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Rav Steinman's Speech
Last week, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman visited Ramat Bet Shemesh for a public address, amidst much hoopla and honor. Rafi Goldmeir, at Life in Israel, has provided a translation of most of his address. Many people are making a big fuss over Rav Shteinman's account of how the eight billion people in the world "are all murderers and thieves, people without seichel" - except, of course, for Torah Jews. But I'd like to discuss a different point.
The focus of Rav Steinman's talk was to set up two polar opposites: learning Torah versus educating oneself to earn a living. There is no nuance to his words; he sets them up as two opposites. In other words, yeshivah ketanah versus high school; yeshivah gedolah versus yeshivah+college; kollel versus working for a living. In this model, Rav Steinman correlates the following with the yeshivah/ kollel/ not-working model:
Being a talmid chacham;
Gaining nachas from one's children;
Fulfilling the purpose of creation;
Gaining everlasting life.
Those who gain a secular education and work for a living are deprived of these; their lot is apparently with the eight billion murderers and thieves and people without seichel. (I don't know if Rav Steinman himself actually believes that. But there are certainly those in his audience who do, and with the complete absence of nuance in his talk, he strengthens that view.)
What about all the Rishonim in Sepharad who studied secular subjects, and saw it as part of their avodas Hashem? Even Chasam Sofer, grandfather of charedi Judaism, studied secular subjects extensively. And certainly there was no mass kollel until a few decades ago! What about all Chazal's teachings on the importance of teaching one's children to earn a trade, and on the value of being self-sufficient?
Rav Steinman also claims that most rich people do not have a strong secular education, which, he says, is because parnassah is all up to Hashem. Actually, most rich people have a lot more education, marketable skills, and/or desire to actually work, than the poor. Furthermore, the point is not whether most rich people do not have a secular education; it's whether most people without a secular education get rich. And clearly, they don't.
In any case, there certainly is a distinct general correlation between education and income, and especially between employment and income. If it's all up to Hashem and has nothing to do with hishtadlus, then it's interesting that Hashem has decided to generally reward those who go to college and engage in hishtadlus with parnassah, while those who learn in kollel tend to struggle with poverty.
The greatest irony is in the following quote from Rav Steinman:
"The Chayei Adam writes in one of his books that when he was young the parents did not think about what the child would be later, from what he would earn his living. They only thought about the Torah."
There is no doubt that everyone in attendance understood that by taking the path of yeshivah and kollel, they are following in the holy path of the Chayei Adam. But in fact, the Chayei Adam - Rabbi Avraham Danzig - refused employment as Rabbi of Vilna and instead earned his livelihood as a merchant! (Later in life, when he lost his money, he was forced to take employment as a rabbi. But at no time did he learn in kollel!)
To be sure, Rav Steinman is extraordinary in many ways. But I don't see anything profound in his lecture. Worse, there seems to be much that is untrue and inconsistent with Jewish tradition. Chazal and the Rishonim did not believe that Jews should not learn a trade, engage only in Torah and be supported by others. Chazal and the Rishonim said precisely the opposite.