Kollel is Not Always Forever


[Editor’s note: Rabbi Rosenblum originally submitted this as a comment, responding to one reader’s feedback to an earlier piece. This piece is too valuable to allow it to go unnoticed to the many of our readers who do not look at the Comments section. At my suggestion, therefore, we are publishing it as a stand-alone submission.]

More than anything I’m saddened by the comment of KollelGuyinEY. Probably because I can visualize him writing with a feeling of self-righteous virtue that he has defended the honor of the gedolei Torah. He has not.

KollelGuy seems to think that because he has not seen a front-page announcement in Yated Ne’eman that it is now permitted to work that the exalted figures he mention believe that every yungeman must stay in kollel indefinitely. I would start the other way: Have you ever heard of a yungeman who went to one of the figures mentioned and told him — We have no food on the table; my wife is breaking down; our shalom bayis is a wreck because of fighting over money; or just that he feels that he is stagnating after many years in kollel, with no prospect of any kind of position in sight – who was told that he should nevertheless continue in kollel no matter what? I suspect that I’m a bit older than KollelGuy, and I can say that I have never heard of such a case, and I have heard of plenty of the opposite.

Immediately after the War, there were those who were urged to stay in kollel, even when their chances of success in learning full-time or possibility of satisfaction were slight. In a well-known story, Rav Aharon Kotler told a father who complained that it had been obvious from the start that his son was not suited to kollel: We are in a war, and in a war there are always casualties. The war was one to establish the legitimacy of long-term kollel learning. And, as Rav Mattisiyahu Solomon declared already years ago, that war has been won.

Casualties after the battle has been won are a different matter. As the old Yiddish saying has it, “Even the baker goes to war, but when the war is over the baker is again a baker.” In a similar vein, the Chazon Ish is also widely reported to have said that two generations of full-time learning were necessary to rebuild from the ashes of Europe. Those two generations have now come and gone.

And if KollelGuy asks, so why no announcements in Yated Ne’eman, I suspect he already knows the answer, or should. Ori, a non-Orthodox Jew in Austin, Texas, knows it: The last thing the gedolei HaTorah want to do is destroy the striving for greatness in Torah learning that characterizes the Israeli chareidi community. And any such public announcement would be interpreted as a statement that everything we did, everything we have built over the last sixty years was a mistake. (I emphasized in “Living with Complexity” that just the opposite is the case.) In other words, it would lead to an overreaction more dangerous than the situation it sought to cure.
There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,” who would say about the gadol in question precisely what KollelGuy asks me: Who are you? The Chazon Ish did not say what you are saying; Rav Shach did not say it.” Perhaps KollelGuy remembers the attacks on one of the Sages he mentions for his tacit support of Nahal Chareidi. (Even Rav Shach used to say that he was afraid of the stone-throwers.) One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim.

I do not know if KollelGuy is the same person who called me the night before KollelGuy’s comment went up to ask me why I’m against kollelim. But I suspect he is. That question is founded on a mistake and misses the point. Both my married sons learn in kollel, one of them in a ten-year dayanus kollel, and I hope and pray that my other five sons will learn many good years in kollel as well. I also learned 12 years in kollel.

I was not writing primarily about what ought to be, but what is.
Perhaps, as a chutznik, KollelGuy is unaware of the explosion over the last five years of training programs – both academic degrees and non-academic – for chareidi men. Changes are taking place, and that is part of the reality with which the gedolim are wrestling. Nor are the reasons too hard to discern, especially when one remembers that there are no historical precedents for a Torah society built around the ideal of full-time learning for every man forever – an entire society of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai’s. (The number of those learning full-time in Eretz Yisrael dwarfs by many times the numbers of those doing so in pre-war Europe.) The denigration of “working” that one sometimes hears in the Torah community in Eretz Yisrael has scant support in the Torah, and countless sources refuting it — e.g., “Better to

I also suspect that KollelGuy does not have too many economic worries and that his children are still young. In short, he has little first-hand knowledge of the situation of thousands of yungeleit in Eretz Yisrael. I’m not sure whether he feels he is not allowed to think or just not allowed to pasken. But I wonder how he would answer some or all of the following questions:

(1) Do you think there are any differences of kind, not just magnitude, between the homogeneous group of idealists who rallied to the Chazon Ish’s banner and today’s chareidi community of three-quarters of a million nefashos?
(2) Do you have any idea of the degree of poverty in the chareidi world, including among avreichim? Do you see the chareidi world today as vulnerable? What, for instance, would happen if the Israeli Supreme Court ruled definitively that the state cannot fund schools that do not teach a common curriculum? Israeli welfare payments have grown twice as fast as gross family income over the last two decades. What do you think the impact would be if the Israeli government decided that disparity is unsustainable and imposed another dramatic cut in welfare payments, like the cut in child care allowances under Prime Minister Sharon (with Netanyahu as Finance Minister)?
(3) Do you see any cost to traditional Torah family structure from the assumption that the wife will be both the primary breadwinner and primary caregiver to very large families? Do you think most women are capable of sustaining both roles?
(4) Do you think the Gemara knew what it was talking about when it said that the primary source of marital strife is the lack of money? Do you see poverty having an impact on shalom bayis in the Torah community?
(5) What do you think happens to a eleven-year-old who is already struggling and falling behind in cheder when he asks his father what he is going to be when he grows up and his father tells him his only option is to be an avreich?
(6) Is there any point at which the communal cost in terms of drop-outs and broken families is too great to be sustained without being addressed at its core?

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Jay Saphire
5 years 8 months ago

Seems to me that an underlying issue not discussed here is the assumption in the Yeshiva-world that ‘Gedolim’ – usually meaning the people who were Iluyim in their yeshivas – are automatically suited to leadership and possess the perspective and wisdom needed to give guidance to the community at large.

This is almost axiomatic in the frum (Charedi and Chardal, and to a lesser extend, MO) world. There is a mitzva to do ‘K’chol Asher Yorucha’. It doesn’t mean that someone who’s a genius in the Beis Medrash should be making leadership decisions.

Shlomo Radamska
5 years 8 months ago

Reb Leonard: I am a graduuate of the Bezalael Hebrew Day School in Lakewwod (1958) and Reb Schnur’s children did indeed attend Bezalel. Just ask Rav Malkeal. It was co-ed until 4th grade and seperate for limuda kodesh after that. Secular classes were mixed thru 8th grade. Different times and a different era. Economics were very hard and BHDS did the best they could with what they were given to work with.

Daniel Weltman
5 years 9 months ago

I for one would like a definitive list of the “gedolei yisrael”, with contact information for each one.

If a vague group with constantly chaning membership is deciding things, and there are Jews who follow what they say absolutely, it behooves the Jewish community to know who we are talking about.

There is a video available here on the internet, where you can view the zealots literally extracting “piskei halacha” (if you can even call them that) of their own desires from Rav Elyashiv. He doesn’t even have a chance to tell them what he thinks. The pernicious, cynical, and disrespectful use of a weakened and elderly sage they exhibit is enough to make anyone lose their breakfast. If this is “da’as torah”, it is a serious commentary on how much da’as torah is worth in this day and age.

5 years 9 months ago

Notice that kollelguy did not respond to even one of Rabbi Rosenblum’s 6 questions. He says that he doesn’t “want to get into a full discussion about this”. Why not?

5 years 9 months ago

To Observer (69): You’re right. B”H this isn’t an issue in my family. My kids have seen excellent role models in their father and grandfathers, they haven’t gone to institutions where they’re made to feel second class for entertaining the possibility of not being in kollel all their lives (or such kollel wives). As my sons mature, and go onto different yeshivos, I can only hope that we’ve given them an adequate foundation.

As I’ve mentioned, I think that in chutz l’aretz (for now) such models and expectations are still viable.