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.

33 comments:

  1. Chareidim can no longer justify why people should be paid to learn Torah. This very new phenomenon arose out of a need to rebuild Torah institutions after the holocaust. It has gotten completely out of hand and is unsustainable.

    Unfortunately for them, their new strategy (have the government pay ALL students) is ultimately doomed to failure due to simple economics.

    One cannot simply cut off families; it will take time to eliminate a welfare-class. But any continued support should be done in exchange for work credits. You want to take from the State? Then give something back to it!

    (I usually don't post the same comment on multiple blogs, but am doing so here.)

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  2. I don't think the decision is consistent with the Rambam's view, since the Court would allow the funding if it were given equally to all eligible students. Whereas the Rambam would permit, say medical students to accept the funding, but not Torah scholars, since they may not use Torah as a 'kordom lachpor bo.'
    The Justices clearly disagreed whether Torah study is of greater importance than other studies. Thus Justce Edmond Levy, the only kippa wearing judge dissented due to his higher view of Torah study. The other 6 view all the subjects equally.
    Also, the court did not disallow all funding for kollel students, only a specific one. This one gives 1000 NIS monthly, to kollel students that have 3 kids, who don't have a car, and whose wives don't have a job. If the law was altered to give these benefits to all qualifying students, I wonder how many others would qualify. It shows the narrow mindedness of the chareidi MPs who don't think to make laws for the good of anyone other than themselves. They could have created the same law, and not have made the whole balagan. They end up shooting themselves in the foot.

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  3. WADR to Dr. Kellner, R' Leibowitz's response seems cogent to this am haaretz:
    http://seforim.blogspot.com/2007/11/aryeh-leibowitz-response-to-professor.html

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  4. I don't think this is such a big deal. To keep UTJ and Shas in the government, a different way to funnel money to these folks.
    And anyway, the government could reintroduce the stipends but set a simple condition - anybody who takes the money has to start his day with a public recitation of Tefillah L'Shlom HaMedinah. None of them will touch it then!

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  5. Can someone explain why the law to give all students funding was removed in 2000? That seemed like such a great idea since students normally should not have to work, and families can't really be expected to support 24 year olds.

    Also, I'm not sure why people see Kollel students any differently than they see lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts.

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  6. No need to post this:
    Grammar check the following:
    "I am not aware of any situation where people to receive financial support for studying alone (i.e. not for teaching)."

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  7. >>"Also, I'm not sure why people see Kollel students any differently than they see lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts."

    Why, that's obvious! They are only paid so that they can teach other people... how to become... lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts!

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  8. I would also recommend R. Yosef Kafach's commentary to Hilkhos Talmud Torah 3:10.

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  9. Regardless of the view of the Rishonim, I think, practically speaking, that it's horrible for people to live off government welfare of any kind.

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  10. >>"Also, I'm not sure why people see Kollel students any differently than they see lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts."

    Because there are very few lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts, and they don't bring up all their kids to also be lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts.

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  11. THIS was indeed a GREAT DAY for the STate of Israel. From now on the thousands of people stealing from the working-class can no longer participate in BITTEL TORAH! I praise Dorit BeinIsh for this tremendous ruling in line with the halacha. May we see similar rulings come!

    I have a regular job and still make time to sit and learn - and many of the kollelniks CANT keep up with me.

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  12. I think that it's important to emphasize that even while we agree with Beinisch that the vast majority of Haredim ultimately need to work-our agenda and hers are not the same. Hers and that of the Bagatz stems from an anti-Torah outlook-thus we should be wary before we applaud the way change is implemented, which should be in a gradual, humane manner.

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  13. >Also, I'm not sure why people see Kollel students any differently than they see lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts.

    Kollel students don't see themselves as similar to lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts, so why should anyone else?

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  14. I appreciate your making note that many would not like seeing the Rambam's opinion implemented fully. I've noted that while people are found of citing his opinion they tend to be very selective in their application. Indeed, while I can only speculate, it seems to me that if we were able to divorce this opinion from the current political situation while trying to apply it to other situations such as chinuch most of the same people would deride the idea as a chumrah and out of touch with reality.

    <a href="http://machzikeihadas.blogspot.com/2009/07/igros-moshe-on-kollel-income.html

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  15. "Because there are very few lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts"

    I would venture to guess that in terms of absolute numbers they far exceed the number of kollel avreichim.

    "and they don't bring up all their kids to also be lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts."

    They do not raise them to be farmers or construction workers either. I'm inclined to believe they would generally be more supportive of their becoming academic professionals so than discouraging (especially out of a sense that their are too many academics already or other non-pragmatic reasons).

    I don't mean to argue that the system is perfect, but those who would be happy if it were to disappear simply do not strike me as having sufficient esteem for limud haTorah.

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  16. The Rishonim would NOT agree with Rav Moshe Feinstein's take on this. He seems to admit that he is going against the Rishonim, but claims that it is Eis La'Asos because we are on such a lower level. But that itself is based on an anti-rationalist perspective. From a rationalist perspective, there is no reason to think that we are on a lower level. Things weren't so great in 12th century Spain either!

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  17. "Because there are very few lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts"

    I would venture to guess that in terms of absolute numbers they far exceed the number of kollel avreichim.


    What has that got to do with it? Of course an overall population group of hundreds of millions can support a larger absolute number of lifetime academics! It's the relative proportion that is significant here.

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  18. "The Rishonim would NOT agree with Rav Moshe Feinstein's take on this. He seems to admit that he is going against the Rishonim, but claims that it is Eis La'Asos because we are on such a lower level."

    ?? He cites the Shach who cites the Kesef Mishneh that if the halachah were like the Rambam then it would nevertheless be permitted because of Eis la'asos. It is a known matter that I'm half illiterate when reading in loshon hakodesh but he makes it clear that the Rambam is a daas Yachid on this. Certainly among the Achronim he cites the Rama, the Mechaber (Kesef Mishneh), and the Shach.


    "From a rationalist perspective, there is no reason to think that we are on a lower level."

    1)You yourself have noted a reason to make a distinction, there is more to learn.

    2)The Rambam instructed that a person dedicate 2/3 of his day to learning Torah, this is simply not possible with most occupations, university degree or no.

    3)Our inability to succeed in mastering Torah as we should while simltaneously working isn't an innovation of the Igros Moshe, as shown by the sources he cites. You perhaps may not be expected to accept it, but at the same time you yourself seem to be a proponent of letting halachah stand, are you going to dismiss the halachic ruling of these sources based on your hashkafa?

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  19. "It's the relative proportion that is significant here."

    I understand, but it seems to me that the distinction becomes a little arbitrary once one accepts that we are a holy nation with a distinctive mission and accept the words of Chazal that Torah is a pillar upon which the world stands.

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  20. The Rambam is only a daas yachid in the extreme extent of his views. None of the Rishonim would agree with Rav Moshe's view that it is a lechatchilah to take money for Torah learning. Some of them accepted it as legitimate for Torah teaching. R. Yosef Karo (Kesef Mishnah) only endorses it for people who are teaching, not for kollel students!

    "From a rationalist perspective, there is no reason to think that we are on a lower level."

    1)You yourself have noted a reason to make a distinction, there is more to learn.


    That's not a valid reason to make a distinction. You don't NEED to learn all the extra stuff.

    2)The Rambam instructed that a person dedicate 2/3 of his day to learning Torah, this is simply not possible with most occupations, university degree or no.

    The Rambam was talking about an ideal. He himself didn't live up to this. He certainly would not have said that if you can't support yourself with so few hours work, then you can take money for it!

    3)Our inability to succeed in mastering Torah as we should while simltaneously working isn't an innovation of the Igros Moshe, as shown by the sources he cites

    It's an innovation of the Acharonim with no basis in the Rishonim. This will be the topic of the next post.

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  21. I understand, but it seems to me that the distinction becomes a little arbitrary once one accepts that we are a holy nation with a distinctive mission and accept the words of Chazal that Torah is a pillar upon which the world stands.

    The Rishonim did not see the Torah learning of non-self-sufficient adults as being a legitimate part of that pillar.

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  22. "The Rambam was talking about an ideal."

    An ideal that is simply, for all practical purposes, not an option today. Of course the Rambam would not permit accepting payment for learning when one only works part time, but it illustrates that options available in previous generation are not today.

    "You don't NEED to learn all the extra stuff." I'm not talking about chassidus or mussar or what have you. Which meforshim are "extra"? Rashi, Tosephos, the Mordechai? What about the Rif, Rosh, Mishneh Torah? Please give us guidance as to which texts are "elective"? In our generation we don't have a "Rav mehuvak" strictly speaking because most of our learning comes from seforim.

    "R. Yosef Karo (Kesef Mishnah) only endorses it for people who are teaching, not for kollel students!"

    The Kesef Mishnah says, "הלומדים והמלמדים" and the Rama permits a healthy person to accept pay to aid in one's learning (note that he cites the Beis Yosef who cites the Teshuvas Rashbatz)

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  23. An ideal that is simply, for all practical purposes, not an option today

    It's something that is only an option for a lucky few, just as it was only an option for a lucky few back then.

    Which meforshim are "extra"?

    The point is that the Rishonim themselves did not learn anywhere near as many works as we do.

    The Kesef Mishnah says, "הלומדים והמלמדים"

    Can you tell me exactly where that is? From what I saw, he specified that taking money is only permitted in a case where he is teaching students, drawing people close to the ways of Torah, or acting as a Dayyan.

    and the Rama permits a healthy person to accept pay to aid in one's learning (note that he cites the Beis Yosef who cites the Teshuvas Rashbatz)

    Let's go to the source. Rashbatz himself says is better for them to take a little time away from their constant study than to depend on the community for their livelihood.

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  24. "The Rishonim did not see the Torah learning of non-self-sufficient adults as being a legitimate part of that pillar."

    You have yet to show a rishon other than the Rambam who prohibits accepting payment when doing so prevents one from continuing learning.

    "3)Our inability to succeed in mastering Torah as we should while simltaneously working isn't an innovation of the Igros Moshe, as shown by the sources he cites

    It's an innovation of the Acharonim with no basis in the Rishonim. This will be the topic of the next post."

    ?? You yourself noted that the Tashbatz "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."

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  25. "Rashbatz himself says is better for them to take a little time"

    You have noted that only the lucky few can do so and remain learning Torah.

    "Can you tell me exactly where that is?"

    If I could have I would have :) It's towards the end, hard for me to find.In mine its the second line up from 12, but I cant figure out where 10 stops and 11 starts.

    "The point is that the Rishonim themselves did not learn anywhere near as many works as we do."

    Do you believe that you can learn Gemara without the Rishonim?

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  26. You have yet to show a rishon other than the Rambam who prohibits accepting payment when doing so prevents one from continuing learning.

    See the bibliography that I quoted. Virtually all the Rishonim held that it is better to learn less and be self-sufficient. You have yet to show a Rishon who says otherwise!

    "3)Our inability to succeed in mastering Torah as we should while simltaneously working isn't an innovation of the Igros Moshe, as shown by the sources he cites

    It's an innovation of the Acharonim with no basis in the Rishonim. This will be the topic of the next post."

    ?? You yourself noted that the Tashbatz "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."


    Read it carefully. Torah LEADERS. Not people who are learning!

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  27. "Rashbatz himself says is better for them to take a little time"

    You have noted that only the lucky few can do so and remain learning Torah.


    First of all, Rashbatz himself represents an extreme. Second, he would still maintain that people should somewhat decrease their learning and at least support themselves partially.

    "The point is that the Rishonim themselves did not learn anywhere near as many works as we do."

    Do you believe that you can learn Gemara without the Rishonim?


    How did the Rishonim do it? Besides, I'm not just talking about Rishonim on Gemara. Think of all the time that people spend learning meforshim on Chumash, Shulchan Aruch, Ketzos, Mishnah Berurah, etc., etc.

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  28. OK, I checked the Kesef Mishnah again. Your citation is from his recap at the very end. If you look above, he defines the category of lomed as follows:
    ואם שיושב ולומד וכל הבא לקרבה אל המלאכה יקרבהו לתורה ולמצות

    He seems to be referring to someone who is learning in some sort of outreach framework. But I am at somewhat of a loss to understand exactly what he is talking about.

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  29. Ah, now I get it. It's referring back to himself, that if he wants to learn, may he succeed. You're right, he is endorsing taking money to learn. And thus he is making a break from the Rishonim.

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  30. Yirmiahu, I looked at it again. When he explains the heter for taking money for learning, based on the terumas halishchah, he makes it clear that this is insofar as they are preparing for a role in teaching. Which is certainly not the case with kollelim today.

    (Thanks to Rabbi N. for help with this.)

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  31. HaRazieli said...
    "I think that it's important to emphasize that even while we agree with Beinisch that the vast majority of Haredim ultimately need to work-our agenda and hers are not the same. Hers and that of the Bagatz stems from an anti-Torah outlook-thus we should be wary before we applaud the way change is implemented, which should be in a gradual, humane manner."
    (June 16, 2010 12:41 PM)

    Forgive the comparison, but your words are an echo of something from R. Y. C. Sonnenfeld, (quoted by R. Aharon Feldman in his "Eye of the Storm", and discussed in ou's most recent Jewish Action Magazine, which had a review from R. Aharon Lichtenstein in the previous issue, and a follow up in the next [last] issue).

    An arab leader told R. Sonnenfeld, "We are just like you. You oppose the Zionists and we also oppose the Zionists." R. Sonnenfeld answered, "there's a big difference. You are against what's Jewish about the Zionists but I'm against what is gentile about them."

    S. said...
    ">Also, I'm not sure why people see Kollel students any differently than they see lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts."

    "Kollel students don't see themselves as similar to lifetime academics in the world of literature or the arts, so why should anyone else?"
    (June 16, 2010 6:43 PM)

    They see themselves at least as deserving of society's financial support as lifetime art academics. This doesn't contradict their seeing their field as a world apart from the field of art academics.

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  32. I think the discussion regarding taking money for learning in the Rishonim and Acharonim assumes that the person giving the money is doing so voluntarily. I am not sure any of them would advocate taking money from someone (even Jews) who do not want to support the person(s) learning. The Kollel stipend in the budget is probably opposed by most Israeli citizens. Is it OK to force them to support kollels against their will, even though we may support the artists and other academics against our will? This is a complicated aspect of a representative government where the majority makes decisions that affect the whole.

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  33. JF said...
    ...
    June 21, 2010 12:23 AM

    The majority agrees to the system of government even though special interest groups of all stripes will get a piece of the pie no one else wants to give them. By putting up with those groups you can form a coalition etc. and overall come out ahead even if it costs you here and there. During coalition negotiations you predict as best you can which small parties it pays for you to have join you and then you're stuck with your decision till next elections.

    ReplyDelete

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