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

60 comments:

  1. In Hazal's time, people worked at real trades. Nowadays, in the hi-tech industrial society you have to become a "professional" in order not to live in poverty. People hate this kind of work which they are not at all adapted to. More and more people are depressed, and don't feel any motivation to participate in the system which is rapidly destroying all that's left of the natural world. Indeed these are special times.

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  2. Garnel IronheartJune 3, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    In his essay "Chemotherapy as a metaphor" Rav Yonasan Rosenblum approaches this subject and suggests rather vaguely that while the post-war kollel boom was necessary, it should have been time limited.
    My response to that (which is one of the reasons he doesn't talk to me anymore) is that as part of the kollel push there was also Gadol deification and those same Gedolim have now spent 60 years saying that a good Jewish doesn't work, only learns. And how do you suddenly say "Well yes, we infallibly said that yesterday but today it's a good idea to get a job"?

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  3. Re: Yissachar/ Zevuluun and the Rambam-
    IIRC, I believe Maimonides was supported financially by his business-man brother, David for the time it took Maimonides to author his magnum opus- Mishneh Torah.
    This was about 10 years.
    Maimonides bitterly mourned his brother's tragic death at sea on a business trip.
    It is assumed that Maimonides practiced medicine to support himself after his completion of Mishna Torah and not earlier because of his loss of financial backing by his bother.

    I will try to find sources for this historical account soon.

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  4. 'There are more people learning today than ever before in Jewish history.'
    This reminds me of a piercing question I once heard from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. He pointed out this same fact but attached the following comment. Why is it that with all this learning, unprecedented in Jewish history, we see no astounding breakthroughs in the advance of Jewish culture and religious society. He pointed out that in any other field of research or study if this amount of brain power was applied, we would expect to see revolutionary progress.
    This question has burned in my mind for 3 years since I heard it. The only explanation I can come up with is that Jewish Torah study is focused on preservation of ideas. A struggle if anything to get back to a pristine past. I would welcome any ideas any of the readers (and obviously the writer) of this blog may have to offer in answer to this.

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  5. One argument that I've heard justifying kollel is that the 'outside world' is now much more dangerous than it was in the past (pervasive secularity, post 1960's sexual revolution, immodesty, etc.), and therefore we should keep as many people away from it as possible. I think this is wrong for several reasons, not least of which is that it implies that Torah is too weak to withstand the challenges of modernity. I think part of the issue with 'teaching one's child a trade' is that, in the past, one could do this without advanced secular studies, which must be either incorporated into the yeshiva curriculum or necessitate attening 'non-yeshiva' institutions, and are often associated with secular ideas, so the whole endeavouir becomes (for some) much more problematic. An additional factor (which is probably the key one), is the existence of the modern welfare state. In Poland, if everyone was in kollel, they would have starved, nowadays, they get paid to do it.

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  6. I don't know how authoritative all these sites are, but the general picture I described in my previous comment seems to have broad consensus.
    Maimonides was supported in learning by his family till mid life when his brother died. This much seems to be fact.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides

    http://www.yourdictionary.com/biography/maimonides

    http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b1maimonides.htm

    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/107770/jewish/Early-Years.htm

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  7. Rambam was NOT financially supported by his brother. Rather, his brother invested his funds for him. There's a world of difference.

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  8. See here - http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/11/rambam-on-being-paid-to-learn-or-teach.html

    Although there seems to be some sort of myth that the Rambam was supported by his brother, as R. Gil Student notes in the link posted above, this does not seem to be the case, a R. Slifkin stated.

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  9. 2 points.
    1. Jack mentioned the "special time" answer. This point is made by Kessef Mishneh on the Rambam who forbids taking money for Torah study. According to the Kessef Mishneh, even Rambam would permit it. As opposed to his first explanation, that explains that the majority of opinions argue on the Ramabm. Also, in his arguing on the Rambam, he maintains that Tannaim supported themselves when they were younger, and only were supported when they were recognized as talmidei chachamim. It is interesting to note, that the same Kessef Mishneh, states in Shulchan Aruch that it is prohibited to take money, as he cites the Rambam's prohibition word for word.
    2. At the end of Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shmitta, he does allow one to devote himself entirely to God, and to avoid "ol hachshbonos." Ridbaz differentiates between forcing the public to support, which Rambam would prohibit (hilchos Talmud Torah) and God sending enough to live , like Levi'im (hilchos Shmitta).
    I do not see that a kollel that is supported by donations would be classified as forcing the public to support, but I do think that "Datot" money (from the State of Israel) may be problematic, according to Ridbaz.
    Furthermore, Kessef Mishneh definitely, allows Scholars to accept money for learning Torah, though I do not know the limit, to neither his first explanation, nor to "eis la'asos laHashem."

    Disclaimer: I learn in Kollel.

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  10. >>"Rambam was NOT financially supported by his brother. Rather, his brother invested his funds for him."

    This just begs the question.
    Where did his funds come from?
    Did he earn them? Or was it his part of the family fortune he inherited?
    Before you dismiss the websites, please check the facts.

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  11. J,
    "One argument that I've heard justifying kollel is that the 'outside world' is now much more dangerous than it was in the past (pervasive secularity, post 1960's sexual revolution, immodesty, etc.), and therefore we should keep as many people away from it as possible."

    I think the opposite is true. Because of the dangerous and perverse world, and because of technology and 'real time information' one would be fooling himself if he thought he would be able to bring up his kids in a ghetto. Its impossible. The only way that makes sense to me would be to embrace the Torah im derech eretz of R Hirsch. To teach how to practice our Judaism in the outside world.(Which Yehuda Levi does quite well)

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  12. One of the problems with the kollel system is its sectarian nature. There are many dati leumi talmudic geniuses who are much worthier of being supported than many of those who are signed up in kollel.
    Those who are the crisp of the crop in learning in both the dati leumi and haredi worlds should be supported by the rest of the society.

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  13. "Rambam was NOT financially supported by his brother. Rather, his brother invested his funds for him. There's a world of difference."

    But after his brother died, Rambam had to go to work. His brother's work enabled him to devote himself to torah.

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  14. I've always thougt R'JR's approach reminded me of hoisted by/on their own petard - but the paradigm shift could leave 1000's who in good faith followed the advice (without being warned that it was a horaat shaah) in the lurch.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  15. biur Halachah, (I think in the simon regarding kal masecheh leshem Shomayim) explains why the circumstances today are different than what the Rambam was describing; one can not be a great Torah scholar unless one is learning full time (with few exceptions). That's the reality.

    Rambam himself learned "full time" until he was forty (and was supported).

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  16. The only reason why it's harder to become a renowned Torah scholar today is that there's much more Torah to learn. In the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn.

    Rambam himself learned "full time" until he was forty (and was supported).

    No, he didn't, and no, he wasn't.

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  17. Two very important facts here:

    Rambam came from a wealthy Spanish family. He had money "in the bank" and was never supported by his brother. Despite having "money in the bank" he learned a trade - medicine. When the family was living in Egypt, Rambam and his brother decided to take their combined wealth, give it to the brother who would sail to India and look for investments / business opportunities. The sunk, killing his brother and taking their combined fortune to the bottom of the sea. At that point, Rambam started working as a doctor to support himself and his brother's family.

    Second point, Rambam held not only that a person who gets his parnasa from "Divrai Torah" looses his olam habah, but anyone who lives off charity in order to study torah looses their olam habah as well:

    See: הִלְכּוֹת תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה פֵּרֶק ג

    http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/1303n.htm

    Read the whole thing, it's not long.

    Specifically, pay attention to these three paragraphs:

    http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/1303n.htm#9

    ט [י] כָּל הַמֵּשִׂים עַל לִבּוֹ שֶׁיַּעְסֹק בַּתּוֹרָה וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וְיִתְפַּרְנַס מִן הַצְּדָקָה--הֲרֵי זֶה חִלַּל אֶת הַשֵּׁם, וּבִזָּה אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, וְכִבָּה מְאוֹר הַדָּת, וְגָרַם רָעָה לְעַצְמוֹ, וְנָטַל חַיָּיו מִן הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא: לְפִי שֶׁאָסוּר לֵהָנוֹת בְּדִבְרֵי תּוֹרָה, בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה.

    י אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים, כָּל הַנִּהְנֶה מִדִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה, נָטַל חַיָּיו מִן הָעוֹלָם. וְעוֹד צִוּוּ וְאָמְרוּ, לֹא תַעֲשֵׂם עֲטָרָה לְהִתְגַּדַּל בָּהֶם, וְלֹא קֻרְדֹּם לַחְפֹּר בָּהֶם. וְעוֹד צִוּוּ וְאָמְרוּ, אֱהֹב אֶת הַמְּלָאכָה, וּשְׂנֹא אֶת הָרַבָּנוּת. וְכָל תּוֹרָה שְׁאֵין עִמָּהּ מְלָאכָה, סוֹפָהּ בְּטֵלָה; וְסוֹף אָדָם זֶה, שֶׁיְּהֶא מְלַסְטֵס אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת.

    יא מַעֲלָה גְּדוֹלָה הִיא לְמִי שְׁהוּא מִתְפַּרְנֵס מִמַּעֲשֶׂה יָדָיו, וּמִדַּת חֲסִידִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים הִיא; וּבְזֶה זוֹכֶה לְכָל כָּבוֹד וְטוֹבָה שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וְלָעוֹלָם הַבָּא: שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ, כִּי תֹאכֵל; אַשְׁרֶיךָ, וְטוֹב לָךְ" (תהילים קכח,ב)--"אַשְׁרֶיךָ" בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, "וְטוֹב לָךְ" לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ טוֹב.

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  18. Yisrael made a good point about what all this unprecendented learning is giving the Jewish world. A few years ago I attended a symposium held at Bar Ilan University in honor of Prof Menachem Friedman on the subject of the Kollel world. On the panel were two non-religious reporters for secular Israeli newspapers who mentioned that they visited the Beit Midrash of the Ponovezh Yeshiva at 2:00 in the morming and they were very impressed with how the hall was full and the enthusiasm of the people learning there. A non-kippah-wearing member of the audience then asked "yes, all this is very nice, but what is coming out of this learning for the rest of us? Where are the new Rav Kook's and Rav Soloveitchik's?" I would go further....if we were to turn these people loose on a streets of any Israeli town, what message would they have for the average people they encounter as a result of all their studies? How would they be able to encourage mitzvah observance among the skeptical public, based on their extensive knowledge? Yes, we all believe that this limud Torah has a beneficial cosmic effect, but I think it is legitimate to ask about its "practical" effect on the rest of Am Israel.

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  19. we all believe that this limud Torah has a beneficial cosmic effect

    Er, no we don't. And Rambam certainly didn't believe it.

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  20. "The only reason why it's harder to become a renowned Torah scholar today is that there's much more Torah to learn. In the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn."

    Rabbi Slifkin,

    I'm just guessing here, but the Rambam must have based his Mishneh Torah on SOMETHING other than only Gemara and the very few seforim that we know of from before and during his time - even if we do not have with us today those seforim that the Rambam based his seforim on. Those other seforim could have gotten lost along their way to our day and age due to all the book-burnings, wanderings, and expulsions over the years (and the probability that only the most essential seforim got transported and maintained during times of persecution, chaos and limited resources). How can you be so sure that "in the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn"?

    Yes, obviously there has been much, much more written since Rambam's time which survived and is here to learn.

    But was there really "not much to learn"?

    And, on another topic, if that was the case, can one extrapolate that at the time of the Rishonim, being an Observant Jew was that much simpler?

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  21. Rabbi,
    "The only reason why it's harder to become a renowned Torah scholar today is that there's much more Torah to learn. In the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn."
    perhaps the answer in what the rambam would call a ba'al habayis. In hilchos talmud Torah when explaining ho one should break up his learning. He writes that a "craftsman who learns 9 hours a day and works 3 hours a day should learn a third..." It is fascinating that it was obvious to the Rambam that craftsmen learn 9 hours a day. Realistically, how many ba'alei habayis nowadays learn more than an hour or two a day?
    The current business world doesn't leave too much room for most people to be self sufficient on less than a full day job.

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  22. When Rambam speaks about someone who learns 9 hours a day, he speaking about the ideal, not the norm. He himself went through a period when he barely learned at all.

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  23. I believe that the main difference is in the focus of learning. Rambam learned to know the Torah, modern Kollelim learn to learn. They can cover 5 dafim a year, are not able to use them in psak halacha lemaase, but see this as a great success.

    The main purpose in the modern “litvish” learning is not the knowledge but the learning itself. How many kollelnikim (black hat) who aim to master the whole shas (or Sh”A), with a realistic schedule, do you know.

    I’m not even going to mention TaNaCh, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Sifra, Sifri , or parts of Shulchan Aruch not used in smicha programs.

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  24. Being a Jew must have been much simpler inm the pre-Zoharic era when I presume there were far fewer minhagim which Jews worried about.

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  25. I think it is extremely important to distinguish between the Y/Z model (even, like i believe, its likely that the Y/Z partnership was only an instructive myth and not real history) and the current kollel system. The Y/Z model purports a partnership, a willing agreement between two parties. The kollel system has too many players who are often coerced into shouldering a heavy burden (usually the wife who has to undertake 2 roles). That is obviously wrong and unfair.

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  26. Yisrael, Rav Steinsaltz asked a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is his message.

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  27. Well obviously Rambam thought it was much simpler. According to him, everything the average Jew ever needed to be a self-sufficient practicing Jew was to learn Tanach and Mishneh Torah. How many pages would you say chumash, neviim and kituvim are? You can buy a single volume minukad MT which is 1200 pages. http://www.mishnetorah.com/en/

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  28. > One argument that I've heard justifying kollel is that the 'outside world' is now much more dangerous than it was in the past (pervasive secularity, post 1960's sexual revolution, immodesty, etc.), and therefore we should keep as many people away from it as possible.

    What part of the past? Contrary to popular belief, “the past” was not all Victorian England. Much of “the past” was indecent by the secular standards of today, let alone by those of the frum world. Blood sports, nude Olympics, amusements that today would be considered child abuse… “The past” was not very nice. Of course, when the frum world talks about the past, what is really meant is the shtetl of the late 19th and early 20th century, which WAS during the Victorian era.

    > I do not see that a kollel that is supported by donations would be classified as forcing the public to support

    The problem is what to do about the kids. When I get a brochure bemoaning the fate of some poor kollel family that can’t afford to feed itself (and invariably, the father is a great Talmud chaham) I’m faced with a serious moral dilemma. The parents of the family did this to themselves, and I have little sympathy for them. The kids, though, had no choice. Do I ignore the brochure and let the children suffer for their parents’ decisions, or do I send money to help the kids and thereby enable the parents’ irresponsible lifestyle?

    If I decide I have a moral obligation to help feed those kids, am I not being forced to support the parents?

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  29. >I'm just guessing here, but the Rambam must have based his Mishneh Torah on SOMETHING other than only Gemara and the very few seforim that we know of from before and during his time - even if we do not have with us today those seforim that the Rambam based his seforim on. Those other seforim could have gotten lost along their way to our day and age due to all the book-burnings, wanderings, and expulsions over the years (and the probability that only the most essential seforim got transported and maintained during times of persecution, chaos and limited resources). How can you be so sure that "in the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn"?

    Come on, there was no Arbah Turim, and no commentaries on it. There was no Shulchan Aruch, and no commentaries on it. There wasn't even Rashi on the Gemara (I mean, there was, but it was barely known in Spain and Rambam doesn't even hint to Rashi once in all of his work.) The Rambam had no Tosafos to master, he had no Mishna Berurah on Orach Chaim, which any low grade "Talmid chochom" must know well today. *He didn't have his own writings and supercommentaries on them to master*.

    We know what he had; Talmud, Rif, various Geonic works, etc. Mastering it was no small feat, but we can understand how it could be mastered given the size of the corpus.

    On the other hand, to a certain extent the Rishonim were very handicapped compared to us. If the Rambam didn't have Rashi, it was harder to master the Talmud. There weren't even standard dafim to refer to, making it that much easier to find citations. In addition, not every talmid chochom or would be talmid chochom had access to all the seforim he would have liked or needed, not even always a complete Talmud.

    But the point is that it's one thing to master the entire length and breadth of a large, yet relatively small, body of knowledge and another to master the entire length and breadth of a ridiculously massive body of knowledge, and that is what is required of a Gaon today. That doesn't mean that today's Geonim are even greater. They have other Rashi and other aids, and they also generally neglect certain areas of Torah which the Rishonim did not. But there's no question that your speculation about some kind of missing rabbinic library comparable in size to what exists today is imaginary.

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  30. Y. Ben-David said:

    "we all believe that this limud Torah has a beneficial cosmic effect"

    Rationalist said:

    "Er, no we don't. And Rambam certainly didn't believe it."

    _____________

    Rationalist, you may want to check out this Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva 3:8

    צריך כל אדם שיראה עצמו כל השנה כולה, כאילו חצייו זכאי וחצייו חייב; וכן כל העולם, חצייו זכאי וחצייו חייב: חטא חטא אחד--הרי הכריע עצמו והכריע את כל העולם כולו לכף חובה, וגרם להם השחתה; עשה מצוה אחת--הרי הכריע את עצמו והכריע את כל העולם כולו לכף זכות, וגרם להן תשועה והצלה. זה הוא שנאמר "וצדיק, יסוד עולם" (משלי י,כה), זה שצידק עצמו הכריע את כל העולם כולו והצילו

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  31. "The only reason why it's harder to become a renowned Torah scholar today is that there's much more Torah to learn. In the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn."

    I find this statement puzzling. I honestly do not know what you are talking about. Please qualify it.

    How does this address the Biur Halachah's opinion regarding the applicability of the relying on others in the modern era?

    "He himself went through a period when he barely learned at all."

    Reb Chaim Soloveitchik and many others, would be able to think in learning while they were involved with other matters. How can you be sure that the Rambam couldn't?

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  32. Gut Voch Rabbi,
    "When Rambam speaks about someone who learns 9 hours a day, he speaking about the ideal, not the norm."
    Yes ideally, and it is going to take a lechatchilla in order to create talmidei chachamim. bedi'avad isn't going to work. the rambam may have had periods of time where he may not have been able to learn that much, but he must have had periods of his life when he studied way more than 9 hours.
    Shimon S,
    What you write is true for some kollelim but not for all. For example, there are many kollelim who focus on halacha, and I know quite a few who have created quite respectable poskim. (Having the ability to decide, may or may not help these guys get a prestigious job. There are many pulpit rabbis that can't learn through the whole sugya, they just use R Ribaiats book etc. There are plenty of 'hamonim' who fail to see the difference between a real talmid chacham and a rabbi who gets by with shortcuts. But that is another topic).
    G*3,
    You are going to lead this conversation into the halachik responsibility of a father to support his children. Lets start differentiation between girls and boys, and ages. he may not have to support all of the 15 kids mentioned in the fundraiser. On the other hand, your worry is true. Modern society requires us to support our kids, and yes perhaps this donation is sponsoring irresponsibility.
    Robert,
    "Well obviously Rambam thought it was much simpler. According to him, everything the average Jew ever needed to be a self-sufficient practicing Jew was to learn Tanach and Mishneh Torah. How many pages would you say chumash, neviim and kituvim are? You can buy a single volume minukad MT which is 1200 pages."
    I love the angle, but the meaning of that Rmabam isn't so clear. See the Kessef Mishneh there, in the intro, who limits the broadness of the Rambam's statement. He writes 1. the Rambam did not mean it for poskim, only for the masses to know what to do (thus he answers the Raavad's problem. 2. Nowadays we don't understand Rambam without seeing the sources (based on a teshuva of the Rosh).

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  33. All of the learning today that derives from the stressed 'working class' today has made Judaism in its worst state ever. All the learning today by breaking the working man is nothing but Bittel Torah.

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  34. > G*3, You are going to lead this conversation into the halachik responsibility of a father to support his children. Lets start differentiation between girls and boys, and ages. he may not have to support all of the 15 kids mentioned in the fundraiser. On the other hand, your worry is true. Modern society requires us to support our kids, and yes perhaps this donation is sponsoring irresponsibility.

    I don’t really care whether the father is required halachicly to support his kids. Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that there was no halachic requirement whatsoever to support your kids. Would you then say that the family is justified in expecting money from the community? And what would you think of someone that constantly had children and then dumped them in an orphanage?

    This is a question of morals, not halacha.

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  35. Mitch:

    > one can not be a great Torah scholar unless one is learning full time (with few exceptions). That's the reality.

    I agree. However, just because one is learning full time--it doesn't mean he'll become a great Torah scholar!

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  36. Your statement that Yissachar Zevulin is not alluded to in Shas is not correct. Please see the first mishna in Zevachim and the rashi which quotes the gemara in sotah

    שמעון אחי עזריה. על שם שעזריה עסק בפרקמטיא וסיפק צורכי שמעון אחיו בשעה שהיה עוסק בתורה והתנו ביניהן שיהא חלק לעזריה בשכר תלמודו של שמעון כדאמרי' בסוטה (דף כא.) אם יתן איש את כל הון ביתו וגו' לא כשמעון אחי עזריה לפיכך נקרא על שמו שלמד על ידו:

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  37. I am aware of the allusion; Levi discusses it. I don't think that it can be rated as an actual source for the arrangement.

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  38. Kollel Nick,

    Please notice that in my OP I said, "the average Jew", and that it is the average Jew's ability to practice on a day to day basis without the need for a Rav on speed-dial that is the issue. It is clear from the Rambam's writings that MT is meant to be a guide to normative practice for the average person, and it's just as obvious that he expected it wouldn't hold in every situation and that a Rav who was sufficiently learned might rule differently in specific cases. Regarding the difficulties encountered by previous generations, many if not most / all of them were the result of error's in the printed texts, at least if I'm understanding Rabbi Kappach's statements correctly. There is no reason that a person of average intelligence can't learn and live by the MT. There is a living tradition of this from the Yeminte community, and the Beit Yosef himself says one may choose to live by Rambam even if his father's didn't do so.

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  39. G*3,

    "This is a question of morals, not halacha."

    You're touching the heart of the problem here. For many people there is no morality separate from halacha. So for instance you get abominations like the recent publishing of a book on how to cheat lo-yehudim in business according to halacha. ( How that's possible I don't know since Rambam states that it is forbidden to cheat even an idoloter, but who follows Rambam ;-)

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  40. BITTEL torah end of story. This is the worst Judaism has ever been. I'm glad I can't get my unemployment money from the State so some freakshow kenoi can burn down forests in mea sharim! May Hashem send his wrath against the wicked ASAP (and in the process the economy will shoot up 30 fold)

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  41. >>"So for instance you get abominations like the recent publishing of a book on how to cheat lo-yehudim in business according to halacha."

    Please inform us who exactly is publishing such a book.
    It sounds like you mistook a parody for the real thing!

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  42. Robert-
    If I understand Rav Eliezer Berkowitz correctly, he would say that a halacha removed from "morality" is NOT halacha (see "Essential Essays on Judaism" put out by the Shalem Center).

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  43. Issac,

    It's possible that I mistook it, but I seem to remember it being in a serious not joking context. IIRC, I saw a comment on it over on the Daas Torah blog of R. Eidensohn. I don't really have time to try and look it up.

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  44. "If I understand Rav Eliezer Berkowitz correctly, he would say that a halacha removed from "morality" is NOT halacha (see "Essential Essays on Judaism" put out by the Shalem Center)."

    The Talmud teaches that until Yosef ben Yoezer, Halacha was determined as did Moshe Rabbeinu. There was no formalization. The formalization of Halacha was BeDiavad and costly: There is no way to formalize ethics.

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  45. Y. Ben-David,

    I agree. In fact it should be obvious and easy to understand since Hillul HaShem is a d'oryta sin. Anyone who is identifiable as a "Frum" Jew acting in a way which is repulsive to reasonable, generally accepted norms of morality is committing the sin of Hillul HaShem.

    That's why it's so difficult for me to understand the generally accepted ruling that it's forbidden violate Shabbat to save the life of a lo-yehudi, even a ger toshav. What you say? That can't be you say? My wife is doctor at a hospital in Jerusalem, so I've spent some time reading up on this issue. You can find allot of articles on the subject at the website of Shaarai Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

    See for instance: טפול רפואי בשבת, לחולים שאינם בני-ברית which is about 1/3rd down the page.

    Virtually all Frum doctors ignore the prohibitions, and *some* modern authorities ( achronim ) allow it "m'pnai aivah". "m'pnai aivah", is still very morally problematic in my opinion. Saying that it's allowed to violate Shabbat to save a lo-yehudi only because not doing so might lead to the lo-yehudim being enraged and killing Jews is quite frankly morally repulsive. However, most major authorities have forbidden it for the past thousand years. The only serious classical authorities which rule differently are the RambaN ( I've been told ) and the Meiri. Unfortunately, I read a long paper which seems to show that there is no basis in Talmudic sources to the Meiri's positions on how to relate to lo-yehudim. That would only leave the RambaN in a very tiny minority. I've also heard claims that a passage in the Talmud which states, "save a soul from Israel" is actually the result of Xtian censors and should really read "save a soul" meaning any human, but it sounds revisionist / apoligist to me and I don't know how much real evidence there is for this claim.

    My point is that this is a massive Hillul HaShem by any reasonable standard, yet the generally accepted halacha is at odds with common sense morallity. There's a famous case from a few decades ago in which a lo-yehudi fell ill in Bnai Brak and died because a Haredi guy was unwilling to m'hallel shabbat to save his life.

    This issue has caused and continues to cause a major religious crisis in my life.

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  46. Robert,

    Halacha does not always need to gibe with one's own moral sense. Without gettting into the question of a psaq halacha I can tell you that Rav David Bar-Hayim has told me on more than one occassion that it is difficult to make the claim that this halacha refers to "goyim of a different era" since it also applies to gerei toshav, i.e. righteous gentiles.

    One insight into this mitzvah-there are different and sometimes competing values which lie at the bedrock of halacha. Human life is certainly a very important one, but another very important one is avodath Hashem, i.e. service of G-d. This mitzvah (of not violating Shabbath to save a gentile) teaches us as follows: Human life is precious, but if a situation arises which compels us to choose between avodath Hashem and human life then we must choose the former. Shabbath is the symbol which represents our avodath Hashem. We generally do rush to save non-Jewish lives but not if by doing so we violate the ultimate expression of our avodath Hashem.

    Having said this, I would remind you that if somehow this still does not sit well with you- that when a Sanhedrin re-emerges perhaps it will legislate differently.

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  47. HaRazieli,

    "Shabbath is the symbol which represents our avodath Hashem. We generally do rush to save [ lo yehudi ] lives but not if by doing so we violate the ultimate expression of our avodath Hashem."

    Just a fyi, but Rambam rules that it is forbidden to ever save the life of a oved avodah zarah, but makes an exception for "m'pnai aivah", but only if you get paid for it, not for free. According to him Xtianity is avodah zarah, and neither they nor our friends who pray to Mecca have a portion in the olam habah, at least in general. I don't know how other authorities rule on this issue.


    Back to the subject of lo-yehudim in general and a ger toshav in particular. I'm pretty sure that virtually all Frum doctors follow the opinion that it's mutar to violate Shabbat to save a lo-yehudi, even an oved kochavim. I'm also pretty sure that most of them are unaware of the underlying issues and that it's "m'pnai aivah". And here's the problem, I'm also pretty sure a large proportion, if not the vast majority of them would be deeply disturbed if they were aware of the underlying "m'pnai aivah" reasoning, or that if they are aware of it they've simply pushed it to the back of their minds and decided to "forget" it. Unfortunately for me, from a philosophical point of view I would view anyone who would choose Shabbat over the life of a lo-yehudi, even an oved kochavim, as being not much better than a German who said, "I was only following orders." I'm intentionally trying to avoid inflammatory terms, but I'm sure people get the point.

    Every time I contemplate this issue it causes me so much anxiety that it is almost physically painful.

    And my wife has to do Shabbat call in the emergency room at least twice a month, so I get plenty of reminders of the issue.

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  48. >Virtually all Frum doctors ignore the prohibitions, and *some* modern authorities ( achronim ) allow it "m'pnai aivah". "m'pnai aivah", is still very morally problematic in my opinion. Saying that it's allowed to violate Shabbat to save a lo-yehudi only because not doing so might lead to the lo-yehudim being enraged and killing Jews is quite frankly morally repulsive.

    I'm not usually one for apologetics, but try this one on for size.

    In reality it is a chidush that you can be mechalel shabbos for a yisrael as well. The Talmud certainly didn't take it for granted, positing that it is allowed because it would lead to further shabbos observance, so in reality what seems like chillul shabbos is really the cause of more shabbos observance (assuming that's the correct reasoning; in either case, a sevara had to be found to justify saving a yisrael). Historically we find that there were Jews - known as Chassidim, no less - who would let themselves be killed rather than fight war in self-defense on shabbos. Clearly this is not the way.

    But if this is the reason why a yisrael can be saved, it doesn't apply to eno-yisrael. While you might like to see "Basic morality" given as the reason, it's also not the reason why you can save a yisrael, so why should it apply to non-Jews? We're not worse than them. So lacking another reason, there's eiva.

    Of course this is only good so long as, in fact, it is permitted.

    By the way, the "famous case in Bene Berak" was probably (or at least possibly) a lie invented by Israel Shahak.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Shahak#Alleged_telephone_incident

    All of that said, I don't claim that such a story is simply impossible, only that - you know - it hasn't happened.

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  49. S. great apologetics! Almost good enough to be true!

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  50. Robert, if the halachah doesn't deem gentile life more valuable than shabbos, nor does it deem Jewish life more valuable than the 3 cardinal sins. If a Jewis man is given the choice to (only once) do giluy arayos with a consenting adult or be killed he must choose the latter. You would have a hard time justifying this to a non-beliver. The non-believer hardly recognizes this as sin in the first place, and think of the consequences, leaving over bereaved parents wife siblings orphans friends etc., and perhaps bringing a super-productive and kind life to an ignoble end. The non-believer would see the Torah value system 'discriminating' against Jew and gentile alike.

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  51. >>"I don't really have time to try and look it up."

    I'm sorry, but that's inexcusable. Just casually accuse an entire group of fellow Jews of bigotry and not bother to back it up because "I really don't have time"?
    Shame on you.

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  52. Issac,

    "Just casually accuse an entire group of fellow Jews of bigotry "

    Where do you get that I'm accusing a whole group? Why would anyone other than the author of the book have any responsibility for it's contents?

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  53. Anonymous,

    The circumstances under which a person is required to give up their own life are a completely different subject, primarily because it is their *own* life, not another persons life.

    Allot of frum people have a moral problem with the "m'pnai aivah" ruling, including R. Soloveitchik. I can look up a reference for you later in the day if you're interested.

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  54. Regarding R' Steinsaltz's question about why, in light of the amount of people and brainpower devoted to learning, are there no significant developments or breakthroughts?

    The answer, I believe, has to do with the Torah and halachic methodology taught in the yeshiva world. That is, we, in this generation, are unable to reach any conclusions in halacha which differ from a proscribed "shita" or halachic text. And certainly we're not authorized to take on a halachic opinion or approach which differs with any of the two or three mainstream shitot. That is, you can be a great hacham or at least a competent learner and talmid chachamim and have learned a certain sugya through and through; if you have concluded that the Rosh understands the sugya in a more convincing way, one which has the least "pressure points", you are not entitled to do like the Rosh. That would be illegal. You can be as convinced as anyone, and even demonstrate it with strong proofs, but no matter. End of the day you're bound to a shita. One friend of mind called it the Torah dictatorship. This pradigm kills creativity and stifles innovation, because really all a learner can do is employ lomdus to explain why rishon x says what he says and why rishon y says differently. Really, the goal is not to innovate--more, we are taught that we are not allowed to innovate in any meaningful way, so it comes as no surprise that the outcome of such a system is what it is.

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  55. Still Rambam writes about 10 full time attendants of beit-knesset that should be found in every Jewish town:
    הלכות סנהדרין, א:
    יד [י] ולמה אין מעמידין סנהדרין אלא בעיר שיש בה מאה ועשרים: כדי שיהיו מהן סנהדרין של עשרים ושלושה, ושלוש שורות של תשעה ושישים, ועשרה בטלנין של בית הכנסת, ושני סופרים, ושני חזנים, ושני בעלי דינין, ושני עדים, ושני זוממין, ושני זוממי זוממין, ושני גבאי צדקה, ועוד אחד כדי שיהיו שלושה לחלק הצדקה, ורופא אומן, ולבלר, ומלמד תינוקות--הרי מאה ועשרים.
    Would they qualify as a quasi-kollel in your opinion.

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  56. Regarding Steinsaltz's question...

    In the legal academic world, every law school has not only professors, who work on independent scholarship and teaching full-time, but each law school publishes a law journal with academic articles on various areas of the law. A number of such journals exist in Judaism, but it seems like few outside the modern orthodox are encouraged to develop interests and ideas independently to come up with scholarship.

    Another thing that bothers me is since the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, no one has written a similar book for today, summarizing modern halacha applicable to everyday life. If we are to actually perform all the mitzvot, don't we need to be regularly reminded about what the halacha is right now, for things relevant to everyday life? Shouldn't such study take precedence over Gemara study? What's the use of studying Gemara all day if you don't know and aren't applying modern halachic rulings to your everyday life?

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  57. "Another thing that bothers me is since the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, no one has written a similar book for today"

    What about Rabbi Haim David Halevi's Meqor Haim?

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  58. @Robert,

    We find in Vayikra 10 (v. 15 and on) that Aaron's sons acted differently from the halakhah. The details have to do with burning the chattat, which in this case should have been eaten (since its blood has been sprinkled inside the Kodesh). Moses confronts Aaron’s sons angrily and tells them what they should have done, based on what he was commanded (earlier in Tzav).

    What is so important for our discussion is how Aaron answers on behalf of his sons. Since 'these things have happened to me', that is, the death of Nadav and Avihu, his other sons, 'if I eat chattat today will it be good in the eyes of God'?

    Notice that Aaron does not give a halakhic justification to what his sons did. Rather, he appeals over the head of halakhah to what is 'good in God's eyes'. And Moses? He 'heard and it was good in his eyes'.

    I have often pointed out how this serves as the model for how to challenge existing halakhah. If a halakhah appears to be immoral, one can ask if following it would be good in God's eyes. And let us remember that Moses (who represents the voice of halakhah here) heard Aaron’s explanation ‘and it was good in his eyes’. That is, halakhah itself approves of this dynamic.

    So now you may ask, 'What is good in God's eyes'? Excellent question! And it has been asked and answered: "You have been told what is good, and what does God ask of you: ONLY to do what is just, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

    (It is worth noting the remarkable importance that the Sages gave to this verse. They said: ‘Moses was given 613 commandments at Sinai… Micah came and stood them on three: do what is just, love kindness and walk humbly with your God’. [Makkot 23b-24a])

    And yes, that breaks the lock of an unchanging halakhah in the face of immorality, but it does so within the framework of Torah by using the Torah's own description of the precedent.

    Here is what happens when one doesn’t do that. One ends up with a halakhah that gives priority to obedience over what is right and good. And that makes halakhah an idol, that is, something that pulls us away from serving Hashem. And one ends up on the wrong end of this cute line: “What is the difference between morality and religion? Morality is doing what is right even if you are not told; religion is doing what you are told even if it is not right.”

    So rather than defend or apologize for a halakhah that we find to be immoral, let us ask what is ‘good in the eyes of God’ and take it from there.

    (If you wish to see the entire piece I wrote on this, email me and I will send it to you: uziteaches@aol.com.)

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  59. "The only reason why it's harder to become a renowned Torah scholar today is that there's much more Torah to learn. In the Rishonim's time, there wasn't much to learn."

    Sorry I'm (very) late to the discussion, but this statement seems not quite heretical, but certainly inaccurate:

    -If there wasn't that much to learn, how come every Jew wasn't a rishon?
    -Are you saying a Reb Chaim answering a stirah in a Rambam is saying something the Rambam never said?
    -The rishonim went through the gemara BEIYUN. That doesn't take time? What about Tanach?

    Even if someone lived nowadays and devoted 100% of their time to learning just Talmud, Tanach, Medrash, etc. and everything pre-1300's, they wouldn't APPROACH the Rambam's level.

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