Sunday, August 15, 2010

What About The Father's Right To Life, Liberty & The Pursuit Of Happiness?



The Kollel Argument
From the other side of the bench
by David Seidemann

Issue of August, 13, 2010/ 3 Elul, 5770 - The Jewish Star

Not once but twice, in recent weeks, I’ve encountered a situation where a father has claimed that he is financially unable to support his wife and children. No, he wasn’t in a dead-end job nor was he unemployed. In both instances, his excuse for not being able to support his soon-to-be ex-wife and their children was that he was learning in Kollel.

It is not my intention to debate the pros and cons of young married men learning the Talmud for a few years after they get married. Nor will I utilize this space to comment on whether these young men are actually spending their time learning. Perhaps Kollel should be reserved for those that demonstrate unyielding commitment to the demands of the program and for those that can financially afford to sit and learn without bankrupting present and future generations.

One has to wonder if the concept, as originally conceived, can continue for future generations. Who is going to support the children of the couple that is learning in Kollel when they decide they also want to learn in Kollel? The parents that are sitting and learning, unless they get a job, will not be in a position to support their children.

What really irked me this week was when a father wrote to the court that his wife, my client, was violating his religious freedom by forcing him to leave Kollel and seek employment in order to pay his child support obligations. There is something patently offensive about that.

In other cultures, the fathers simply deny being the father (ask comic George Lopez). In those instances the court simply orders DNA testing. But this new argument, what I call “The Kollel Argument,” defies logic and I can only hope is an anomaly that won’t be repeated.

Being reminded of our duties as fathers and husbands come at strange and unanticipated moments. When I first moved into this neighborhood approximately 10 years ago, one of my new neighbors approached me and asked, “What you do at 4:45 every morning?” I responded, “Like most people, I’m sleeping.” “Not anymore,” he said. For the next nine years, on an almost daily basis, I arose at 4:30 in the morning and joined a group of businessmen learning in what is called “The Morning Kollel” at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv in Far Rockaway. Yes, I did miss a morning from time to time, but by and large I was a regular attendee learning Talmud under the direction of Rabbi Moshe Dov Stein. After Rabbi Stein’s unfortunate death, the daily learning continued under the direction of his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yaakov Stein, and Rabbi Binyamin Cherney.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of learning with a few different study partners, most recently with a wonderful oncologist by the name of Dr. Michael Bashevkin. No matter how unproductive the rest of my day might be, the time I spend learning in the morning, while the rest of the world is sleeping, is exhilarating.

But something happened this past June, something I can’t put my finger on, that caused my attendance to lapse. I missed a day, then a week, then a month, then a month-and-a-half.

This past Shabbos while sitting at the table, I asked my 12-year-old daughter what type of man she wanted to marry. She told me that she wanted to marry a man with a job but who also went to yeshiva every morning to learn like I do. Those words pierced my heart. While I lay in bed the past month, sleeping at five o’clock in the morning, my daughter thought I was in yeshiva learning. I instantly felt the great divide that existed between who my daughter thought I was and who I actually am. I felt both ashamed and motivated.

This parenting thing is very complicated. We have a duty to raise our children and to guide them along the path that will ensure they be all that they can be. But we also have the same duty to make the most of ourselves: to be what our children believe us to be and act in accordance of their expectations.

So I got up in the wee hours of the morning yesterday, grabbed my Talmud that sat on the shelf for six weeks and made my way back to yeshiva. I am not naïve enough to believe that I will never miss another morning over the next few years. But now, I know how important it is for me to arise before the sun and how important it is for my children. We all need to be reminded how to be effective parents. Sometimes that lesson comes from our children.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at ds@lawofficesm.com

From The UOJ Classics - More relevant today than in 2007 when it was originally posted!


A naked man darted from a car into a Borough Park office building at lunchtime yesterday and then jumped to his death from the top floor, officials said.

The man double-parked in the 4800 block of 13th Av. about noon, bolted from his still-running gray 1980 Chevrolet, dashed past a crowd on the street and ran into the lobby of an office building, witnesses said.

Police were still trying to identify the man yesterday and to determine why he jumped. Witnesses also were trying to sort out what happened. The man had no apparent connection to the building, according to people who work there.

"He didn't even have shoes on," said Zalman Teitelbaum , who was working as a temporary security guard at the building until the Satmar mess gets straightened out. Sitting behind the security desk, Teitelbaum first saw the man from the waist up and thought maybe he was a rather strange jogger. But then I stood up and saw the rest of him, and realized he was very Jewish. "I was even able to recognize the mohel, (rabbi that performs the circumcision) by his unique cut", said Teitelbaum. "This man was definitely bent out of shape."

The man told Teitelbaum that he was "desperate and broke," asked him for 50 cents to make a phone call and then spoke incoherently, mumbling something about not being able to support his son in-law in kollel, Teitelbaum said.

Then the man ran to an elevator. Minutes later, he emerged from a stairwell on the top floor. The fire alarm had been set off, presumably by the man, and the office doors on that floor were open as people began to file out, witnesses said.

The man pushed his way into one of the offices, where he said "kollel, kollel, kollel," several times while charging toward a window, witnesses said. He smashed the glass and jumped through the window, falling onto a parapet between two buildings. Some local workers and shoppers saw him fall.

Borough Park firefighters and emergency medical service personnel arrived at the scene, and police quickly cordoned off the block. Women with baby carriages were visibly upset that they could not continue shopping. One woman with a hat on top of her wig lamented, "he could have waited until the stores closed."

Workers in the top floor office said they had not seen the man before and did not believe that he had ties to the offices there. They didn't hear anything he said other than "excuse me, I need money to support my son in-law in the Lakewood kollel" a witness said.

Before it became apparent what was taking place, the city's parking enforcers reacted to the abandoned car, which had badly torn seats, New Jersey plates and no sign of clothing inside other than a beat up Borsalino and a jacket with a shatnes label. They slapped a flyer on the windshield inviting people to attend a parlor meeting for the Lakewood Yeshiva.

The police met with all the various Bobover Rebbes and was told that the man had seven married daughters and was acting strange as of late. Recently the man was seen in shul naked except for a towel on his shoulder, screaming why they moved the mikve.

These acts of desperation have become rather common in the Orthodox Jewish community, since fathers with daughters are expected to support their sons in-law whether they have the ability or not.

Many social workers in the community have noticed a dangerous increase in mental disorders particularly by men over fifty.

We interviewed eight young men who were in the local pizza parlor, all of them noticably obese. We asked them about their reaction to the increase in mental and emotional disorders in men over fifty, particularly by the men with daughters.

We had similar reactions by all eight young men. One fellow said it was "not my fault that the poor putz doesn't know how to make enough money to support thirty people. Summer camps, expensive houses, cars, jewelry, Pesach in Cancun, and tuitions are a father in-law's obligation, even if he has to work three jobs, or steal from his employer." They're just a bunch of whining lazy bums."

Another young fellow said "I am sick and tired of hearing these BS stories from fathers in-law. If they produce the kids, they MUST support them, period, no excuses." This fellow who was not more than twenty years old, was wearing a gold Rolex. I complimented him on his watch; he turned angry and said "he told the shadchan that I would get two Rolexes, one for daily use and one for Yom-Tov, and the SOB finked out on me; what a piece of garbage father in-law I wound up with. If I would have known that, I never would have married his meeskite (extremely ugly) daughter." He said he had to leave, and drove off in a brand new Cadillac Escalade.

The reaction by the others were similar, ranging from anger to dismay about the lack of appreciation and gratefulness to God exhibited by their fathers in-law. They all felt that they could have married anyone in the world, and if their father in-law ever decided to stop giving them "serious" money they would return their daughters to them in a heartbeat, blackmail the family in order for him to give a Get, and get a father in-law who really understands what a catch they are.

Particularly interesting was how they all agreed that they never intended to ever get a job, regardless of how many fathers in-law jumped off buildings. They saw it as a dirty trick and didn't believe the guy was really dead." I find it very interesting that these shameless fathers in-law would go to any lengths to avoid their obligations to us", said the fellow who was the most obese, weighing about three hundred pounds and was not more than five foot three inches tall.

Calls to the rabbis of the Lakewood Kollel were answered by a taped recorded message.

"If you are attempting to join our prestigous institution, the only requirement is that you must be proficient in filling out lengthy government aid forms. These forms are available in all languages and can be filled out at any Lexus dealer in Borough Park or Flatbush; or available on the Internet by the shgatzim uremasim (low-lifes) who have Internet access."