sitting and learning, because that is the Ideal Lifestyle. So the system feeds itself--girls only want to marry Good Guys, and Good Guys are guys who are learning full-time, so any guy that wants to be a Good Guy will learn full-time, because then he can get lots of stuff out of his in-laws, who want their daughter to marry a Good Guy, so they tell themselves that they must pay the price.

I think that someone can absolutely live a Torah lifestyle while not learning full-time. In a lot of ways, it is actually much more challenging to be a frum, ehrlich baal habayit than it is to sit and learn all day--which might also be part of the logic in telling guys to stay in yeshivah, now that I'm thinking about it. If you're interacting with the world, doing business or in a profession, one will, as a matter of course, encounter tests and temptations of a variety of sorts. To be honest in business, to guard oneself against impropriety in a variety of ways, to make a kiddush Hashem in all of one's dealings with the secular world--that's really hard! And I think that people who successfully do so are not given enough credit in today's world (except at the yeshivah dinner, of course, where the guests of honor are always the highest donors).

Wow...that was a long rant. And I could go on, but I think you've heard enough from me for now. :)

the apple said...

Ezzie - Agreed. Because there are so many variables, as you pointed out, I think that is *exactly* why it is very impractical to teach that there is a lifestyle that will suit every Jewish household.

Even theoretically a certain lifestyle shouldn't be trumpeted as ideal, though, since Jewish history proves that one ideal Jewish lifestyle was never really a concept before. But do you think that to any extent, times have changed and now there *is* room for the teaching of an ideal lifestyle?

Alternatively, when do you think people's perception of a "best" lifestyle got all skewed?

Scraps - Agreed. Interesting that you took a similar approach to what Ezzie said: using Jewish history as an example for showing that there was never really a concept of an ideal ifestyle in the Jewish community.

Same as what i asked Ezzie - do you think that times have changed, though, and that now there *is* a need for/room to teach that there is an ideal Jewish lifestyle? And if you don't agree, when do you think it was that people's perception of history got skewed?

Erachet said...

I think it's incredibly dangerous to preach an "ideal" way of life that everyone should live up to, especially when we're talking about families as a whole. Each family has different dynamics and different needs. Therefore, there is a different "ideal" - I guess - for each one. While it might work for one family to have the husband/father learning all day, it won't work for most families and that's okay. I don't think we're meant to be learning all day, to be honest. I think we're meant to be partaking in the world.

A teacher of mine told a story yesterday about how he was just in a short film about a man who yearned to learn all day long but once he got married, he had all sorts of distractions: babies, diapers, dinner, helping with homework, etc. So he davened to Hashem to please help him not have any more distractions. So Hashem took away his physicality. So he no longer had to be distracted by all the physical things around him because he couldn't even do them - he was a sort of ghost-person (cars would drive right through him, for example). But the catch was, he had trouble doing mitzvot and learning, too. He couldn't hold a coin to give tzeddaka. He couldn't hold a sefer to learn so his daughter had to hold it for him. And then his presence in a minyan became questioned because he wasn't really a real, physical person, and then his marriage was even put into question and by then he realized how wrong he had been and davened to Hashem to restore his physicality. He realized that in order to serve Hashem, he would have to be involved in the physical world and there was nothing wrong with that.

I feel that, sometimes, people lose sight of that and it can cause all sorts of problems which could otherwise have been easily avoided. You know what I mean? Like, I don't think it's fair to your kids to decide to live in poverty because your husband is learning all day, nor is it fair to a woman to have to make the living for her entire family plus take care of the house and kids.

And just to add on to what Ezzie said, people think they need to be like the Gedolim. But the thing is, rov ha'am is not supposed to behave that way - think of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai when he came out of the cave and held everyone to the same level as himself. Hashem sent him back into the cave because he was not ready to return to the world! The world by its nature is a physical place and, hey, there wouldn't be so many mitzvot and laws about working fields, etc. if we weren't supposed to do those things as much as we're supposed to be learning Torah. Otherwise, why are we on this earth? Why would Hashem have created a world if it was not meant to be lived in? And also, Gedolim are just that - Gedolim. Not everyone can be a Gadol and not everyone should be a gadol. Mostly, people should just be people, I think.

Heh, anyway, I'll stop rambling on now. :) Have a shabbat shalom! And yay for being in a class together this semester!

Scraps said...

Apple, I have heard that argument before--"That was then, this is now, times have changed, etc." And I still disagree, although I will agree that it is definitely far more difficult to be involved in the world than it used to be. There are more challenges and temptations. However, that does not mean that it cannot be done, and it does not mean that the only way to protect oneself from those temptations is to close oneself off from the world within the four walls of the yeshivah. (Not to mention, there are plenty of things that go on in the yeshivot that are far from kosher as well, so that's no guarantee.) Like I said, I just don't think that everyone is cut out for full-time learning. Also, the system as it currently exists is bound to collapse, because at some point, within the next decade or two at the most, there will no longer be nearly enough well-off parents and/or grandparents to support the thousands of men who want to be sitting and learning on full support. I think that it is short-sighted to attempt to perpetuate The System as it currently exists, because it is simply not viable, nor is it the ideal in my opinion.

Erachet brought up another point that I wanted to mention but forgot to--there are many, many mitzvot in the Torah that specifically have to do with the physical world and earning one's livelihood through working. Farming, business dealings--why would we have such mitzvot if they weren't meant to be lived?

Rebecca said...

Ahh, the famous "Yissachar and Zevulun" question. I'd love to discuss it with you in person, now that we are finally in the same class! :-)

Diet Dr. Pepper said...

Hey Apple, amu"sh

Long time no speak.

Thanks for the footnote.

No, I don't think that there is one particularly ideal lifestyle. In my opinion, Torah is the ideal lifestyle (halevai, I can live up to it), but within the Torah outlook, there are many differing hashkafot that, I think, we should feel comfortable with, even while perhaps only ascribing to one or a few.

Chava said...

I'll agree that "Torah is ideal" but I have no idea what DDP meant by that statement, so I'll frame it as "the Torah gives us the tools to make our own lives ideal," not limiting us to a single option but enhancing the kedusha of whichever lifestyle we choose for ourselves. About the specific issue of learning vs. working, I'm not sure why everyone frames that as a modern question, since it in fact is a machloket tanaim. (Berachot 35b) Erachet already mentioned Rabi Shimon bar Yochai whose lifestyle was practically not compatible with that of the people around him, but even on a theoretical level (to use Apple's helpful distinction), Rabi Yishmael disagrees with Rashbi about the pasuk in Yehoshua 1:8, "This Torah should not depart from your mouth day and night" and says it should not be taken literally, based on the conflicting pasuk from Shema that says "You will collect your grain." Don't hold me to this but I think the Gemara there avoids taking sides on the question of ideals, although it does mention that Rabi Yishmael's adherents were more successful than Rashbi's-- again the question of practicality. Bottom line-- there has always been machloket on this issue. and probably always will be. But it's always hard to maneuver around the type of machloket where one side says "It can only be x" and the other side says "I disagree, it can be x or y or z." Also, in Rabi Yishmael's view of trying to achieve a both productive and spiritual society, is it best to direct different people towards different tasks? to have each individual split his life into different time periods for different tasks? to have each person split each day into different parts? Unclear.

The Yeshiva Bachur (formally the Intern) said...

Apple, it is clear that the their is a universal lifestyle (at least for Jews) of being fully engulfed by Torah. The question that arises though is what does it mean to be fully engulfed in Torah. I don't believe that having a husband that sits and learns all day and a wife that works like a dog to support him is ideal. It is not what was meant from v'higas bo yomam v'layla. I believe that the proper lifestyle is one that allows one to serve hashem in the best way possible. For everyone that is differant. Some people do not have the physical ability to be a R'Chaim Kanievsky or a R'Moshe Feinstein (insert Gadol B'Torah here ______).
The only time that anything close to ideal could have been proclaimed was in a situation like the midbar where everything was provided for. This allowed them to devote %100 of their time to Torah and Hashem.
Further, if for some reason, people do decide on an ideal lifestyle that is attainable, it may be taught in the schools but it should not be taught to those that will not be able to attain that lifestyle. A family of 15 kids should not be told to sit and learn all day and get food stamps. That is not healthy for the kids and will destroy the family in the process. (I'd even put money on one of the kids leaving yiddishkeit.)
Finally, whomever decides that an "ideal" lifestyle should be preached better be willing to face the consequences of their teachings. If people can't hold that lifestyle (for whatever reason) the organizers better be ready to tell them to drop it. Lest worse things happen

the apple said...

To everyone: I am so sorry that I didn't respond earlier. My computer at home apparently goes bonkers every time I click onto a comment page on Blogger (no clue why), but I've enjoyed reading all your thoughts. I hope I can respond coherently:

Erachet - that's an interesting story about the man who wanted to be removed from his physicality. And also a bit freaky :P.

You wrote:
I feel that, sometimes, people lose sight of that and it can cause all sorts of problems which could otherwise have been easily avoided. You know what I mean? Like, I don't think it's fair to your kids to decide to live in poverty because your husband is learning all day, nor is it fair to a woman to have to make the living for her entire family plus take care of the house and kids.
Agreed on the part about people losing sight that this is a physical world, but as far as "fairness" goes, I do think that the choice to lead a kollel lifestyle is one that the husband and wife make together - so to live a more simple lifestyle is a joint decision, and one that both parties take upon themselves. I'm talking more here about the chinuch of such a system in the schools. I do think that the difficulty of such a lifestyle can be downplayed, and that people MUST be careful to not get themselves into dire straits of debt, though (no matter what the occupations of the husband and wife).

the apple said...

Scraps - *mostly* agree :P.

Rebecca - well, we could, but I want to hear your thoughts here as well!

DDP - Agreed. However, I think that what you've suggested (feeling comfortable with many differing hashkafot but only ascribing to one or two) is difficult - I would phrase it as acknowledging that there are many different ways to live a Torah life within the boundaries of close halachic observance, but that one will probably feel comfortable the most with the one that you choose for yourself. [Mostly this is semantics, but I think that there is an important distinction between the phrases.]

Chava - thank you for bringing in those sources. Yes, I think part of the reason why this is such a complex machloket (and everyone has his/her opinions based on both, I would assume, guidance from teachers/rebbeim and their own life experience and conclusions) is because one side says, "Only X" and the other "X, Y or Z." How do you resolve it when one leaves more room for flexibility than does the other? Hard to say. I'm curious what YOUR personal feelings are about this, though.

Yeshiva Bachur - what you're saying is somewhat similar to DDP, I think. And at the same time you're echoing Erachet's sentiments on the choice to put a family in economic problems - I'm too lazy to rewrite what I wrote to Erachet, so just go see what I wrote in response to her comment :P.
I do agree with you on the last thing you said, about the educators being willing to tell a family that can no longer handle the living situation of a single-income family to make a change in that. I think part of what is the problem with some chinuch today is that there is not enough flexibility being taught - people need to understand that it *is* possible to be a good eved Hashem in a number of different ways.