The G-d Hater Within Us

Harsh title, I know. But if Sefiras HaOmer has been designated a time to learn from what happened to the 12,000 pairs of students of Rabbi Akiva, I think we would be remiss in blithely assuming that we’re free of the blemish they were struck down for.

Insolence!

Read on.

The Talmud in Yevamos 62b, pinpointing the sin of the students of Rabbi Akiva, states that “they did not conduct themselves with respect toward one another”, while the Medrash Koheles (11) states that they were punished due to their begrudging the Torah accomplishments of their colleagues.

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, Mashgiach of the Mirrer and Ponevezh Yeshivos (Ohr Yechezkel, Emunah pg. 122) resolved the apparent contradiction by saying that these disciples were simply unable to respect their colleagues – they were too distressed by their acumen. Their punishment was so severe, says Reb Chatzkel, because such an attitude causes one to fall into the category of a “Sonei Hashem“, a hater of G-d – as defined by Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:160). One who feels upset at the religious fervor and achievement of another is essentially unhappy that there are loyal servants of G-d. It is no coincidence, then, that the time leading up to our anniversary of acceptance of the Torah is spent in mourning over those students. This can easily happen in Yeshiva today too – envy of another’s progress, instead of spurring growth, can breed resentment.

(Rabbi Benjamin Yudin takes an identical approach, drawing the parallel to the aforementioned Rabbeinu Yonah.)

One area where this mar may surface is in the context of the Rambam’s approach to remuneration for Torah study. It is well-known that the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10) vociferously opposed receiving financial support for involvement in acquiring or disseminating Torah. There are many who quote this Rambam as justification for opposition to a Kollel lifestyle, referring to those who opt for this lifestyle as ‘parasites’ who should work for a living instead of imposing themselves on the public. However, a closer look at the Rambam reveals that this was not, in fact, the rationale for his opposition.

The basis of the Rambam’s position, as he writes in his commentary to Avos 4:5, is that Torah study is so precious that accepting money is a degradation of the Torah, as if it were but another occupation. A cornerstone of his case for this prohibition is the fact that there were some Mishnaic scholars, like Hillel, who were impoverished laborers, and “far be it from me to suspect those generations of not being kind and charitable; the fact is that had that poor man stretched forth his hand, they would have filled his home with gold and pearls”.

Is the motive of those who currently oppose Kollel, utilizing the Rambam as their model, that they just can’t bear that people are taking money for its study? Such an attitude can, virtually by definition, only come from someone who is exceedingly meticulous not to waste a spare moment available for Torah study. I think it safe to surmise that the percentage of people in this category, who did not spend at least a portion of their married life learning in Kollel, is infinitesimal.

The undercurrent of the ideological gripe against Kollel is invariably the placing of the burden on the community to support it – and yet the Rambam writes that if the multitudes were asked at the time of the Tannaim to support Torah they would have gladly showered the Talmidei Chachamim with the greatest wealth!

Based on the Rambam himself, in light of the consensus among the Halachic decisors from the time of Rambam and on, one would expect that there would be a communal sigh of relief, that we are able to fulfill our most fervent wish which is to increase Torah study and need not be concerned about the problem of the Kollel learners accepting funds, since Kollel has become universally accepted as legitimate.

Has any one of those saying it is a burden recommended pro bono investment on behalf of the learners (they do often have wedding money!), which the Rambam (Avos ibid.) considers meritorious? Have they agreed to pay taxes on their behalf, which is obligatory for people engaged in full time Torah study?

Let me emphasize that this post is not meant as a blanket endorsement of the current system, which has significant drawbacks (certain to be pointed out in the comment section). It is meant to underscore the idea that we must sometimes examine what lies at the root of opposition to a particular system of widespread Torah study, and be certain that it does not stem from begrudging accomplishments of others. If students of the great Rabbi Akiva could fall short in this area, we dare not trust ourselves that we are free of this blemish without serious self-evaluation.

[Rabbi Doron Beckerman studied in Yeshiva and Kollel Kerem B’Yavneh. He is a former Rebbe at YULA before making aliyah. He currently serves as a Rebbe at Ohr Yerushalayim.]

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21 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    I have a perfect solution to the issue of our Jewish community financially supporting Rabbis who learn full time. Those of us who are for it, should support it, and those who do not, can send their 10% tzedakah elsewhere. Then there are those who are in a kind of confused middle ground, like me, who sees some reasons to not support it, yet supports it anyway because one realizes that Torah learning forms the core of who we are as Jews.

    Pardon my immodesty, but I think my solution is both simple and effective. Not that I belong even in the same universe as the Chovetz Chaim, but part of what impresses me so much about his writings, is that they seem so simple, and yet practically ever word he writes, has such timeless truth to it.

  2. Doron Beckerman says:

    “My point was there is a not infinitesimal group of people (who perhaps did not spend a portion of their married life in kollel) who are machshiv learning in their own lives but don’t see the “kollel for all” as the lchatchila approach- and not due to the “envy of another’s progress””

    I’ll say it one last time as well – this piece has nothing to do with the current implementation, but ideological opposition to Kollel based on receipt of funds.

    “Rabbi Beckerman, would you claim that none of these predictions have come true in the current system?”

    To whatever extent it is true, it is because of a dearth of options other than Kollel in some communal structures, not due to the existence of Kollel.

  3. Shalom Rosenfeld says:

    Leaving all theory aside, the Rambam also writes that this practice will a.) disgrace the observance of Judaism b.) dull its intellectual glow c.) lead to robbery.

    Rabbi Beckerman, would you claim that none of these predictions have come true in the current system?

  4. joel rich says:

    OK-one last try-
    you said “Is the motive of those who currently oppose Kollel, utilizing the Rambam as their model, that they just can’t bear that people are taking money for its study? Such an attitude can, virtually by definition, only come from someone who is exceedingly meticulous not to waste a spare moment available for Torah study. I think it safe to surmise that the percentage of people in this category, who did not spend at least a portion of their married life learning in Kollel, is infinitesimal.”

    My point was there is a not infinitesimal group of people (who perhaps did not spend a portion of their married life in kollel) who are machshiv learning in their own lives but don’t see the “kollel for all” as the lchatchila approach- and not due to the “envy of another’s progress”

    KT

  5. Moshe Hillson says:

    In reply to both R’ Doron and R’ Dovid,

    Yes, we all have the problem inside ourselves: “Whoever is less religious than me is a heretic, and whoever is more religious than me is a fanatic” (who coined that saying?), such as a pervasive blanket attitude of us Yeshivishers about Hassidim on one hand and about Religious Zionists on the other hand. A relative of mine quoted R. Haim Shmulevits o.b.m. concerning the trait of gratitude, that we must be grateful to the soldiers that protect our country, and that a few people were up in arms after hearing that.

    I’ll rephrase my posting #44 on this blog to the article titled “Yankel ZT”L”:
    There is a Mishna in Tractate Me’ila:
    If one consecrates one’s private garbage dump, all the refuse that already was in the dump at the moment of consecration is “holy” (Hekdesh – forbidden to benefit from it before “buying it back” from the Temple Treasury). When I learned that Mishna, I thought: “Yes, its monetary value is consecrated, but it’s still forbidden to say or think Torah next it it (if some of the trash exudes an obnoxious odor)”. Both aspects are true and do not contradict each other, and that’s how we human beings are, to varying degrees between the totally righteous and the totally wicked.

  6. Doron Beckerman says:

    “Could accusing those who feel that TORAH ONLY is a hora’as sha’ah of being sonei Hashem in Rabbenu Yonah’s formulation not be an attempt to silence the opposition and prevent honest debate?”

    Perhaps I am not being clear enough in my distinction between the current system of implementation of Kollel, which has significant drawbacks, and the ideological gripe against Kollel based on receipt of funds for Torah study?

    “This post, of course, assumes that those learning full time are somehow more “frum” than those who are not, and thus resentment of them is born out of a resentment of those more frum.”

    It assumes no such thing. It assumes that being able to study Torah full time is a route leading to tangible spiritual accomplishment that others may resent. If a full-time Kollel member would resent the accomplishments (philanthropy, Tefillah, or a myriad of other areas) of one who does not learn full time, he would be equally guilty.

    “R’HS includes making a living as part of the “mitzvah/allowable” non-learning time.”

    Of course. Hence – “every spare moment”.

  7. joel rich says:

    “for an understanding of how some percentage (more than infinitesmal) were taught to understand the mitzvah of learning torah (as the Chazon Ish said -when he had time)”

    Meaning every spare moment. Where are we disagreeing?
    =================================
    R’HS includes making a living as part of the “mitzvah/allowable” non-learning time.
    KT

  8. tzippi says:

    I don’t know about the Israeli system, but in America, most kollelim do not pay, or do not pay the newbies (as one forty-something rabbi recently commented, in his day at least he knew his rent was covered). I don’t know if this is because there are so many people learning and not enough supporters, or because it is understood that the parents will have to help out, in a way they didn’t a generation ago. This is a real problem as it is clear that parents can’t necessarily help, even before the economic meltdown. It is why young men are so willing to date young women their age who are established in their jobs; at least they know some money will come from somewhere.

    And wedding money doesn’t go that far, at least from personal experience and that of other younger couples I know.

  9. Nachum says:

    This post, of course, assumes that those learning full time are somehow more “frum” than those who are not, and thus resentment of them is born out of a resentment of those more frum.

    This is hardly proven. What is to say that those who are *not* learning full time are more frum than those who are? Certainly many mamrei chazal would seem to indicate that.

    Then again, maybe that’s just my “resentment” talking. It’s hard to argue with a post like this, that assumes bad faith on the part of anyone who would disagree. And that’s plain offensive.

  10. lacosta says:

    i think the objection is not from any charedim, but rather from non-charedim , who disagree with the whole system, but are often being asked to support it. even if the system was flawed, if it was totally self-supporting [so inherently other jews need have no say about it] , then it would be no one else’s business…..

  11. Chaim Fisher says:

    We have to apologize to the Orthodox for Kollelim?

    How far the mighty have fallen!

  12. dovid landesman says:

    Reb Doron:
    Yes I did read the last paragraph but my comments were not meant to point to the possible problems themselves. Rather, I thought – and perhaps I was not clear enough – that I was pointing out that there were objective objectives [does that qualify as an alliteration] to the system itself raised by people [the Chasam Sofer, the Klausenberger and Rav Breuer] who can not be accused of the motivations you describe. All were pointing to the necessity for a balanced society that our post war realities skewed.
    I think that both of us are aware of Rav Yaakov’s zt”l views on the subject of mass kollel movements for endless periods. I leave it to you to articulate. Could accusing those who feel that TORAH ONLY is a hora’as sha’ah of being sonei Hashem in Rabbenu Yonah’s formulation not be an attempt to silence the opposition and prevent honest debate?
    Dovid Landesman
    Dovid landesman

  13. Doron Beckerman says:

    “for an understanding of how some percentage (more than infinitesmal) were taught to understand the mitzvah of learning torah (as the Chazon Ish said -when he had time)”

    Meaning every spare moment. Where are we disagreeing?

    “Could be in some cases but there are other reasons one might feel this way in certain circumstances – e.g. community resources being misallocated while other needs are not addressed, other definitions of achievement, confusing fervor for relationship with HKB”H….”

    1) Like I said, there are drawbacks.
    2) I would venture that Rabbi Akiva’s students also engaged in rationalizations such as he is a faker/he’s all about Chitzoniyus/he doesn’t appreciate me either. I doubt any of them viewed themselves as plain vanilla Rabbeinu Yonah’niks.

    It is meant to underscore the idea that we must sometimes examine what lies at the root of opposition to a particular system of avodat hashem, and be certain that it does not stem from begrudging accomplishments of others.”

    Certainly.

  14. Doron Beckerman says:

    >> Methinks that you are a bit too single minded in your approach and have adopted a full steam onslaught against the “enemies” of kollel rather than attempting to objectively analyze the possibly reasonable opposition to the kollel lifestyle <<

    Reb Dovid,

    Did you read the entire piece, including the last paragraph? I emphasized that I was not presenting a blanket endorsement of the current Kollel system, but questioning the motives of those who utilize the Rambam for their “ideological gripe” against Kollel as placing a burden on the community.

    Thank you for confirming my certainty of significant drawbacks being pointed out in the comment section.

    Kol Tuv.

  15. Yechezkel - 1A7B says:

    Perhaps this idea is reflected in the third level of the “Seven Below”: ממאס באחרים העושים “one who is repulsed by others who perform”. As referenced in Toras Kohanim on this week’s sidrah.

  16. Raymond says:

    I can see arguments in support of both sides of the issue here, but what I will say is that I think it is important for even Torah scholars to earn a normal living outside of Torah, not because their efforts in Torah study in itself does not deserve payment, but rather because it is important for people making such critical halachic decisions, to be involved in the real world.

    Just think of university professors. Because they have tenure, living in the plastic bubble of the university, they are free to go with their imagination, concocting all kinds of theories, many of which have been proven to be terribly destructive, most notably atheism, Darwinism to some extent, and socialism. I would not want our Rabbis to fall into a similar trap.

  17. SM says:

    I believe the most common gripe with the current kollel system is not related to its inherent funtionality, as posted above, but rather to the numbers encouraged to join it for the long term. It is as the percentage of our society urged to dedicate their life to Torah study skyrockets that many social ills surface, as does the discontent of those expected to support it.

  18. Big Maybe says:

    If I only hit the jackpot tomorrow I would return to Kollel. When I see Kollel members not properly appreciating what they have (I won’t give specific examples here) it pains me. I can’t help thinking “why must I work and this dude gets to learn.” Perhaps I should be happy that at least someone gets to learn, but I can’t help being envious.

    My point is that often someone who feels Kollel guys should be working, is really just convinced that he should be in Kollel instead, thinking that he is more worthy.

    This, too, isn’t right, but it’s wrong for a different reason. A person that lives with the knowledge that all is ordained by heaven wouldn’t think this way (see final item in the Ten Commandments). But I wouldn’t accuse him of begrudging Torah scholars their dues.

  19. dovid landesman says:

    Reb Doron:
    Methinks that you are a bit too single minded in your approach and have adopted a full steam onslaught against the “enemies” of kollel rather than attempting to objectively analyze the possibly reasonable opposition to the kollel lifestyle. The quotation from Rabbenu Yonah is an unfair misrepresentation of those who express reservations; even if you only meant it to apply to a limited group, it will be taken as blanket criticism. Just ask Rabbi Lamm!
    Personally, I think that most observant Jews would agree that klal yisrael desperately needs a number of individuals who will dedicate themselves to full-time Torah learning as per the Talmud’s description of an ir sheyesh bo asara batlonim. That given, we can still ask a number of questions: “How many batlonim?” and more importantly “Who decides who is worthy of being a batlan?”
    Rav Yosef Breuer zt”l once said that he had no quarrel with Rav Aharon zt”l as to the for a yeshiva and kollel representing a hashkafah of Torah Only rather than TIDE. What he did question was whether those who chose to study there should be self-selecting and whether there might not be a requirement for objective criteria to decide who should merit community support. If the question was valid when Rav Aharon was alive, it is surely of greater validity today.
    I would posit that the Chasam Sofer [see, for example, commentary to parashas Shoftim] seems to suggest that a Torah society is required to be self-supportive professionally and economically and not to be dependent upon the expertise of outsiders.
    The Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l once opened a kollel in Netanya where avreichim learned half a day and cut diamonds half a day. The head of the va’ad hayeshivas came to the rebbe and complained that he was being “poretz geder” by allowing such a program. The rebbe responded: “I don’t know what he wants! My kolel is the same as every other one. By me the avreichim learn half a day and work half a day. By them they learn half a day and worry half a day!”
    I have an additional pet peeve about kollelim, but it is not way too long to be attached to your piece as a comment. Suffice to say that to my mind, the creation of the kollel as a mass movement has isolated chareidi Jewry, locked them behind ever growing walls and made them completely incapable of having real influence on society. Spare me the statistics of chareidi inspired baalei teshuvah; I wonder if the numbers match those who have abandoined the lifestyle. Instead of standing in the forefront of creating a truly halachic state, we have relegated ourselves to the status of welfare recipients who are villified by our brothers – not always without reason – as being interested in nothing more than nahama dikisufah.
    B’yedidus
    Dovid Landesman

  20. Shades of Grey says:

    As an antidote to the unfortunate mindset described in this post, a friend suggested that one should, financially, help the individuals or communities in question, “davka”–specifically– because of any existing antipathy. Besides the humanitarian aspects involved and the mitzvah of supporting Torah, he suggested that there is an added benefit of overcoming one’s inclination, and he illustrated this with an incident.

    My friend had a habit of setting aside envelopes received in the mail from charity organizations. At a certain point, he would donate to a few, keep others for the future, and discard the rest. When he came across an envelope received from a community leader who had played a role in a particular controversy, he discarded it, absent-mindedly telling himself, “he doesn’t deserve it”. When he realized what he was thinking, he felt bad, and then put the envelope back in the pile. As he put it to me, “I may not be able to change my attitude overnight, but I can do a direct action opposing it”.

    I found the above conversation inspiring.

    Perhaps this is the idea of “kdei l’cof es yitzro”, the preference of loading an enemy’s donkey, rather than unloading a friend’s. There is also the ripple effect caused by being the first of the two parties to make a positive overture (see Tos., Peshcahim 113b regarding the donkey, quoting Mishlei). Perhaps in the spirit of zeh l’umas zeh, Rabbeinu Yonah, elsewhere, mentions the positive companion to this post(“v’ish l’fi mehalelo”), and the “davka” approach could apply to positive speech as well.

    As far as coming to terms with the original causes of strife (which may have some basis in reality), I suppose that’s the harder part :)

  21. joel rich says:

    Such an attitude can, virtually by definition, only come from someone who is exceedingly meticulous not to waste a spare moment available for Torah study. I think it safe to surmise that the percentage of people in this category, who did not spend at least a portion of their married life learning in Kollel, is infinitesimal.
    ===================================

    Interesting generalization – You might want to listen to :
    Rav Hershel Schachter
    A Torah Perspective on Earning (and Not Earning) a Living – Supporting Ourselves and Others
    downloadable at torahweb.com

    for an understanding of how some percentage (more than infinitesmal) were taught to understand the mitzvah of learning torah (as the Chazon Ish said -when he had time)

    ========================================
    One who feels upset at the religious fervor and achievement of another is essentially unhappy that there are loyal servants of G-d
    ========================

    Could be in some cases but there are other reasons one might feel this way in certain circumstances – e.g. community resources being misallocated while other needs are not addressed, other definitions of achievement, confusing fervor for relationship with HKB”H….
    =================================

    It is meant to underscore the idea that we must sometimes examine what lies at the root of opposition to a particular system of widespread Torah study, and be certain that it does not stem from begrudging accomplishments of others. If students of the great Rabbi Akiva could fall short in this area, we dare not trust ourselves that we are free of this blemish without serious self-evaluation

    how about-It is meant to underscore the idea that we must sometimes examine what lies at the root of opposition to a particular system of avodat hashem, and be certain that it does not stem from begrudging accomplishments of others. If students of the great Rabbi Akiva could fall short in this area, we dare not trust ourselves that we are free of this blemish without serious self-evaluation
    or as the poet said “would some power the gift to gie us to see ourselves as others see us”

    KT