Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's Wrong If Someone Wants To Support People In Kollel?

In an earlier post, we explored one aspect of the propriety/ impropriety of kollel from the perspective of the person in kollel. There are many other aspects to be examined, but in this post, I'd like to switch to the perspective of a prospective donor. Supposing someone wants to fund people in kollel - is there anything wrong with that? Surely not, argued a commentator by the name of Warren, in a response to an earlier post:
I agree that kollel for the masses is not viable in the long term and there will come a breaking point when more bnei Torah will have to go out and join the workforce.
But if there are donors whom are happy to support those in full time learning, well frankly why not?
No one is asking you to support them, but people like myself who have matured and think wisely about their money, have come to the conclusion that supporting an avreich bent over a ketzos is frankly the best investment a jew can make.
Two other commentators offered excellent responses. First was AHG:
1. We disagree with your conclusion. It's a perversion of Torah-true Judaism and are duty-bound to speak out against it. (In the same vein that Agudah feels that need to speak out against the left wing Orthodox groups.)

2. Rabbi Slifkin, while perhaps addressing the entire kollel system, probably has mostly in mind his situation in Israel where avreichim in kollel are largely funded by taxpayer subsidies. If the most recent election is any indication, the donors have spoken and they are not pleased.

3. As you already have acknowledged, those who want to sit and learn will, (or have already, IMO) surpass what willing and able donors like yourself will happily support.

4. Even if there was sufficient wealth to go around, there is still a problem with a certain group deciding it's their entitlement and way of life.

5. As long as it's not personal to you, we're entitled to have our conversation, analyzing the system, and drawing our own conclusion about what are worthwhile causes in a frum community. You don't have to agree with our conclusions, but don't dissuade us from making our own analysis.
Second was "Lion of Israel":
Warren - Your sentiments are understandable. However, please remember that by supporting the Kollel guy:

1 - You're consigning his children to poverty, especially if the Kollel guy educates his children to the same ideal.

2 - Said Kollel guy will not be paying taxes, meaning, among other things, that he will be taking health insurance money from the government, w/o having contributed to the fund from which the money is taken. Because he is taking from but not contributing to the pot, certain medicines will not be available to sick people, many of whom are contributing to that pot.

3 - Said Kollel guy will need financial help from his parents, in the event that any unexpected expenses come up (and they will). This often means less help from his parents for his siblings.

4 - Said Kollel guy will not be able to help his siblings deal with their parents, when they reach old age. He will apologetically say that he just doesn't have that kind of money.

And on and on.

I'm not saying that everyone needs to spend their lives making as much money as they can. But there's a point where the decision to be "mistapek b'muat" makes someone a real burden on his family and on society.
To all the above, I would like to add the following (and my comments are primarily oriented towards the setup in Israel; I understand that in the US, it may be somewhat different). Rambam says that the highest form of charity is to enable someone to become independent. Supporting the charedi kollel system is the exact opposite - preventing people from ever being able to be independent.

The majority of people in the kollel system today are not on track to become Torah leaders and educators. When you support a charedi man in kollel, it's not something that can be simply ended at some point, with the merit points waiting in Olam HaBa. There are long-term consequences to what you have done. By supporting him, you have enabled him to advance in years while lessening his ability to be employed. Furthermore, by supporting the charedi mass-kollel fantasy, you have effectively encouraged him to ignore Chazal's teachings and to bring up his children without the knowledge, qualifications or desire to work for a living.

As Warren correctly acknowledges, kollel for the masses is not viable in the long term and there will come a breaking point when more bnei Torah will have to go out and join the workforce. But that breaking point is extremely painful and causes tremendous problems. Men in their forties who are desperate to make a living but are unemployable, because they never got an education or held a job; people who are having heart attacks because they can't afford to marry off their children (each of whom needs an apartment already paid for in order to get a shidduch); etc., etc. This is a time-bomb, and the longer it's put off, the harsher the damage that it causes.

If someone wants to support advanced Torah study, there are ways to do that without running into these problems. You can support Torah MiTziyon kollels, or Kollel Elyon - in which you are not harming the candidates' future employment prospects, nor those of their children. But to support the charedi kollel system is not a personal choice with no harmful effects. Rather than being "the best investment a Jew can make," it's something with drastic and cruel long-term consequences - on society at large, and on kollel families in particular.


  1. Natan,

    You are looking at this from an Israeli perspective, where is Kollel is a way of life...

    But here in the USA, most Kollels only support for 3 or 5 years.

    A person who goes to Kollel for five years is much more attached to Yiddishkeit than one who has not.

    You can't compare a person who leaves Yeshiva after 6th grade, to one who stays until 8th; you can't compare one who attends Mesivta to one who does not. A person who attends Beth Medrash has much more Yirath Shamaim than one who does not. A person who attends Kollel, and starts a family within that framework puts his family in touch with God.


  2. True, things in Israel are a little different from the US. I have updated the post accordingly.

  3. Much of what is said in the comments included in this post could be said of the welfare state as a whole, both inside and outside of Israel. In reality it is the welfare state in general that affords Haredim in Israel the ability to avoid joining the workforce far more than the pittance they receive in direct kollel funding, which last time I checked amounted to about $250 a month, which might cover the cost of diapers.

    The question of individuals voluntarily funding kollel students is dealt with here in a sort of theoretical way: what if donations could and did support the vast kollel system of today? To me this entire issue is totally irrelevant; private donations never will create the problems detailed in the article since they will never (and in mine opinion never could) be so massive as to support tens of thousands of permanent kollel students. One need only look at the United States, where Orthodox culture evolved before the Great Society programs, to see how limited the kollel system (and culture) is when limited to private funds. If and when the welfare state as a whole in Israel is reduced, private funding would only be able to cover a relatively small number of the most serious scholars and would not create any of the broad social problems we see from the current kollel system.

  4. What about the Midrashim that talk about the yossacher-Zebulun bond. Yissacher learned and Zebulun supported.


  5. That's not what the Midrash says. I plan to write a post on that.

  6. There are many sources extolling the virtues of supporting talmidei chachamim. Look at the Chafetz Chaim's Shemiras Halashon, Chelek 1, Shaar Hatorah, Perek 5. The following is just one of the sources cited there

    ואתם הדבקים בה' אלהיכם חיים כולכם היום וכי אפשר לדבוקי בשכינה והכתיב כי ה' אלהיך אש אוכלה אלא כל המשיא בתו לתלמיד חכם והעושה פרקמטיא לתלמידי חכמים והמהנה תלמידי חכמים מנכסיו מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו מדבק בשכינה. (Kesubos 111b)

  7. Sure. And, as I noted, there are many talmidei chachamim with whom supporting them does not run into the problems described in this post.


  8. "A person who goes to Kollel for five years is much more attached to Yiddishkeit than one who has not. . . . A person who attends Beth Medrash has much more Yirath Shamaim than one who does not. A person who attends Kollel, and starts a family within that framework puts his family in touch with God."

    Stuff and nonsense. When day schools were created, your argument was the one they used, [even though most of the people actively raised orthodox before WWII, like Young Israel families, stayed orthodox, despite the absence of day schools.] Then yeshivah high schools were created, on grounds that days schools arent enough to keep us frum. Then beis medrash programs were created, on grounds that high schools werent enough. Now we have koillel, on grounds that beis medrash isnt enough.

    ENOUGH. You may as well say 10 year stays in kollel is necessary, because 5 years isnt enough.

    As for the idiotic notion that the more steps one takes on your 12 step programme, the more yirah shomayim he has - no response is necessary.

  9. A person who attends Beth Medrash has much more Yirath Shamaim than one who does not.

    That's false. Attending Beth Medrash makes people more yeshivish, which had its own sets of advantages and disadvantages. In the aggregate, there's no reason to argue for more Yirath Shamayim; it's just a different set of aveiros to rationalize.

  10. DF,

    Niskatnu Hadorot.

    What was enough years ago is no longer.

    They could withstand, We can not. :-)

  11. Tom Voletz said...
    There are many sources extolling the virtues of supporting talmidei chachamim. Look at the Chafetz Chaim's Shemiras Halashon, Chelek 1, Shaar Hatorah, Perek 5. The following is just one of the sources cited there

    ואתם הדבקים בה' אלהיכם חיים כולכם היום וכי אפשר לדבוקי בשכינה והכתיב כי ה' אלהיך אש אוכלה אלא כל המשיא בתו לתלמיד חכם והעושה פרקמטיא לתלמידי חכמים והמהנה תלמידי חכמים מנכסיו מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו מדבק בשכינה. (Kesubos 111b

    "Oseh prakmatia" in this Midrash refers to patronizing vendors or business-people who are Talmidei Chahchamim. This cklearly only applies of the Talmidei Chachamim work - engage in business.

  12. When someone donates to a kollel, he doesn't know if the money is going towards a newly-wedded avreich who plans to spend just a couple of years in kollel, or to someone who plans to learn his whole life.

  13. Graduate - I see from your smiley that your comments were made tongue in cheek, which is the only way they make sense. Sorry, not always easy to tell on the Internet.

  14. although the charedi "time bomb" is set to go off eventually and may be worse in the future then it is now, it is better for the cherdim to come to the realization that the kollel system has run its course and then they will incorperate the value of working into there beliefs. By forcing them to work and driving them into an ideolgical crisis will only bring about more mistrust of the chilonim and hatred of the values and thus will be less likely to work. If the gedolim are saying dont work, dont go to the army the cherdim will listen and no matter what and will not work and not go to the army. the best policy would to contain the funding and growth of the kollel system instead of trying to enact drastic change

  15. Does anyone know the actual number of Charedim in the Kollel system?

  16. Set aside for a moment the kollel "system", and the government / organizational funding thereof.

    If I could afford to sponsor one bright student's full-time Torah learning -

    I mean REALLY afford it, to where he got from me as much as he would make in a decent profession in the workplace, and would not need any other means of support -

    why would you try to dissuade me from doing so?

    Don't we need scholars? Don't we need erudite poskim?

    By the way, in my fantasy, I don't envision a black coated man in Charediville - I see a bright, motivated Torah student somewhere like Mercaz HaRav or Har Bracha.

    If I choose to go to one of those yeshivot, find a stellar student, and ensure that he becomes the posek hador - why wouldn't I want the zchut of both his Torah learning, and the rulings that he will deliver to generations of shomrei mitzvot???


  17. That's fantastic! And that's why, at the end of my post, I recommended Torah M'Tziyon and Kollel Elyon!

  18. Rav Slifkin,

    Sorry, my browser has been weird today, didn't notice that last paragraph.

    What are you doing in RBS, again? :o)

    If Israeli Charedim were like the American Amish (separated, self-supporting, politically absent) no one would care how they lived their lives.

  19. The Graduate writes, "A person who goes to Kollel for five years is much more attached to Yiddishkeit than one who has not."

    Does the person become more attached to Yiddishkeit because of Kollel? or does he go to Kollel because he is more attached to Yiddishkeit?

    Is Kollel the only path to being "in touch with God"? Recent headlines indicate that more time learning does not automatically mean much more Yirath Shamaim, if we measure by the number of cases of sexual abuse, fraud, withholding gets, etc.

  20. Going to Kollel contradicts the Kesubo, in which the man makes a vow to support his wife.

    Even when the money is no object, what would the kollel man answer when the first question asked in heaven "How did you conduct yourself with your business dealings?" if he never had worked a day in his life.

    Supported by many Rabbis, the more secular education one has the more one is able to understand the Torah they learn. In kollel there is no secular education, formal or otherwise, which makes it's Torah learning limited to outdated secular knowledge found in the Gemara, i.e. a waste of time if you don't understand what you are learning.

    Career kollel men on the most part are lazy to work, and this laziness extends to their learning as well. Again, a waste of time, and which brings one to sin when full effort is not exserted.

    When looking at all the accomplishments and successes being derived from the Jewish people, and nothing coming out of kollel, this speaks for itself.

    Hopefully the recent elections has marked the beginning of the end for the kollel system as we know it.

  21. And no one has mentioned the duty that the man has to support his wife. It in the ketubah, it explicitly states that he is required to provide for her. Typically, men in kollel are sending their wives out to support the family.

  22. A great post.
    To be fair,the next time you walk the streets of Bet Shemesh at 7pm and see the hordes of kollel guys on their way home your thoughts of how they are going against the normative judaism that has been practised for centuries is perfectly valid.
    However one could argue, that you could then say to yourself "Nosson Nosson, am i any better? do i as an ashkenazi not eat locusts which goes against standard practise of ashkenazi jews for centuries...."
    So to be objective, the kollel guys with their full day torah studies and yourself as a locust eater are not much different.


  23. Really? You don't see a difference between something explicitly permitted by the Torah and with no harmful consequences, and something explicitly frowned upon by Chazal and with very harmful consequences?

  24. @JS:

    I'd say that there's a big difference between an Ashkenazi eating locusts and a "Talmid Hahamim" not earning a living.

    Ashkenazim didn't eat locusts because there were no kosher locust species in Ashkenaz. To say that there is an issur is like saying that it's assur for a Moroccan Jew to eat schmaltz herring. In any case, Ashkenazim are only one part of the entire Jewish people, and there have been Jews throughout history who have eaten locusts with complete halachic sanction.

    OTOH, earning a living is obligatory on *all* Jewish men (unless they are physically unable to do so). You're comparing apples to oranges.

  25. J.S. - I'm sorry but that is an awful comparison. The permissibility or otherwise of eating locusts is a narrow halachic question - and the issue of mesora has very specific parameters in that context, as opposed to the current Israeli Charedi paradigm, which entails abandoning the lifestyle advocated by Chazal and the Rishonim.

    The evidence clearly indicates that the reason Ashkenazim stopped eating locusts was because they lost their mesora and not because of a 'seyag' or 'geder'.

    See here for details:

    Therefore, according to the halacha as brought down by the Shulchan Aruch and the classic Ashkenazi poskim (YD 82:5 and Shach ad loc), it would be permitted for Ashkenazim to eat locusts if they encounter a community which does possess a mesora for them.

  26. This article is so great. Failed Messiah has linked it.

    Well, at least you have a following somewhere.


  27. Yeah. And Elior Chen, Pinter, Tropper and co. love the Gedolim. Who has the worse following?

  28. Sug said, "Failed Messiah has linked it."

    But note the difference in quality between the comments here and the obscenity-laden, blasphemous comments on Failed Messiah.

  29. Adam from ManchesterMay 10, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    As the great Rav Basil Fawlty said - this post is stating the bleedin' obvious. There really can't be any rational opposition to it.

    Plea to all - please don't start with the locust thing again my stomach has only just got over it!

  30. Where else is society do we have the potentially great tradition of battling for the 'soul' of the Jewish people than in the yeshiva or those who dedicate their lives to learning at night. I still derive great inspiration, which in turn helps me to inspire others, knowing there are those who will devote themselves to discovering their own Torah and thereby contributing to the future generations.
    Whilst I agree that not all students are ideal for this way of life, when all is said and done, what will remain of the Jewish life when secular society is destroyed or ravaged by war etc. The only thing that will be remembered by future generations are the tales of those who laboured in Torah, Kabbalah and Mitzvoth for the sake of the generations to come.
    We don't look back and say, "Oh, how sensible they were, they fared well because they were accountants!" No, we are inspired by the fact that they believed in the verse: "Cast upon HaShem your burden, and He will sustain you"


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