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Kollels and Crocodiles
In the previous post - which received an astonishing twelve thousand hits! - I criticized Rav Nachum Eisenstein's stress on the responsibility of the government to support people in kollel. I pointed out that he does not address the question of whether people have a responsibility to other citizens of their country to try to contribute to the economy rather than to try to drain it.
A person going by the moniker of "Pardon My Skepticism," who, for the sake of convenience, we shall call Dovid, claimed that I was being hypocritical. The basis for his accusation was that at the end of my post, I solicited donations for a new home for The Biblical Museum of Natural History. As Dovid put it: "Why doesn't Rabbi Dr. Slifkin address the question of whether he has a responsibility to other citizens of their country to try to contribute to the economy rather than to try to drain it? Isn't a museum a drain on the economy as well? It certainly doesn't contribute to it."
Dovid is correct in that the museum does not contribute to the economy (except insofar as boosting the economy of Beit Shemesh by bringing people to it; a point that unfortunately seems lost on certain members of city council). But there is more to a country than the economy. There is knowledge, there is culture, there are sports, and, for the Jewish Nation, there is Torah. It is true that not everyone need contribute to the economy; there are other ways to contribute towards society.
Now, I think that everyone, across the spectrum, would agree that The Biblical Museum of Natural History contributes towards society. To date we have hosted over twenty-five thousand visitors from all walks of life, from Amish to Chassidish, to whom we have presented the wonders of God's creation and the meaning of many parts of Torah. We've inspired secular college students with a newfound appreciation for their Jewish identity; we've educated Americans and others about the connection between the animals of our heritage and the Land of Israel; we've fascinated ultra-Orthodox chassidim with a world of nature that they have never seen.
But what about kollels - do they contribute to society? According the mystical perspective presented by R. Chaim of Volozhin in Nefesh HaChaim, absolutely. But it's hard to ground that in clear sources from Torah, Chazal or the Rishonim. While teaching Torah obviously benefits society, learning Torah benefits oneself, not others. Perhaps even more to the point, even if one does point to some statements about learning Torah helping the world, before the rise of mysticism such benefits were seen as a function of merit rather than metaphysical effect. And it's only a merit if it's the right the thing to do. And Chazal and the Rishonim most definitely did not see learning Torah as something that relieves a person of his obligation to support his family. (See too my post What Is The Mechanism Via Which Torah Protects.)
There is another important difference between Rav Eisenstein's perspective and my appeal. There is absolutely no forcing of anyone to donate to the museum. If, God forbid, we were to get no donations and the museum were to close down, it would be personally devastating and the loss of a fantastic resource for the nation, but my staff and I would find other employment. With charedi kollel society, on the other hand, there is no fallback! The people just don't have the education, skills or mindset to earn a living. Even worse, they are bringing up their children with a similar complete lack of ability to make a living.
As I mentioned, the previous post was read by many thousands of people. I'd wager that the vast majority of them agreed with the viewpoint presented here. Unfortunately, only a miniscule fraction of them donated towards the museum campaign. So I'd like to take this opportunity to once again ask that people support this cause - we simply cannot move to a new building without it! As an added incentive, we will soon be announcing special gifts for people who donate over a certain sum - and these will be given to everyone who has donated these sums since the campaign began. So please, for the benefit of everyone, help support this unique institution! Click this link to go to our campaign page. And if you Liked/Shared the previous post on Facebook, please share this one too! Thank you!