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Does a Person Have the Right To Choose Poverty?
Before returning to our discussion of why many centrist/ modern orthodox parents send their children to extreme charedi yeshivos, I would like to discuss a claim made at Cross-Currents by Rabbi Doron Beckerman. (Actually, it also relates to that discussion, because he was a rebbe at Ohr Yerushalayim, apparently a yeshivah for students from non-charedi backgrounds, yet he is preaching staunchly chareidi doctrine.)
Rabbi Beckerman attempts to counter MK Rabbi Dov Lipman's arguments regarding giving charedim a secular education so that they can enter the workforce. He states that "people have a right to decide to be poor for the sake of some higher ideal." While that can be read as technically true, given the context it is utterly false, from the perspective of traditional and halachic Judaism.
First of all, when we are talking about "poor", we are not referring to someone not being able to afford a car. The poverty that is affecting huge numbers of charedim, as described in Mishpachah and elsewhere, is abject poverty. We are talking about people who simply cannot put a roof over their heads or food on the table without financial assistance from others.
Do people have a right to force the community to support them for the sake of a higher ideal such as learning Torah? Absolutely not! (Note: We are currently not discussing a situation of a voluntary agreement, but rather the case of someone who refuses to learn a trade and thus decides that others will support him.) The Gemara makes it clear that this wrong, saying that a person should flay carcasses in the market (a lowly occupation) rather than demanding charitable support from others. The Rishonim had various different opinions about the permissibility of receiving payment for teaching Torah, but they never allowed a person to simply refuse to learn a trade and to force others to support him.
When it comes to one's children, the situation is equally clear. The Gemara records it as a concrete obligation on a father to teach his children a trade, i.e. to be economically self-sufficient. One is not allowed to decide that his children will be dependent upon others. (Yes, I know about R. Nehorai, and it is not relevant; first of all, his personal practice does not override a stated obligation, and second, various Acharonim explain that he was not simply negating the halachah, עיין שם.)
When I pointed all this out, Rabbi Beckerman responded by citing Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Moshe writes as follows:
ומצד עניין הפרנסה, הא אף בדרך הטבע איכא, מאחר שהתירו להתפרנס מרבנות ומלהיות מגידי שיעור בישיבות גדולות וקטנות וגם היא פרנסה כבודה
Rav Moshe says that since today it is regarded as permissible for rabbis and educators to receive payment, therefore a father has fulfilled his obligation to teach his son a trade by teaching him to be a rabbi/ educator. Rabbi Beckerman claims that, following this, charedim today are entitled not to teach their children any trade/education aside from being a rav/rebbe.
However, this is a wholly inaccurate extrapolation. Chazal said that one should teach one’s son a trade, thereby making it likely to happen. Rav Moshe extended this to teaching your son to be a teacher, which in 1960s America, was also a reasonable profession. Furthermore, in section 11, Rav Moshe explicitly says that a father has only fulfilled his obligation if he has ensured that his son is suited to being a teacher and that he will have parnasah from it. Rabbi Beckerman wildly extrapolates this to be a license to bring up everyone to be in kollel today, where the chances of subsequently finding a paying job are minimal, as we see with our own eyes. That is not at all what Rav Moshe is discussing!
When I pointed this out, Rabbi Beckerman claimed that many people with professional training are also not able to get jobs, which is hardly relevant. He also issued the absurd claim that it is just as difficult for a person with a law degree to find employment as it is for an Israeli charedi person to find employment as a teacher. This is silly not only because it is false, but also because a person with a law degree has sufficient general training to also find employment in other fields, whereas an Israeli charedi has nothing to fall back upon.
The bottom line is that Chazal required a person to take steps to ensure that he does not require others to support him, and to make efforts that his children should be financially self-sufficient. Today there is a financial catastrophe in charedi society, as a direct result of charedim ignoring Chazal's dictates. Cross-Currents has many writers that are eager to condemn reformations of Judaism coming from the left; perhaps they could also condemn reformations of Judaism coming from the right.