The trend is strongest among wives whose parents cannot afford to support the couple in as lavish a fashion as their more fortunate peers.
Lakewood, New Jersey, August 8 – Increasing pressure on the wives of men who study in yeshiva full time to maintain a respectable standard of living has led more and more of the women to turn tricks on the side to supplement the income they can otherwise muster.
High achievers among the Lakewood kollel men attain a social status that allows them to choose the most desirable matches for marriage, with the bride’s family wealth playing a significant role in those considerations. While a select few can afford to support the family while the husband spends years in the study hall, the majority of less fortunate families nevertheless feel pressure to provide generously for the young couple – to the point that, according to one study, some kollel wives have become part-time prostitutes to help generate the income necessary to keep the family comfortable.
The trend is strongest, observers note, among wives whose parents cannot afford to support the couple in as lavish a fashion as their more fortunate peers, but who still wish to maintain a standard of living for themselves and their husbands that approaches the comfort of their youth.
“It’s the wives of the second- and third-tier avreichim where this is most prevalent,” lamented S. Kortzervitz, using the term for kollel members. “Their learning credentials aren’t as impressive as the top avreichim, so they can’t attract the wealthy families to a shidduch. But they want to at least be in the same league, since really only a few lucky ones are privileged to marry the most accomplished young scholars. The pressure to earn, not just to learn, is immense, and it’s no surprise that some might succumb to it in unexpected ways.”
An underground network called Kollel Girls – a play on the term “call girls” – has sprung up, servicing a shadowy but wealthy clientele that seeks the cachet of innocence that ultra-Orthodox women carry, experts explain. The trysts take place in hotels outside Lakewood Township where the risk of running to a familiar soul is lower, and during hours when the women’s husbands are ensconced in the yeshiva – from 9:30 AM to 1:45 PM, 3:40 to 7:20 PM, and 9-11 PM, with windows for lunch, dinner, and short errands or home maintenance tasks. The ten hours of daily study by their husbands gives the Kollel Girls flexibility to meet multiple clients on a single day, with each session commanding hundreds or thousands of dollars – enough to ensure significant income beyond that of the regular part-time jobs they hold.
“It’s a real tension,” observed Lee Vui, who studies the phenomenon. “Many of the women feel such shame and inadequacy, and it’s a process that feeds on itself – especially when it’s possible that some of the kids these couples end up raising might not be the husband’s. That’s why I’ve started a support group for these mothers.”
“We call it Momser,” he added.
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