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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5 years 11 months ago

I think that there’s an important subtlety being missed here.

I think the question isn’t to push people to leave Kollel, but rather to push for people to stay in Kollel IF THEY CAN, and to be able to work IF THEY CHOOSE without feeling like they’re failing as Jews.

Add to that the need to be prepared with some kind of education or training. One can get education/training while still learning and while hoping to continue learning, just so that if the situation changes there would be practical options.

Add to that the need to consider fulfilling a man’s chiyuv mezonos… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

This is a great post Rabbi Rosenblum.

The only additional comment is that I have seen many times the mistaken belief that after spending a few years in Kollel, a young married man without a formal secular possibly with 2 or 3 children will be able to walk into a job which will pay him a wage with which he will be able to support his family.

Guys its time to take off the rose-tinted spectacles – life isn’t like that! Fortune 500 companies are not queuing up to employ Kollel graduates for their next CEO. The… Read more »

Ben Waxman
5 years 11 months ago

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.

5 years 11 months ago

“An example is Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan where kollel is a maximum of four years….”

you are talking about the 2 smicha tracks in YU – only one of which is stipended. and no one is “thrown out” after completing the program – men are always welcome to come learn, just no stipends. why are the program offerings of YU relevant when we’re talking about charedi hashkafa?

5 years 11 months ago

look , this is a haredi-from-the-inside issue. those of us who are non-haredim , don’t support the effort —either emotionally or [more importantly] financially [since without the cash, the whole system comes tumbling down] — and i suppose if the ipcha mistabra derech seems to be kosher vyosher to the haredi baalei daas tora—then the haredi world will have to go along and go it alone , for better or worse. like an aguna, that’s the system you have , the role meted out to you, unchanging unyielding. anyone clamoring for change is seen as… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

Not to nitpick against Dayan Grunfeld’s fine words, but IIRC Rabbeinu Yonah continues,”He should work for three hours and then return to his learning for nine.”

nachum klafter
5 years 11 months ago

Wonderful post. Yesher koach to you.

L. Oberstein
5 years 11 months ago

Let’s get practical here. I personally know two men who have been in full time learning, both in their 30’s,living in Israel for a number of years. Both want to find a decent paying parnosah and are stymied. If you are close to 40 and have older children, where in Israel or the US can you get a job that will enable you to pay your tuition bills and have money left over for other needs? If you are closer to 30 and want to go into kiruv or chinuch, who is hiring? Not the Israeli yeshivos for Americans and… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

I would like to point out that there are certain Yeshivos that limit the number of years in Kollel. An example is Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan where kollel is a maximum of four years before semikha. Even those metzuyanim who stay on and learn post semikha are given a four year limit. Perhaps other yeshivos should think of implementing a similar system.

5 years 11 months ago

Rabbi Avigdor Miller said at one of his public lectures:

If a girl discovers the man she is dating intends to learn in kollel forever and never work, she should reject him and marry someone else.

5 years 11 months ago

I dont want to get into a full discussion about this.

The main point I was making is not where is the full page ad in the yated. But rather why was the author not quoting current Gedolim? And if you have the backing of the Gedolim, who are they? And in what context do they back you?

I got an impression – and may this was a wrong impression – that the author was calling for a change in direction of where the society should be headed. This I do not think the gedolim are behind. True, on an individual basis,… Read more »

joel rich
5 years 11 months ago

So iiuc-
1. kollel for everyone was a horrat shaah (emergency measure) for 2 generations

2.Either the promulgators of the horrah did not publicize the nature of the promulgation or the memo did not reach the masses

3.Those currently in the position to undo the promulgation can’t do so with a public pronouncement because the masses won’t accept/believe them

4.People like R’JR must get the word out and accept the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune


Simcha Younger
5 years 11 months ago

I can understand the claim that an individual leader of the community is afraid to break with the rest because he will be marginalized, but how is it possible that the entire leadership cannot act together to make changes? Will no one follow them, and those who previously accepted every word they said will then instead transfer their allegiance to some unknown person who will be promoted in their place?

Bob Miller
5 years 11 months ago

Leaders and followers have to be able to think outside the box. If chinuch for kids has to be “al pi darko”, so does learning for anyone else. So what exactly “al pi darko” is in a given instance has to be candidly investigated. The innate ability to excel (and at what pursuit), the driving will to excel, social/financial circumstances, etc., must all be considered.

5 years 11 months ago

I would expand on the issues raised by #5 even more. My daughter was raised in a home where her father worked, where today her married brother is studying law, where her brother-in-law is studying medicine. Both have strong yeshiva backgrounds and learned for a number of years after high school. Today however they are married men doing their hishtadlus to be able to earn a parnassa.

While my daughter wants to marry a young man for whom learning is a large part of his life, she also wants him to understand that parnassa is his obligation.

It is… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

To issues being raised by #4 (Observer):
I think it is incumbent on the “baalei batim” (literally, homeowners; I hate the term, but y’all know who you are) to become the kind of baalei batim who will not inspire fear and dread in the hearts of the full- time learners who cross your path. Spend significant and regular time learning. Have goals and make siyumim. Do what my father did and make an inyan your own and write some seforim. Have a close relationship with a rav (and we need to support and boost our congregational rabbanim) and let your kids… Read more »

5 years 11 months ago

Lacosta: and woulnt it be ironic if israel haredism envisions a haredi-with-parnasa system at a tiem when the US is moving to a torah-only system

Ori: How far could the US move in this direction? The US government won’t pay for Yeshivot, and US welfare payments tend to be meager. Donations require donors who earn money.

Garnel Ironheart
5 years 11 months ago

On one hand, RYR’s points are spot on. Kol hakavod for saying the obvious things that no one else wants to.

On the other hand, Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankstein discovered something that is relevant to this whole discussion: You can control how you create the monster but once you’ve given it life, you can’t control what it does next.

Go ahead, walk into any major Beis Medrash in Israel or America and shout out “Okay guys, the Chazon Ish said it was just for two generations. If you’re not the next posek hador, pack up your stuff and go… Read more »

Dr. Yitzchok Levine
5 years 11 months ago

Reb Zundel Berman (of Berman books fame) told me the following. He said he heard with his own ears Reb Aaron Kotler, zt”l, say, “Three years in kollel in enough for anyone.” I was told by someone who has been affiliated with Chaim Berlin for many years that Rav Hutner, zt”l, said “Five years.”

Now I am willing to grant that times have changed and the period of 3 or 5 years may (should) be extended. However, the point here is that for virtually all men learning in kollel there is a time for them to go to work.… Read more »

dr. bill
5 years 11 months ago

I am reminded of lessons taught me years ago in a business context: one does not make fundamental change gradually or without leadership.

5 years 11 months ago

I would expand the issues raised by #5:

What do you say to the young adult who is frum, erlich, wants to continue learning but CANNOT stay in yeshiva full time, for whatever reason? There are such guys, you know.

What do you say to the girls who is not ready, for whatever reason, to commit to being both the primary homemaker and primary breadwinner – but she wants a frum erliche bochur who will continue to learn? What do you say to the girl who girl who is not ready for this life, but who doesn’t know that there could be… Read more »

Yaakov Green
5 years 11 months ago

So how is it that the average charedi yeshiva bochur still believes that it is a gross bedi’eved to go to work? If the gedolim believe otherwise, they are not very effective at leading their communities, if they can’t get that basic message across.

5 years 11 months ago

if it took 50 yr to create the system , it will probably take as long to adjust it…. and woulnt it be ironic if israel haredism envisions a haredi-with-parnasa system at a tiem when the US is moving to a torah-only system… can one imagine there will come a day when the collectors will have to travel in the other direction….

Jacob Suslovich
5 years 11 months ago

“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 above remark implies that in the early days of Lakewood, R. Aharon Kotler told everyone to stay in kolleel permanantly no matter what their personal situation because “in a war… Read more »