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Are Charedim The New Levites?
There's an interesting argument advocated by Rabbi Doron Beckerman over at Cross-Currents. He claims that since there is a mitzvah to give tithes to the Levites to support them in their role as spiritual leaders, and Sefer HaChinnuch extrapolates from this to Torah scholars in general, therefore there is an obligation to support charedim in kollel.
Let us overlook for now the fact that Rambam disagreed with the Chinnuch. Let us also overlook for now the fact that many Rishonim grappled with the question of whether teachers of Torah may receive payment for their service and did not simply say that they were effectively Levites and therefore may receive payment. We can overlook those, because I think that most of us will agree that the Jewish People should indeed financially support teachers of Torah.
That, however, has nothing to do with charedim in kollel.
First of all, Rambam and even the Chinnuch make it clear that they are talking about teachers of Torah, not students of Torah. The Chinnuch writes about how "they will teach His judgments to their brothers in each and every state and in all the cities." And it is a mistake to argue that this also includes students because one must study in order to teach. The vast majority of people in kollel are not studying in order to become teachers, and they are not studying the material or tools that they need to teach. The modern-day equivalents of the Levites are the rabbis and educators across the world, not the tens of thousands in kollel in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.
Second, nobody can demand that others recognize them as modern-day Levites. Imagine if YCT were to demand that the charedi community support them, as the Levites of our generation. The charedi community would understandably respond that they do not recognize YCT as expressing an approach to Torah that they agree with. Likewise, non-charedim do not agree with the charedi approach to Torah. They want religious Zionist and modern Orthodox Torah scholars and educators, not charedi Torah scholars and educators. They would want to support institutions such as Kollel Torah MiTziyon instead, and charedim cannot demand otherwise.
Third, none of this relates to the charedi person's own obligations. A person has an obligation to provide for his family and to teach his children to be financially self-sufficient. He is not permitted to assume that others will support him.
Rabbi Beckerman argues that raising children in the Israeli charedi system, where there is minimal secular education in elementary school and none at all after that, does not place them at any significant disadvantage to be financially self-sufficient later on in life. He claims that the onus of proof is on those who would claim otherwise. I would argue that his claim is obviously false and nonsensical, especially in light of the articles and hundreds of letters in Mishpacha magazine on this topic.
(I would have responded to Rabbi Beckerman in the comments section at Cross-Currents. However, Rabbi Beckerman has decided to generally prevent comments from being published unless and until he has a response to them. So instead I presented my response here, where there are no such restrictions.)