Kollel-Only Schools

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[The following is from the Iyar/May RJJ Newsletter. It has elicited a considerable response, including the suggestion that it receive wider circulation and that is the reason why I am posting it.]

It has been evident for many years that if somehow Rebbi Akiva and Rebbi Eliezer were transplanted into contemporary religious Jewish life at the time that they were beginning their study of Torah, it is highly unlikely that they would be admitted to our best yeshivas. They would be sent to a kiruv school or perhaps one of the weak day schools that dot our communal landscape. Only after they were thoroughly cleansed of the baneful effects of bad parentage and background might they be accepted by our strongest schools.

It is also true that children of many Talmudic sages and Torah scholars of subsequent generations, including the recent period, would also be turned away from some yeshivas and Beth Jacobs. Although these parents were transcendent scholars and spiritual giants, alas they had the serious defect of earning their livelihood outside of the four cubits of Torah, perhaps by being in business or a professional or working for government or a private employer. There are mosdos at the elementary school level in Israel and now in this country that will not accept children from such homes, presumably to protect those who are admitted from harmful influences.

Whatever the explanation, this is madness, an example of the spreading sickness known as extreme frumkeit. It is said that children with working fathers live in more affluent homes, have nicer clothing, tend to show off, or that their appearance makes other children feel inferior, etc. This is inaccurate on several grounds, most notably the obvious fact that at least in this country, a majority of yeshiva-world families with a working father struggle to make ends meet. The more likely explanation is that schools with an exclusionary policy seek to proclaim that they are better because their students come from pure Torah homes.

Because this sort of frumkeit is a dynamic force, what we are now witness to is likely to be followed by even greater deprecations against sense and sensibility. Admittedly, it is hard to figure out what the next step might be. Unless we are willing to protest against a policy that to my knowledge has no antecedent in all of the annals of Torah chinuch, worse tidings await us. Too many of us – and I specifically refer to Torah leaders – are unwilling to criticize what is wrong. It is a sure bet that the protest expressed here is one more fruitless tilting against the windmill of good intentions gone awry.

It is obvious that kollel-only schools survive because they have the support of affluent people whose children and grandchildren would not be accepted by such schools. I imagine that they contribute in order to atone for the sin of making a living. Or could it be that they believe that exclusive schools are desirable? If so, they are mistaken. There isn’t as much as a line in the speeches and writings of the Great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood or, for that matter, other Gedolei Torah who led the yeshiva world in the last two generations, that can be marshaled in support of an exclusionary policy. I am told that one of the yeshiva world’s most revered and senior Rosh Yeshiva was appalled when told of such a policy and referred to it as “rishus” or evil.

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24 Responses

  1. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    All these families are being supported by people who do not learn in Kollel. It seems to me that there is a logical discontinuity in saying that the children of the latter would benefit by staying away from the children of the former.
    Even if there are family habits or character traits that cannot be screened out in the admission process, hakoras hatov mandates that they should live with the consequences of association.
    Even if logic and hakoras hatov are not enough to ‘jeopardize’ your children’s future, the divisiveness will cause far more damage to society as a whole than any benefit that might be gained by the individual children.

  2. Edvallace says:

    Sholom Simon,

    you write,
    “>Non-kollel children watch graphic and disturbing television programs and movies and are avid sports fans.

    There are tens of thousands of children of Lubavitch shluchim who would be quite amazed at that statement, and wonder what planet you are on. (And probably a similar number of children in Lakewood, Baltimore, etc.)”

    Really? Let’s try to make the point this way. How many Kollel people do you know who possess televisions?
    I don’t know of a single one. I do know of many businessmen who have televisions and allow their children to watch them. I know quite a few Lubavitch shluchim as well and they’ll be the first to tell you that one of the biggest risks of their occupation is their children’s spiritual growth for lack of frum schools in their locations. Many of them send their children to relatives in NY and elsewhere so they can attend Frum schools.

    To deny this is to deny reality. Does that mean that these Kollel-only schools are good or bad, is another story. But to claim that SOME business people do not expose their children to TV, is simply ignoring the facts.

  3. Sholom Simon says:

    >Non-kollel children watch graphic and disturbing television programs and movies and are avid sports fans.

    There are tens of thousands of children of Lubavitch shluchim who would be quite amazed at that statement, and wonder what planet you are on. (And probably a similar number of children in Lakewood, Baltimore, etc.)

    So, between Yissachar and Zevulon, only the former’s children can go to this school?

  4. Cyrkle says:

    R’ Eliezer, you are making an assumption unbacked by evidence – that Torah has something to do with this.

  5. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    I know a doctor who never learned in a kollel (other than his nightly studies) who I think of as a modern Chofetz Chaim. Humility and fear of God are plainly written on his face, and he founded a social safety net organization that has saved and succored thousands. I know a lawyer who has printed several profound sforim and continues to write Torah articles for journals. And I know an accountant that knows Tractate Yoma by heart, verbatim, and is a world-class authority on the entire Order of Kodshim. The abhorrent world-view of those that would refuse such men’s children entry to their school is in equal parts frightening and pitiable.

  6. Gershon Dubin says:

    :Non-kollel children watch graphic and disturbing television programs and movies and are avid sports fans:

    Nothing like a homogeneous social setting (read: all kollel school) to propagate ludicrous stereotypes such as this.

  7. Cyrkle says:

    Rabbi Reuben,

    From my observation (and my children, married and single, all learn or support spouses who do) the negative influence of looking at other yiden with condescension is more of a naarishkeit than having children with a variety of influences in the classroom. The sephardic quota you mention is a poor parallel due to societal as well as cultural distinctions.

  8. Chana says:

    Rabbi Yom Tov Schwartz writes a fascinating book that includes his seemingly radical take on Kollel and its purpose. Here is the link: http://www.urimpublications.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=UP&Product_Code=Eyes&Category_Code=bfbaaa
    Instead of Kollel being the occupation of choice for all men as they mature, it should be a system meant only for the select few who are best at coming up with new and innovative ideas, in the same way that all people should, ideally, do that which is best for them in terms of their interests and talents. If you are an excellent businessman, do business, good at learning, then learn. But do not feel forced to join one camp over the other…
    He of course explains this beautifully, with far more sources and insights than my brief summary, which does no justice to his writing.

    Although this was not the point of your post, just thought I’d mention it.

  9. Shaul Reuben says:

    Dear R’ Schick,

    I applaud your brave sentiments as expressed in the above post. However, your (and my) ideals of a perfect Orthodox society rarely coincide with reality. There are a reason why many of the aspects of our educational system (Kollel-only schools and the like) exist; it is my experience that they do serve a very valuable purpose.
    For many years I served as a volunteer adminstrator for a Chareidi (Chinuch L’Atzmai) school in Eretz Yisrael. When I first began working there, I soon learned that Sefardim were only admitted to the cheder under a certain quota. During my time, it was around 10-20% – they could not exceed that mark. (Please note that Sefardim make up over 60% of all Chareidim in Eretz Yisrael.) At first I was shocked and disgusted. How could this blatant racism be allowed in our schools? Then I watched for a few months, observed how many of these Sefardi children came from poorer backgrounds, were angrier, more violent, got into more trouble. They were not meant for a school that was designed to train world-class talmidei chachamamim. They are certainly in need of education, but should receive it in an environment where they will not harm or negatively influence others.
    The same goes for “Kollel-Only Schools.” Why should a parent send their child to a school where there is a strong possibility of negative influence. Non-kollel children watch graphic and disturbing television programs and movies and are avid sports fans. Why introduce this naarishkeit to our children if we can avoid it? Let us protect them as best we can; if this means Kollel-Only Schools – so be it.

  10. Different River says:

    a pashut yid write: Why do we need to stop this phenomenon? If you dont like, dont send your kid there. Why would you want your kid to be in a school that has, in your mind, a backwards hashkafa? If they want to put their kids in this messed up school, why should it bother anyone else? There are so many different schools out there, and if you can narrow your choice down by a few, whats the problem?

    Two reasons: First, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh” (All Israel are responsible for one another.) If this is a negative development, and if those who are doing it have not thought it through properly, we have an obligation to discuss it so that if it turns out the people who object are right, the people who would have been harmed are not.

    Second, the Jewish world, especially the Torah-observant world, is small enough that what one influential group does can affect the entire community. How could this affect you? If this generation of Kollelniks promotes the idea that this is the ideal form of Torah education, then in the next generation it will be difficult for anyone without this form of education to be accepted as a posek or a gadol hador. And if the next generation of poskim and gedolim grew up not even not working for a living or seeing their parents work, but not even knowing anyone who did what sort of impact would that have on Klal Yisrael? The most well-educated (in Torah) among us will not little familiarity with, and less respect for, the majority of the Torah-observant populace, their problems, their struggles, and their successes. They will be an elite with little contact with the “common people,” yet be charged with leading those people.

    It is simply non sustainable for everyone to exclusively learn. Someone needs to grow the wheat. We will be better off and stronger as a community if there is (at least) a little bit of “Talmuc Chacham” and a little bit of “working stiff” in all of us — and for those who are mostly one to be in regular contact with those who are mostly the other.

    ALSO: Joel Rich asks: PS Perhaps you could explain why people don’t feel comfortable using their real names on their posts (I don’t mean any disrespe, just curious as to why people won’t attach their real names to their positions?)

    I can’t speak for Pashut Yid, but as for myself: I work at a mostly non-Jewish company that deals with non-Torah-related issues. (I know, everything is in Torah and I can relate my work to Torah also, but it’s sufficiently indirect that the non-Jews who run the place would not see the connection without my pointing it out.) We write reports that are sometimes released to the press and sometimes used by organizations lobbying the government. My real name goes on some of those reports. I don’t want my company’s reputation to be related to my religious or political opinions, and I’m not even sure I want my company to know those opinions. And I don’t want potential future employers, if I ever seek employment elsewhere, to be able to enter my name into Google and thus learn my religious and political opinions before deciding to hire me. So, I comment pseudonymously, and blog (here) pseudonymously. I may change that at some point in the future, but not now.

    Hirhurim was pseudonymous for a long time for similar reasons.

  11. Gershon Dubin says:

    The effect of skimming off the “creme de la creme” to one school is to deprive the children of the poor working shnooks the opportunity to benefit from their company. The Gemara describes the role of those not destined for greatness as “tzavta” for those so destined. I dare say it’s meant to work both ways.

    This is also all predicated on the notion (which any of us can clearly dispute from personal experience) that all children of kollel people are necessarily more serious about learning than the children of working people.

    Um, make that, all kollel people are more serious about learning than working people. Simply not true.

  12. joel rich says:

    I just dont see why this is a problem for most people on this web site. I would assume that the people here are not in bnei brak or ezras torah and tryin to get their kids into some exclusive cheider. So what does it matter to you? The chareidi world isnt sitting back and mocking other school systems. (OK, some people are, but not the serious thinkers.) There are more important things to do.

    Comment by a pashut yid
    ============
    Dear Pashut Yid,
    What matters is that we are all affected by trends within the orthodox world and to the extent the web impacts anyone’s thinking it’s sometimes worth the few minutes to articulate and defend approaches.
    KT
    Joel Rich
    PS Perhaps you could explain why people don’t feel comfortable using their real names on their posts (I don’t mean any disrespe, just curious as to why people won’t attach their real names to their positions?)

  13. a pashut yid says:

    Why do we need to stop this phenomenon? If you dont like, dont send your kid there. Why would you want your kid to be in a school that has, in your mind, a backwards hashkafa? If they want to put their kids in this messed up school, why should it bother anyone else? There are so many different schools out there, and if you can narrow your choice down by a few, whats the problem?

    And besides, I dont think there are that many. I just think that in the “Torah world” where learning torah on a serious level for a long time is of such importance, pople want their kids surrounded by people who are machshiv sitting and learning torah. Not every avreich gets his kids into these chadorim, either. These kollel only chadorim are usually (from what i understand) reserved for the most serious avreichim, who want a certain intensity in the chinuch of their children. Having them going to friends houses with a working father, often means a less intense approach to torah learning. Is it 100% true? No. Is it close? I dont know. But these mechanchim / hanhala bc of the parents wishes, are not taking chances.

    I just dont see why this is a problem for most people on this web site. I would assume that the people here are not in bnei brak or ezras torah and tryin to get their kids into some exclusive cheider. So what does it matter to you? The chareidi world isnt sitting back and mocking other school systems. (OK, some people are, but not the serious thinkers.) There are more important things to do.

  14. Joel Rich says:

    Dear M. Hilson,
    Baruch Shekivanta – that was the gemara I was referring to by my “OOPS”. Sorry, sometimes sarcasm doesn’t translate well but my point was exactly that Torah comes from the most unlikely places.
    KT

  15. M. Hillson says:

    Joel Posted:
    “I assume the purpose is to create the next generation of talmidei chachamim since the
    talmud tells us that future scholars always come from current ones.”

    Where does it say that? In Nedarim page 81 it says something more likely the opposite:
    “Why is it not common for chilren of Talmidei Chachamim to be themselves Talmidei Chachamim?”
    See the Talmud there for 5 answers.
    The line immediately before that says: “Be careful with the children of the poor, because Torah will come out through them.”

  16. NerBochur says:

    Shimon: While I certainly fall in line with feelings of the readers, I still feel the need to clarify the issue of your misleading post. Al tifrosh min hazibur means not deviating from the guidelines and principles set by the community, and at the same time not neglecting the lesson of Oy lerosho Oy leshchaino.

    And by the way, I could see some people taking offence by perceiving that you are suggesting that the non-kollel group is in some way comparable to reshoim.

  17. Neviah T. says:

    Being an “out-of-towner”, I’m a little baffled. How many kollel-only schools actually exist in North America? I suppose one might be in Lakewood, but where else – Rockland Co? Boro Park? (I’m not challenging their existence – but merely curious as to their actual number)

  18. Shimon says:

    TZiBuR — Tzadikim, benonim, reshoim.

    Al tifrosh min ha-tzibur.

  19. Leapa says:

    Another manifestation of the spreading cancer of two-tier societies – bad for chinuch, for avoda and there’s definitely no gemilas chasodim in visiting the ‘sins’ of the fathers on the children.

  20. Toby Katz says:

    I read someplace that after several generations of breeding wingless fruitflies in a laboratory, later generations of fruitflies nevertheless are born with wings, even though they no longer seem to have the genes for wings. There is something called a homeobox that determines the overall shape of a normal fruitfly.

    The homeobox for a normal Jewish community includes both working for parnassah and learning Torah, and I am confident that the body politic of Klal Yisrael will always revert to the norm after a bit of experimentation with other models. A few generations from now they will laugh at the notion that anyone ever tried to start a school in which no parents had any money at all, as we laugh at the joke about the farmer who trained his horse not to eat, and just when the horse was finally trained–it up and died!

  21. Shragie says:

    Unfortunately this perfect race screening is not limited to kollel only schools. It exists in other yeshivos as well.

  22. joel rich says:

    If the purpose is to provide underpaid kollel folks with a subsidized education for their kids, why not just pay them more?

    I assume the purpose is to create the next generation of talmidei chachamim since the talmud tells us that future scholars always come from current ones.

    OOPS- I just remembered – the gemara implies that they will come from different backgrounds as well!

    As Emily Litella would say -“Never Mind”

    KT
    Joel Rich

  23. Yaakov Menken says:

    I recall hearing that a Chassidic Rebbe in Israel was approached with the idea of creating a separate school track for the daughters of “Rabbonische homes” — the daughters of those who were Rebbes (whether of the Chassidic or school variety), Roshei Yeshiva, etc. The Rebbe realized that if he said no, they would probably not listen.

    So he said yes — with the proviso that his own daughter be placed in the regular track. That forced them to reconsider.

    [Footnote: I have heard that this was the Amshinover Rebbe.]

  24. J Shaffer says:

    I am not familar with the issue you discuss, but thought I should point out a recent
    online discussion regarding R. Shlomo Wolbe, z”l, and his background as a baal teshuva.
    See http://hirhurim.blogspot.com Would he have been accepted to the schools you describe if
    the discussion is correct that his father was a non observant intellectual?