An Argument At The Door
So I got into a huge argument with a guy collecting at my door.
He was a very nice man, very respectable, a rebbe in a Talmud Torah, collecting for four of his thirteen children, who recently got married. As I opened my wallet, I asked him what his children are doing in life. He said that they are all in kollel. And we got into it.
It lasted a very long time, and went in many circles. I didn't even get to the topic of contributing to society and the economy (he would no doubt have claimed that learning Torah is a contribution). The gist was as follows: I pointed out that Chazal and the Rishonim and Jewish tradition are all very clear that a man has an obligation to support his family, that one should take any job rather than beg for charity, and that a parent has a duty to raise their children to earn a living so that they don't need to turn to charity. He readily acknowledged that Chazal and the Rishonim and Jewish tradition take such an approach. But said that since Rav Chaim Kanievsky also knows all this, and yet nevertheless says that people should raise their kids to go to kollel, he should follow what Rav Chaim Kanievsky says, since Rav Chaim surely knows why these statements of Chazal and the Rishonim and Jewish tradition are not applicable.
I was horrified that he would so happily abdicate all responsibility to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. He was horrified that I could reject Rav Chaim's authority.
I argued that Rav Chaim is not infallible, that he is very old and not necessarily in touch with things. He was horrified that I could speak in such a way about Rav Chaim. I pointed out that Rav Chaim was once fooled by a very obvious charlatan into believing that the man was a king and made a berachah on him. He replied that it must be that according to shittas Rav Chaim the man was indeed a king. At this point I decided not to bother telling him about the time that Rav Chaim attested to the innocence of Malka Leifer and another serial abuser on the grounds that his rabbis also did.
I said to him, "Look, you've been learning Torah for many years, you're a rebbe. You're a talmid chacham. How can it be that you're comfortable with saying that you can't reconcile this lifestyle with the positions of Chazal and the Rishonim and that you're relying on Rav Chaim? How can it be that you can't provide your own justification for this lifestyle in light of Jewish tradition?" He replied that there's lots of things we do in life which we don't understand the reasons for. He asked me, "Do you understand why you wear a kippah? I don't! But we do it anyway!" I replied that I most certainly do understand the reasons! But I acknowledged that, yes, there are things that we do for reasons that we don't understand. Nevertheless, I said, when it comes to something as basic as what one does in life, how can you say that you have no need to understand why you are going against Torah and tradition, and can just rely on Rav Chaim? But I didn't get anywhere.
The collector reassured me that I don't need to feel sorry for him, and that if I don't take the opportunity to support the Torah study of his children, he can find others who will. He said that he is perfectly happy with his lifestyle, and so are all of his children and their wives, as are all the kollel families he knows. Now, unless he only knows a very select group of people, this was clearly false; there is much unhappiness in the charedi world stemming from poverty and its consequences, and I said as much. He replied that there are problems in every sector of society and that rich people also have problems. I countered, Yes, but poverty brings more problems! He didn't accept that.
As he turned to leave, I offered him a small amount of money. He said that he didn't want to take it unless I felt that it was a great zechus for me to be able to support his children in kollel. I replied that I didn't consider it a zechus at all. So he refused to take the money, wished me well and left.
I was a bit shaken by all this and I called an old friend of mine who lives in the heart of charedi society and culture. He told me that I should have challenged his claim that Rav Chaim endorses his lifestyle. My friend said that after a similar collector claimed that Rav Mordechai Goldstein, the Rav of the very charedi neighborhood in RBS-A, endorsed avreichim going door-to-door collecting, he decided to call Rav Goldstein and check. Rav Goldstein replied that if they can't live off a kollel check and their wives' salaries then they have to go to work.
I really have no idea whether Rav Chaim Kanievsky would be in favor of people collecting at the door to support their kollel lifestyle. But when learned Torah scholars see it as ideal to abdicate all responsibility, all decision-making, all understanding as to whether their lifestyle is in accordance with Torah tradition, to the proclamations emerging from the court of a very old and cloistered person who is totally manipulated by his unethical handlers - this is truly terrifying.
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