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Is there something I should know, or are my opponents creating a new religion?
Frequently, I criticize the charedi mass-kollel system, or stories of people in kollel who are praised even as they need to beg for charity because they have no way to support themselves. I do so in light of Chazal’s numerous statements about the value of work and self-sufficiency and the problem of poverty and of forcing the community to support oneself in poverty. But when I do this, there are charedi apologists who turn on me with a view to a kill. They reflexively start chanting Duran, Duran, and expect me to come undone.
Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran, more popularly known by his acronym Rashbatz or Tashbatz (Teshuvos Shimon Ben Tzemach), was an extraordinary scholar who was rabbi of Algiers in the 15th century. He also wrote the most comprehensive set of responsa as a rebuttal to Rambam’s famous condemnation of rabbis receiving payment for their work (which is conveniently available online at Sefaria). According to my disputants in this forum, Tashbatz licenses the current charedi kollel system, and we rule in accordance with him, and therefore my criticisms have no basis. In this post, I will analyze Tashbatz in detail. (I will include citations, but note that unfortunately Substack does not allow for Hebrew text to be right-aligned.)
I. In Duran’s Path
It is rather ironic to see R. Duran cited in support of the modern charedi way of life. Aside from being a towering Torah scholar, he was also an avid student of mathematics, languages, philosophy, poetry, astronomy, medicine, and natural history (he actually wrote one of the first Torah encyclopedias of the animal kingdom!). He practiced as a physician to support himself in Torah studies, until he was impoverished by exile and forced to take a salary as a rabbinic judge, which he says pained him greatly. If only the charedi apologists who are so insistent on quoting him would actually follow his path in life!
II. Duran’s Context
Tashbatz is targeting Rambam’s explanation of Chazal’s prohibition on “profiting” from Torah. And Rambam’s view on this is very extreme and rejected by pretty much everyone. Rambam opposes even rabbis and teachers drawing salaries. Thus, it’s not as though Tashbatz is out to defend the modern kollel system. Rather, he is defending rabbis being supported by their communities, which is the normative approach throughout the centuries.
III. Duran’s Limitations
Because Tashbatz is primarily out to defend the permission for rabbis and Torah scholars to receive funds, and the obligation for communities to support them, he does not really address situations where Torah scholars demand support. But this is a topic which is discussed in an important yet oft-ignored ruling of Shulchan Aruch against a Torah scholar begging for charitable support rather than taking a job:
לעולם ירחיק אדם עצמו מהצדקה ויגלגל עצמו בצער שלא יצטרך לבריות… ואפי' היה חכם מכובד והעני יעסוק באומנות ואפי' באומנות מנוולת ואל יצטרך לבריות:
“One should always avoid charity and rather roll in misery than to depend upon the help of others… And even if he was a respectable scholar who became poor, he should engage in some occupation, even an unpleasant occupation, so as not to need the help of others.” (Yoreh De’ah 255:1)
As Drisha (R. Yehoshua Falk) points out, the sources upon which this ruling in Shulchan Aruch are based - numerous emphatic statements in the Gemara about how one should take a lowly job rather than require the support of others - would seem to present a challenge to Tashbatz’s view.
Drisha resolves this by explaining that Tashbatz is only justifying a stipend system established by the community for Torah scholars, but if it comes to requiring charity then even Tashbatz would say that one must work instead. This has significant ramifications for contemporary scenarios. For a Torah scholar to approach charity organizations (or knock on doors) rather than seek work, which Mishpacha magazine praised as reflecting a holy lifestyle, is actually halachically forbidden. (And while Drisha does not address the scenario of living off kollel checks that are forced from taxpayers, it seems far from straightforward to classify something taken via political extortion as a stipend.)
Alternately, says Drisha, it is specifically rabbis with communal authority who should receive a stipend, because if they work, the resultant loss of prestige will mean that people will ignore them. Accordingly, the Shulchan Aruch’s statement about how it is better to work at a lowly job rather than receive a stipend refers to Torah scholars who are not in positions of authority.
It is curious that Drisha’s positions on this topic are not cited, and the challenge from the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling about how a Torah scholar should take a lowly profession rather than seek charitable support is generally ignored.
IV. Duran’s Authority - as per Rema
Tashbatz was a brilliant scholar who wrote the lengthiest treatment of the topic, but this does not make all his views the final word. Consider how the Rema quotes him. After citing the view of Rambam and others who oppose financial support, Rema cites Tashbatz as a “yesh omrim” (“there are those who say”) with regard to his view that Rabbis should be supported by the community:
כל המשים על לבו לעסוק בתורה ולא לעשות מלאכה להתפרנס מן הצדקה הרי זה מחלל השם ומבזה התורה, שאסור ליהנות מדברי תורה, וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה גוררת עון וסופו ללסטם הבריות (לשון הטור). וכל זה בבריא ויכול לעסוק במלאכתו או בדרך ארץ קצת ולהחיות עצמו (רבינו יונה ורבינו ירוחם נתיב ב' וכ"כ הרמ"ה). אבל זקן או חולה מותר ליהנות מתורתו ושיספקו לו (לכ"ע). ויש אומרים דאפילו בבריא מותר (בית יוסף בשם תשובת רשב"ץ). ולכן נהגו בכל מקומות ישראל שהרב של עיר יש לו הכנסה וספוק מאנשי העיר כדי שלא יצטרך לעסוק במלאכה בפני הבריות ויתבזה התורה בפני ההמון (אברבנאל בפירוש מסכת אבות)
“Anyone who puts in his mind occupying himself with Torah and not working, but supporting himself from charity, has desecrated the Divine Name and dishonors the Torah. For it is forbidden to derive benefit from words of Torah, and any Torah that does not have work along with it, attracts sin and he ends up robbing people. And all of this applies to one who is healthy and can engage in his work or in a profession a little and provide for his livelihood. However, an elderly or sick person is permitted to derive benefit from his Torah such that they will provide for him. And some say that it is permitted even for a healthy person (Beis Yosef, citing Tashbatz). And therefore the practice in all Jewish communities has been that the Rav of the city has an income and provisions from the other people of the city, so that he will not have to engage in work in front of other people, which would cause the Torah to become degraded in front of the multitude (Abarbanel).”
Very significantly, Rema immediately proceeds to specify that this is referring to a community rabbi, as per Abarbanel who endorses a public fund to pay for a community rabbi, and the justification that he gives for it (based on earlier sources) is one that only applies to a community rabbi - that his authority would be reduced if he works in a lowly profession.
Subsequently, Rema says “v’yesh makilin od,” “some are further lenient,” vis-a-vis Abarbanel’s view that only public stipends may be paid to rabbis, not private donations (because of the risk that will cause favoritism), and notes that Tashbatz allows Torah scholars and their students to receive private gifts:
ויש מקילין עוד לומר דמותר לחכם ולתלמידיו לקבל הספקות מן הנותנים כדי להחזיק ידי לומדי תורה שעל ידי זה יכולין לעסוק בתורה בריוח
“And some are further lenient, saying that it is permitted for a sage and his students to accept subsidies from those who donate in order to strengthen the hands of those who study Torah, since in this manner they can engage in Torah in affluence.”
Thus, this view is not only an additional leniency in allowing private support, but also a leniency in being extended to non-community rabbis and their students, to which Abarbanel’s justification would not apply. It is rather ironic that the sort of people who are usually particular about being strict to follow all opinions are happy here to rely upon a “yesh omrim” and a “yesh makilin.” But as we shall see, even this lenient view of Tashbatz is not what some people are making it out to be.
V. Duran’s Focus and Justifications - and the Implications
The major focus of Tashbatz’s responsa is elite Torah scholars. Tashbetz first makes his case about Roshei Yeshivos. He then extends it to those who are studying even if they are not Roshei Yeshivos. But he makes it abundantly clear that he is referring to talmidei chachamim, special individuals who are great scholars, not just stam anyone and everyone:
ועוד נמצא במדרשות שהם מלאים מזה הענין כלומר שהצבור הם נוהגים לתת פסיקתם דרך כבוד למי שמכירין בו חכמה.
“One further finds many Midrashim that are full of this concept, namely, that communities were accustomed to honorably providing for those who were showed themselves to be wise people.”
הצבור חייבים לגדל משלהם מי שהוא חשוב בדורו כר' אמי בדור
“The community is obligated to raise whoever is prestigious in the generation, like Rav Ami in his generation, from their resources.”
הילכך כל מי שמלאכתו מלאכת שמים ותורתו אומנותו וכל עסקו בתורה והגיע להוראו' והוא חשוב בדורו למנותו פרנס ודיין ומורה הוראה ודורש ברבים הוא ראוי לכל מה שפירשנו למעלה.
"Therefore, whoever’s activity is Heaven’s work, and Torah is his profession, and all his dealings are in Torah, and he has reached the level of giving rulings, and he is distinguished among his generation to be appointed as a governor and judge and legislator and public speaker is worthy of everything that we have described above.”
Along with his lengthy proofs that it is justified to support such special people that are suitable for leadership roles, he adds that this also applies to those who are not Roshei Yeshiva:
ואפי' התלמידים העוסקים בתורה כל ימיהם אע"פ שאינן ראשי ישיבות חייבין הצבור לפרנסם דרך כבודם כדאמרינן בפרק ואלו קשרים (שבת קי"ד ע"א) איזהו ת"ח שבני עירו מצוין לעשו' מלאכתו כל שמניח עסקיו ועוסק בחפצי שמי' למאי נ"מ למיטרח לי' בריפתיה.
“And also with students who are busy with Torah for all their days, even though they are not Roshei Yeshivah, the community is obligated to support them with dignity, as is stated… “Who is the Torah scholar for whom the inhabitants of his city are commanded to perform his labor for him? This is one who sets his own matters aside and engages in matters of Heaven. In which way? To exert themselves to provide him with his bread.”
However, he again later makes it clear that he is referring to select people. In section 146 he addresses the topic of who is a Talmid Chacham, and referring back to the same terminology used here (בני עירו מצווין למטרח בריפתיה ולעשות מלאכתו ולכבדו בפסיקתו כראוי) he concludes:
מצא שעלה בידינו מזה שכל תלמיד חכם שהגיע להוראה וראוי לדרוש ברבים ותורתו אומנותו ורחמי שומעניה ופרקו נאה ויש בו יראת שמים בני עירו מצווין למטרח בריפתיה ולעשות מלאכתו ולכבדו בפסיקתו כראוי
“We have therefore discovered that every Torah scholar who has reached the level of giving rulings, and is worthy of preaching in public, and Torah is his profession, and he is of fine bearing, and he possesses fear of Heaven, is deserving of having his city ensure his sustenance and take care of his work, and to honor him with a suitable stipend.”
Also, when he adds that the support should also apply to people who are not serving in leadership roles, he is explicitly referring to people who are not yet in leadership roles - which means that they are on a path towards it.
ואם אינו בגדר זה עדיין אלא שהוא עוסק בלימודו ומניח עסקיו בני עירו חייבין למטרח בריפתיה כדמוכח בפ' אלו קשרים
“And if he is not yet in this category, but is busy with his studies and leaves his business, the city is required to buy themselves with his sustenance.”
The entire thrust of Duran’s responsa on this is about Roshei Yeshivah and select Talmidei Chachamim. This is all talking about a community honorably supporting special scholars in their midst who are suitable for leadership roles.
And this is particularly significant because it is how he counters the problem that Chazal were very clear about the importance of being self-sufficient. So, for example, immediately before Tashbatz demotes the ruling about it being better to seek a lowly line of work rather than live off charity as being only middas chassidus, he speaks about the poor spiritual state of the nation in his era, and he says that license is therefore given for financial support for people providing rabbinic rulings:
הלכך מצאו היתר חכמי הזמן להגו' יומה ולילה בתור' ולספק מורי הוראו' בישראל ולהיות נזונין מהצבור
“Therefore, the Sages of that period found permission for those who study Torah day and night, providing a source of legislators for Israel, to be supported by the community.”
Thus, the entire thrust of his responsa is not only specifically about very special people, it is also only justified that way. It’s all about very select people.
Now, let us turn to the one potential exception.
VI. Duran’s Single (Potential) Mention of Regular Students
The only place where Tashbatz seems to refer to supporting even non-select people learning Torah is a single line in #142:
וכבר היתה להם קופה מיוחדת לקבץ בה ממון לחלק לתלמידי' לפרנסם דרך כבוד' כדמוכח בפ' הנזקין (גיטין ס' ע"ב)
“There was already a box to collect funds to distribute to students, to sustain them honorably, as we see in Chapter Hanizakin.”
The cited Gemara speaks of a shipura, which Rashi says refers to a shofar. But Rashi also cites Rav Sherira Gaon’s view that it refers to a box that was used to collect funds for the students of the immensely important yeshiva of Pumbedisa. Tashbatz mentions this again in his conclusion:
וכן חייבים הצבור ליחד תיבה לתלמידים העוסקי' בתלמוד כדי להרבות בישיבה ולמען הרחבת גבולם בתלמידי' כדמוכח ההיא דפ' הניזקין
“And likewise, the community is obligated to designate a fund for students who are busy with the Talmud, in order to increase yeshivah and expand their borders with students, as is clear in Chapter haNizakin.”
Now, in light of R. Duran’s overwhelming emphasis on supporting select Torah scholars who are worthy of serving public roles, and how all his other justifications were brought specifically for such people, and his detailing the qualifications required for such people, it’s extraordinarily unreasonable to say that this single (debated) reference, which is about the very special students at Pumbedisa, and is given without the justifications that his other positions receive, provides a license for an entire society to choose to learn and require the rest of the country to support them. It is far more reasonable to understand him as a referring to a small number of select people who have the potential for greatness and are expected to reach it.
VII. Duran’s Final Word
At the end of all Tashbatz’s justifications for select Torah scholars and students to receive funds, he still says that it is better for them to study a little less and work! In his conclusion, he writes as follows:
אמנם החכמי' והתלמידים אם נהגו סלסול בעצמם שלא ליטול ושיתפרנסו מיגיע כפם או בדוחק יש להם שכר טוב בעמלם וחסידות הוא להם ומוטב הוא להם שיבטלו קצת עתים מלקיים והגית בו יומם ולילה מלסמוך על הצבור במזונותם
However, the scholars and their students, if they go out of the way to not receive support and they support themselves from their own efforts or live in hardship, have great rewards for their toil, and it is chassidus for them. And it is better that they would cancel some of their time from studying day and night rather than relying on the community to support them.
He describes it as middas chassidus to be entirely self-sufficient (which is what he himself did until he was expelled from his country). True, middas chassidus is not required of everyone. However, he says that if they have the option of reducing some of their time studying in order to work, this is what they should do (i.e. it is not middas chassidus, but something expected of everyone). Yet again, those who chant Duran Duran ignore this.
My opponents claimed that the bottom line is that Tashbatz encourages the financial support of Torah students and allows them to receive it, and say that this is therefore permissible for anyone and everyone. In their own words: "If any individual can choose to be Toraso Umnaso, then there is no issur of 100,000 people doing that."
That is a false extrapolation. Chazal had numerous values. These include:
1) The importance of Torah study
2) The value of supporting Torah scholarship
3) The problem of "profiting" from Torah. (קרדום לחפור)
4) The value of work
5) The importance of self-sufficiency
6) Viewing poverty as a problem, especially when it’s on a communal and national scale.
Now, these seem to conflict. And so there are various approaches to balancing them out. But the point is that it's about balancing them out, not utterly discarding the last three values!
So when the Tashbatz, who himself worked for a living until he had no way to do so, writing in an era when there were was relatively little Torah study, and tackling the Rambam who takes a very extreme approach against any financial support (even for rabbis), spends a lot of time arguing that Rabbis and Talmidei Chachamim should be entitled to support, and stresses that this is due to their special status and justifies it that way, and briefly adds that this also applies to their talmidim (who are presumably likewise a select group), this is balancing out Chazal’s values (at the lenient end of the spectrum, with Abarbanel and Drisha and others restricting it only to rabbis).
But to claim that this is a blanket licence for an entire rapidly growing society of a million people to completely reject the ideal of self-sufficiency and work, to insist that they have absolutely no need to learn how to support themselves or to teach their children how to do so, and to demand that the rest of the country be taxed to support them lechatchila, is abandoning Chazal's values and abusing R. Duran’s license.
UPDATE: I noticed the following in R. Duran’s commentary to Avot:
מכל אלו המעשים נראה שאדם חשוב וצבור צריכין לו מותר ליטול ממון מהם
From all these instances, it is apparent that for a distinguished person, who is of need to the community, he may take funding from them.
It couldn’t be any clearer. It's about an important rabbinic scholar that the community needs.
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