Back to Kollel

I recently looked around at all my non-kollel friends and did a little count. The count was to find how many, among these non-kollel couples, are predominantly, equally, or at least sufficiently supported by the husband.

Granted, it’s hard to be sure without nosing into people’s finances. But then again, not as much as you’d think. I mean, sometimes a guy is pretty obviously not raking it in. And sometimes it’s pretty obvious that a woman is.

The results were disappointing. I dunno if it’s men in general or just my friends’ men, but guys seem to get a slow start in the income department. Which left me wondering, if the learner-earners don’t earn, why not go the kollel route?

I know that’s entirely the wrong thought process, but the main reason I lean away from full-time learners is because I don’t think it makes much sense for mothers to be full-time workers. If I’m doomed anyway, might as well let the hubby spend his time learning…

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45 thoughts on “Back to Kollel

  1. Because when we start with a low paying job/grad school/internship, the ultimate goal is to work our way up/into a higher paying job that will support our family completely (if not mostly). Learning full time in Kollel sets that process back for that many years.

  2. What MCP said. Plus, many households in the frum world include wives who work in some type of therapy or educational field, which pay reasonably decently at the outset – then never really move. My wife does nicely, thank God, but her pay rate has barely moved in 6 years and it won’t.

  3. Hmm. I like your perspective.

    To MCP- and so what if it sets it back for many years- so maybe it can be supported by the wife until those many years pass? I don’t think I understand that specific comment.

    I always felt that many of the men in Kollel do do some sort of really, really part time growth in their education while they are in Kollel (BTL for example, or counseling, or volunteer work, or slight business work/tutoring). So, wouldn’t that count as the low paying internship at first?

    I’m sure the smarter readers of this blog can poke holes in what I just said, though.

  4. It really all depends on the career path, and possibilities. From personal experience, if the hubby goes into a consulting field, it is extremely difficult at first, but once it takes off, then he can wind up only working during bein hazmanim, or even a few weeks out of the year. There are career paths that allow for that, how many Yeshivish boys consider them, that is a different question all together.

    From my own observations it seems that most take the path of least resistance, and thus wind up with middling results.

  5. It is true that women have more salary parity these days, and in fact, are actually outpacing men’s economic and education gains, but traditionally, men had higher earning potential partly because they could have a career without child-bearing and rearing interruptions. So their salary may start out modestly, but tended to grow much higher over time.

    Of course, for those whose career ambitions and prospects are more modest, then you’re right — why not at least part-time kollel? Then again, you might be overestimating mens’ desire to sit and learn. They may be quite happy, thank you very much, doing something they love in the workplace. :>)

  6. NMF#7 – I think MCP meant that starting at (just to make an example) $50,000 at 23 vs. doing so at 33 is a huge difference. The one who started working at 23 has the knowledge, experience, and history to justify continual upward movement and at 33 could be making $90,000 (with an average 6% raise) and viewed positively. The 33-year old coming out of kollel will have a hard time just competing with the next crop of 23-year olds for a $50,000 job, considering his much lower upside, and tack on that his education will typically be worse, and you’re talking a significant hit forever.

    If that 33-year old starts at $50K and then averages a 3% raise, while the other one continues to get a 6% raise, by 40 years old the earner is getting $135K year, the learner $61K.

    …Of course, the learner will likely get a large tuition break, so once you net out taxes, it’s about the same, so why not learn? (/cynicism)

  7. nmf#7- It is easier to be supported by the wife through the first few years of marriage (before kids and tuition etc, and by starting to work earlier, when the time comes that the wife has to stay home/cut her job to part time, the husband will hopefully be earning enough to support that, as opposed to digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt as the husband decides to start college after 5-10 years of marriage.

    I’m not saying nobody should learn in Kollel (although I don’t think it should done by everyone), just explaining the thought process of those of us who dare buck the system

  8. Ezzie-
    I work in Big 4 Accounting, and the people who start in their late 20s seem to get promoted and big raises faster than those in their early 20s becuase they have more life expereinces, etc. I think your salary at 40 for your Kollel guy is way tooo low.

    Ari-
    Its great you love your job, most of us don’t 😦

  9. Which left me wondering, if the learner-earners don’t earn, why not go the kollel route?

    Because the learner-earners at least have a chance to really earn someday, while the kollel guys have much less of a chance of it.

  10. @E/O- thanks for the clarification

    @MCP- Just by the way- many men who sit in Kollel nowadays, even full time- get their bachelors through many accredited programs. Now, I’ll be the first to negate those types of degrees- they mean almost nothing- unless you are going into a field that needs a Masters/Doctorate/Specialized Program. In which case- why not get
    the ‘nothing’ degree?

    Oh, and I don’t think the ‘system’ is set up towards one way or another. There are SO MANY earner- learners out there, and so many just earners that I don’t think people are pressured these days to choose one way or another.
    Just my 2 cents.

  11. Anon – If you’re at the Big Four, it’s no wonder you don’t love your job. 😉 (Accounting joke.) I was at RSM, have many friends at the Big Four – I’ve never heard of any firm being more interested with people who start later in life solely for that reason. If they ever were, it was because they brought outside skills that were useful in the field they were in (say, private equity experience), and I don’t think kollel life would qualify. Also, many places expressed reservations simply about people who had a 1-2 year gap from college to learn, to the point that Chofetz Chaim/Ohr HaChaim guys who were in college with me would specifically avoid graduating for an extra year to avoid that gap on their resume. The numbers were pure projections, but I think that the main point (the huge gap that adds up year over year) stands even if I’m a bit off. Also not sure how off they could be, when those are respectable (and well above average) salaries in the secular world.

    NMF#7 – I think yeshiva guys are given pressure to learn full-time at least a couple of years before working and that there’s an undercurrent of pressure to not attend a serious full-time undergraduate program. The ‘nothing’ degrees are problematic even for those trying to get into Master’s programs as even the schools that used to accept them are increasingly turning a negative eye on those ‘nothing’ degrees, while the better programs already did not.

  12. Care to share the criteria you used when you say “I mean, sometimes a guy is pretty obviously not raking it in. And sometimes it’s pretty obvious that a woman is.” How is it obvious? Are you basing your comment strictly on what profession/place of employment the man or woman has? Or are you also looking at what a couple owns/spends/does as a sign of having money or not? Also, please define “raking it in.” I presume you mean that “mega bucks” are being earned, but what constitutes mega bucks for you?

  13. ProfK – I didn’t want to get specific because some of those people read this, but if a guy is unemployed, doing piecemeal work, or in and out of college he is not earning. If a woman is working in a field known for high salaries, then she is raking it in. If she’s just working a decent job with benefits, then she’s earning.

    How they spend their money is not taken into account – merely who is doing the earning for each couple.

    Honestly I think maybe the solution is to teach men to give birth.

  14. It’s not about “earner-learner” vs kollel. It’s about the type of guys who call themselves earner-learners.

    Many of my friends married E/L’s, but they don’t have any PLANS or GOALS. They’re just not cut out to learn all day. So they do exactly what you described – some college here and there (for some reason it takes them twice as long to finish college), part-time low-paying jobs, a different “great business idea” every day…..it’s not an E/L thing, it’s a personality thing. And it’s not just a yeshivish thing, either, I have friends’ hubbies who are MoDox who are pulling the same shtick (though not as much).

    I married an E/L with a PLAN, a goal, and a way of getting there. Don’t call yourself an E/L if you can’t learn OR earn. At least do one well. We got married three years ago, he finished his pre-Med reqs in a year, learned in kollel for another year, and started Medical school last year.

    Now THAT’S a real earner/learner.

  15. Bad4 – is it only those guys who are slow to earn, both, or girls as well? I believe that while a guy may be earning less initially they do have the potential to be earning more.
    Another factor would be a frum Jews lack of commitment to live a real corporate life. For instance a big firm will pay their workers big bucks with the expectations that they own their souls. That a frum guy has to make up for the day he misses despite the fact that everyone else is working till late every night as well. they also can’t go golfing with clients on Saturday mornings or other social functions which are a mainstay of the corporate world, could be a factor why they are not promoted as quickly.

  16. Just as a question, what is considered a decent salary? 100k, 250k, more… less…?

    Personally I have never heard of corporate golfing on weekends, most people I know in the Corporate world, view their weekends as inviolate. I have been to plenty of M-F corporate golf matches, cigar smoking, whiskey sipping events… but not much on the weekends.

  17. NMF#7, while they may get their bachelor degrees despite sitting and learning all day, they don’t get their Masters or started at the bottom of the ladder in jobs. Most working/college guys have their bachelors or jobs BEFORE they get married, which gives them the head start. I’m not sayin it’s impossible- my 24 year old brother is still in Yeshiva full time, got both his Bachelors and Masters at nights, and is going for his PHD (he’s still single- any takers? ;)) He probably won’t spend much time in Kollel, but he is planning on going directly into Chinuch, which should qualify.

  18. harryer – in all cases, the wife is pulling in a full salaried professional income while the guys could be only dubiously described as having a job. Selling their soul wasn’t even an option.

    mekubal – danged if I know. Just yesterday someone told me that $65k wasn’t a decent starting salary. What I mean is has a standard job that, in general, can provide a middle class living for a young couple.

  19. Agree with Mekubal, weekends are pretty sacred to most corporate professionals as their time barring major conventions or the like. Most social/work stuff is done on weeknights.

    if a guy is unemployed, doing piecemeal work, or in and out of college he is not earning. If a woman is working in a field known for high salaries, then she is raking it in. If she’s just working a decent job with benefits, then she’s earning.

    Really depends much more on the possibilities ahead then what it current, though that doesn’t mean your assessments are wrong, only possibly incomplete. Or it could be that group of E/Ls are more like what Ariella described.

    If I was told 5 years ago that $65K wasn’t decent to start, I’d have had a heart attack. Now, I know that it’s untrue, but I get why people think it in the frum world. Not sure if that’s sad or not.

    Depending on a million factors, but as a very broad generalization, a newly married young frum couple in the tri-state area should be able to live a nice middle-class life on $30K (post-tax).

    Interesting aside: I’ve found over the last few years that depending on who you talk to, $35K can be a good starting salary or $50K can be a low one, while a 2% raise is great for sum and 10% low to others. Even more interesting: Those with higher expectations [typically but not always raised in NY/NJ or very comfortable outside] that are within a reasonable realm typically get what they look for, while those with lower ones [outside NY/NJ or much more modest backgrounds within] get what they look for, and those with completely unreasonable ones got lower – so perhaps there’s a slight advantage to being slightly spoiled growing up or perhaps being very confident helps.

  20. “I work in Big 4 Accounting, and the people who start in their late 20s seem to get promoted and big raises faster than those in their early 20s becuase they have more life expereinces, etc. I think your salary at 40 for your Kollel guy is way tooo low.”

    I have been in accounting for 12 years now, and have done Big 4 in two countries. I was someone who started college late and so started my career late. “Life experience” does not pay more. “Work experience” does. My guess is that most people who start their careers later have already been working for a while (I was) and have a work ethic in place/ may be more adept with corporate culture (I wasn’t but that is another story) and may already have accrued practical experience that they can draw on while picking up their new field.

    A guy who has elected to study in kollel into his 30’s and is just now entering the work force should not expect to receive a premium. He made a choice. There are trade-offs connected with that choice. He should be a man and deal.

  21. As to $65K, I guess that depends on where you are living. However, finding at least that as a starting salary should not be a problem. An electrician makes $75k-$85K, and that was what I was looking at when I was thinking of being part of a Kollel plant in Los Vegas. The idea being that you work 4-6 hours and learn 4-6hours in the Kollel in the evening. I personally think that the problem you are talking about with Kollel avreichim and Yeshiva bocchurim are essentially all seeking the same basic degrees, Lawyer, doctor, MBA. Unfortunately, those really aren’t in high demand anymore. 15yrs ago that was a great idea, today, its just a piece of paper, that may or may not mean that you are qualified to do what it says you are.

    It appears to me, that if you want a decent starting salary and good growth, in the immediate future(next 1-3yrs) a trade(such as electrical work) or a consultancy are the way to go, as those fields are far from saturated at the moment. A middling consultancy will start you at $85-$100K with potential for very rapid growth, on the down side it takes a fair amount of entrepreneurial spirit to pull off. Where as a trade will do you decent simply by putting your name in the phone book, however you will hit a faster ceiling, though there again a fair amount of entrepreneurial spirit you can do well.

  22. @Gila
    It takes a fairly serious work ethic to sit and pour over a Gemarra for 12-16hrs a day. As someone who was fiancially able to retire when I was 30, I work far harder in Kollel then I ever did chasing a dollar.

  23. Pingback: The Great Race « An Aspiring Mekubal

  24. You should consider exploring normative orthodox Judaism, because your world is as alien to ours in terms of Halacha and hashkafa as Martians.

  25. In fact, many who have gone the kollel route are not earning any less than their college educated counterparts. Rebbes can earn $60-100K, and some even earn more. Some of them do have degrees, but usually they pick up a Masters in education on the side either during their kollel years or when they begin teaching. And some make that even without a degree if they are very popular teachers in wealthy schools. Salaries in the corporate world have dropped so that even people with Master’s level degrees and over a decade of experience are being offered salaries in the $60 -$80K range for a 10 hour day on top of over an hour’s commute with all one’s vacation time taken up by the Yomim Tovim, never mind having the summers off.

  26. “As someone who was fiancially able to retire when I was 30…”

    You make contradictory statements. In your blog, you write that you had to live very modestly until your father died and left you “a small sum” that will allow you to live for the next years (and buy your wife nice presents for the weddings anniversaries).

    Furthermore, you wrote just a few months ago, that you could not afford (or did not want) to pay tuition in order to become a mohel, so that your yeshiva footed the bill in your place.

    Honestly, I do not think that “consultant” is something you can just improvise once you leave kollel.

    Of course, there are many charlatan consultants around, and some businesses might not be able to tell the difference between them and the serious ones. But I suppose that in order to become a serious consultant of anything, you need
    1) a solid formation under your belt
    2) to be constantly in the business in order to stay up to date.

    I would say that it borders fraud when you sit in kollel 11 month a year and and pose as a consultant in anything 1 month a year, if you did not do the necessary research work to stay on top of the themes you consult on. …except if you want to be a “spiritual consultant” of the Berg type.

  27. …and unfortunately, there are too many ex-kollelniks who try to earn big bucks without serious training beforehand.

    It is really strange that adults should talk about “working” as if it were a black box, a bit like the idea children have of “work”.

    In the yeshivah world, there are two options “learning” (good) or “working” (bad).

    That there are hundereds, thousands of different professions that require different sets of skills and aptitudes does not seem to cross their minds.

  28. This is the first Ariella, butting heads with the second.

    “In fact, many who have gone the kollel route are not earning any less than their college educated counterparts. Rebbes can earn $60-100K, and some even earn more. Some of them do have degrees, but usually they pick up a Masters in education on the side either during their kollel years or when they begin teaching. And some make that even without a degree if they are very popular teachers in wealthy schools. Salaries in the corporate world have dropped so that even people with Master’s level degrees and over a decade of experience are being offered salaries in the $60 -$80K range for a 10 hour day on top of over an hour’s commute with all one’s vacation time taken up by the Yomim Tovim, never mind having the summers off.”

    This is an EXCEPTION, not a rule, not by a VERY long shot.

    Your average kollel chinuch yungerman makes far less than his college and/or graduate-level educated counterpart.

    No no no, a million times no, should anyone encourage a kollel man to not go to college because he “would make more as a Rebbe.”

    Do Rebbeim earn, in general, 100k a year? NO.
    Do some earn that? Perhaps.
    Do a few earn that? Probably.

    But as a rule? Nope, nada, never gonna happen. College beats chinuch every time.

  29. In your blog, you write that you had to live very modestly until your father died and left you “a small sum” that will allow you to live for the next years
    Quite honestly “modestly” and “small sum” are both terms with a great deal of equivocation. I have never(intentionally) given overly specific details about much of my life.

    But I suppose that in order to become a serious consultant of anything, you need
    1) a solid formation under your belt
    2) to be constantly in the business in order to stay up to date.

    I would say that it borders fraud when you sit in kollel 11 month a year and and pose as a consultant in anything 1 month a year,
    These are suppositions built upon inaccurate information. There may be specific areas in which this might be true, however, there is a large array for which it is not true. I never stated that there wasn’t a component of education required. However, if one understands the technology adoption life-cycle, most specifically the way in which it is modeled in Roger’s Bell curve, it is quite apparent that there is about a 5-10yr lag between when information is “new and fresh” and when it becomes regularly marketable to the majority. So even if you consult in something that is technology critical, if you spend your time reading the appropriate trade journals coming out of silicon valley instead of the Yated or Mishpaha magazine in your free time, your ability to innovate stays well ahead of the needs or desires of the majority of your client base.

    Then there are areas which are not technology critical at all but require an innovative mind, efficiency and processes, security and asset protection(mine own) or communication and marketing to name but a few. Actually when you are the innovator in the Roger’s Bell curve, the idea or model of doing X that you develop today, is marketable for the next fifteen years. Giving you that amount of time to come up with something new, or some improvement before you and your ideas are obsolete(typically speaking).

    Granted there are technology heavy areas, such as IT and whatnot in which a person has to be much more agile. But considering Steve Jobs and Bill Gates has their own army of IT consultants, that field in general is probably best left, by and large, to them(or the rare few individuals who are actually ahead of them).

  30. I want to distinguish my name from that of the other Ariella. I am not saying that people go into chinuch in order to pull 6 figure salaries. However, the fact of the matter is that, given the economic downturn, the people in chinuch — at the higher paying yeshivas are pulling salaries far closer to 6 figures than the people working in the corporate world — and that includes the wall street industries. I do know what I am talking about because I have relatives in chinuch and a husband in IT who worked at Goldman Sachs.

  31. I think a “consultant” is the equivalent of “a Luftmentsh”…

    If you are original and have your dose of luck, you might succeed in it, perhaps you might even make a lot of money without providing a real service, as you describe it.

    However, if you stop being into the subject you consult on, you might be able to live on your capital of previous knowledge and clients for some time, but inevitably there will be a time when clients find out that you are not up to date.

    As far as serious consulting is concerned: I cannot fathom any subject matter where you can spend 11 month of the year golfing on the Bahamas or sitting in kollel while remaining on top of your know-how.

  32. As far as serious consulting is concerned: I cannot fathom any subject matter where you can spend 11 month of the year golfing on the Bahamas or sitting in kollel while remaining on top of your know-how.
    This may come as a surprise, but consulting is not about innovation, but about solving another’s incompetency. It is about the simple fact that the “book” on many of these subjects was written some time ago, people simply don’t follow the book. For instance one of my mentors in the security trade demonstrated to the Navy the ability to attack a ship with a rubber boat full of explosives back in 1982, as well as basic countermeasures that would prevent said occurrence. Lack of implementation allowed the USS Cole to be attacked in exactly that way on October 12, 2000.
    The bodyguard trade has been around for thousands of years, and the basic strategies of protecting from a near attack just as long. That didn’t stop some wacko from throwing a bag over Pam Anderson’s head and running off with her while her protective detail watched in shock and horror. From what I understand the abduction was thwarted by her fighting off her attacker… If that had been an attempt on her life…
    Those are just two examples of what keeps me in a career.

    I personally know the consultant that Donald Trump brings in to do a final shake down on his own hotels. He is a high school drop out that learned everything he knows about the hospitality industry from books written in the 70’s and 80’s that he checked out with his five dollar library card. Again it is a matter of lack of implementation of what others have already innovated.

  33. Pingback: Consultancy: What’s it all about… « An Aspiring Mekubal

  34. wow. Ok- I have two things to say. One- all of my husbands friends and my friends husbands that have left kollel and are working- all work crazy hours, and make minimal pay. Some of you are right to say that men have more of a chance of working up and making more money by the time they are 30. Women now have masters degrees and make more money, but they will not increase their salary over time. It remains basically at the same level they started.

    Kollel is a beautiful thing. Its not for everyone- but if its possible for people to do, however long they manage, its beautiful. Not something to look down upon. Men that devote themselves all day to Torah? They work longer hours than most people, and have odd breaks, etc. Most men do pick up some type of degree as NMF said, either a BTL, they also somehow manage some classes, chinuch, kiruv, etc. I do understand that looking down because I was once one that did not understand it. Now that I am living it, I do. And yes, you are right. People that start in kollel probably do not make as much money. Though, I know plenty of my friends parents who make plenty of money now being lawyers, doctors, accountants, businessmen, all who learned for quite a number of years. So maybe the problem is really the job market we live in today.

    I also think that the people of less income might not be that less after tuition breaks, less taxes, etc.

  35. Aidelknaidel,

    You’re almost certainly right that the net income, after tuition breaks and reduced taxes, of someone earning $50,000 versus someone else earning $150,000, may not be that different. My concern with that view (as is discussed at the orthonomics blog), is that the $50,000 earner is depending upon community resources which may or may not always be available. In fact, the learning of the husband who earned $50,000, with tuition breaks, is effectively being subsidized by the earner who began earlier and now earns $150,000, but must pay full tuition. This disincentive is destructive to the survival of the Jewish community (at all levels).

  36. conservative scifi- I agree with you 1oo%. Coming from a working parent home- I am fully aware that though my family was thought to be rich- due to enormous taxes and tuitions… my parents were barely scraping by in two professional positions. I do not like the system- but I do see how it works.

  37. @mekubal
    “That didn’t stop some wacko from throwing a bag over Pam Anderson’s head and running off with her while her protective detail watched in shock and horror. From what I understand the abduction was thwarted by her fighting off her attacker…”

    I hate to be the one to say this, but that incident was a stunt pulled by Sacha Baron Cohen (playing Borat), and Pam and her security team were fully aware of it in advance. Only the bystanders were kept in the dark, in order to facilitate an authentic reaction. You should do research on stories that sound outlandish before you post about them. I do agree with the basic point you were trying to make, but I just felt I should point out the factual inaccuracy in your comment.

  38. “However, the fact of the matter is that, given the economic downturn, the people in chinuch — at the higher paying yeshivas are pulling salaries far closer to 6 figures than the people working in the corporate world — and that includes the wall street industries.”

    It is disingenous to compare the top Rebbe salary with the bottom corporate salary. Yes, some Rebbeim make 6-digit salaries; and some working people make 7-digit salaries. However, neither salary is typical. If you are comparing the salaries of people in kollel, and people who are working, you need to make sure to compare apples to apples.

  39. Pam and her security team were fully aware of it in advance.
    I knew it was a Sacha Cohen stunt. However the trade journals all reported that she and her security team had no foreknowledge of the event. The clip is ueed by a good many Exec. Protection trainers to teach their people how not to do things. I am curious now as to whether they protective detail knew in advance or not.

  40. The real decision about what type of hishtadlus should be done to earn a paranssa involves a question about the quality of life. An argument could definitely be made that the struggling kollel family has a higher quality of life than the wealthy G’vir.

    For most couples in real life, it’s a moot point because the decision is made before the shidduch. For instance in Bad4’s case, she already has a career and becoming a Kollel wife is truly out of the question. (How many Kollel wives wear hooded sweatshirts in public?)

    The old “what would you do with a million dollars question” is important. It means when will you leave the Kollel – and when would you go back. In each scenario, how much quality time does the family spend together? What percentage of kids go off the derech? On the other hand, the longer you wait to leave Kollel, the harder it will be to find a good paying job. How much hishtadlus is too much? How much is not enough? The answers are different for every couple.

    And while it’s important to have a plan in place, the reality is that usually life does not go according to plan. There’s no way to know in advance if Bad4 is “doomed” to work or not. Just make your hishtadlus and daven because in the final analysis all you really get to choose is which problems you would like to deal with. As Aidel Knaidel pointed out, everybody pays their dues one way or another. While you’re dating, just verify that the two of you can come up with a plan and modify it without hurting each other too much. Arguments over money probably are unavoidable at some point or another. The question is whether you have the shared values and conflict resolution skills to deal with them.

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