Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mussar Buffet

There is so much inspirational and humbling mussar in here...

"My Philanthropic Pledge"

By Warren Buffett

June 16, 2010

In 2006, I made a commitment to gradually give all of my Berkshire Hathaway stock to philanthropic foundations. I couldn't be happier with that decision.

Now, Bill and Melinda Gates and I are asking hundreds of rich Americans to pledge at least 50% of their wealth to charity. So I think it is fitting that I reiterate my intentions and explain the thinking that lies behind them.

First, my pledge: More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death. Measured by dollars, this commitment is large. In a comparative sense, though, many individuals give more to others every day.

Millions of people who regularly contribute to churches, schools, and other organizations thereby relinquish the use of funds that would otherwise benefit their own families. The dollars these people drop into a collection plate or give to United Way mean forgone movies, dinners out, or other personal pleasures. In contrast, my family and I will give up nothing we need or want by fulfilling this 99% pledge.

Moreover, this pledge does not leave me contributing the most precious asset, which is time. Many people, including -- I'm proud to say -- my three children, give extensively of their own time and talents to help others. Gifts of this kind often prove far more valuable than money. A struggling child, befriended and nurtured by a caring mentor, receives a gift whose value far exceeds what can be bestowed by a check. My sister, Doris, extends significant person-to-person help daily. I've done little of this.

What I can do, however, is to take a pile of Berkshire Hathaway stock certificates -- "claim checks" that when converted to cash can command far-ranging resources -- and commit them to benefit others who, through the luck of the draw, have received the short straws in life. To date about 20% of my shares have been distributed (including shares given by my late wife, Susan Buffett). I will continue to annually distribute about 4% of the shares I retain. At the latest, the proceeds from all of my Berkshire shares will be expended for philanthropic purposes by 10 years after my estate is settled. Nothing will go to endowments; I want the money spent on current needs.

This pledge will leave my lifestyle untouched and that of my children as well. They have already received significant sums for their personal use and will receive more in the future. They live comfortable and productive lives. And I will continue to live in a manner that gives me everything that I could possibly want in life.

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends.

My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.)

My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate's distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.

The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs. My pledge starts us down that course.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Edition of The Challenge Of Creation


"The Challenge Of Creation" has been out of print and unavailable for several months, so I am pleased to announce the publication of a new edition. This third edition includes an entirely new chapter, on the subject of extinction, as well as other new material throughout the book and the correction of various errors. The new edition was printed in Israel (as opposed to the previous editions, which were printed in the US), and the ramifications of this are that it will be distributed far more broadly. It should be reaching stores in Israel within the next few days, and within two months or so it should reach England, South Africa, and Australia, as well as the US and Canada. If you don't want to wait until then, you can order it online via this link.
I am also offering a special deal for the set of four books that I have in print: The Challenge of Creation, Sacred Monsters, Perek Shirah: Nature's Song and Man and Beast. The retail price for these four books is $115, but I am offering the set for $90 plus $20 international shipping. If you would like to order it, the link is on this page. Or you can save on shipping by collecting them from my house!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rambam and Mesorah

In a long thread of comments a few posts back, one of the commentors expressed shock when I mentioned that Rambam developed various concepts for which he had no mesorah from Chazal, and even employed various phrases, principles and laws from the Gemara with a meaning that Chazal did not intend. The person asked if I was accusing Rambam of being a liar or an idiot.

Although I was tempted to simply dismiss the person as an ignoramus, I should be more sympathetic. After all, fifteen years ago, I probably would have had the same reaction.

If one studies Rambam in depth, one realizes that much of his system of thought was taken from Aristotle and various Muslim philosophers. From his extraordinary interpretation of Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkavah to his understanding of (the non-existence of) demons and the supernatural, it all came from Greco-Muslim philosophy and was not a mesorah that had reached Rambam through the generations.

But Rambam was not dishonest. He did not believe that he was reforming Judaism. Rather, he felt that this was the original, authentic Judaism, which had been lost over the generations.

Rambam believed that the Nevi'im possessed this knowledge. It is widely held that he believed the same about (most of) Chazal, but I just came across this article by Yair Lorberbaum where he makes a case for saying that Rambam later came to believe that Chazal had already lost this knowledge, and that much of the Guide was a critique of Chazal.

A while back, somebody from a yeshivishe background who came to learn all the above had a different question for me. If all this is true, why do the works of Rambam matter? It's just an outdated way of reconciling Torah with an obsolete system of thought!

I believe that this is a mistaken perspective. And I don't just mean that studying the history of beliefs is scholarship, whether they are true or false. The fact of Rambam's system of thought being based on an obsolete framework does not mean that there is nothing valuable in it. While Greco-Muslim philosophy is obsolete, many of the challenges that it raises are similar to those raised by modern scientific thought. There is thus much in Rambam's approach that still proves valuable. Furthermore, since Judaism is a way of life that places great emphasis on traditional figures of authority, being able to demonstrate that approaches to modern challenges have precedents in the writings of Rambam gives them greater credibility and authority. These are the reasons why I believe that it is beneficial and important to study and teach Rambam's approach.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kashrus Alert: Honey Today is Not Kosher

From YVN (Yeshivishe Velt News):

There is an urgent kashrus issue that has been brought to light by Rav B. Apis - a genuine Talmid Chachom, a Yarei Shamayim, and one of the foremost experts on the subject. Based on his expert scientific research, Rav Apis has shown that honey that is produced today is not kosher.

The Gemora (Bechoros 7b) says "Something that emerges from a non-kosher source is itself non-kosher." Camel's milk is not kosher. Crocodile eggs are not kosher. And is there anything more treif than a bee, which is a sheretz? So why is honey kosher? The Gemara gives two answers. One is that it is based on a derashah. Another is that it is because "brings [the nectar] into its body, and does not produce it from its body." Chazal say that honey is just regurgitated nectar, and does not contain ingredients created by the bee. Rambam rules in accordance with this reason: "Honey of the bee and tzirah is permitted because it is not a product of their body, but rather they bring it into their mouths from the plants and regurgitate it in the hive, so that it will be available for them to eat from it in winter" (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 3:3). Any components from the bee would make honey treif; the only reason why parts of bees that are mixed in with the honey do not make it treif is that they are nosen ta’am l’fegam (that if something is only contributing a negative taste to the food, it does not render the food non-kosher). See Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol, lo saaseh 132; Mordechai, Beitzah 2:674; Tur, Yoreh De’ah 81; and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 81:8.

But scientists today show that honey contains enzymes created by the bees themselves. Bees secrete three enzymes into the nectar: Diastase, invertase and glucose oxidase, which mix with the nectar and turn it into honey. These are secreted from a pair of glands called the hypopharyngeal glands, found in the base of the head of worker bees. And since there is no hetter of nosen ta’am l’fegam (since the enzymes enhance the taste of the honey), the honey is not kosher.

The shailoh was posed years ago as follows: Chazal say that bees do not produce the substance of honey and the scientists say that it is untrue. Who do we follow? The obvious answer to this question is, Ayn lonu ella divrei Chazal! We ignore scientific theory that conflicts with the words of Chazal.

But the question posed to the Gedolei Yisroel today is completely different. We have laboratory experiments that show that bee enzymes are found in the honey. We see it with our own eyes! Is such honey permitted? The Gedolim have ruled that it is forbidden. Obviously this does not mean that Chazal were wrong, chas v'shalom. Rather, it is clear that the process by which bees make honey is different from that which occurred in the times of Chazal. It is another case of nishtaneh hateva, just as the shiur kezayis is ten to twenty times larger than an olive today, and so many other things are different. Since we know that the dirt in the times of Chazal could produce live mice, is it any more difficult to believe that the nectar in the times of Chazal could turn into honey without any enzymes?

There is no doubt that scientists will claim that bees always produced honey this way, even in the times of Chazal; but there is no way that we can rely on scientists for this. These same scientists would say that olives were always the same size, and that mice never grew from dirt, and that Moshe Rabbeinu was not ten amos tall. We do not and cannot rely on scientists for their "theories" about the world in the times of Chazal. We only rely on scientists for facts - things that we see today. The bottom line is that we SEE that honey contains bee secretions, so how could we be mattir it?

It is said that Rav Moshe was asked to write a Teshuva that honey is permitted. He answered that it is so poshut that it is a Bizayon to write a Teshuva. If the question was posed to the Rav Moshe in the same way as it has been presented now, that we see that there are bee enzymes in the honey, a situation that the present Gedolim are machmir, would Rav Moshe have said that it is so poshut that there is no need for a teshuvah? There is no greater proof to the falsehood of such a report. The Rabbonim have been searching for months for some justification to permit today's honey, and have had to take difficult positions to be matir. Can one believe that Rav Moshe ZT”L held it is so poshut that it is mutar that there is no need for a Teshuvah?! If people today attempt to give reasons as to why the enzymes do not make the honey treif, this itself is the greatest proof that the metzius has changed; for Chazal and the Rishonim did not discuss any such hetter.

Surely it is not worth taking any risk with such an issur. Anyone who is careful about his neshamah should no longer eat honey.

* * *

The above post is a work of fiction. But there is a serious purpose to it: To demonstrate that banning honey is the logical consequence of prohibiting fish based on parasites (see the earlier posts here and here), in combination with the ban on my books. If there is a significant distinction, I would like to know what it is! Thanks to Simcha Schonfeld for the idea.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Anti-Rationalism and the Kollel System

In the previous post, I discussed the approach to financed Torah study in the times of the Rishonim. In Ashkenaz, financing Torah study was unheard of; virtually all Torah scholars were self-supporting, and the only thing that was permitted was financing Torah teaching. In Sefard, while there was a system of financial support for Torah scholarship, this was partly because there was very little of it to support. Furthermore, many of the Rishonim in these lands limited this license to Torah scholars who were serving in a professional capacity for the benefit of the community. In addition, even to the extent that financial support was permitted, it was constantly stressed that the ideal is to be self-sufficient, even at the cost of learning less.

Given that history, how is it that today there are so many halachic authorities in the Charedi world who say that it is perfectly legitimate to finance mass kollel, and that there is no reason for people to strive to be self-supportive? It is true that Judaism does change, but this is a complete inversion not just of halachah, but also of values!

The answer usually given is that this reflects yeridas ha-doros. We live in emergency times that require emergency measures - Eis La'asos l'Hashem, Heferu Torosecha. We live in such a spiritually impoverished generation that it is essential to boost Torah study via financial means. And the Rishonim could become the Rishonim even while working to support themselves, but today people cannot.

The problem is that this perspective is inherently rooted in an anti-rationalist approach that is ignorant of history. It may well be true that mid-twentieth century America was a spiritual emergency zone. But it cannot remotely be said that the situation today, in the 21st century, is an emergency situation compared to the time of the Rishonim. There is vastly more Torah being studied than ever before. People have idyllic, romanticized views of the past, which have no basis in fact. The state of Torah study in much of Sephard was exceedingly weak.

Furthermore, the idea that we today cannot match the Rishonim of Ashkenaz who were financially self-sufficient, because we would never become as great as them, is based on a non-rationalist view as to who these Rishonim were. From a rationalist perspective, there is no reason to believe that they were actually more intelligent or more spiritually dedicated than the best people of our era. The reason why society today does not produce anyone revered as a Rashi, a Rosh, or a Rambam, has nothing to do with any inherent deficiency in people today. Rather, it is due to three factors:

One is that it was much easier to become proficient in the whole Torah when the whole Torah wasn't very big. People today spend a good chunk of their learning schedule studying material that simply didn't exist 800 years ago. And if someone were to only learn what the Rishonim learned, they probably wouldn't be respected today.

Second is that it is assumed today that the Rishonim were much more brilliant than they actually were. Of course Rambam was a genius, and his Mishneh Torah is a work of genius that has much more to it than meets the eye. But it doesn't contain the genius of Rav Chaim Brisker's chiddushim!

Third is that it is the historical context, in combination with the previous two factors, that makes the Rishonim appear unmatchable. If Rabbi Ploni today were to write a work of Torah scholarship that is equivalent to the works of the Rishonim, it would simply go unnoticed. But send it back in a time machine to 800 years ago, and now you'd see that it has endless commentaries and Rabbi Ploni is hailed as Rabbeinu Ploni, one of the Rishonim who made an amazing and vital contribution to Jewish scholarship.

For all these reasons (and others), we see that is the contemporary anti-rationalist outlook which leads to the rulings and values of the Rishonim being completely undermined.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The High Court and Kollelim

The Israel High Court ruled today that a clause in the national budget enabling kollel students to receive minimum income-guarantee payments was neither legal nor constitutional, as no other student groups were eligible for such funds (see the Jerusalem Post article). Charedi MKs were furious, while the Jerusalem Post editorial praises the ruling as consistent with Judaism, based on the Rambam.

The truth is that nothing is clear-cut here. As with most things, there have been a multitude of approaches to this throughout Jewish history. Rambam did indeed consider it a Chillul Hashem for anyone to take money for Torah. But I don't think that anyone today would be happy to fully adopt his approach. On the one hand, Rambam's prohibition included community rabbis and teachers; on the other hand, he did exempt all such people from paying taxes.

In medieval Ashkenaz, it was generally the case that all Torah scholars were financially self-sufficient. Some reluctantly permitted teachers of Torah to take payment under the category of sechar battalah, while others were opposed even to that. I am not aware of any situation where people to receive financial support for studying alone (i.e. not for teaching).

In Spain, on the other hand, it was widely accept for Torah scholars to receive communal funding as well as private sponsorships (just as in the days of the Geonim). However, the reason for this was that the general environment of Torah study was weak. And even Tashbatz, who has a lengthy rejoinder to Rambam in which he argues that it is permissible to finance Torah scholarship, states that “scholars and disciples who waive their entitlements and provide for themselves by the work of their hands, or by making do with less, will see great reward for their efforts, which are considered as piety. It is better for them to take a little time away from their constant study than to depend on the community for their livelihood.” He adds that due to the weakness of his generation, it may be preferable for Torah leaders to spend all their time in Torah and not work to support themselves.

Even R. Yosef Caro, who noted that Rambam’s strict prohibition on a Torah scholar receiving payment was contrary to all those who preceded and followed him, writes that if a Torah scholar is able to financially support himself, he should do so, but otherwise, it is permissible to receive communal funds. However, he specifies that receiving funds is only permissible in a case where he is teaching students, drawing people close to the ways of Torah, or acting as a rabbinic judge - i.e. working in a community role.

In summary, the situation with the Rishonim is complex. But even those who permitted the financing of Torah scholarship saw it as far from ideal, and often only permitted it in the case of supporting Torah teachers, not mature Torah students. Contrast that to today's situation, where people assume that financing mature Torah students is not only an ideal, but has always been the norm in Judaism.

All this is only a preliminary discussion; I am currently working on a more in-depth study. Meanwhile, here is a reading list:

Galinsky, Yehudah D. “Halakhah, Economics, and Ideology in the Beit Medrash of the Rosh in Toledo,” Zion 72:4 (2007) pp. 387-419 (Hebrew).

Kanarfogel, Ephraim. “Compensation for the Study of Torah in Medieval Rabbinic Thought,” in Ruth Link-Salinger (ed.), Of Scholars, Savants, and Their Texts: Studies in Philosophy and Religious Thought: Essays in Honor of Arthur Hyman (New York: Peter Lang 1989) 135-47.
——. Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages (Detroit: Wayne State University Press 1992).

Kellner, Menachem. “Who is the Person Whom Rambam Says Can be ‘Consecrated as the Holy of Holies’?” The Seforim Blog, November 14, 2007, accessed at http://seforim.blogspot.com/2007/11/menachem-kellner-who-is-person-whom.html.

Leibowitz, Aryeh. “The Pursuit of Scholarship and Economic Self-Sufficiency: Revisiting Maimonides’ Commentary to Pirkei Avot,” Tradition 40.3 (Fall 2007) pp. 31-41.

Levi, Yehudah. Torah Study (Feldheim)

Ohrenstein, Roman A. and Barry Gordon, Economic Analysis in Talmudic Literature: Rabbinic Thought in the Light of Modern Economics (Third edition, Brill 2009).

Septimus, Bernard. Hispano-Jewish Culture in Transition: The Career and Controversies of Ramah (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1982).

——. “Kings, Angels or Beggars; Tax Law and Spirituality in a Hispano-Jewish Responsum (R. Meir ha-Levi Abulafia),” in Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1984), pp. 309-335.

Ta-Shma, Israel. “On the Exemption of Torah Scholars from Taxes in the Medieval Period,” (Hebrew), in Iyunim beSifrut Chazal beMikra u-veToldot Yisrael Mukdash LeProfessor Ezra Zion Melamed (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press 1982) pp. 312-322.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Abby Sunderland: The Torah Perspective


Over the last few days, the world was captivated with the fate of Abby Sunderland, the sixteen-year-old girl missing at sea. I actually feel a certain kinship with Abby, because we both (not together!) set out on a small boat from Marina del Ray in California. At that point, the similarity ends:

Me (age 25): I got as far as just outside the marina, whereupon the high waves of the Pacific caused my little motorboat to toss around a little, whereupon, suffering from mild hydrophobia, I began to totally freak out and headed back to shore as quickly as possible, whereupon I lay down on the ground. The girl on the boat with me, who I was dating, wondered how she could possibly marry such a guy. (Eventually she did anyway; I must have had some other redeeming moments.)

Abby (age 16): Set out solo to circumnavigate the entire world non-stop, complete with six months' worth of dehydrated food and her eleventh-grade schoolwork. She managed four months and thousands of miles before her boat was damaged and she had to be rescued.


What Abby set out to do is simply staggering, but it has launched a ferocious debate. Is she a heroic adventurer and an invaluable source of inspiration for mankind? Or is she a foolhardy fame-seeker who is needlessly costing the Australian taxpayer a lot of money?

What is the Torah perspective on this? Many years ago, I heard an idea (I think it was from Rav Yaakov Weinberg ztz"l) that since the Torah is the Source of All Existence, then if there is no word in the Torah for something, it means that the concept has no value. Thus, there is no word in the Torah for romance, fair play, or adventure, because all these concepts are meaningless from the Torah's perspective. Romance is transitory and valueless. Fair play is foolish - if there is an evil murderer in town who challenges you to a duel, shoot him in the back! And adventure likewise has no place in the Torah scale of values - one should not risk one's life just for a rush of adrenaline.

This is all well and good from the perspective of the mystical school of thought, but what about the rationalist school of thought? I do not think that Rambam would have had any place in his worldview for the idea that if the Torah does not mention a word, it means that the concept has no value. The underlying premise, that the Torah is the metaphysical source for all existence, does not exist in Rambam's thought. According to Rambam, the Torah is a document that teaches certain lessons that the Bnei Yisrael needed in order to perfect themselves.

Related to this is that R. Yehudah Ibn Tibbon, in his introduction to his translation of Chovos HaLevavos, writes that there used to be many more words of Lashon HaKodesh which were subsequently forgotten over the ages. Nowadays, all that we have are those words which are found in Tenach. It is partly for this reason, he writes, that many seforim over the ages have been written in languages other than Lashon HaKodesh. For many purposes, we just don’t have enough Lashon HaKodesh words left in our vocabulary.

I am also reminded of something that I heard from Rav Nachman Cohen, who used to be the head of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. He once asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about the Torah perspective on cloning. Rav Shlomo Zalman's response was that the Torah doesn't say anything about it either way.

So what is the Torah perspective on Abby Sunderland's adventure? As far as I can tell, there is no clear direction from the Torah at all on this topic. There are some things that we just have to figure out for ourselves.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rav Belsky on Anisakis Worms

I recently received Rav Yisroel Belsky's formal responsum on the anisakis worms that are found in fish (you can download it here). It is an excellent, powerful responsum in which he makes two main points:

  • There is no significant difference between the phenomenon of anisakis worms today and any other worms that have existed.

  • No halachic authorities, from Chazal through Shulchan Aruch, have ever given qualifiers on their permission to eat worms found in the flesh of fish.

Rav Belsky draws the clear (and to my mind, undisputable) conclusion that you either say that all worms have always been prohibited, or you say that all worms have always been, and still are, permitted.

Now, Rav Belsky's own conclusion is that Chazal were correct, and the heter is based on the fact that the worm completes its growth in the flesh of the fish, not that it spontaneously generated there. As I discussed in an earlier post, I think it's clear that Chazal did mistakenly believe in spontaneous generation. But, following Rav Herzog etc., I would say that Chazal's ruling is still valid and thus all worms found in the flesh of fish are kosher. In other words, I agree with Rav Belsky's conclusion, while disputing a component of the reasoning. I can also understand (although I dispute) those who take the approach of R. Lampronti and say that, since Chazal's science was in error, the heter was invalid from the outset.

But what all these three approaches (Rav Belsky, Rav Herzog, and Rav Lampronti) have in common is consistency. Either worms were always permitted, or they were always forbidden. The current group of rabbonim who seek to prohibit anisakis are trying to claim that these worms are forbidden, while the worms that Chazal permitted were indeed permissible. But Rav Belsky discusses all the reasons why some people claim that the anisakis worms found today are problematic, and shows how according to that reasoning, there would never be any worm that we could be certain was permissible. And Chazal said that not only some, but all worms found in the flesh are permissible, without drawing any distinctions.

The bottom line is that those rabbonim who prohibit these worms are effectively undermining Chazal due to their acceptance of science. Which is odd, because that is exactly what they condemned me for doing! But apparently, if a rav strenuously denies that he is disputing Chazal due to science (even if others prove him to be doing exactly that), it is socially acceptable in Charedi circles, since he has not undermined Chazal's authority. I think that this does actually make sense, strange as it may sound.

(I was intrigued by one part of Rav Belsky's responsum, regarding Rav Moshe Feinstein:

וכבר נתפרסם תגבתו של מרן רשכבה"ג הגאון האדיר רב משה פיינשטיין זצוקללה"ה בעת הגישם לעיני כבוד תורתו זצ"ל ענין הנ"ל ואמר, על דבר זה אין לענות בכתב כי פשוט ההיתר מדברי חז"ל והפוסקים ואין מה להוסיף עליו, ובזה הורה לנו מרן זצ"ל הוראה ברורה שכאן טובה השתיקה וכבוד אלקים הסתר דבר

What is the application here of "the glory of God is in the concealment of the matter"? Is it something to do with the distastefulness of the heter, or due to its casting doubts on the scientific knowledge and rulings of Chazal, or due to the fact that the very discussion of something to which Chazal gave blanket permission effectively undermines their authority?)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is Kollel rooted in Yissacher/Zevulun?

Hi Rabbi - I hope you're doing well. My question concerns the Rambam's approach to learning and working. In Hilchos Talmud Torah and in his commentary on the Mishna, he seems to advocate having some type of employment and discourages the full-time learning model, even for the greatest of Torah scholars. When I mention the Rambam's approach to people in the charedi world, they counter that we are in a special time and that institutions like kollel are necessary. They also argue that even if it wasn't necessary, the Torah itself advocates an approach whereby some scholars learn full-time, like Yissichar, and some work to support those scholars, like Zevulun. Thus, the kollel idea is built into the fabric of the Torah, and the Rambam was wrong. What is the rationalist response to such an argument? Thanks! - Jack Brody


Dear Jack,

Your question has to be broken down into several components.

Rambam's approach is very extreme. Due to a particular view that he held about the nature of knowledge, he holds that nobody can ever get paid for learning or teaching, not even a pulpit rabbi. Nobody that I know of follows his view.

The Yissacher-Zevulun model is mentioned in the Midrash (not the Chumash or Gemara). And in the Midrash it says that Zevulun was helping to market Yissacher's merchandise, not fully fund them. According to Prof. Yehudah Levy's analysis of this topic in Torah Study pp. 46-50, the early halachic authorities did not discuss a Yissacher-Zevulun arrangement and it seems that they did not legitimize it.

The modern kollel system has nothing to do with the Yissacher-Zevulun relationship, though. In the Yissacher-Zevulun model, both sides volunteer for this partnership. In the modern kollel system, the kollel students decide not to work or train for a living and expect/ demand that others will support them. And they raise their children in the same way. This is wrong, for a number of reasons. For example, the Gemara says that it is better for a person to work in a very lowly job rather than require others to support him. There is a basic value in the Torah of being self-sufficient.

It is true that after the Holocaust, it was decided that due to the destruction, there should be a push to have people learning full-time. However, today, Israel alone grants 55,000 exceptions to army service for people in learning. And there are thousands in the US. There are more people learning today than ever before in Jewish history. So it is absurd to suggest that it is a special time that requires divergence from traditional values and practices. And traditionally, in the times of the Rishonim and Acharonim, it was unheard of to have mass kollel. Almost everyone, including Torah scholars, supported themselves. Only a very select few, who were fulfilling rabbinic services for communities, were supported.

It is indeed a unique time today - it is a time when many people are ignoring basic Torah values of being self-supportive and the obligation to teach one's child how to be self-supportive. I recommend that you read Levi's book for a full discussion of sources.

Best wishes,
Natan Slifkin

Another View On How Torah Protects

A few years ago, in a post entitled What Is The Mechanism Via Which Torah Protects? , I discussed the concept that Torah protects from har...