Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kollel to Work: The Transition

Binah magazine this past week had a cover story about couples transitioning from the husband being in kollel to the husband going out to work and the difficulties in this transition. There was 1 particular part that really caught my eye where a wife talked about the sacrifices that they are having to make while her husband works and that it is a much bigger sacrifice to work then be in kollel. My comments are in [brackets]:

I was always taught to feel like it's something special to sacrifice for Torah. Well, you leave kollel and you realise that almost EVERYONE has to make sacrifices for life. It is a fact of life that the world is set up for hard work, its the way God made it, but somehow in the kollel mentality you forget that [that is part of the whole educational system which teaches to look down at working men].
One might even start to look with cynicism at the yeshiva families who are so proud of their sacrifices, now that you realise that they actually have it pretty good. ... compared to the life of the person working up from the bottom tier, kollel life is nice [this applies to people who are not in the bottom tier as well].
Of course the objective is that after a few years of clawing our way through college and entry level, we will end up in a more relaxed life, please God [unfortunately this is a complete fallacy see my note 1 below]. My husband will still be working full time hours with none of the sweet family schedule stuff [this is a bigger deal then she realises see note 2 below], but hopefully money will be less tight [see note 1]...    

Note 1: Unfortunately money does not become less tight as time goes on, if anything it becomes more tight as I will explain. Lets take a typical example, 28 year old married 5 years with 2 kids and a third on the way leaves kollel. He gets an entry level job paying $30k. Money is definitely tight but his expenses are pretty low, minimal tuition ( pre-school) and only 2 kids. Fast forward 10-12 years later and he is very successful and more then tripled his salary to $100k. Sounds great, however, not only did his income triple but so did his family and now he has 6+ plus kids many/most in Yeshivas. Tuition + summer camp is easily $10k per school age kid and taxes are higher. Living in a high tax state like NJ or NY 1/3 goes to taxes, that leaves about $70k, if $50k goes to tuition then you have basically have no money left. This is all without the regular kids expenses such as clothing (weekday and shabbos), shoes (weekday and shabbos), food, etc. all for 6 kids. Additionally, health insurance for a large family can be very expensive even if your employer provides coverage. The fact is, being a middle class frum Jew is the worst of both worlds, the government and the schools classify you as rich because you make a nice salary but you pay so much in tuition that you are really poor. The kollel families benefit from all kinds of government programs (health insurance, food stamps, section 8 housing, etc.) while you are considered rich so you get nothing from the government. In America it is very difficult to make ends meet working with a large family unless you make a whole lot of money.

Note 2: The Kollel schedule is so much easier then a work schedule it is not even comparable. The average employee in corporate America starts out with 10 days of vacation and if they are lucky can get up to 15 days after a few years. However, in America, Yom Tov is 7-12 days that you must take off. Then you have Purim and Tisha B'Av which to experience the spirit of the day you must take off, and then you have 5-7 days of Chol Hamoed. That leaves basically no days off to take a real family vacation or even to take off on Chol Hamoed (depending on the year). Contrast this to the kollel schedule. 1 month off for Nisan, 3 weeks off after Tisha B'Av and 3 weeks off after Yom Kippur. Add in short Fridays where for 2 months you need to leave work at 2:30 to get home for Shabbos, there is no comparison.