Talmidei Chachomim earning a living

I have written about this here.

I don’t always agree with Rav Aviner. For example, I disagree vehemently with his attitude towards Rabbi Elon. On the issue below [Hat tip NB]  he is undoubtedly right. There isn’t any reason someone who knows Torah and continues to learn should be a pauper. If they do want that, perhaps they should set up a Kollel in Vietnam?

Prominent Dati Leumi Posek Rabbi Shlomo Ha-Cohain Aviner Shlit”a addressed a statistic reporting that 40% of Charedim do not work. The Rav stated that due to the economic realities in Israel today, an Avreich (married Yeshiva student) must learn a profession that permits him to support his family. “A Talmid Yeshiva cannot remain in Yeshiva indefinitely. He must earn a living and it is not enough to say ‘Hashem will take care of things and it will be fine’”.

He told students during a Shiur that there are Avreichim who go to soup kitchens daily, and that in some Charedi homes children regularly go hungry.  That is why a husband must be able to earn a living. A Talmid can learn for a number of years as everyone must, but at some point one must reflect and determine if one will be a Rav or Rebbe and if not, it is time to look for work. The Rav added that not everyone is suited to be a Rav or Rebbe, though most believe they are, and while one may be a Talmid Chacham there is still the issue of earning a livelihood. Batei Medrashim are bursting with Talmidei Chacham that do not have work because all of the jobs in the Yeshivot are taken.

The Rav then addressed Avreichim who used to make do with the bare minimum. “Once upon a time, man slept on straw like Rabbi Akiva and this was fine.  But today it is not possible to live like this. We may sleep on straw but how will one pay tuition for one’s children? One does not have to eat Prili (type of fruit yogurt) daily but even when living austerely there is a need for money to pay for different necessities.  We cannot change reality with Pilpul. Perhaps in Vietnam one can survive on one dollar a day but in Israel it is impossible.”

Has the Kollel apogee been reached?

A few nights ago after Ma’ariv, a young and enthusiastic collector asked me for a few bucks. When I asked what for, he responded that he established a new Kollel for Ba’alei Tshuva who had learned there for 9 or so years, and that times were tough. Of course, that was the truth.

I asked him why they were still in Kollel? He said, because their Torah protects Am Yisrael?

I asked him whether there were any exemplary students therein or were they “run of the mill”.

He asked me “why? what does it matter”. I replied because in my view, if those of us who work for a living extend ourselves to support mediocrity then it’s highly questionable. I noted that at (lehavdil) University level, we were tested for entry most vigorously, and all our outputs are scrutinised. I asked  what level of scrutiny was applied given that there was a crisis, limited money, etc

He  re-iterated that my point wasn’t important because their Torah was protecting Am Yisrael. There is ample precedent in Kosvei Kodesh of that. I asked him what he thought of Nachal Charedi. It’s a litmus test for me, because I feel it offers so many of the more mediocre types the chance to gain a profession and make a living which has more self-esteem. I asked him whether he thought Israeli Soldiers (e.g. Nachal Charedi) were protecting his Kollel when they were policing borders and the surrounds.

He became agitated, and told me that Torah protects.

I then quoted an Aderes Eliyahu from the Vila Gaon (he being a Litvak) where the Gaon explained the Gemora in Brachos לה ע”ב that when הרבה (many) do like R’ Shimon Bar Yochai (devoted themselves solely to Torah Learning) לא עלתה בידם (it wasn’t successful). I argued that the problem is that we are not following the Gemora which makes it clear that as a general rule people should work (and then be Kovea Itim LaTorah) and not be poor in Kollel to the extent that there are myriads begging terribly for money simply to put bread on their empty tables. I feel very sad when people are in poverty because of this choice.

I fully understand that post Holocaust, there was an urgent need to rebuild, but we have rebuilt, and Torah is flourishing in the Holy Land like never before. I know of Tshuvos e.g. from R’ Moshe Shternbuch on the topic. He chuffed off and asked me to text him the Aderes Eliyahu מקור

I kept forgetting to look it up (I had seen it 30+ years ago) but unsurprising, when I was looking into the Nefesh Hachaim of the Saintly R’ Chaim Volozhiner, the Gaon’s prime pupil and yoresh, two nights ago, the Nefesh Hachaim says the exact same words.

Sure you can twist any which way with Girsaos in the Gemora, and I’ve seen lots of that, but you can see my line of thought in R’ Chaim’s classic Nefesh Hachaim from Shaar 1, No 8.

ואמרו הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידם, והרבה עשו כרשב”י ולא עלתה בידם. היינו רבים דוקא, כי ודאי שלכלל ההמון כמעט בלתי אפשר שיתמידו כל ימיהם רק בעסק התורה, שלא לפנות אף שעה מֻעטת לשום עסק פרנסת מזונות כלל ועל זה אמרו באבות כל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה וכו’. אבל יחיד לעצמו שאפשר לו להיות אך עסוק כל ימיו בתורתו ועבודתו יתברך שמו ודאי שחובה מוטלת עליו שלא לפרוש אף זמן מועט מתורה ועבודה לעסק פרנסה חס ושלום וכדעת רבי שמעון בן יוחי…

The Maharsho on the spot is even stronger. Check it out.

Of course, it’s also in Shulchan Aruch, אורך חיים קנ’’ו

Your thoughts appreciated?

Ex-Kollel students training to be policemen (Jerusalem Post)

Should certain people not join the army of the State of Israel

We have all been reading with interest about the expiration of the Tal Law, which had afforded “Kollel Yungerleit” the opportunity to avoid military service in the State of Israel on account of their extended and continued full time study of Torah. We have also heard many Gedolim say that this is a situation of יהרג ועל יעבור … that people should give up their lives rather than join the army.

Parshas Shoftim describes the process whereby the Cohen, משוח מלחמה explains the procedures before warfare. First he encourages the troops and tells them that they only should fear Hashem and not the enemy, then he describes the categories of soldier (male soldiers, of course) who are exempt from battle (anyone is engaged but yet to marry a woman, anyone who has built a house but did not move in, anyone who has planted a vineyard but has yet to reap a harvest, and anyone who feels afraid). The Shotrim (policemen/miitary staff) then repeat this to groups of soldiers, according to Rashi.

There are two broad categories of war: the Milchemes Mitzvah (loosely described as a war where one defends the very existence/populace) and a Milchemes Reshus (a type of warfare which is waged for other reasons). A Milchemes Mitzvah is obviously a more serious, life threatening situation, and so we fine that the Mishne in Sotah (8:7) states that the aforementioned exemptions do not apply to a Milchemes Mitzvah. In other words, when it comes to defending the very existence of the people/State, it’s “all hands on the deck”.

Strangely, the Rambam at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Hilchos Melachim, states that the Cohen also announces these exemptions for a Milchemes Mitzvah. How can the Rambam contradict a clear Mishna? One explanation I read from Rav Schachter in the name of the Rav is that there is a dual obligation when anyone goes to war. One obligation is a national obligation. The person is part of the כלל and in the sense that the כלל is threatened in a Milchemes Mitzvah, the Torah does not provide an opportunity for exemption. There is also an individual obligation, the obligation of the פרט, the potential soldier who signs up for military service or considers doing so. In a Milchemes Reshus, the Cohen explains that someone who is in one of the aforementioned categories is strongly urged to stay home. They aren’t needed, and furthermore it could be argued that they may even damage morale by virtue of their preponderant thoughts.

According to the Rav, the Rambam is saying that even in a Milchemes Mitzvah, the Cohen explains the laws of the פרט being absolved from joining the armed forces before they defend the nation. It is necessary to explain the difference, and stress that this is only an exemption in as much as they are private individuals, however, since they are about to embark on a life and death battle for the defence of the people and the State, the aspect of the כלל affords them no exemption.

Of course, there are other explanations. Reflecting on this on Parshas Shoftim, I have great difficulty understanding how those who ostensibly don’t feel politically part of the State, give themselves the right to also not feel existentially part of the כלל.

Certainly, as I sit in Melbourne, Australia, I’m not exactly entitled to criticise the life and death decisions taken by those who live in Eretz HaKodesh. I am, however, entitled, I believe to ask for an explanation in light of the above.