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
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.