Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Invention of the Kollel

A recent book, The Legacy of Maharan Rav Aharon Kotler, states as follows:

There was a major difference between the situation in Europe and the situation the Rosh Yeshiva found in America. In Europe the groundwork for Harbotzas Torah (Torah dissemination) was there. The concept and ideal of studying Torah "Lishmoh" - Toras Hashem for its own sake - because of its inherent value as the word of Hashem - was ingrained in European Bnei Yeshiva from the time of Reb Chaim Volozhin, the Vilna Gaon and before... Not so in America, however.. The concept and, all the more so, the practical possibility of devoting many years in Yeshiva and in Kollel to total absorption in Torah lishmoh... just didn't exist. If one did study longer than the norm in Yeshivos it was in preparation for a career in Rabbonus or Chinuch... What [Rav Aharon] brought about was a spiritual revolution both in the American yeshiva world itself, as well as in the minds of American philanthropists, to whom the entire idea of authentic yeshivos on American soil, particularly the novel idea of studying Torah lishmoh after marriage, was outlandish. (pp. 12-13, 40)

But it wasn't just 20th century Americans who would have considered the Lakewood kollel model to be outlandish. Contrary to the impression given, that Rav Aharon brought the classical, traditional, authentic kollel model to America, he actually invented it.

Historically, the term “kollel” referred to communal bodies or to communities. But in the nineteenth century, it was given to a new type of institution, in which married men were paid a stipend to continue their Torah studies. The first such institution was founded in 1879 by Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin (Salanter) in Kovno, with the support of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor. But it differed from the modern kollel in several significant ways.[1] The studies were focused on halachah rather than Talmud and culminated in rabbinic ordination.[2] The students also apprenticed to community rabbis, learning how to deal with halachic questions and procedures. There was a three-year limit to the program, by the end of which the student was to have acquired a rabbinical post; some were being prepared to be rashei yeshivah, but most to be community rabbis. The students were spread amongst different study halls and supplemented their studies with local adult education, so as to strengthen the local communities and gain experience in “practical rabbinics.”[3] The network of Noveradok kollels later established by Rabbi Yosef Yoizl Horowitz was likewise specifically oriented towards training rabbis and strengthening Torah study in local communities. Similarly, in the Slabodka kollel that was established after World War I, members had to make a commitment from the outset that after five years they would gain ordination and fill a rabbinical post.[4]

In marked contrast to all these was the type of kollel first established by Rav Aharon Kotler in 1943, in Lakewood, New Jersey. There was no time limit placed upon studying there, because its purpose was fundamentally different from all those kollels that preceded it. Its goal was to have the study of Torah being performed “for its own sake,” as per the innovative definition of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin.[5] This differed sharply from how the Rishonim defined Torah LiShmah.[6] Furthermore, the students were specifically not to involve themselves with the local community, and not to be preparing for a role in the rabbinate or the wider community. But the wider community was expected to provide financial support for this and similar institutions, based upon the new concept of the innate value of the Torah study. All this in turn also required innovations regarding the halachic permissibility of such financial support, and of people not preparing themselves for an occupation; for while some precedent could be found in isolated opinions, it certainly went against the normative approach. The Hazon Ish is alleged to have invoke the emergency clause of “A time to act for God; overturn the Torah,” in light of the destruction of Torah Judaism in the Holocaust. This remained operational even after the number of Torah students vastly exceeded anything in pre-war Europe. The ultimate step in the evolution of the kollel, which spread in the latter part of the twentieth century, was its presentation as an expectation of every young man in the Haredi community. None of this was a resurrection of European tradition; it was an innovation.


[1] Adam S. Ferziger, “The Emergence of the Community Kollel: A New Model for Addressing Assimilation,” (Bar Ilan University 2006), pp. 16-19; Rabbi Nathan Kamenetzky, Making of a Godol, pp. 343-357.

[2] It is unclear, however, to what extent this was motivated by a desire to avoid Russian demands for rabbinic training in government-sponsored seminaries, and also to assist in fundraising purposes.

[3] This term was used by Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, as cited in Making of a Godol p. 357.

[4] Yonsaon Rosenblum, Reb Yaakov, p. 90.

[5] See Norman Lamm, Torah LiShmah: Torah for Torah’s Sake in the Works of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin and his Contemporaries.

[6] See this post on "The Goal of Torah Study" and this post on "The Rishonim on Torah Study." See too this post on "Is the Kollel rooted in Yissacher/Zevulun?"


  1. History is how you revise it.
    My father recalls how the kollel system worked in the alter heim. If you were seen to be an ilui you got in because odds are you'd become a posek hador. Anything less and you were sent out to learn a trade.
    Even Rav Yonasan Rosenblum has writen in his article "Chemotherapy as a Metaphor" that maybe it's time to end the "emergency decree". But when you've raised 2 generations of people to believe they're entitled to sit and learn while enjoying a decent standard of living and your "gedolim" have been telling you that any deviation from this is a unacceptable breach of the purity of Torah living, how do you make any changes?

  2. Wow, I found Rosenblum's article at "Kollel is Poison"! No wonder Mishpachah was put in cherem.

  3. One crucial point which is sometimes overlooked is that the success of this model has a very high correlation with the existence of a modern welfare state. It is only in the post WW2 world where governments have made sure that nobody goes without the basics that people have been able to decide that not working was a viable option for masses of people. This mehalech in 19th century Romania would have meant starvation and homelessness. Perhpas one can infer that if/when welfare policies adjust (as seems to be happening in parts of Europe now), the old model (and sanity) will return.

  4. A timely and informative post.

  5. Joseph

    It is then puzzling why many of the conservative charedi writers such as in Mishpacha or Cross-Currents are generally opposed to the welfare state and at the same time support Lakewood type full-time learning.

  6. Thank you for this post, RNS. I'm very glad this is being discussed. I wish also Yonason Rosenblum would bring it up again.

    When I first got married as a kollel wife, it was a very dehumanizing experience. I could not get my husband's rosh yeshivah (a respected "gadol"), my rebbetzins, or my husband to value me beyond being some kind of wacky appendage that automatically takes care of my husband's life so he could learn in peace, in addition to being some kind of Stepford "ishah kasherah" who doesn't feel or have needs. My newborn infant was apparently also supposed to be mosser nefesh for this goal, but I was able to stand up to that onslaught and I stayed home with him and nursed him. And despite having a college education and a brain, I did enjoy being with my baby full-time.

    I was clear on shidduchim that I was not willing to be a kollel wife more than 2 years maximum, so I don't know why anyone thought otherwise.

    My husband has successfully combined learning with working (he learns more than he works) for over a decade, I work part-time, but he is still resentful that I am not the main breadwinner "like everyone else's wife."

    Enforced full-time kollel was always a recipe for disaster. Male parnassah is halachah. Every time we leave the boundary of halachah, we suffer. If this will continue for another generation (and I believe it won't), you'll have men handing their tefillin to their wives ("Have me in mind!") so they don't waste precious Torah-learning time laying tefillin while rebbetzins will give shiurim on the greatness of Michal and the one or two other women who were maniach tefillin.

    Kollel wives perpetuated this ideal because they themselves wanted to work, but were afraid of being accused of surrendering to secular feminist ideals. So they created a framework in which they could abandon their home "l'shem Shamayim" and become career women themselves while looking like an eishes chayil at the same time. This was stupid, however, because women have always earned money (read Eishes Chayil and Jewish history books) when possible and when desirable. So they could have dropped the act and saved us all a lot of heartache. Furthermore, when economically feasible, women entertained outside interests and hired cooks, nannies, and maids to do chores they found difficult or unpleasant. Women wanting to work or not wanting to clean & change diapers all day is nothing new, just some people like to pretend it's new, when what's new is that the opportunity became so widespread.

    It would be nice if we frummies would stop looking over our shoulders in the fear that we might possibly be accidentally imitating the outside world and just do our own thing without trying to exhaust ourselves and show off by kashering what is already a glatt kosher chicken!

  7. Cont'd from previous post...

    Furthermore, by taking a man out of the fundamentally important and holy role of supporting his family, he automatically leaves other responsibilities behind, too. I can't tell you how many Torah homes I've been in where I see the kids jumping on the mother while she's trying to serve dinner, mouthing off to the mother, etc., and the father sits right there and doesn't say one word.

    BTW, homosexuality has a huge part to do with the relationship with the father. So many homosexuals were either sexually abused as children or did not have the paternal warmth they needed for their particular personality. Where are the fathers? Why are they not protecting their kids? Why are they not investing in their relationship with their kids? We are seeing these problems rising in the frum community and we blame the Internet, secular world, taavos, the mothers, the schools, but who is responsible for the schools? Who is staffing the boys' schools? Who's halachically responsible for chinuch? It's men. In fact, according to studies and my own personal conversations with gay men, a lot of homosexuality could be prevented if fathers would cuddle their sons once a day. But no gadol will suggest THAT because nowadays, goyim do that and chas v'shalom, it looks like we're imitating the goyim. (And don't anyone mention that Sephardi men have always been more physically affectionate because we are mainstream charedi, and Sephardi ways don't count! When we talk about tradition and Yidden shel pa'am, we mean the impoverished Russian and Polish ones, no one else!)

    Bachurim are walking into marriage emasculated. Their shidduchim are decided based on the girl's material value, and regardless of how much he likes a girl, regardless of how compatible they are, regardless of HIS personal needs, if her parents can't fork out the money, forget it. And the poor wuss won't even stand up for himself and for his life, he can't say, "No, I AM marrying this girl and I'm going to work in order to be able to do that!" because he has been conditioned to be a deadweight with no rights. But like I said, it is thankfully starting to change back.

    I'm encountering more and more women who are getting divorced (or secretly getting finances together for a divorce) after 20-30 years of marriage, even those married to chashuv guys. They just can't face being all alone with a deadbeat (and if the men finally do go to work, they remain an emotional deadbeat) after the kids move out.

    These rabbanim who propagated the kollel lifestyle were/are basically the frum version of any professor or researcher you'll find in the non-Jewish world. They don't want to do anything but learn in their field of choice, and they used their brilliance to justify their lifestyle and shove it down the throats of others (along with the kollel wives I described above).

    Are there those men and women truly doing it for the right reasons? Yes - a TINY amount. Are there those who are doing it in a healthy way? Yes -- a TINY amount.

    There is lots more to say, but that's enough for now.

  8. >It is then puzzling why many of the conservative charedi writers such as in Mishpacha or Cross-Currents are generally opposed to the welfare state and at the same time support Lakewood type full-time learning.

    It is indeed. People mock the Chassidim for supposedly selling out their conscience by voting their economic interest, but of course that's nuts. Whether you have sane economic policies, you still have to live - and they know it.

    There's an old chestnut about how Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans. In the yeshivish world it's the same thing, only in reverse.

  9. Tali,

    Great post, nice to have an intelligent new voice on the blog. Even if you are just preaching to the choir over here. Just one question -- would you lay both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, or just Rashi tefillin. Just kidding.

  10. Tali: Great post. It's wonderful to have an inside look.

    Lawrence Kaplan

  11. To Garnel Ironheart-

    Unless your father is about 95 years old, he does not remember how the kollel system worked in Europe. Whatever tiny kollel "system" existed, to use that term, was dead by the eve of WWII.

    And the idea that you could get in a kollel because you might become a "posek hador" is also false. The very term "posek hador" didn't even exist in any meaningul sense until a few years ago, when it was invented by the Yated Neeman newspaper as a title for their own leader.

    That said, agreed with the thrust of your point.

  12. To Ploni,

    First of all, my father, may he live well until 120 is pretty close to 95 so yes, he was there in the alter heim and saw how things worked.
    Secondly, you're correct about the usage of "posek hador". I used the term because it's the contemporary way to describe the qualifications one needed to get into full time kollel.

    To bohr salino,
    > It is then puzzling why many of the conservative charedi writers such as in Mishpacha or Cross-Currents are generally opposed to the welfare state

    Yes, it's part of the ammended version of what we say when we finish a tractate of Talmud.
    We run and they run, we run to learn Torah and therefore deserve welfare payments, they run to the liquor store so they're lazy bums who don't deserve government money.
    I think the next edition of the Schottenstein will have it inside.

  13. Looking back at those previous posts which you have cited, your treatment of sources reminds me of the approach of a certain Rabbi Schmeltzer. For example, your first citation of the Rambam reads in full (Hakdamot ha-Rambam la-Mishnah, ed. Y. Sheilat, pp. 130-131): ואתה המעין, הבן ממני זה המשל, ואז תכין לבך לשמוע דבריי בכל זה. שווה בנפשך כי נער קטן הובא אל מלמד ללמדו התורה, וזה טוב גדול לו, למה שיושג לו מן השלמות. אלא שהוא, למיעוט שניו וחולשת שכלו, לא יבין ערך זה הטוב, ולא מה שיביאהו אליו מן השלמות, ולפיכך יוכרח המלמד, אשר הוא יותר שלם ממנו, לזרזו על הלימוד בדבר האהוב אצלו למיעוט שניו, ויאמר לו: למד, ואתן לך אגוזים או תאנים, או אשלם לך חתיכת סוכר. וילמד וישתדל לא לעצם הלימוד, לפי שהוא לא ידע לו ערך, אלא כדי להשיג אותו המאכל, ואכילת אותו המאכל יותר חשובה אצלו מן הלימוד ויותר טובה בלא ספק... וזה כלו מגונה, ואמנם צריכים לזה בגלל חולשת שכל האדם אשר ישים תכלית החכמה דבר אחר זולת החכמה... וזה הוא אצל החכמים "שלא לשמה"... והזהירונו החכמים ע"ה מזה ואמרו: לא תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהם ולא קרדום לחפור בהם", ירמזו למה שביארתי לך, שלא ישים תכלית החכמה לא שיגדלו אותו בני אדם...
    ולא תהיה אצלו תכלית החכמה אלא ידיעתה בלבד. וכן אין תכלית האמת אלא שידע שהיא אמת. והמצוות אמת ולפיכך תכליתן--קייומן. This has nothing to do with learning for the sake of practice; if anything, it is support for R. Chaim Volozhiner. You also ignore the Rosh cited in Nefesh ha-Chaim. Why? Because the Rosh lived before the Maharal? The remainder of that post is similarly problematic.

  14. Rambam is not saying what you think he is saying; he certainly did not hold like R. Chaim Volozhiner!
    Yes, Rambam did hold that knowledge is an end unto itself - but not knowledge of Gemara! Rather, he was referring to philosophical truths. According to Rambam, Gemara is only needed to get to halachah (in fact Rambam wanted people to skip learning Gemara and go straight from Torah to Mishneh Torah); halachah is only needed to know how to do mitzvos; mitzvos are only needed to know how to perfect the intellect.

    You also ignore the Rosh cited in Nefesh ha-Chaim.

    Which Rosh? I'd be happy to look into it.

  15. Add my brachot to those who are praising Tali's eloquent statement.
    I look forward to hearing more from her.

    I live in a town in Israel which has Rav from a well-known dynasty and he is extremely critical of the modern kollel system. He says it is creating dysfunctional Haredi families with weak, useless fathers and overworked mothers, the very inversion of what a Torah family is supposed to be.

    I think the Haredi world is being very shortsighted in their triumphalist attitude that says their way has won and there can't be a repeat of the gigantic spiritual crisis that hit Am Israel in the 19th and first half of the 20th century with the massive falling away from Torah observance. I think the warning signals are there and it is important to heed them.

  16. WFB - You are correct that the section that I quoted was not saying that learning is for the sake of mitzvos. In fact Rambam is saying that knowledge is an end unto itself - but, again, he is referring to philosophy.

    I made the mistake of relying on Levi's citation of Rambam.

  17. The Rosh is cited in Nefesh Hachaim 4:3, which can be found here:

  18. That's not what Rosh is saying at all! He is saying that one's motives in learning Torah must be pure; not that learning Torah is an end unto itself.

  19. R. Natan - although you may well be right, it is important to acknowledge that the Nefesh Hachaim builds his whole theology out of this Rosh. The Rosh seems to be saying two things, one the one hand not to learn for impure motives, but also that lishma means 'to know and to understand and to increase knowledge and pilpul' which isn't exactly the same as the rishonim you quote in your other post on the topic, in that there does seem to be something here which suggests that the knowledge is an end in and of itself.

  20. I think that the Rosh is saying one thing. That one must learn Torah for pure motives - not to boast or to argue. He is talking about "learning to understand etc." as a CONTRAST to learning in order to boast etc. He is not speaking about the ultimate ends.

    This says a lot more about R. Chaim of Volozhin than it does about the Rosh.

    Read R. Lamm's book for a full account of how R. Chaim's approach was innovative.

  21. I just checked R. Lamma's book - in a lengthy endnote on p. 247 he says that the drashah that R. Chaim is using, seems to be based on a corrupted version of the text, and is unworkable with the more accurate version found in manuscripts and elsewhere. עיין שם.

  22. Lamm does not say anything about a corrupted version of the text, nor does he dispute R. Chaim Volozhiner's understanding of the Rosh--which is itself based on the text of the Gemara as it is printed. As R. Chaim already noted, there is an alternate version of the Gemara which is what pseudo-Rashi has. As for your assertions about the Rambam, it seems you are not familiar with the extensive literature on what the Rambam means about the Mishne Torah "supplanting" the Talmud. A good place to start would be I. Twersky's article, "Some Non-Halakic Aspects of the Mishneh Torah." See also שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק ד סימן לט ד"ה ולפ"מ שבארתי דבריו, to which Twersky was mekhavein. Furthermore, according to the Rambam, מעשה בראשית and מעשה מרכבה are both philosophical truths and part of Torah, surely they are to be studied for their own sake. For additional support that Torah study is not for the purpose of practice, see Zevachim 45a and רש"י ד"ה א"ל הלכה קאמינא.

  23. Here is a difficult question to all those reading this blog and identify with its approach: would you want so see the Israeli government cut funding for full time kollel students with the aim of better integrating the charedi community into the national workforce? The reason why I hope this will be a difficult question is because if something like this were happen, it would cause unimaginable hardship for all those affected. Granted that this would be the consequence of making an irresponsible choice but I am not the type who can sit easy with the suffering of others no matter the reason.

    Personally, I would like to see some kind of five year plan where over the course of five years, vocational programs would be createed that specifically cater to the charedi community. These programs would enable those who were interested to pursue careers in a field of their choosing. At the end of this five year period, however, financial support for those who cannot prove that they are in some way trying to find work would be discontinued.

    Thoughts on this?

  24. "The ultimate step in the evolution of the kollel, which spread in the latter part of the twentieth century, was its presentation as an expectation of every young man in the Haredi community”. I think it is more than expected. I went to a hareidi high school, and we were told that the only way we were allowed to work or go to school was to first learn for as long as possible. If one could still manage while learning there is no heter for work or schooling. IMHO this is a form of abuse. I know countless people who were just not cut out for full time learning, yet were forced to be obedient to the system.

  25. According to Rambam, Gemara is only needed to get to halachah (in fact Rambam wanted people to skip learning Gemara and go straight from Torah to Mishneh Torah); halachah is only needed to know how to do mitzvos; mitzvos are only needed to know how to perfect the intellect.

    What do you do with this Rambam in his intro to his commentary on the Mishna?

    לכן צריך שנקבע בלבנו אמתותם, ונעיין בהם היטב, ואל נמהר להרחיק שום דבר מהם, אלא כל מה שירחק בעינינו משהו מהם נרגיל את עצמינו במדעים עד שנבין כוונתם באותו הענין אם תוכל דעתינו להבינו, לפי שהם ע"ה על אף שהיו שוקדים על הלמודים וטובי שכל ומוכשרים ונתחברו לאנשים גדולים ופירשו מתאות העולם וכל אשר בו, היו מיחסים חסרון לעצמם בהשואה לקודמיהם, והוא אמרם לבן של ראשונים כפתחו של אולם ושל אחרונים אפילו כמחט סדקית אינו. כ"ש אנחנו שעם אבדן המדע והחכמה מאתנו כמו שיעד לנו יתעלה לכן הנני יוסיף להפליא את העם הזה הפלא ופלא ואבדה חכמת חכמיו ובינת נבוניו תסתתר, נתיחדו בכל אחד ממנו ארבעה דברים, חולשת שכל, והתגברות התאות, והעצלות מללמוד, והחריצות לרדיפת עניני העולם הזה, ארבעת שפטי הרעים, והיאך לא ניחס החסרון לעצמינו בהשואה אליהם. ובידעם ענין זה ושכל דבריהם נקיים מכל סיג, חסו עליהם והזהירו שלא לזלזל בהם ואמרו כל המלעיג על דברי חכמים נדון בצואה רותחת, ואין צואה רותחת חמורה מן הסכלות שגרמה לו להלעיג. ולכן לא תמצא לעולם מרחיק דבריהם אלא אדם רודף התאות, מעדיף החושניות, מי שלא הואר לבו בשום אור בהיר. ובגלל ידיעתם אמתות דבריהם כלו בהם את חייהם וצוו לשקוד עליהם בשעות הלילה ובקצוי היום ועשאוהו התכלית, וכך הוא באמת,

    He seems to be recommending people learning Chazal's wisdom for hours during the night and day and make it one's primary goal.

  26. Wow!

    Tali, please post at this site more often.

    Rabbi, great article with very important information in it.

  27. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I recall reading in several books that many cities had a few, maybe 10, men learning basically full time in the beis meidrash/shul. I know this is still a far cry from Lakewood, but if these books are correct, it would seem that people learning full time was not unheard of in Europe either.

  28. Isn't it pretty clear that Nefesh HaChaim is using snippets of what the Rosh (and other chachamim on the subject) said in an innovative manner to construct his own NEW, CREATIVE thesis. How can anyone really think "This is what they meant" originally? It strains credulity to even suggest that Nefesh HaHaim himself thought they really meant that when they first said it. What they actually meant when they wrote it is not the point for something like this. It is similar to a drasha. It is using the earlier sources to show there is a BASIS in there (somewhere, somehow) for a chiddush. Had Nefesh HaHaim never innovated the chiddush, we would all view the Rosh's statement as it had always been viewed and interpreted up until that point. So people saying that Rabbi Slifkin "ignored" the Rosh have completely missed the point of the discussion and misunderstand reality - so it seems.

    If Rabbi Slifkin "ignored" the Rosh, then so did every rabbinic scholar until the time of the Nefesh HaHaim.

  29. WFB - See Moshe Halbertal, "What is the Mishneh Torah? On Codification and Ambivalence." He shows that in private correspondence to his talmidim, Rambam showed that he truly felt that the Mishneh Torah should replace the Gemara, since the only purpose of the Gemara is to get the practical halachah. He also wrote to his talmidim that studying the debates in the Gemara and their commentaries is a "wase of time"!

  30. See too Menachem Kellner's article on Rambam's view of reward and punishment, which you can download at this link:

  31. 'Yes, Rambam did hold that knowledge is an end unto itself - but not knowledge of Gemara! Rather, he was referring to philosophical truths.'

    I disagree. The text is from the Hakdomah Leperek Chelek and Rambam goes on to quote the words of Antignos Ish Socho from Pirkei Avos (I, 3) as establishing this principle. Was Antignos talking about philosophy? I think Rambam is talking about all true knowledge and the observance of the commandments.

  32. Not to invalidate anyone's experience or opinion, but if you love learning and can make it in the kollel I think it's awesome. Why? Because this is they way to advanced Torah knowledge. It made us into who we are. What would we be without it? Kama Yosef ika beshuka? For our friends and us it worked out pretty good. Again, I am not invalidating anybody's opinion.

    Michael, a 5 year plan is a good idea whose time has come.

    Tali, great comments. I think the latest on homosexuality is that it has to do with DNA so cuddling, while being nice, is not going to help. I would not link kollel to its causes.

  33. Rabbi Slifkin - Great post!

    Michael - I think it needs a 20-year plan, but I also think it is doable and is a MUST. The reason I think it needs 20 years is because men who are 35-40 who have never worked a day in their lives cannot be expected to start learning a new profession and then earn a decent income. The 20-year plan needs to take this into account, and it needs to be based upon the year one is born (one's age).

    However such a plan will nevertheless cause riots by Chareidim who will continue to see it as their "right" to learn and be supported to do so. The Chareidim of Israel will then decend upon the USA requesting support for being "starved" by the "evil" secular State which is forcing them to work. It will be a big mess. It may even spark a civil war if it is not implemented before the Chareidim grow to more than 50% of the population.

  34. Tali - Welcome to the blog.

    I very much appreciated everything you wrote except your linking causes to homosexuality which are not scientifically proven.

    In reality scientists have never been able to link specific parental treatment to homosexuality. Some people like to believe it's because a boy's father didn't cuddle them enough when they were a kid, others want to believe it's because a boy's father cuddled them too much as a kid. Ditto with women homosexuals. Such attributing of causation is often wishful thinking by those who hope to "prevent" or "cure" something that has been scientifically accepted to be wired into one's DNA.

    (That is not say that a person who has been sexually abused by someone of the opposite sex will not react by choosing to "become" homosexual. But firstly, that choice is not a given or even a majority choice for every person who has been sexually abused by someone of the opposite sex. Secondly, such a person usually readily and openly admits to their basing their choice of a homosexual orientation on their traumatic experiences.)

  35. > The ultimate step in the evolution of the kollel, which spread in the latter part of the twentieth century, was its presentation as an expectation of every young man in the Haredi community.

    I’ve heard that beis medrash/Kollel became really popular in the US during the Vietnam War. College students were exempt from the draft until the last few years of the war, and many kollelim were legally considered colleges. Bochurim joined a kollel because sitting and learning was greatly preferable to being shot at by the Viet Cong.

    Tali said...
    > he is still resentful that I am not the main breadwinner "like everyone else's wife."

    Tell him to read your kesubah.

    How is it halachically acceptable for yungerleit to enter into a contract that gives stipulations which are contrary to the life they expect to live?

  36. 'He also wrote to his talmidim that studying the debates in the Gemara and their commentaries is a "waste of time"!'

    Amazing! I have to see these sources. However, this is not what he paskened in Hilchos Talmud Torah. In hakdomah to Mishneh Torah, among other places, he deplores the lack of Gemorah knowledge. Why did he, himself, write commentaries on Gemorah if it's a waist of time? Why isn't learning Mishna also a 'waist of time'? Yet, Rambam wrote a perush on it and not on Aristotel.

    Tali has been commenting on this blog for a while and I'm surprised that so many people have not noticed her until now.

  37. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Like Carol, I would like to see where Rambam says learning Gemara is a waste of time. It would absolutely thrill me if he really said that, but with these type of things, it really helps to know the actual source since no one will believe me if I tell them this if I don't have a source.

  38. 1. Thank you to RNS for this enlightening piece (in addition to the live version presented on chag).

    2. I am under the impression that the kollel system is less of an innovation in Israel. That is, the old yishuv had the system of chaluka to support the religious community, as well as a general aversion to working for livelihood. Granted, the pre-state community was minuscule in comparison to today's charedi community, but the kernel seemed to have pre-existed. Caveat - I claim no historical erudition and welcome factual corrections.

    3. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we need to consider that it is quite easy to take pot shots at the charedi/kollel system. Unfortunately, it is probably just as easy to critique any modern community. If the charedi community is suffering from the consequences of disparaging a practical attitude towards making a livelihood, other communities are sadly suffering from laxity in Torah study, knowledge, and simple observance. **sigh**

  39. Michael, I would be happy to see it happen. Here are a few reasons:

    The current system is already causing hardships and is economically unsustainable.

    It is destructive to Israeli civil society.

    It takes charity from those who need it and gives it to those who could support themselves and give tzedakah of their own but do not.

    It makes the Observant dependent on charity and welfare, turning them into beggars.

    It wastes the considerable potential of the Charedim by shoehorning them into a life for which very few are actually suited and condemning many or most to lives of poverty.

    It causes resentment between Jews and lessens the merit of their tzedakah by causing them to give grudgingly instead of joyfully.

    There is already a backlash among the working Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular against members of the kollel system. As times get harder it will increase.

    It presents an existential threat to the existence of Israel.

    The sooner the system ends the better. Leave the stipends for the few each generation who have the potential to be epoch-defining scholars. The rest will have earn bread by the sweat of their brows as have all descendants of Adam. There will be pain no matter what happens. The longer this ahistorical practice continues the worse it will be.

  40. After years of learning, maybe someone in some Kollel somewhere will come across the Halacha in the Rambam one who learns Torah and depends on charity for his support has no portion in the next world. i have in fact that people in Kollel seem to lose the subtle aspects of compassion that make us human. you can actually see what the Rambam meant.

  41. Your comment about how the Lakewood kollel started is off the mark. Look at the first group of avreichim and you will see that almost all took up rabbinical posts within a few years. It was only with the greater affluence of the American Jewish community that the nature of the kollel had changed.

  42. Moshe Halbertal has not "uncovered" any secret, new sources. In fact, his article does not even say what you claim. He argues that the Rambam hoped the Mishneh Torah would be universally accepted, like the Talmud, and would thus become the source for halakha which could then be studied like the Talmud. See the Rambam's definition of "Talmud" in Hilkhot Talmud Torah: ושליש יבין וישכיל אחרית דבר מראשיתו, ויוציא דבר מדבר, וידמה דבר לדבר, וידין במידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן עד שיידע היאך הוא עיקר המידות והיאך יוציא האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן מדברים שלמד מפי השמועה--ועניין זה, הוא הנקרא תלמוד. As you must know, the Talmud Bavli is binding according to the Rambam because it was universally accepted, so it is the basis for the type of study the Rambam describes. Had the Mishneh Torah been likewise accepted, it could have similarly formed the basis for study. The Rambam does not think Talmud Torah is something that you have to "get out of the way." You seem to have confused him for Ibn Kaspi. You have also unfortunately taken to distorting sources which do not conform to your preconceptions, and are unable to admit that you were mistaken (e.g., the Rosh). This is not very far from Rabbi Schmeltzer's methodology.

  43. I don't know what you think I was claiming about Halbertal's paper. I never said that Rambam held that Talmud Torah is something that you have to "get out of the way."

    As for the Rosh, I simply do not think that he is saying what R. Chaim of Volozhin held him to be saying. But I haven't devoted a lot of time to it, and I freely admit that I could be wrong. I don't see that it makes a big difference; even if R. Chaim's interpretation is correct, it would just be a lone voice amongst the Rishonim.

    And if you feel that every time someone learns a Rishon in a way that you think is incorrect, that they are similar to Schmeltzer, then this is very strange. Lots of people learn Rishonim in a way that I think is incorrect. But Schmeltzer is special, in that he actually re-arranges the words of the Rishonim in order to make them say something quite different, or makes baseless claims of texts being forgeries, etc.

  44. Also, I did not claim that Halbertal "uncovered" secret, new sources. It seems that, in order to discredit me, you are intent on distorting my words. Which is odd, because that is exactly what you are accusing me of!

  45. Tali, I'm afraid that I'm not posting your latest comments - I want to keep this comment thread on the topic of kollel, not homosexuality. People who want to see her response on that topic can email me for it.

  46. R' Natan, I agree with the thrust of your argument, but also agree with your commenters who expressed amazement at your citation of letters from the Rambam where he allegedly claimed that continued study of talmudic debates was a 'waste of time'. That would be an incredibly audacious and arrogant statement. If true, it would greatly diminish his standing among serious people. I have never heard of such a statement, and don't give it credibility. What he did state in his introduction to the Mishne Torah was that, given the general lack of truly knowledgeable talmidei chachamim to act as poskim, it would be sufficient to study the halachic conclusions in his sefer in order for people to know the halacha. The same rationale was ostensibly used by others who wrote halacha sefarim.

    Of course, study of the basic sources, torah and talmud -togheter with the primary commentaries, is still vital in order to understand how the halacha developed, and the different ways of reading sources and arriving at conclusions - in addition to simply desiring to understand such basic material. Nor would many subscribe to the thesis that study of Mishne Torah is sufficient in order to know the halacha.

    Perhaps those students whom he is said to have addressed were not considered sufficiently learned or interested to engage in a deep study of the gemara, and he counseled them to at least become familiar with his Mishne Torah in addition to their philosophical pursuits.

  47. Why form opinions before even having read what Rambam wrote?

    "The proper purpose of what is compiled in the Talmud and elsewhere has been wholly incorporated within it (the MT). But the purpose of the scholars - wasting time with talmudic give and take, as if meaning and purpose resided in an exercise in debate - is something else."

    "Study nothing except the halakhot of the Rabbi (Alfasi), and compare them to the compilation (MT), and if you find a dispute, know that examination of the Talmud brought it about, and inquire into it where it is found. But if you waste your time on commentaries and interpretations of debates in the Gemara, and those things set aside as burdensome - you will be wasting your time and accomplishing little."

    See Halbertal's article for the rest.

  48. I note that Prof. Halbertal refers to 2 interpretations of the intended nature of the Mishne Torah: ‘moderate’ (interpreting and concluding Talmudic discussions) vs. ‘radical’ (replacing the Talmud and earlier works). The latter is the one reflected in the cited letter to his student, Yosef. His letters to the scholars of Alexandria and Lunel (southern France), on the other hand, reflects the moderate stance. Moshe Halbertal, apparently feels that the letter to his student expressed his real view, while that to the other sages was of a defensive nature. However, one could offer a different interpretation; that the letters to his peers expressed his balanced viewpoint, while the letter to his student was aimed at his student’s need, capabilities, and interest.

    I assume that other scholars have reviewed Prof. Halbertal’s article. I wonder what other positions are available on this matter? I still can't digest the ‘radical’ position set out. In that viewpoint, there seems to be little place for gemara in the Talmudic required study triad of torah, mishna, and gemara. What Mishne Torah is aimed out is what we would call mishna or halacha. Where does that leave iyun and pilpul (in the more ancient sense of the term) – just attempts at resolving differences between the Mishneh Torah and the hilchot haRIF?

  49. Please excuse my ignorance, but how does one even find/access Halbertal's article? And where are the original sources (i.e. where can one find a copy of the original letters of the Rambam)?

  50. I am amazed that so many commenters here are ignorant of the Rambam's letters (and then argue from ignorance having not seen or read them)! Rambam makes it clear that Mishne Torah was basically supposed to replace gemara study, so that people would not waste their time on pilpulim and complex argumentation, they could be given the halacha straight, and knowing clearly what to do and not to do, they could do and not do them, and use their time for other things.

  51. Michael, it will cause suffering, but this innovation needs to end soon. Here are a few reasons...
    1) It is economically unsustainable
    2) It wastes the talents of thousands of Jews who are not suited to be Torah scholars
    3) It is forcing parents who should be retiring to keep working and spend their savings
    4) It takes money which could help those truly unable to work or find work and gives it to those who could
    5) Many families are forced into poverty trying to get by on small stipends and charity
    6) Entire generations are denied an education which would allow them to function in the real world
    7) It is causing resentment and animosity between Charedi families and other groups of Jews
    8) It degrades the tzedakah of Jews who would have otherwise given generously but now give reluctantly
    9) It forces families into permanent dependency
    10) Control over funds increases the power of politically ambitious community leaders
    11) Likewise, kollel families are forced to toe the line or risk denial of charity funds

  52. At one time, Kollel was for the elite. Yet today it is really a tool for keeping one's Yiddishkeit intact. See this post from which touches on this idea...


  53. Even if you accept that person's claim that kollelniks are on a higher spiritual level - which is debatable - that's a far cry from saying that kollel is essential for keeping one's Yiddishkeit intact.

  54. Why form opinions before even having read what Rambam wrote?

    "The proper purpose of what is compiled in the Talmud and elsewhere has been wholly incorporated within it (the MT). But the purpose of the scholars - wasting time with talmudic give and take, as if meaning and purpose resided in an exercise in debate - is something else."

    "Study nothing except the halakhot of the Rabbi (Alfasi), and compare them to the compilation (MT), and if you find a dispute, know that examination of the Talmud brought it about, and inquire into it where it is found. But if you waste your time on commentaries and interpretations of debates in the Gemara, and those things set aside as burdensome - you will be wasting your time and accomplishing little."

    See Halbertal's article for the rest.

    I think what the Rambam meant is not to waste time studying the differing views among the Rishonim regarding the correct halacha. The Talmud itself, on the other hand, is authoritative, and its study is vital to the theoretical understanding of the Torah as a whole. Hence, the reference to Rabbi Alfasi.

    If you consider all of the Rambam’s writings instead of just a single statement in a letter, I believe its obvious that the Rambam believed that in-depth study of the Torah She’ Bal Peh is an essential component of a Jew’s education that precedes the study of Pardes.

    I also find it somewhat offensive that you are quick to dismiss the view of R. Chaim of Volozhin while citing the work of Professor Halbertal as authoritative.

  55. Avi, I suggest that you read Halbertal's article, as well as all Rambam's letters on the topic.

    I also find it somewhat offensive that you are quick to dismiss the view of R. Chaim of Volozhin while citing the work of Professor Halbertal as authoritative.

    R. Chaim had a tremendous vested interest. Halbertal has little or none. That's the way it works with these things - that's why an average YU student can read Rishonim's writings on theological issues more honestly than many of the Charedi Gedolim. There are endless examples of this sort of thing.

  56. Rabbi Slifkin, Your Wed. mention of Dor Revi'i led me to this. The full essay ( provides important context, and also deals with issues pertaining to several of your other recent posts.

    /BEGIN EXCERPT from Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, Zionism in the Light of Faith/

    And as to the manner in which Talmud will be studied in the land of Israel, a reduction in the number of those who study Talmud need arouse no fears, for the present situation is not healthy and is in the category of a deplorable necessity. The healthy and the natural doctrine is the following which was mentioned by the Mishnah in Avot, that we cited above and is implied by the Midrash in Midrash Rabbah at the beginning of Leviticus (chapter 2):

    "Is Ephraim a beloved son unto me?" (Jeremiah 31:19): Israel stand as precious to me. In the normal course of the world a thousand people begin the study of the Scriputre, and one hundred complete this course study. These hundred begin the study of the Mishnah, and ten complete this course of study. These ten begin the study of Talmud and one completes this course of study. This is the one about whom it is written (Ecclesiastes 7:28): "One man out of a thousand have I found."

    What a golden fruit would this doctrine yield in the land of Israel. The entire people, more or less, would be involved in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and a not inconsiderable portion would also be engaged in the study of the oral torah that is organized in the Mishnah, while the students who distinguish themselves in the study of Mishnah would be selected to devote themselves to the study of Talmud. From these would emerge true Torah scholars and giants of Torah, similar to those whom we knew in the bright era of Israel. Even without this, the situation in the land of Israel would be more healthy and more natural if only a small portion of the people will turn to Torah studies at the highest level, that is Talmudic study.


    Also, the parent web page ( about the Dor Revi'i, maintained by some of his descendants, is truly wonderful.

  57. The citations from prof. Halbertal's article on the nature of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah are important, but not decisive. Prof. Halbertal, himself, does not judge between the 'moderate' and 'radical' views of the aim of these sefarim (contrary to what I had stated earlier). In addition to citing the letters to his students that offer the radical theme of Mishneh Torah supplanting talmud study, he also cites letters to sages in Alexandria and Lunel in which the Rambam takes a moderate stance on the objective of his work, i.e., making halacha accessible to a large audience. The latter sources, it seems to me, are the ones consistent with what the Rambam writes in Mishneh Torah on hilchot talmud torah, and what has been the accepted traditional viewpoint through the ages.

    In order to gain some understanding of his language about talmud study addressed to some distant students, it is important to appreciate that, until Rashi's commentary became available, gemara study was essentially closed to all but the few who studied with a rebbe possessing a tradition of understanding the words and ideas. Now, the Rambam and the Jews in Muslim countries were then unaware of the work of Rashi or the Tosafists living in Christian Europe. Shas was, therefore, regarded as a closed book to Jews whom the Rambam knew - except for those few who had teachers with a tradition. The former, apparently, are the people whom the Rambam addresses with his remarks about talmud study being now a 'waste of time'. He, himself - in contrast, had devoted his years to talmud study and analysis.

    Given the subsequent general availability of extensive peshat commentaries on the gemara, I can't imagine the Rambam maintaining the ostensible disdain for talmud study that he displayed to some distant students. In fact, Jewry might well have been better served had the Rambam used his great talent to write an extensive commentary on the talmud, rather than organizing and deciding halachic material. Imagine, if we had the Rambam's commentary to go with Rashi and Tosafot. We would have, not only a key source for a different reading of gemara based on a different tradition and variant text, but also a properly sourced basis for halachic pesak. As it is, his magnum opus became another prime source for pilpul rather than the canonical halachic text that he had envisaged.

  58. "I think what the Rambam meant is not to waste time studying the differing views among the Rishonim regarding the correct halacha. The Talmud itself, on the other hand, is authoritative, and its study is vital to the theoretical understanding of the Torah as a whole. Hence, the reference to Rabbi Alfasi."

    Avi, I'm afraid you're mistaken. What rishonim exactly are you even referring to if we're talking about prior to Rambam's era and excluding the Rif? In any case, you're incorrect. Rambam intends to render decisions on the halacha point blank so that a Jew will know what to do and what not to do. "Hence the reference to The Rif" is actually because the Rif gave psak halacha. Note the words "Study nothing except the halakhot of the Rabbi (Alfasi), and compare them to the compilation (MT),"
    I have added emphasis.

    Rambam went straight to the point. No one would say that learning is discouraged but a certain type is, if not completely discouraged, at least marginalized and minimized. In depth learning of Talmud was for the sake of knowing and understanding the halacha! Again, hence why he says "and if you find a dispute, know that examination of the Talmud brought it about, and inquire into it where it is found. " But then stresses not to waste time on commentaries and explanations of sugiyas (IOW, academic mish mosh or pilpul which does not lead to practical halacha)

    Some people want to say oh but Rabbi Halberstam is a YU guy, etc, - Who are they to discredit him? Does his work stand up or not? That's the only relevant question. Personally, I've never even heard of this rabbi. Just read Rambam's writings and it will become clear without having to do an in depth scholarly analysis unless one is in denial.

  59. Sorry that last one was me, Student V, not "S" - I accidentally hit enter while I was typing my name in.

  60. Student V,

    I claim that Rambam was opposed to "wasting time with talmudic give and take” for the purpose of determining the binding halachic conclusion in the Talmud. He believed that once he had rendered and codified the correct Psak Halacha in MT, there is nothing more to be gained by that activity. However, I believe that he thought the study of the reasoning and theory of the Torah via the Talmud and MT is an integral obligation of every Jew and is a NECESSARY precursor to the study of philosophy and metaphysics.

    I am not familiar with Professor Halbertal, but have read the works of a number of contemporary Judaic scholars, and I have great respect for their contribution to my personal understanding of many important Judaic concepts. My criticism has nothing to do with Professor Halbertal, or even his article, which I have not read. I only refute the thesis that Rambam believed Torah study “for its own sake” is unimportant, which is in opposition to Ramabam’s writings taken as a whole.

  61. Sorry, I'm a little late in this conversation. Rav Nosson, aren't these sources for Kollel before Rav Aharon?

    See the Ran Kiddushin 29B Ha Lan v'ha lehu, b'shem Acherim Omrim that in Bavel, men used to leave their wives to learn after marriage before making a parnassa (In EY they couldn't/didn't which is why Rav Yochanan said, "Reychayim Bitzavaro Veosek Batorah?!!).
    Rav Mattisyahu Solomon once quoted a Chasan Sofer who was a Hungarian (Supposedly anti Kollel people) who praised the women of Poland who supported their husbands in Kollel.

    There were Asara Batlonim in every city dedicated to learning all of the time.

    There were the yechidim who went in the shita of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (Berachos 35). Also, Leviyim and Yesoschar (See Rambam Sof Hilchos Shmittin v'yovlos)

    The majority of the Yerushlmi Kehilla for the last 200+ years were supported by Europe.

    Rambam learned all day and was supported by his brother Dovid before David drowned at sea after which the Rambam took a position as a physician to support his and his brothers families..

    Maharsha's last name was Eidels because his mother in law's name was Eidel - she supported him in learning.

  62. carol
    the rambam did sort of write a book about Aristotle ideas :)the moreh nevuchim, but i do agree with everything else you said

  63. The Asarah batlanim were saying kaddish, not learning.

    The old yishuv needed financial help for survival, not learning in kollel.

    Rambam is talking about people being self-sufficient, not being supported by others.

    etc., etc.


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