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What Are Those Quoters Thinking?
(Note: This post is a mirror-image of an article published by Eytan Kobre in Mishpachah magazine. You have to read the original article in order to understand the tone of this post.)
One fascinating aspect of the writings of Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ztz”l is that he published many essays addressing political and social issues of the day, setting forth a clear Torah hashkafah on how to relate to such phenomena as the State of Israel, anti-Semitism, the secular American Jewish establishment, and postwar Germany. He based his views on these, and many more matters, on an extremely wide range of sources, including episodes in Tanach and later Jewish history, on the statements of Chazal in Shas and midrashim, and of gedolei Torah he had known.
Looking at Rav Henkin’s deeply sourced and compellingly argued essays, one can’t help but contrast them with, l’havdil, what often passes for Torah-based arguments in contemporary discourse.
In the recent controversy over the draft of bnei Torah, for example, one comes across articles in which the same handful of sources are recycled endlessly to support the innovation of mass kollel. There’s the Mishnaic dictum of Talmud Torah kenegged kulam, and that hardy perennial, the Rambam (Hilchos Shmittah V'Yovel), who writes that anyone can choose the life of a Levite.
One must really wonder what people who quote these sources as discussion-enders are thinking. If one has a question about how to reconcile a mishnah with the practice of multitudes of very observant Jews for centuries, then by all means pose it, earnestly and humbly, and seek out an answer. But these sources are cited triumphantly as conclusory evidence against the position of Chazal, the Rishonim, and the greatest halachic authorities right up until the charedi rabbonim post-WWII, who not only permitted but highly encouraged people to learn a trade and work for a living.
It’s impossible to even imagine another field of highly complex knowledge in which those defending a revolutionary approach would be so foolish and so lacking in humility as to pronounce every acknowledged traditional master of the discipline mistaken for having missed a basic piece of information. But let the conversation turn to something Torah-related, and it’s the Wild West, with every man and his Judaic six-shooter for himself.
Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginsberg recently wrote of having accompanied Rav Elyashiv ztz”l to and from a funeral, with pen and pad in hand to record the various questions people would inevitably ask. In the course of this 40-minute experience, Rav Elyashiv answered more than 70 sh’eilos, exhibiting his breathtaking mastery of the gamut of Torah. And Rav Elyashiv strongly supported mass kollel. Yet we are to believe, it seems, that this somehow radically alters the very history of our people and the very statements of Chazal and the Rishonim. Don’t those who fling the Gedolim as a shtempel kashrus know that there are Gedolim who disagree strongly with the modern system of mass kollel, but who are afraid to speak their mind, as Jonathan Rosenblum has written? Do they not know that there are complex social forces mean that attitudes to basic issues can change and be distorted, even amongst great Torah scholars? Do they not know the history of the Jewish People, in which many great Torah scholars were embroiled in disputes in which they each considered their equally distinguished opponents to be fundamentally in error? That they attributed such fundamental error to the ability of sophisticated Torah learning to resolve all contradictions between behavior and sources via the drawing of subtle distinctions? This is precisely why halachic practice has always been rooted in the values and rulings of Shas and Rishonim, not in contemporary mores that go against mesorah.
Let’s look, for example, at Eytan Kobre. In an article printed in the latest issue of Mishpachah, Mr. Kobre claims "the Kesef Mishneh, on the page alongside the Rambam; the Rema (Yoreh Dei’ah 246:21); the Shach (ibid.); the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 246:40-42); and Igros Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 2:116) all rule that one may, without any hesitation, receive funding to learn Torah full-time."
Now, Eytan Kobre is being presented as the Voice of Torah Judaism. He is, after all, someone who studied for several years in beis medrash and beyond, and presumably knows how to research a basic halachic issue. Here, then, is what he could have discovered if he had actually looked at the very sources that he himself is quoting, let alone the countless sources in Chazal and the Rishonim that strongly oppose the notion of not learning a trade or working and instead relying on communal support:
The Kesef Mishneh indeed observed that Rambam's prohibition on Torah scholars receiving payment was not shared by other authorities, and permits a Torah scholar to receive funds. However, he specifies that this is only in a case where he is teaching students, acting as a rabbinic judge, or studying in order to take on a teaching/judging role (although elsewhere he appears to be more lenient). How on earth does Mr. Kobre describe this as him saying that "one may, without any hesitation, receive funding to learn Torah full-time"?
The Rema first says that a person should work to support himself, leaving Torah study to other times of day and night, and that it is very praiseworthy to be self-sufficient. Which is not at all surprising, since Chazal taught that Torah study should be accompanied by derech eretz, and in numerous places stressed the importance of being self-sufficient: “A person should hire himself out for alien work rather than requiring assistance from others”; “The man who is self-sufficient is greater than the one who fears Heaven”; etc. The Rema continues to note that someone who decides to busy themselves with Torah and live off charity rather than working has desecrated God's Name and brought the Torah into disrepute. He adds that Torah which is not accompanied by work leads to sin and theft (presumably because the Torah scholar/student is incapable of making a living via honest means). Similarly, the Rosh, discussing someone whose Torah is his profession, such that he is exempt from paying various taxes, defines this person as someone who only takes time away from his studies in order to earn a livelihood, “which is his obligation, for the study of Torah with derech eretz is beautiful, and if the Torah is not accompanied by work, it will end in neglect and will cause sin." This reflects the normative position amongst the Rishonim in Ashkenaz, where financing Torah study was unheard of; virtually all Torah scholars were self-supporting, and even financing Torah teaching was only reluctantly permitted by some.
So far, Rema has been unequivocal that it is forbidden and evil to take money for Torah rather than to be self-supportive (except for those who are physically incapable of working, and who are allowed to receive payment for the Torah that they teach.) But at this point he introduces a lenient view, based on R. Shimon b. Tzemach Duran (Rashbatz), that permits Torah scholars to receive funding. Note, however, that Rashbatz specifically limits this to Torah scholars functioning in the role of community rabbi. In the referenced responsum, he argues that since the Kohen Gadol receives material support from the community, how much more so should a Torah scholar be entitled to such support; after all, he is equally performing a service for the community. Rema writes that “a person important to the community may accept money from it... without violating the prohibition against benefiting from the Torah, for he is honoring the Torah, not using it." He is not talking about a kollel student!
However, Rema proceeds to note that there are those who are even more lenient and permit even students to receive financial support, in order to strengthen Torah study. So there we have it; after stating the primary view, that it is forbidden and wrong for Torah scholars to receive funding, then noting a "yesh omrim," an alternate lenient view that it is permissible for rabbis to receive funding, we finally have a further lenient view that even students may receive funding. However, Rema notes that it is still preferable for Torah students to be self-supportive, if possible. How on earth does Mr. Kobre summarize all this as him saying that "one may, without any hesitation, receive funding to learn Torah full-time"?
Now let us move on to the next source cited by Mr. Kobre, the Shach. He allows a Rosh Yeshivah or Av Beis Din to accept gifts. He says nothing whatsoever about kollel students receiving funding to learn Torah. How on earth does Mr. Kobre summarize all this as saying that "one may, without any hesitation, receive funding to learn Torah full-time"?
Now let us move on to the next source cited by Mr. Kobre, the Aruch HaShulchan. He, too, makes it very clear that he is talking about voluntary communal support of Torah teachers. He does not permit Torah students to receive communal funds, and does not even permit teachers to demand support; he describes Rambam's opposition as being to Torah scholars who try to force the community to support them (an apt description of the modern mass-kollel system). How on earth does Mr. Kobre summarize all this as saying that "one may, without any hesitation, receive funding to learn Torah full-time"?
Igros Moshe is Mr. Kobre's final source for those who wish to receive money for their studies. However, that has little bearing on the normative position over the ages. R. Moshe's primary sources are referring to Torah teachers, not Torah students. And he admits that his license may well be based upon emergency measures, rather than expressing the original laws and priorities. And one cannot necessarily extrapolate from the state of Torah-emergency in 1964 to the situation in the twenty-first century, when there are tens of thousands of people in kollel. Furthermore, Rav Moshe is only addressing a case where the money is being offered - this has nothing to do with whether it is okay to avoid learning a trade and to insist that others support you. Which clearly goes against Chazal and the Rishonim.
Can this fellow Eytan Kobre truly be blissfully unaware of all this, and of the normative approach of Torah Judaism throughout the ages until just a few decades ago, or is he indeed aware of the relevant halachic sources and is engaging in intentional falsification of Torah to mislead the public? Either way, hostile or ignorant, it doesn’t bode well.
(If you are reading this post by email, please continue to scroll down, in order to see the previous post on hawking.)