Monday, June 25, 2012

The Economics of Torah Scholarship in Medieval Jewish Thought and Practice

There is a tension between, on the one hand, the importance of Torah study and education, and on the other hand, the problem of financially supporting this endeavor. The study and teaching of Torah is rated as one of the highest goals in Judaism, but taking money for this task was greatly frowned upon by the Sages. Alongside with this, the Sages taught that Torah study should be accompanied by an occupation and in numerous places stressed the importance of being self-sufficient. But does this mean that there is no role for financially supporting Torah study and Torah teachers?

I am pleased to present a monograph entitled "The Economics of Torah Scholarship in Medieval Jewish Thought and Practice." In this paper, I explore how Jews of the medieval period addressed this issue, both in theory (i.e. in their teachings about what should be done) and in practice (i.e. surveying what actually happened). You can download the monograph at this link. If you gain from the monograph and from this website in general, please show hakaras hatov by making a donation using the button below.


  1. Why is it relevant that the Rambam in הלכות שמיטה ויובל is discussing non-Jews? Surely he is not discussing non-Jews exclusively.

  2. RNS, as i am sure you are aware we are not living in medival times anymore, would it not be more beneficial for your readers to give us the view of the 19th/20th century halachic authorities on this subject.
    Or are you scared that by discussing such Torah giants like R Chaim Shmulevitz, R Shach etc who were all spreading Torah by the means of the kollel system, you will come face to face with Torah leaders with a bit more expertise in the subject matter than yourself and nevertheless they were happy to promote the idea of kollel.
    What they did in medival times really does not concern us anymore, there is a concept of Horaas Shaah which can only be implemented by the Torah leaders of each generation, so it would be more beneficial for all of us if you would research "The economics of Torah in in Modern day Jewish thought"

  3. @Peter Pan

    We already know the economics of the modern Kollel-for-all system. Abject poverty for all Jews.

  4. Why is what rishonim say interesting. Because they had a depth of thought which does not exist anymore. so when someone like the rambam gives critique of kollel it is relevant. and in particular there is something fishy about the whole would expect a system like that would at least result in the average kollel man being slightly more ethical than the average Joe Smo down the block. The fact that this is not the case makes the whole system suspect. If they would be learning English Grammar all day then this would not be such a great question. But the fact is they are spending time on something that is supposed to relate to ethics in some type of way. In my experience you are morel likely to find compassion and human decency in a teacher of English grammar. So this does raise some question. And it does no good to blame everyone who raise this question of some nefarious motives.

  5. Peter Pan, I already discussed the approach of 20th century charedi Torah authorities, in "The Making of Haredim."

  6. I bought a copy.

    If you hire a tutor, you should pay. If you read someone's books or download their essays, you should pay. It doesn't look like the Rambam (or anyone else) would object.

    Still, I sometimes wonder how Rabbi Slifkin will support himself once he's done in school. I would be glad to donate to the cause from time to time. Others would as well. But does that somehow contradict the very things he is writing about?

    Maybe we only oppose funding those rabbis we don't like?


  8. It doesn't look like the Rambam (or anyone else) would object.

    He sure would!

  9. I have the same question as Peter Pan but in the opposite direction.

    Why the focus on the medieval period instead of the time of the Geonim or the Talmud?

  10. What they did in medieval times really does not concern us anymore, there is a concept of Horaas Shaah which can only be implemented by the Torah leaders of each generation

    Then your position agrees with the post. According to your position, Halacha does not sanction the current situation. In your view, the current situation is only allowed as a temporary measure in response some exigent circumstance and only for those people in that circumstance. Practice of Medieval times represents the Halacha while today's circumstances are an aberration, allowed only because of "Horaas Shaah".

  11. Noone in ParticularJune 27, 2012 at 1:59 AM

    you guys don't read too good, huh? rns is a teacher in a high school, no? so he can get paid.

    he ain't no skunk.

    and you, peter pan, made the point I think you didn't want to make. today's gedolim have strayed significantly from what came before them. no wonder any educated jew questions what they have to say.

  12. Noone in Particular, Rabbi Slifkin,

    Please could you give examples showing where today's gedolim have strayed significantly from what came before them.

  13. Noone in ParticularJune 27, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    see dovbears blog, he is putting together a nice list.

    or read the article on the freezing of halacha by (i think) r. Daniel Sperber

    or read 'arguments for the sake of heaven' by chief rabbi sacks to see how the hatam sofer started a trend that lead to a new brand of judaism.

    or.... oh, too much to tell. somebody else please take over?

  14. "Please could you give examples showing where today's gedolim have strayed significantly from what came before them."

    See my papers "The Sun's Path At Night," "Shiluach Hakein," "Sod Hashem Liyreyav," "The Novelty of Orthodoxy" and "The Making of Haredim."

  15. Midrash Shmuel Ubber AllesMay 21, 2013 at 8:00 PM

    I heard you made a parlour meeting to raise funds for the encyclopedia, a worthy cause to educate the masses on the relationship between Torah and the animal kingdom.
    "Parlour meeting" is just a fancy word for schnorring - what your local Rosh Kollel is also involved in.
    Only difference is, his schnorring is to educate the masses in direct Torah study, where as yours is to educate the masses in animals, and their relationship to Torah, arguably one step removed from direct Torah study.
    Come on Nosson, your trying to make yourself all mature with your "parlour meetings" and monographs on "The economics of jewish study in medival jewish thought", when you yourself go schnorring.
    You think you are mature but we know its only stemming from your rebellious nature, a kind of statement that you are not anymore associated with those narrow minded black-hatters.
    But its us Bnei Torah who are really the sensible and mature guys. We see ourselves on this world for 70 years and we have no time for making ourselves look intellectual or broad minded. We humbly sit over our gemmoras, bring home $800 a month which is given to us by baalei battim in the States who have no time to learn most of the day themselves and instead wish to give their money to help those who can.
    So please, pehaps you want to look at life more deeply - in a more mature fashion like us guys
    Kol Tuv

  16. I was just fortunate enough to happen upon this post. I often wonder if the economics have changed over the past generations. That is, when I was in kollel, my check was for the same amount as those paid to students 15 years before me, for whom it covered their entire rent. Do you have any sense whether or not kollel life requires more resources, which are in shorter supply than in the generations of recent past?


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