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The Kollel System – Too Much Torah?

October 12, 2010 – 10:49 am80 Comments

Kollel studentsBy Simon Holloway

In Genesis 49:13-15, Jacob blesses the eponymous ancestors of the tribes Zevulun and Issachar and, although the content of the blessings might be a little prosaic to our ears, it has inspired a certain degree of commentary. Zevulun is told that he will dwell by the sea, that he will have many ships, and that he will share his border with the Phoenician seaport of Sidon. Issachar is compared to a crouching donkey with strong bones, which toils hard and pays tribute. In a midrash to the text (Genesis Rabbah 99:9), the rabbis comment upon the fact that Issachar, by virtue of his age, should have been mentioned before Zevulun, and conclude (on the basis of Deuteronomy 33:18) that Issachar’s toil was in the realm of Torah and that Zevulun was being honoured above him for having used his wealth to provide for his brother’s needs.

Like most examples of exegetical midrashim, this one has been largely inconsequential to the majority of Jewish history. And yet, in 1943, when Aharon Kotler founded a large yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey, this midrash was on everybody’s lips. In order that married men be able to devote themselves to a life of learning, somebody needs to foot the bills and cover all of their expenses. Taking its mandate from this midrash, and its name from those European funds that enabled religious Jews to study in the Land of Israel before the British Mandate, the “kollel” system is ostensibly a great success. From the perspective of its original aims, however, it is a sad failure.

The first kollel was built in 1877 by Yisroel Lipkin, the founder of the Mussar movement. It was limited to ten students and for a maximum of four years. Today, however – thanks to the work of individuals like Aharon Kotler and Elazar Shach, there are thousands of men in Israel and the United States whose life’s work is to sit and learn. They contribute virtually nothing to their surrounding environment, produce little in the way of novellae that can enrich the corpus, evidence a decidedly skewed perspective on what constitutes Torah (most of these institutions are in the Lithuanian tradition, in which students, for the most part, only study the Talmud and the halakhic codes), and have shown nothing but contempt for the broader Jewish and non-Jewish world. In the US, there is sufficient financial support for them to be tolerated. In Israel, their days are numbered.

The largest kollels in Israel are Ponevezh, in Bnei Brak, and Mir, in Jerusalem, both of which are modelled on yeshivot from Lithuania and Poland, respectively. There are no official publications on the number of non-fee-paying students at these institutions, although there is over a thousand in attendance at Ponevezh, and the enrollment at Mir is close to six thousand. As Noah Efron noted in his highly recommended “Real Jews: Secular vs Utra-Orthodox and the Struggle for Jewish Identity in Israel” (2003), ascertaining the amount of money that the government pays these institutions is beset with many difficulties. Given their complete and emphatic rejection of secular and academic life in Israel, can they be said to receive a sum disproportionate to the entitlement of other groups?

It would appear on a sober analysis of the numbers that they do not. And yet, the fact that they accept handouts from the state while openly condemning it has created an environment in which Torah itself is being reviled, and in which there is tremendous resentment of Haredi Judaism. And so, we have to ask: is it worth it?

The philosophy that underpins the modern kollel system suggests that much has been lost in recent years and that, if we are going to combat the pervasiveness of secular society and rebuild the edifice of Torah scholarship, what we need is a radical change of pace. The strikingly innovative nature of the kollel system is not overlooked by its proponents: in order to develop a culture of full-time study and students who have no distractions impinging on their time, such an innovation is deemed to be necessary. This argument is deeply flawed for several reasons.

For a start, there are more Torah students today than have ever existed in the past. Even if one is prepared to take at face value the Talmud’s hyperbolic assertion that Akiva had twenty-four thousand disciples, there is no other period in Jewish history in which the number of scholars even approximates what we find today.

Secondly, the quality of Torah scholarship is of a much higher level today than the proponents of the kollel system give it credit. The assertion that no scholar will ever again attain the greatness of Maimonides or of Joseph Caro is a lie, based on a lie. The perspective that the generations are in decline might find mandate in the rabbinic literature, but is continually belied by reality. To suggest that Joseph Caro was of a lesser stature than Maimonides, or that Maimonides was of a lesser stature than Akiva, is a perspective that finds no justification outside of faith. What is more, the so-called “gedolim” of today – the “great ones” of our present generation – know quantitatively so much more Torah than was known by many of their more illustrious forebears.

Torah grows in every generation. For Akiva, Torah was biblical scripture and the traditions that made their way into the Mishna, the Tosefta and the halakhic midrashim. For Maimonides, Torah was also both of the Talmuds, the exegetical and the homiletic midrashim, and the philosophical and halakhic writings of the early Middle Ages. For Caro, Torah was also the works of Maimonides and his contemporaries, the writings of the Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi codifiers, and the Zohar. To achieve mastery of all of these things, and so much of the literature that has been composed since the 16th century, is to know so much more than anybody in the past, but to utilise so much less.

Today, it is inconceivable that anybody may attain the status of the “Rishonim” (those who lived between the time of the Geonim and the publication of the Shulchan Arukh; c. 1040-1550 CE). This is despite the genius and the charisma of later generations of scholars like the Vilna Gaon, Akiva Eger, Schneur Zalman, the Rogatchover Gaon, the Brisker Rav, Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish, Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To suppose that the clarity of their insights was less bright, or that the novellae that they constructed were less sharp, solely by virtue of their having been born at a greater distance from the revelation at Sinai would be to ignore both their insights and their novellae, and to focus only on a dogmatic appraisal of their place in history.

If it were the case that paying for an entire community to do nothing but learn might produce more scholars of their calibre, nobody could argue against it. Instead, there is every indication that it does not. The kollel system has yet to produce a single scholar worthy of either praise or emulation. Their rejection of both the Enlightenment and the information revolution has meant that they are crawling along at a far slower pace than their scholastic contemporaries in the university and the non-Haredi yeshiva, which is where the real developments are taking place today. While several of the great scholars of our past and present have received generous stipends from benefactors, the kollel as a system of mass-education has produced only lazy and belligerent individuals, who feel entitled to the money that they are receiving, and who evidence great contempt for those in the community who do not support them.

They are a testimony to the simple fact that a life of scholarship suits only certain people, and that others are better adapted to different tasks. To rob future generations of their doctors and poets, their musicians and engineers, for no other reason than the faulty premise that “the study of Torah is equal to them all” is not just a bastardisation of our tradition. It is also a crying shame.

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  • anon says:

    On the whole your many of your points are valid. As someone with intimate knowledge of the Kollel system and people in the system, it must be admitted that there are several serious flaws. Many associated with the system are beginning to see cracks appear.

    Many Kollel students are marking time at others expense. You don’t need to go too far to see the politiking, the neopotism and the attitude of “We are the True Jews- We are the only ones who practice Real Deal Judaism” : This can be seen here in Australia too.

    However, I believe that there is a NEED for a Kollel system, the Gemora points out that a city is only considered a city when there are 10 ‘Batlanim’ – men who sit and learn Torah.

    In reality, such a system needs to exist where a select few who have both the intellectual ability and religious acummen to sit and learn ensuring the next generation of Orthodox Jewish Leadership in the form of Rabbonim/ Dayanim/ Shochtim/ Rebbe-im can thrive.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Hi Simon,
    Certainly it would seem that the scholars of todays Kollel system are both held in contempt by those outside the system for their often, but not always, “lazy and belligerent” ways and hold contempt for those outside of the kollel system.

    Perhaps this has more to do with the failure to provide and strong non-Torah education.
    Most of the great scholars in rabbinical history were well educated in all matters be they medicine, history, law, science and general sociological concerns.

    It seems that kollel and yeshivah students have no idea about anything but the pages of Judaic texts.

    I dare say that the Rambam would have had a full grasp on the power of the internet as a tool for learning, networking, communication and, yes, even its less holy functions. Still, i doubt if he would have done what many today do, attempt to pretend like it doesn’t exist.

    Is it possible that this is what sets the scholars of yesteryear apart from the less-worldly modern scholars and rabbis?

    Perhaps it was that worldliness which created a far more capable, enlightened and respectable scholar.

    To create a more successful kollel system, it needs to integrate other components of academia into its syllabus. (Perhaps this would also ensure that young boys are not sent to Mesivta or Kollel as a cop-out easy road to ‘at least doing something’ and getting out of completing their VCE or attending University)

    You say that the learning of today is of a much higher level. How is this so? And how are you measuring this?

  • anon says:


    You say that the learning of today is of a much higher level. How is this so? And how are you measuring this?

    I think Simon is refering to quantity and is NOT measuring quality.

    Simon suggests that the Torah is a living organism that has grown and expanded over the generations and therefore earlier Rabbis had siginificantly less Torah ‘content’ to examine and learn. Therefore, by extension the Rabbis of today have a much higher level.

    What of quality?

  • ariel says:

    A very interesting piece, Simon.

    I tend to agree with your conclusions about the current kollel system not producing any real melamdim, let alone gedolim. There was a time when full time yeshiva students had to undergo an oral examination by the Rosh Yeshiva (however informal this examination was) in order to be accepted to the institution. Perhaps this is part of the reason why most of the gedolim of the last two generations were able to be discovered and nurtured. It seems every Litvak in Israel is going to kollel just to get out of army and work. (I don’t know the numbers in the Chassidsche welt, but I imagine it to be similar in many of the sects).

    Another observation re quality (as anon asks):
    I believe that while many novellae were produced by the rabbis you mention of the last two generations, they were able to do so by basing much of their works on those before them. To take one specific example, I learn in chavruta a couple of times a week at a small Chabad shule. Sometimes my chavruta will mention a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as though it’s an amazing, new insight. Often, however, I recall having read a similar teaching in a previous work of chassidut from generations prior. This does not take away from the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s scholarship (in fact, he often claimed himself to be repeating and expounding the teachings of his forebears), but it illustrates the idea that perhaps those before were more insightful, given they had less to base themselves on than we do today.

    To conclude, this reminds me of a conversation I witnessed at a Shabbat table in Jerusalem. The hosts were of Eidot Mizrach (Middle Eastern) persuasion, but the father of the house had an affinity for Chabad. Amongst the guests was a couple from Britain, he being a full time kollel student at Gateshead Talmudical College. This young husband made a point of declaring that his father paid for him to learn all day, so why not do it.
    The host rejoined that he was taking advantage of his father’s generosity and should get a job. Why? Because the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) told his students that they should learn for half the day and work the other half.

    The young man replied that they were on a much higher level and could absorb in half a day what it takes us a week to absorb today.

    The host got the final word in: “If you’re not on that level [to become a gadol baTorah], you shouldn’t be learning, you should go get a job.”

  • Malki Rose says:

    right on Ariel. But instead, learning seems to be as a cop out alternative to ‘real academia’. How very insulting to earnest scholars and the Torah.

  • Anon: I imagine that the sort of kollel that you suggest that we “need” is something like Kollel Beth haTalmud in Melbourne? A small institution with a small number of students, to help fulfil the Talmudic dictum that you have quoted. I have no problem with this. There is ample precedent for such a phenomenon, and it works. When places are few, institutions are selective, and only those students who can demonstrate a certain aptitude collect a cheque. Several of the scholars that I mentioned in my article had benefactors – a kind of lifelong, albeit conditional scholarship.

    Malki: I don’t think that this deliberate ignorance of the outside world is, by itself, so modern a phenomenon. There have always been religious groups who have advocated a complete and emphatic rejection of non-Jewish society, just as there have been numerous instances in which such segregation was thrust upon them. This particular isolation is notably extreme, but only because the technological and epistemological advances outside of these societies have been extreme in equal measure. This wilful rejection that we see continued today was begun in the early days of the European Enlightenment, and resulted in the first yeshivot (Volozhin and Tomchei Temimim, effectively, although others shortly followed).

    It is interesting to me that you mention the Rambam as somebody who would have embraced these developments. Interesting because everybody sees the Rambam – admirable scholar that he was – in their own image! The Rambam was a Lubavitcher, a Brisker, a Gerrer and a Satmarer, and while some of his descendants sit and shteig at Lakewood or the Mir, others wander the halls of Bar-Ilan and Yeshiva University. When I suggested that the quality of scholarship is higher today than ever in the past, I didn’t mean to imply that the average student today knows or understands more than he did. I meant that he (or she, now) knows and understands more than did the average student in his day.

    For a start, information technology has made this learning available to more people. Many are against this, on the belief that labouring in Torah is supposed to be difficult and that those who learn in such a fashion (while they may be learning much and quickly) are doing it wrong. Rav Shach, the learned and pugnacious Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, wrote a psak din against Artscroll for that reason. I can think of a thousand other reasons to condemn Artscroll, but I’m prepared to support the silly ones as well.

    Another reason for the advance in today’s scholarship would be the fact that we now know quantitatively so much more about the provenance of our classical literature and the world in which it was produced. Scholars who study the Talmud today do so with a much more critical eye than had been turned to the Talmud in the past – both in terms of its literary redaction as well as its relationship to other Sassanid-era Persian compositions. Advances in the fields of linguistics, literary criticism and sociology have informed many of the studies that are conducted today, and have shed light on a text that was traditionally studied as though Sura and Pumbedita were in a vaccuum.

    And Ariel, I’ll just add that this is a common story: the sages of yesteryear were on a higher level and could learn more in less time, and pack more into fewer words. The absolute genius of Reb Chaim Brisker, who “unpacked” the Rambam’s wording and produced a revolution in Talmud Torah that affected the entire yeshiva world, is subjugated to the imagined genius of the Rambam, who apparantly intended every one of those novellae. Now, there is no denying the Rambam’s genius, but we have ample indication of it without making up more examples. To pretend that Reb Chaim Brisker was only revealing what the Rambam was meaning to say is insulting to both of them. And yet, such is the greatness of the Rambam (and the comparative lowliness of every Acharon) that it is impossible to suggest otherwise.

    (By the way, Nosson Slifkin recently stated that if the Brisker were a Rishon, we’d call him Rabbeinu Chaim.)

  • Malki Rose says:

    I hear you Simon.
    But sadly, I still insist that today’s average kollel ‘scholar’, is not such a master of Torah, literary genius or critic or brilliant mind.

    I know many young women from Belz, Litvisch and Szatmar families, married to young men who have spent their whole lives in Yeshiva and Kollel and are frustrated that their husbands seem so …well… stupid.

    The women want to work, run creches, hold art classes at home, or home businesses, but their husbands consider this ‘untznius’ and strictly forbid it. (Although the real reason would probably be that they consider it ‘emasculating’.)

    They have few people skills, or other worldly talents to allow them to function in the real world or support their wives and children. Many speak only Yiddish, which in London is only of some help in Stamford Hill.

    There is now a ring of Kollel husbands who buy and sell cartons of cigarettes, between the Middle East and England and Western Europe, on the black market as their only means of support. (Many don’t know how to use the internet.)

    I understand and agree that the structure and ethos of modern yeshivot is probably a ‘willful rejection’ of modern society and its malaise and immorality. But the process seems to be breeding a heck of a lot of immorality and ignorance itself. I am not sure that was the initial plight of a centre for Torah Learning. Do you?

    Daf yomi doesn’t make a Tzadik…. heck, not even a mensch.

    You feel this is not a modern phenomenon, and perhaps to some extent this is true. But I wonder if there is SOMETHING unique about its modern manifestation.

  • Apologies, Malki, I didn’t make myself sufficiently clear. When I speak about the standard of learning today being qualitatively higher than in the past, I am specifically not referring to the Kollel, which I described only disparagingly in my article. I am referring to the standard of learning at non-Haredi institutions, and in universities.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Ahhhhh, that is indeed a horse of an entirely different colour.
    Totally agreed in that case.

  • Michael says:

    Quantity to many today implies quality of psak din. As in – ‘oh, I never thought about it that way before’. Perhaps there’s something to that. But I am reminded of the copies of Talmud (painstakingly collated) that have been lost, burned, water-damaged, etc over the generations, and even the Keter Aram Soba suffered at least 1/3 of its contents’ removal at the hands of a Syrian mob around the time of the declaration of the modern state of Israel.

    A lot more is known today… but a lot more is lost. This realisation was very hard for an earlier version of yours truly – the ‘every word in the written Torah is unchanged, and all sifrei torah are identical’ version.

    It is beginning to appear to me as well that the most true, authentic place for learning real Torah is actually within academia.

  • ariel says:

    How many gedolim have come from academia?

  • Michael says:

    Also, with the ‘my way or the highway’ haredi Judaism, so many family traditions and gems are lost in history.

    An avid Star Wars fan, I feel like Emperor Palpatine is in charge. Fear will keep the star systems in line.

    My only reason for hope is that according to tradition, hundreds if not thousands of halachot were lost from Sinai by as early as Joshua’s generation – poised to enter Canaan for conquest. These were apparently ‘learnt out’ from Torah once again by the conquerer of Kiryat Sefer (to which Caleb gave his daughter if I remember correctly).
    Midrash, of course, but again, hopefully there’s something to it.

  • Simon,

    I too largely agree with your comments (as later qualified). There are way too many people learning in Yeshivot & Kollels to avoid army service, because someone is paying them to, or because they are unable to do anything else with their lives. When they reach the proportions they are at in some areas, the whole thing gets economically very unsustainable. You have entire generations being brought up without a culture of earning a living.

    There are plenty of good anecdotes … here’s mine – a true story (couldn’t make it up): a young litvish boy was learning about how the tribe of Issachar was supported by the tribe of Zevulun, and didn’t understand it: “Didn’t they have wives?”

    I don’t think the Kollel system as such has a need to produce innovation or “gedolim” to justify its existence. Rather, communities should have centres of Torah learning so they have “asara batlanim”, and so as to facilitate shiurim with and promote Torah learning amongst the other members of their community. This is much the function of the Kollelim we have here in Melbourne.

    Ben Gurion’s deal to exempt those in Yeshivah from army service was based on the notion that those people learning Torah Lishma all day are doing their bit spiritually to protect the country (no – I’m not suggesting that they are putting their lives on the line just like soldiers on the front). Unfortunately, over time, that entire system has been rorted.

    As an aside, I find it disrespectful that you don’t use the designation of “Rabbi” for those people in your article who go by that title.

  • Michael says:

    Academia burdens the student with much knowledge they do not need, and a great deal that all of us should have. Like a partially necessarily heavily-burdened donkey, it’s hard to charge like a black stallion and be a gadol. Plus academia isn’t encouraging towards this aim, even though there might be wonderful candidates within. Again, ask them, not me. Where there is no leader, become a leader. It’s for them to adhere to this, not for me to thrust it on them.

    Besides, define gadol. Is it by your charisma? The size of your following transferred from the previous rebbe? How many books you’ve published? How many books published about you? It’s an interesting question in and of itself. But no – I don’t classify the ‘gedolim’ today as gedolim, by virtue of their inexcusable inaction on countless matters. We have no leaders today – and that’s the problem.

    Limit each town to 10 of the best of the best men per kollel and scrap the rest. How you choose these is up for discussion. But it must be based on merit, not $$ daddy has. I loved your story’s punchline, Ariel: if you’re not on that level, go and work.

  • anon says:


    The key issue with the current system that allows it to be abused is the distinct lack f ‘checks and balances’ – In almost ALL Kollel worldwide there is no concpet of failure and therefore no real insentive to accomplish.

    I am yet to come across a single Yeshiva student who ‘failed’ shiur ‘Beis’ and had to repeat or a married Kollel student who got his pay docked for not reaching a certain level of knowledge, insight, understanding and analysis of the ciriculum content. The only issue that causes concern is ensuring that the student clocks in & out daily at the correct times.

    With a distinct lack of pressure and focus on achievement, the absolute bulk of students are lethargic. This has created a situation where the wider community no longer hold Rabbinic leaders on te same pedestal they held in the past generations.

    Malki, you are correct with regards to wives who really have nothing in common with their husbands. The women run the house, raise the children & work. The only thing aside from learning that the men do is the shopping and pick up the kids – when their wife is not able to fit these tasks into her schedule.

  • Just to respond to your aside, David: I have tremendous respect for every individual mentioned by name in my article. While I habitually eschew titles when referring to people, my intention is not to convey a lack of respect by doing so. The individuals thus named were Joseph Caro, Akiva Eger, Schneur Zalman, Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Moshe Feinstein, Aharon Kotler, Yisroel Lipkin and Elazar Shach. Their reputations are already significantly colossal that I don’t think anyone will assume that I am denigrating them! The only one for whom I should have included “Rabbi” is the Tana, Akiva. But this is because he is so densely shrouded in mythology that outside of being a character called “Rabbi Akiva”, he may as well have not existed.

    There’s a Talmudic sentiment that if they, those earlier generations, were men then we are donkeys, but that if we are men then they were angels. This idea that the earlier generations were smarter and more attuned than we is what underscores the desperation behind the Kollel system. It is ironic, therefore, that the Kollel system only serves to prove it: if this is the best scholarship of today, the Torah of yesteryear shines all the brighter.

  • Also, in answer to Ariel’s question, there is only a certain type of person who uses the word “gedolim”, and so the number coming from academia would be none :)

    Meir “Bar-Ilan”, Avrohom Yitzhak Kook and Yosef Dov Soloveitchik all stressed a marriage of Torah with secular studies, and one needs look no further than Mordechai Breuer and (in my opinion) Yeshayahu Leibowitz to see what a beautiful synthesis that can create. There are scholars at Hebrew University, Yeshiva University and JTS whom I would consider “gedolim” too, if I were to be inclined to use that word.

  • ariel says:

    I would classify YU, JTS and Bar-Ilan semicha programs as yeshivot :)

  • anon says:

    They are ALL Yeshivot : They just don’t sit under the Charedi umbrella

  • @Simon re aside (and not wanting it to go much further) – you and I recognize the names and know who they are. Many other readers may not. That’s why I think giving them the correct titles is important.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    IMHO from the texts I have studied and I have done it alone at times without a learning partner; (so perhaps my understanding is skewed) what strikes me is that the individual who is learned has to be well rounded and competent in many matters and that includes making a living.
    It is incumbent about all people to study Torah. One should make a living and support one’s family and it should not be up to the wife to bring home the money for essentials and to keep a roof over the family’s head. However if there are some brilliant people they can and should study Torah but they should also have some sort of trade, if they can’t make a living as a teacher.
    In the Talmud it notes that one should teach one’s children a trade in order that they should not be dependent on charity to survive. People on Tzedaka in an ideal society would only be the old, infirm, disabled and the widows and orphans. Every person who is capable should be working at something. It is about building self esteem and respect for one self and contributing to society.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Simon, I agree with many of your points.

    I just wanted to point out that there is a significant distinction to be made between the yeshiva world and academia, and that is the role of yirat shamayim. In both worlds, talmud torah is an intellectual pursuit, but in the yeshiva world it is also (even primarily) seen as a spiritual pursuit, with the goal being “lishmor v’laasot” as well as “lehavin ulehaskil”. Beyond the practical observance of mitzvot, the spiritual side of talmud torah is evident in the attitude with which one learns, the approach one takes to which chidushim are acceptable and which are beyond the pale, and the belief that learning is a way of attaining closeness with God.

    I’m not saying that academic Torah study doesn’t produce anything worthwhile – I am not opposed to utilising its findings within the framework of classical Torah study – but in my opinion it is sorely lacking in that it doesn’t include the element of yirat shamayim.
    The lack of “gedolim” produced by academia obviously is related to this – it’s not just that the term isn’t used, it’s that being a “gadol” (however you define this) involves more than writing a PhD thesis.

    You could say that the majority of kollel students today may not have yirat shamayim at the forefront of their minds as a motivating force for learning – particularly those who are sitting & learning as an easy way out of getting a job or going to university. But it seems we’re all already in heated agreement that these people would be better off doing something else.

    Re David’s aside, I was thinking along the same lines – but I’m bothered not so much by the fact that some readers might not recognise the names of the individuals you mention, but by the disrespect it shows to the individuals themselves. I don’t know you at all, and I’m not accusing you of intending to be disrespectful, but refraining from using the title “Rabbi” when it is amply deserved bespeaks a lack of respect for devout Torah scholarship and undermines the status of the people you are referring to.

  • As a Chabadnik, life long Kollel learning is not my religious path, but I do respect and admire those who do it. The Kollel system is not, in my opinion, dominated by lazy freeloaders. Sure, there are some, but most Kollel people are extremely pious, self-sacrificing and sincere. In today’s hyper-materialistic goal oriented society it is difficult for some of us to appreciate the value of spiritual pursuits. From the perspective of the Kollel mentality, the goal of learning does not have to be a practical one at all. They are learning for learning’s sake and because they feel it is a high religious calling. There is surely nobility in it, and these people should be admired, not reviled.

    I do believe that Hashem gives special bruchas for the merit of the Torah learning in The Holy Land, as we are taught, and it is crucial if we are to continue holding the land. It also protects Yidden, not only in Eretz Kodesh, but the world over.

    In Chabad we do not encourage lifelong Kollel learning, rather it is usually only for the first couple of years of marriage. It is looked upon as important to help build a strong foundation for fledgling marriages.

    These different paths in general reflect two different Torah outlooks. The Kollel outlook is one that puts emphasis on creating holiness by removing oneself from the society and the material world. The Chabad outlook is one that emphasises creating holiness by elevating the material world by working within it.

    There are 70 faces to the Torah, all are valid and true.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Shoshanna, I agree with you about the nobility in full time learning and the difficulty of appreciating the value of spiritual pursuits in the modern world. But given that many kollel communities are now up to the 2nd generation of full-time learners, without the luxury of parents to support them financially and a dwindling supply of other benefactors, it’s not about being hyper-materialistic, but about being realistic.

    There’s a lot to be said for tempering our materialism and making do with less – I’m not saying the average kollel man should be criticised for not making an effort to provide each of his kids with an iPad – but it’s only socially responsible to make a reasonable effort to provide for the basics. We are told somewhere – I can’t remember where – not to put ourselves in a situation where we require support from charity. Working enough to provide for yourself/your family and spending the rest of your time learning is an admirable balance.

    On another note, besides being an interesting issue, can I ask what particular relevance this article has to the Australian Jewish community such that it’s published on GA?

  • One could argue that one person’s reality is another’s fantasy. There is also a Torah reality. Are we making judgments about this issue with the values of Torah or the values of secular society? Hashem runs the world, there will always be those who have and are obligated to give, and those who do not have and must take.

    One could argue that if one believes that everything is by Divine Providence, then who is to say that all those Kollel yungermen would suddenly become prosperous if they all left Kollel and went into the work world?

    Is it better to become like most of Jewish society today that is totally consumed with materialism to the point of avodah zora? Besides, most Kollel people do have the very basics, and if they are happy with that, who are we to argue? If the second generation and then the third generation get hungry enough and, if there is a dearth of benefactors, then I highly doubt they will merely allow themselves to starve. They will innovate if and when the situation dictates.

    In the meantime, to make sweeping statements like the author of this article painting them in a negative light is outrageously unfair and biased to the hilt!

  • @Shoshanna – If all those Kollel folks went out to work, they would have even less to live off, because they have few if any job skills. No matter what parnasa God doles out to us each year, we are still obliged to make a keli (vessel) for that blessing, and learning in Kollel isn’t a keli for making enough money to support a family. The Rebbe once said that lotto tickets are the keli for parnasa for “klei kodesh”. The third generation are not going to starve, they have been well educated in how to “collect” *sigh*.

    The tana’im and amora’im all had jobs and worked for a living. If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for most (not all) people these days.

    @Shira – you make a very good point regarding the local relevance of Simon’s argument. In Australia of all countries, we have kollelim that are selecting appropriate people and performing the right function. The problem is in Israel and parts of the US.

  • Shira: That’s a very fair distinction that you raise between Talmud Torah and academia! As somebody who subscribes to the academic method, I agree entirely with what you are saying. Nonetheless, the word “gadol/gedolim” denotes a subjective set of criteria. One person’s godol is another’s apikorus, and one need look no further than the ferocity of the polemic that transpired between Rav Shach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the things that their respective disciples said about the other. I also recognise “gedolim”; they’re just not always the same ones, and I don’t use that term.

    But that’s all by the by. You are right: I am not intending to push anybody’s buttons by omitting honorifics, but I am also not interesting in preserving other people’s religious sensibilities. That’s not me being pugnacious, that’s just as it is. If people don’t know who Akiva Eger is, they’re not suddenly going to know who Rabbi Akiva Eger is, and the addition of the honorific is not going to tell them anything that the context did not already impart. On aesthetic and religious criteria, it offends you to see the title dropped. It’s your prerogative to be offended. To my mind, it is laborious to have to keep putting it in (especially in an article in which every single name is the name of a rabbi), and is an omission that I extend to professors as well. I meant no disrespect by it then, and I certainly mean no disrespect by it now.

    Shoshanna: To devote oneself to a life of learning is an admirable thing, and it is not my intention to criticise it. To deny your children the possibility of doing anything else, to demand money from people you revile, and to restrict oneself to only the smallest pocket of human learning (indeed, a mere pocket of Jewish learning) is ugly and deranged. You can decry my bias; I am comfortable with declaring it. I would never suggest, however, that every kollelnik is an ugly or deranged person.

    I lived, effectively, in Mea Shearim for fourteen months. The yeshivot that I attended were only Baal Teshuva yeshivot, but Mea Shearim was my stomping ground for over a year and I adored it. I met so many different people that to paint them all with the same brush would be impossible. There were scholars and there were ratbags; there were people with a genuine spiritual uplift, and there were ignorant fools. My criticism is of the system of mass kollel education, and the fact that it has failed to produce anything but laziness and belligerence. Smaller kollels, such as exist in Melbourne, are different and for obvious reasons.

    If you can find somebody who wants to support you, and if you choose to devote yourself to study, then kol hakavod to you! The Rambam opposed such a practise, but all other authorities (to the best of my knowledge) were supportive of it, and it has a long and prestigious history. But if you show no aptitude for learning and are merely devoting yourself to a life of study because that is all that you think a good Jew should do, and if your money comes from people who give it grudgingly, in a society that perceives you as a non-contributor, then it is my earnest opinion that what you are doing is wrong. Not another, equally valid refraction of Torah, but an aberration from the same.

  • Ah yes, and the relevancy point…

    I cannot answer that question: I’m only the guy who wrote it :) To be fair, almost every article I’ve written here has been about Torah, rather than about Australia. But don’t tell anyone.

  • Malki Rose says:

    and the UK!! Its a terrible problem there. (refer to my earlier post)

  • Malki Rose says:

    sorry that last remark was @ DW

  • Galus Australis says:


    Whilst Galus Australis caters to an Australian Jewish readership, and tries to publish articles that are of local interest, we only require that stories have an Australian angle if they are primarily about Israeli politics. This is because the latter is already heavily covered by many other websites and could easily become the focal point of the entire site.

    Simon’s article raises an issue of global Jewish importance, which is arguable directly relevant in Australia albeit to a lesser degree than in America and Israel.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Yes, you could say it is a ‘Galus’ issue. Meaning a ‘Diaspora’ issues. So that certainly makes it relatively pertinent to all who inhabit and function in the ‘Galus’.

  • Eli says:

    There is the old joke of the daughter of a wealthy Jew who brings to dinner a prospective husband. A yeshiva bocher of some note. After dinner the father invites the young man into the library for a quiet drink and discussion. The father says’ You know my daughter is used to the very best in life. do you think you will be able to manage to support her.

    The bocher answers “of course , G-d will provide” The father continues. My daughter has very expensive tastes in clothing and jewelery, will you be able to meet her expectations. The bocher again “without out a doubt g-d will provide.”

    She likes to travel every year to Israel and stay at the best hotels..are you sure you can manage that, asks the father. Emphatically the Bocher answers ‘G-d will provide.” They raise glasses and drink a L’Chaim. The mother eager for her husbands approval of the potential suitor asks , well what do think of our daughters choice? The father answers I like this fellow. He thinks I’m G-d.

    The great, pre war yeshivas of Europe such as Volozhin,Mir,Telz,Yeshivat Ḥatam Sofer in Pressburg,to name a few were filled with hundreds of students. But they were for the most part the Best of the Best. Economics and few benefactors kept these yeshivot to what was economically viable. Because of this those that attended were for the most part skilled if not brilliant students. Selected for their aptitude although many also because of their rabbinical lineage.

    For most of European Jewry,and here I mean eastern, having many children was not just a matter of Torah observance but like most other communities a necessity. Poor health and nutrition contributed to early death in infancy and childhood. Having many children was an economic as well genetic compulsion.

    The great European yeshivah centers ended abruptly and brutally with the Nazi Holocaust. Survivors reestablished some of the famous yeshivot elsewhere: that of Slobodka in Israel, of Mir in Brooklyn and Jerusalem, of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio.(Wiki), and as Simon already mentioned Lakewood, New Jersey, Torah Vo-Da’as in New York, and Ner Israel in Baltimore.

    The difference now was that especially in the U.S an affluent Jewish community could sustain not just hundreds but thousands of students. The orthodox communities both in the U.S and Israel continued to have large families, and with the benefit of modern health and nutrition the attrition rate was negligible.

    The combination of these 2 factors and others as already mentioned by writers here has become economically unsustainable. But the blame must be worn not by those 2nd and 3rd generations. They were educated to believe that it was their right to be able to sit and study and led to believe that ‘G-d’ will provide.

    Those that saw the opportunity to rebuild an old world Torah system of values did so in the belief that a greater Torah education would finally lead the nation to its final redemption. The Jewish communities affluence helped promote a system that embedded that right, regardless of individual ability.

    It will take the leaders of these religious communities great courage and conviction to redefine their communities expectations.

    To lower their expectations, to convince them, that most must become economic contributors to their communities without necessarily giving up Torah learning all together. That excessive large families will only contribute to their poor economic conditions,and constant reliance on aid from the state.

    It is for the few that a life of constant Torah study is available and it is for them on whose shoulders the spiritual strength of the Jewish nation must rest on.

  • Ari says:

    I believe that it’s fair to apply to kollelim the same regulations as universities. That is, stipends and scholarships on the basis of merit. Today in the Charedi world many Roshei Yeshiva keep people in learning as a way of protecting them from outside influence and not because they merit to be a true scholar. I very much support full time study for those intended to be serious scholars of our holy Torah – I don’t support a way of life that is at odds with some of the values Torah Jewry traditionally held as important – or rather, automatic.

    Another aspect which particularly bothers me as a religious Jew is that I believe in the minds of many religious and non-religious, not working and studying full time is viewed as authentic Judaism when in reality it is exactly the opposite – The amount of talmudic and later sources that express the need for a person to work, to not rely on charity, to learn a trade and many other related subjects is almost beyond number. Whereas, I believe the amount of sources that encourage full time learning for the masses are very few.

    A question to Shoshanna based on your posts here and elsewhere: It is a well known statement that. “We do not rely on miracles”. I am interested to know how exactly you understand that statement?(Shoshanna wrote: One could argue that if one believes that everything is by Divine Providence, then who is to say that all those Kollel yungermen would suddenly become prosperous if they all left Kollel and went into the work world? )

  • I sense the author’s derision towards these Jews.
    As he writes,”, the kollel as a system of mass-education has produced only lazy and belligerent individuals, who feel entitled to the money that they are receiving, and who evidence great contempt for those in the community who do not support them.”

    What is such an opinion based on? Merely the author’s own perceptions. It is a sweeping biased generalisaton.

    I am not learned enough to know whether the article is historically accurate or not. However, there is a teaching that the generations are weakening as we get closer to Moshiach’s arrival. This probably accounts for the present lack of great gedolim in the world at large. I am not sure that the Kollel system’s purpose is only to create great gedolim, perhaps its purpose has evolved in our times to be satisfied with creating good Torah true G-d fearing Yidden, and that should suffice because of the dark times we live in spiritually. I am sure that there are Rabbonim who could shed light on this issue.

    The tension between the secular and the religious in EY is complicated. There is wrong on both sides, and as we all know, the ‘lo-dati’ hatred can be vehement. The religious communities often complain, and rightly so, about being discriminated against by the state. From their perspective, taking funds from the state for Torah learning can be a form of redemption for the secular state’s many transgressions. And G-d knows, the state needs His rachmanas!

  • A question to Shoshanna based on your posts here and elsewhere: It is a well known statement that. “We do not rely on miracles”. I am interested to know how exactly you understand that statement?(Shoshanna wrote: One could argue that if one believes that everything is by Divine Providence, then who is to say that all those Kollel yungermen would suddenly become prosperous if they all left Kollel and went into the work world? )

    I will clarify. We are not meant to rely on miracles, and parnosa will not fall from the sky like manna from Heaven. Nonetheless, how much money we earn is decreed from Above, and no matter how hard one works, one will not earn a dollar more or less than what Hashem decress for them to earn. Even people who work can wind up poor. And there are people who do not work who wind up rich. Yes, we must conduct ourselves according to nature. I once read a good saying-“Pray as if it all depends on Hashem, and work as if it all depends on you.”

  • Shoshanna, if you can sense my derision then you are perceptive indeed. Might I give you some advice? While I applaud you for acknowledging that you are insufficiently learned to judge the accuracy of this article, it’s not a great idea to say that as part of a comment that criticises the article for its accuracy. You are correct, however, when you say that the purpose of the kollel is not just to create gedolim but to reject the secularism of the outside world. You know how to know that I agree with you? Because I said that above, in the sixth paragraph of the article that you didn’t read.

    Also in my article, and kindly introduced again by you, is the mistaken assumption that the generations are in decline. Only those who have chosen to live within an intellectual ghetto of their own construction could possibly look around them and suppose that the average Jew today is less learned than the average Jew in the past. Less pious maybe (although you seem determined to be more frum than they were), but certainly not less learned. Perhaps where you live it’s different?

  • Calling all those people lazy and beliigerent is not exactly complimentary, is it?

  • I believe the generations are indeed in decline, especially spiritually, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe often spoke about this. The metaphor often used is that ee are the dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, being carried by their past merits.

    How does one judge how frum anyone is? If someone wears a bigger beard or a higher shtreimel does that make him more frum? How would you know that this generation is frummies in more frum than previous ones? According to what definition?

    I cannot speak for other groups, but Chabad is far from being trapped in an intellectual ghetto or any ghetto of any kind! And most of the Kollel frummies I have known have not seemed to me to be in an intellectual ghetto either. That is your biased opinion.

  • typos–We are the dwarfs

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Simon, I certainly do not agree with all of Shoshanna’s sentiments, but I do agree with her that your statement “the kollel as a system of mass-education has produced only lazy and belligerent individuals, who feel entitled to the money that they are receiving, and who evidence great contempt for those in the community who do not support them” is a big generalisation.
    [Eds: comment removed at request of Shira] It would be more accurate to replace the word “only” with “many”.
    Your statement tars all kollel students with the same derisive brush, and also denies the positive outcomes of the kollel system – for example, those truly pious and learned people it has produced (however few and far between), and the dissemination of the idea that Torah study (on some level, and not necessarily full time) can and should be accessible to all Jews, not just in the rarefied circles of ivory tower yeshivot.

    It’s also a bit cynical to say you agree with Shoshanna that one of the purposes of a kollel is “to reject the secularism of the outside world” – clearly she means this in a positive sense and you mean it in a negative sense. Can’t we recognise that this phenomenon has both positive (ie. strengthening Jewish values) and negative (ie. summarily rejecting anything to do with the secular world) aspects?

  • Shira: Naturally, I can only speak from my experiences. Were I to meet a full-time kollelnik who does not fit the description that I outlined above, then I suppose that I would capitulate on that point. My statement, perhaps, had more rhetorical flourish than anything else: given the overwhelmingly large number of people who devote their lives to this type of study, it is impossible to say that they are all anything. The assertion that “most Kollel people are extremely pious, self-sacrificing and sincere” (these are Shoshanna’s words) is equally a generalisation. I retract the exclusivity of my indictment: while I hold firmly to the essence of the above article, I don’t believe that every single kollel student (without exception) is lazy or manipulative. As has been noted by some other correspondents on this thread, I do think that the system encourages such vices, whether or not they manifest in every individual within it.

    I do not accept anything positive as coming out of a wholesale rejection of outside society, and I believe that history absolves me on that score. While I think that there is ample justification behind the original development of this intellectual ghettoisation, it is no longer necessary. The problem is, any easing of this phenomenon comes across as a call to assimilation. In the Haredi world, we are witnessing a steady race towards the right. Fearful of contamination by secular learning, many communities are closing themselves off even further from the outside world, as though the outside world posed an automatic and existential threat.

    The question is, is such a society conducive to Torah study? No field grows when it refuses to gaze into anything except itself, and Talmud Torah has always been advanced by developments in other areas. Consider who Maimonides would have been, had he never taken an interest in medicine, astronomy, mathematical logic or philosophy! Imagine the Vilna Gaon without his interest in geometry, philology or textual criticism. Or the Radak without an appreciation for Hebrew linguistics – a field that grew out of the Islamic fascination with the Qur’an.

    When Elazar Shach accused Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and Adin Steinsaltz of heresy, it was in relation to their involvement with secular studies. What a falling-off was there! Had Haredim been in existence for longer than the last two hundred years, and had they held the balance of power in Jewish communities around the world, consider how significantly they would have retarded Jewish history. The more that we assume that they are righteous, the more we feed fuel to their claims that they represent “Torah-true Judaism”. As Shoshanna noted above, there are “seventy faces” to the Torah. The face that claims to represent all seventy of them represents none of them.

    Shoshanna: The assertion that the generations are declining spiritually is an unprovable assertion and, I believe, irrelevant to the subject. Just as you pointed out that one cannot “measure” another person’s religiosity, it is important to note that one also cannot gauge their spirituality. If you choose to believe that people were more spiritual three thousand years ago, that is entirely your prerogative. It means as little to me as suggesting that they were also better dancers. But if you want to tell me that they knew more Torah, then I tell you now that you are utterly mistaken.

    My reason for saying that this argument is irrelevant is because the purpose of the kollel (whatever super-objective of spiritualism there may be) is learning. Everything comes down to Talmud Torah, and their view that in this regard – not in an abstract, spiritual sense – we are of a lesser stature than our ideological ancestors. The very fact that Torah learning is of a significantly higher calibre outside of the kollel is sufficient to mark the failure of these institutions. When considering the fact that they are also beset with economic and ethical concerns, I think it entirely reasonable to say that they are “off the derech”.

    [Just to remind you and anybody else who is reading this: I am speaking specifically about the large kollels in the US and Israel. I am not speaking about small kollels in Australia and elsewhere, and I am not speaking of the Lubavitch (and other) post-marriage kollels that exist. I speak of the kollel that takes a young man from marriage to his grave, without any regard for his aptitude in Torah or his interests in any other pursuit.]

  • Shira Wenig> “for example, those truly pious and learned people it has produced (however few and far between), ”

    I wonder, how does one judge piety? On what basis did you conclude that the Kollel system produces only a tiny minority of pious Jews? Or learning, for that matter? By what standards and definitions does one determine the level of learning of the thousands of Kollel students? How can the assertion be made that the vast majority of them are not ignoramuses? Aren’t these ignorant statements in and of themselves? Aren’t they reflection of a real prejudices? These are absurd assertions. They are biased and negative value judgments and opinions.

  • correction: ow can the assertion be made that the vast majority of them ARE ignoramuses?

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Shoshanna, you are taking my words totally out of context. I did not say there is only a tiny minority of pious kollel Jews. I did not make any assertions about the level of learning of thousands of kollel students. My statement was directed towards Simon, asking him to acknowledge that it is inaccurate to make a generalisation about ALL kollel students. The phrase “however few and far between” is perfectly appropriate in this context – it doesn’t make a call about what percentage are pious – it simply says that no matter how few and far between, the existence of ANY pious kollel students calls Simon’s statement into question. (Which he has addressed above.)

  • Ben says:

    Shira wrote: “There are many Kollel people who fit this definition(evidenced by the less than exemplary behavior of many meshulachim……….)”

    Since when are meshulachim Kollel people?? 99% of people who collect for Kollels or any other type of institution do not learn in Kollel. I would advise you to first check your facts before posting misleading comments. It is motzi shem ra.

  • rachsd says:

    Hi Ben,

    I have had v little contact with meshulachim so I cannot make any comments about their behaviour or involvement in kollel, but I find your position a little odd. If meshulachim collect money for kollel but don’t learn there, then would still be responsible for collecting money to pay wages for the kollel students. If they are known for unethical behaviour, then surely the kollel students (whose parnasa is being collected) must have some responsibility for their conduct.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Ben, that is a fair point and I retract what I said.

    GA admin – is it possible to remove my words above “There definitely are many kollel people who fit this definition (evidenced by the less-than-exemplary behaviour of many meshulachim who look at you in disgust if you don’t give the amount they were hoping for) but”

  • Ben says:

    Rachsd, 1st of all if a collector shows by his looks that he is not satisfied with a donation, that is a far cry from being unethical. Also, the great majority of collectors who give a negative outlook are the ones collecting for themselves, many with sick kids and other problems in the family. I am not excusing such behaviour, but I try to give them the benefit of doubt(as I hope G-D will give me). As in every crowd, there are a few bad apples, who usually only come collecting once, before they are found out. However, they make a terrible name for others.

    Shira, I think I had to say what I wrote. You were big enough to retract, which is a big middoh…….

  • Morris says:

    I started reading your article with intrigue – I stopped at (Rav) Aharon Kotler.
    By not giving the Rabbi his due title, you show your contempt for him and the Torah.
    This shows your article to be flawed from the start and not worthy of reading.
    With my best wishes to you for a Good Shabbos.

  • Simon, none of these assertions are provable, my point exactly.

    You simply do not respect the Kollel path, therefore you see them as individuals in negative light, hence your bias that they are mostly not menchlik, escaping reality, not scholarly enough etc. You have disdain for their poverty which you see as parasitic.

    One could look at the same Kollel path and instead see a noble spiritual pursuit. One could see people who are rejecting society’s rampant materialism, people who are depriving themselves of the comforts we indulge in and one could admire them.

    It is not possible that an environment permeated with Torah learning produces mainly Jews who are not menchlik, has has been asserted here. There is no question that the Torah learning must and does penetrate thereby making most of these Jews far more refined and spiritually sensitive than the rest of us who are wallowing in the non-Jewish society.

    And as far as their poverty and the supposed unsustainability of their lifestyle: is this question being raised with ahavas yisroel, or the opposite? Do you have any care and concern about their future, about the welfare of these people? Are you interested in alleviating their so-called deprivation or more in condemning them for being ‘parasites’? Is it the principle they base their lives on that you have an issue with because it conflicts with your own personal work ethic code which teaches you to look down on those who ‘do not pull their own weight’?

  • ariel says:

    A novel approach to the funding of kollelim:
    Adapt the old kibbutz model.

    Students learn in the mornings and work in the afternoons.
    50% of their net wages go to the kollel which uses the funding to feed them and for other maintenance purposes.
    The other 50% is spent on their families.

  • anon says:

    @Mrs Silcove : The only asserion that is provable, and unfortunately in the negative is yours with regards to those who learn Torah and are steeped in its messages can only be ‘Menchlich’

    The realities speak for themselves through the actions of the leadership in many of the worlds greeatest Yeshivos/ Kollelim and Mosdos.

    The in-fighting that exists in Telz, Ponovitz, Yeshivas Chevron, Satmar, Belz, Bobov and Lubavitch PROVE your assertion FALSE.

    The other point that you make regarding their financial situation has too concerns for the wider community
    1) A significant proportion of the funds they require to live on are being requested from the wider community and with the gap widening in their minds as to whether anyone who works is a true ‘Ben Torah’ – this lends itself to a form of social extremism

    2) Due to their alltruistic lifestyle and the lack of money, in many cases for the basics to be met – a growing number of youth in the Kollel system are leaving and getting inot a lot of trouble
    You may be aware of shuls in B’nei Barak being burnt to the ground, Sifrei Torah going missing and Tzedoka money stolen from R’ Steinman. We would like to blame others, but in several cases children of these Kollel families are the culprits (crying out)

    The Kollel world has its place and offers an opportunity to some extra-ordinary people, it also is a harsh and cold place where the Torah resides without creating Mentschen

  • anon says:

    @Ariel – I Like

    Only one problem : The whole point is to NOT work at all and be devoted 24×7 to Torah learning

  • Eugh, Shoshanna, what an ugly thing to say. If you want to go through life with contempt for what you do, thinking that you are “wallowing in non-Jewish society” because you don’t live in a big enough ghetto, then that’s your psychosis. People who voluntarily erect a concrete bunker around their minds, closing themselves off from everything that is not “the heilike Toyrah”, are mentally ill. People who grow up in such an environment are like children who were taken captive by bandits. Their behaviour outside of it reveals the psychological damage that they have endured. Slack-jawed, they stare at people who look different. Eyes wide, they have no understanding for any of the myriad things that you dismiss as “non-Jewish”, but which are part of this world.

    Your assumption that these people live a purer life is so easily belied by experience with them, and I question the amount of contact that you have had. One only needs to frequent internet cafes on the outskirts of Mea Shearim to see how many people in that society want a way out of it. With no regard for such activity being “wrong”, I have seen maybe a dozen different men (bearded, with peyot, hat, etc) looking at explicit pornography as though that were the most normal thing in the world. One particular internet cafe ended up putting each of the computers in separate booths. What menschen these holy people are! How a life of nothing but Torah provides for the mind and the soul!

    Now compare the men and women who study Torah full-time at non-Haredi institutions and at universities like Hebrew U. The difference between them is staggering: these are people with balance in their lives, and their countenance reflects that. They take advantage of recent scholarship and they have time to absorb the things that they learn. At the end of the day, despite whatever hubris you perceive there, the graduates of Hebrew University know quantitatively more than individuals their age who study at the Mir. Most young men and women at the Hebrew University have either finished Shas or are well on their way to finishing Shas before they even start their doctorate. No, they won’t memorise it, but memorisation comes a poor second to comprehension.

    While there is much to recommend the Haredi world (chiefly Brisk, in my opinion, but I have also always had great regard for Satmar, Lubavitch and Breslov), I see nothing noble about the insitution of the life-long kollel. But if I am to draw a distinction, kollels in the Edah haChareidis (Satmar, Brisk, Shomer Emunim), while subject to the same criticisms that I have outlined above, are at least consistent in their rejection of Israel. Funding for these kollels derives entirely from wealthy Jews in the United States and around the world. For the rest, their hypocritical rejection of Israel only extends so far as to spit on it. Israeli money, they are happy to accept.

    And Morris, I couldn’t be more pleased. My decision to eschew traditional titles has paid off tenfold, for while I have nothing but respect for the individuals named in my post (and a tenth-grader would have comprehended that), I cannot say the same for the people who were upset by it. You should have a lovely Shabbos, and a fulfilling existence. I hope it remains unclouded by the opinions of others.

  • It is your value judgment that they are in a ghetto, not objective reality, just your opinion. And whoever sees it differently is mentally ill? And you know for a fact that many Kollel people want a way out? How many? Did you take a poll? Or is it just the few you encountered?

    I do not have contempt for what I do. We are in galus. We are all trapped in one way or another in a non-Jewish world, affected by its impurities and unholiness. It is not my choice, but those who choose to remove themselves from these impurities and attempt to live lives on a higher more elevated plane, dedicated to kedusha, are not mentally ill ghettoized people, as you call them.

    You have disdain for these frum Jews. Why are you attacking them? Why are you attacking me? Why are you so darned judgmental? You are completely intolerant, and are totally unreasonable and make little sense.

  • No, Shoshanna, I am attacking neither you nor them. But if what you write flagrantly conflicts with my (not inconsiderable) experience, I have an obligation to refute you. Nor do I have disdain for them; I would call it pity. I have an abiding love for frum Judaism, but I shan’t press that point. Those who believe me won’t need to hear it, and those who need to hear it will probably not believe me.

    As for the statement that these people are in a ghetto of their own construction, I submit that those who claim otherwise are either blind or are wilfully deceiving themselves. The amount of undiagnosed mental illness in these areas (indeed, the high number of personality disorders in Jerusalem in general) is commonly discussed, and is the result both of living in so intensive an environment, and of people with strange ideas being drawn towards it. It is commonly referred to as “Jerusalem Syndrome”, and it has been amply documented. Look it up: I’m not inventing this.

    As for the number of people who leave, I cannot say. Sadly, I have met very few: a reflection not on their lack of desire for a better life, but on their inability to abandon their families and to enter a world that is utterly foreign to them. There are support groups in Israel now, designed to facilitate the process and to prevent people from entering a life of unbridled hedonism, now that their existence lacks the formal structure that had previously defined it. But there are no polls. As you have no doubt noticed, there are no polls of Haredim in general. Why would a Haredi Jew fill out a census?

  • Simon reminds me of the story:

    A Jew sat in his seat on an airplane only to find he was sitting next to black hatted bearded religious Jews. They started to talk and the Jew said indignantly,” These religious Jews are so backward! They live in the dark ages! They are an embarrassment to the rest of the Jewish people.” The Jew elaborated along these lines while the religious Jew attentively listened.

    When he was done with his rant the religious Jews said, “I am Amish”, to which the other Jew responded,”Oh, really? I am so sorry. I admire and respect the Amish people, the way they are so stalwart about holding onto their beliefs and traditions, they’re fine people.”

    This above story is a true one and happened to a well known Rabbi. The point is obvious: we Jews have a weird tendency to denigrate our own.

  • Eli says:

    Perhaps these 2 articles give some insight into what Simon is talking about. This does not suggest that what is happening to these 2 men is in plague proportions. But it does point to some of the difficulties faced by those in ultra religious communities, and lack of contact with the “unholiness” of the Jewish world as proposed by Shoshana s.

    I think, can but can be certain, that it was Rabbi Steinsaltz who visited Melbourne a number of years ago who said of the religious communities here, that you can build walls around your lives,but unless you build faith and the ability to deal with world outside, those wall will come tumbling down.



  • From Jerusalem via Sydney says:

    You are wrong Simon to infer that Kollel is a modern invention. The notion of continuing one’s learning as a full-time endeavour after marriage was a widespread practice in Eastern Europe for generations, with students surviving thanks to donations from others or one’s wife’s business acumen.

    True, the notion of the kollel institution is relatively new, but so too is the modern yeshiva. It has been less than 200 years since the advent of the modern yeshiva as we know it today. Many point to Volozhin as the prototype for the modern yeshiva. Prior to this time, learning was done in a shtetl’s beis medrash with a chevrusa or chabura, or with a rav.

    As for the drawbacks of a kollel, of course there are some. The ideal model – which is the case for many kollelim, particularly in the US – is a framework that allows married boys to continue their studies for a few years before finding work as teachers of Torah or in the business world. True, there is no set timeframe for how long one should stay in kollel, but one sees that, after a few years, the students eventually leave to work part- or full-time.

    Are there those who continue learning in Israel in order to avoid army service? Yes, of course. There are also some who are registered in a kollel, but only do so to avoid the army. They in fact work clandestinely.

    Are there those who are in kollel who are not scholarly and are wasting their time? I don’t doubt it.

    However, the kollel system in general is a wonderful one, and one should not disparage those able to continue their learning while they can afford to continue to do so.

    Where I live in Jerusalem there are several guys I am friendly with who learn in kollel. They are from chutz laaretz and manage to get by with the (paltry) kollel stipend, savings, their parents’ help, and the part-time work done by their wives. They are all seriously-minded, none are doing it to avoid the army (all are too old and are new olim, so have no army obligation), and all are driven by a desire to learn as much as they can about their 3300 year old heritage as they can before facing the pressures of professional life.

    Good luck to them, I say. I only wish I had had the same opportunity.

  • From Jerusalem via Sydney says:

    By the way, what do you mean by “Their rejection of both the Enlightenment and the information revolution has meant that they are crawling along at a far slower pace than their scholastic contemporaries in the university and the non-Haredi yeshiva, which is where the real developments are taking place today.” – ???

    The great rabbis are all from the charedi world. Judaism is being shaped by these gedolim. Their scholastic achievement and those serious learners in the Torah world cannot be disputed.

    Is there unique research being done in the universities? Of course, but by people who are often unable to study a page of gemara and/or are not believers. These people cannot be seen as the future of Yiddishkeit. Forgive me for this harsh statement Simon, for I know you have learned in yeshiva and at univerisuty, but am I wrong? Do you know of Torah scholars in the university system who are likely to become the Torah teachers and exemplars of Yiddishkeit to new generations?!

    The dati leumi world has an immense shortage of Torah scholars and teachers, perhaps partly due to the shortage of dati leumi kollelim?

  • I do not follow the derech of the Kollel we are discussing, but I can respect it.

    Some of the positions taken by gedolim from other communites outside Chabad are absolutely crazy to my mind. For instance, the ban on Jewish music is totally insane. With all the myriad of issues and problems facing their communites and klal Yisroel in general, to think that these gedolim waste their time worrying and freeting if Lipa Shmeltzer or Avraham Fried is going to corrupt their youth is literally insane and, shows how out of touch they are.

    And some of them prohibit women from driving or working out of the home, also nuts. I could go on, but I made my point. I do not hold by these gedolim in many things but I can respect them and their derech.

    As far as young people going off the derech, it is happening everywhere, in Chabad too where we all have internet and are very involved in the society at large. Therefore, it cannot be said that it is their insulation or isolation that is causing this. The yetzer hora to rebel is very strong in some people and today’s world is confusing for many and has many temptations that are easily accessible. Besides, young people have been going off the derech for centuries, even when there was the real shtetl and Jews were totally ghettoized. There is nothing new under the sun.

  • From Jerusalem: With respect, I did emphasise at the beginning of my post that I was referring to the kollel specifically as a large institution. The phenomenon of studying full-time and surviving on donations is of great antiquity, but the phenomenon of having an entire family (indeed, an entire community of families) doing nothing else dates from the 20th century. You are correct when you refer to the fact that yeshivot are likewise fairly young, although there were Sephardi yeshivot before Volozhin. The only reason that Volozhin is considered prototypical is because of the tremendous influence that the Brisker Derech was to have on Talmud Torah, and the Lithuanian method of Talmudic study has predominated over all others. But there are still yeshivot with a focus on prayer, on Mikra and on the Mishna, albeit fewer and small.

    As for learning Talmud at university, I am not sure if I understand you. Scholars who cannot learn a page of gemara? May I ask what their field of research is? I know plenty of such people, but their focus is not Talmudic. Do you mean to imply that people who specialise in the Talmud at university are unable to read it? Really? I think, if you live in Jerusalem, you should pay a visit to the Hebrew U. You may be very much surprised by the acumen of their scholars.

    Now I don’t know what these kollels are that you are referring to, but they sound like the type that I have specified several times that I was not referring to. Small institutions, which collect their money from private donations, and for whose patrons they serve a temporary purpose. Somebody who wishes to study full-time and to survive on the welfare of others: how is this different from a post-doctoral fellowship? But you cannot tell me that this is the situation amongst kollelniks at mighty yeshivot like the Mir, with its six thousand students. I think you will find that the lesser type of student predominates in a world that never allowed them the opportunity for any other type of expression.

    As for army service, I didn’t mention it in my article for a reason. It is every person’s right to forgo serving in the IDF, and I would never begrudge people an expression of their political opinions. But I think that the rejection of Israel runs deeper in many Haredi institutions than simply scoffing at those who dress in uniform. A refusal to do any form of productive work is a far greater slap in the face to those who contribute so much money towards keeping the kollels afloat.

    Now, on a more philosophical level, you write that the great rabbis of today are all Haredim. This is untrue, but they are certainly the ones who do use the word “gedolim”. They are also the ones who invented the phenomenon of daas Torah, which effectively means that you are not allowed to disagree with anything they say. Are they shaping the future of Judaism? To no greater extent than anybody else is. There are many of them, to be sure, but there are very many other Jews who are also committed to Judaism – even if they don’t think it’s over three thousand years old.

    What is more, in the fullness of time, truth always wins. These people have painted themselves into a corner by insisting that a belief in Torah is incommensurate with a belief in macro-evolution or with a universe billions of years old. Some go even further (Lubavitchers, mainly) by insisting that the sun revolves around the earth, for no greater reason than the fact that Maimonides said so in the 12th century, and that this can be demonstrated by means of Einsteinian relativity today. Were Haredim not defining themselves in such a fashion, I expect they would be in possession of a greater longevity. With the passing of time, any community which holds to such beliefs is only going to dwindle in numbers, and everybody who thinks that their faith is contingent upon them is in hot water already. I would extend this to a literal belief in the biblical stories as well, but this is the subject of another post.

    My response to you is already of a length that I should curtail it, but my statement regarding “real developments” occurring outside of the Haredi yeshiva/kollel was in reference to scholarship on the Bible and the Talmud, which has come a terrific distance in the last fifty years. Nonetheless, the difference between the academic method and the yeshivish method runs deeper than the question of belief, and it relates to the function of reading in general. When you look at a text, are you consumed with a desire to interpret what it means, to make its injunctions internally consistent, and to build a system that allows for its repetitions and inconsistencies? Or are you somebody who is consumed instead by the language that it uses, the means by which it was put together, the provenance of its respective sources and the meaning that it held for its earliest communities? I am no source critic (indeed, I am sick of source criticism), but I belong in the latter camp. Traditionally, absolutely everybody was within the former.

    Both the Enlightenment and its manifestation as the Haskalah provided people with intellectual tools for the dismemberment of their literature, and it is this that has created the revolution we have been witnessing outside of the Haredi world. This type of “truth” is of a more subjective nature, so I shan’t insist upon the nature of its future manifestation. I support it, methodologically, and I think that the discoveries of recent scholars have been of unprecedented importance. They are of a different nature to the chiddushim of earlier generations: neither better nor worse, for they deal with a different type of reading. But Haredi chiddushim today? If the Mir gives birth to the next Chaim Brisker, I’ll eat my words. Until then, I’ll keep stewing them :)

  • From Jerusalem via Sydney says:

    Thank you for your response Simon – it is well argued, though I disagree with a number of your hypotheses. You have raised several points which time does not allow me at present to respond to all of them as my wife wants me to help her with Shabbos preparations. In summary:

    My brother-in-law learned in Mir, and one of my local chevra learned in Mir. Mir has a large corpus of serious-minded students. Of course, among a large student body there are going to be those who are not particularly serious about their learning. There is no doubt that charedi society sometimes tends to compel such people into long-term study when they are not suited for it. There are however nascent organisations aimed at promoting careers for such people.

    However, on the whole Mir produces fine talmidei Torah who go on to learn and teach in the Torah world. They become fine rabbonim. Are they all going to become a new R Sh Z Aurbach or Moshe Feinstein? Of course not, but many are very learned and contribute to the propagation of Torah to our generation.

    Likewise, Lakewood is a highly respected institution and its avreichim have become the corpus of Torah educators in modern America (and the world – including in Melbourne).

    As for scholarship – the so-called Bible scholars at secular academic institutions are often trying to dismember the text for the purposes of academic achievement and glory (and to show their distaste for theology). These too were the aims of the maskilim…

    I know that you work for a Reform institution Simon, but many frum people regard the haskalah – particular Moses Mendelsohn’s German translation of the Torah – as the first roots of Reform. From an orthodox perspective, this is definitely not something to be happy about… (I could launch into a litany of criticisms of Reform, but I shall refrain from doing so.)

    As for your contention that there is a dearth of chiddushim, you are wrong. Visit any seforim store in Jerusalem – in fact, I often find self-published chiddushim on gemara that are being given away.

    If it were not for kollelim – big or small – the world of Torah (practice of our tradition) would undoubtedly not be as strong as it is today.

    A good Shabbos (though it is already Shabbos in Sydney and Melbourne – so a Shavua Tov!)

  • A Shavua Tov to you too!

    I never said that there was a dearth of Haredi chiddushim. Anybody who studies something is going to have observations, and anybody who studies something for a long time is going to produce observations that are novel. I was referring to the quality of those chiddushim only. Given that Haredim view the Torah of yesteryear as paradigmatic, any attempt to produce more is going to be stylistically imitative. It is no wonder that they pale so much in comparison to the work of former generations.

    You may indeed detect hubris in the university (this is a character trait prevalent everywhere), but it is not entirely true to say that they are dismembering texts for personal glory. They are analysing texts in an effort to understand them, to which end they bring to bear a very broad range of methodologies. Believe me: if it is money and fame that they are after, there are far more lucrative professions than that of academic biblical scholar! Besides, if you don’t like these people, that is only reason for you not to fraternise with them. It is hardly a reason not to read their literature. I hold like the Rambam: accept the truth from whatever the source.

    Today, the Haredi world is ignoring gigantic swaths of Torah scholarship, to unprecedented levels. The reason? It is produced by irreligious (or insufficiently religious) people, whose general conclusions about the text are anathema to a person of certain faith. How surprisingly dogmatic Judaism has become. Especially when you consider that many of those conclusions were anticipated, or even stated outright, by earlier rabbinic scholars who lived at a time when there was less antipathy towards the academic approach.

    Consider the recent brouhaha over the writing of Nosson Slifkin. I’m not going to defend the man (I despise apologetics in general, and I find his to be particularly ill-informed), but the ferocity with which he was condemned was most surprising. Many of those who placed him in cherem had not read his books (being unable to read English), but had been told that he was disseminating heretical ideas. That a belief in a universe older than 6,000 years, or a belief in macro-evolution, count as heretical ideas speaks volumes for the insularity of the communities that banned him. And his controversial contention that the sages of the Talmud had been frequently incorrect in scientific matters is something that had been noted by dozens of scholars in the past, the Rambam included.

    Unfortunately, any move towards the left only appears to be an expression of sympathy for the Reform movement, so while Reform Jews move more and more in that direction, Haredim are sliding more and more to the right. I fear for the future of the Mir, and all the large kollels. While they might be powerhouses of intensive Talmudic study (although I still contend, and emphatically, that the Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University have a greater grasp on the material in its historic context), they are also bastions of pre-Enlightenment fundamentalism. I can think of nothing more fulfilling than devoting my entire life to Torah. But it cannot be at the expense of every other avenue of knowledge, and it certainly will not be at the funding of local taxpayers or donors, however generous.

    [Just as an aside, while I do work for a Progressive synagogue, it is no secret that I am not a Progressive Jew. Leastways, not with an uppercase P. If you have something to say about the Reform movement, please don’t forbear on my behalf.]

  • Shira Wenig says:

    While I agreed with much of what you said in your original article, you have lost me with your further comments.

    I have no doubt that you have a genuine and sincere interest in Torah learning, but from all you have written on this page it appears that this extends only to the academic approach. Yes, there are many criticisms that can be made of the kollel system, but they ring hollow if they are made from a perspective which displays lack of respect for the fundamental basis of such institutions.

    The basis I am referring to is “talmud torah lishma”, and the value of spending as much of one’s time as possible learning Torah with an attitude of yirat shamayim. (I am NOT referring to ideas such as cutting oneself off from secular society – this may be a widespread attitude, at least among charedi kollelim, but it is not the basis of the institution.)

    The mandate of “v’hagita bo yomam valayla” is critical in this context. It is widely, although not universally, accepted that spending time on paid employment and other activities which contribute to a fulfilling life does not contravene this principle, and is in fact admirable (in the sense of “b’chol drachecha da’ehu”); but that doesn’t mean that the value of 24/7 Torah learning, as an ideal, falls by the wayside. At the very least, it should inform our mindset when approaching all aspects of our lives, even if the majority of our day is not spent learning. This is totally unrelated to the supposed degeneration or otherwise of successive generations.

    Full time Torah learning, in an economically and socially sustainable manner, should not be looked down upon as a cop out. If it is used as a cop out or as a way of denying the world we live in, that’s a distortion of the concept. To be economically and socially sustainable, it stands to reason that full time learning should be limited to a smaller number of people, presumably those with the most aptitude for it, who can also serve in positions of spiritual leadership. But that doesn’t absolve the rest of the community (at least the men, from the perspective of chiyuv)from seeing the general value in “v’hagita bo yomam valayla” and aiming to include as much formal talmud torah in our schedules as possible.
    A lack of respect for this principle leads to a lack of respect for the kollel system which is predicated on it.

    Respect for the kollel system doesn’t preclude respect for academia. I believe a moderate person can respect both, and learn from the chiddushim of both; but seeing university-based talmud torah as superior and the way of the future, and yeshiva-based talmud torah as inferior and antiquated, belies a basic disregard for the value of yirat shamayim in Torah learning – without which Torah becomes just like any other field of study, devoid of its spiritual content and, dare I say, probably not exactly what God had in mind when He commanded us to study it night and day. (I’m not saying academic Torah learning has no value as a mitzva; I am saying it can’t serve as the sole fulfilment of that mitzva, part of which is working on one’s connection to God and development of one’s personality and middot.)

    While I appreciate your capitulation above regarding a statement which you admitted was written more with rhetorical flourish than accuracy in mind, your sweeping statements, and persistent refusal to refer to Rabbanim by their titles, indicates a cynicism towards the entire basis of the full time Torah institution. The mere fact that rhetorical flourish was more important to you than accuracy in writing the article indicates this. A lot of the points you make are very valid, but they would be more compelling if they were made with a measure of respect for the institutions you are criticising.

    If my perception of your attitude is inaccurate, then I stand corrected.

    (By the way, I find it equally disrespectful that you don’t use anyone’s titles, not just Rabbanim. It is not that onerous to include a title when writing someone’s name, particularly when writing about people of high stature or influence who have worked hard to achieve this. I’m only labouring the point because this is one aspect of your writing which indicates to me a lack of respect for traditional Torah scholarship.)

  • Shira, I feel that we are straying far from what my criticisms were. As I have said, and repeated several times, I am not criticising smaller kollels, where people devote their entire lives to Torah. True, there are objections that can be made to them, but I am not the one making them. I am referring instead to the larger kollels in Israel, many of whose students have no talent for this level of study, but who have nowhere else to be.

    Now, as an entirely secondary issue, you want to speak about the value of full-time Torah learning. It’s great, sure. Do I think that the academic approach is superior to the traditional? Of course I do, but I never suggested that everybody needs to subscribe to it. If what you are interested in is the composition of the classical literature (who wrote it and where, and what were the influences that fed into it), then the academic method reigns supreme. If you are interested in a more traditional approach (analysing the content of the literature from within a traditional Jewish hermeneutic), then that traditional approach is clearly the one that you would – and should – be following. Personally, I am interested in both, but I’ve no problem with somebody preferring one over the other. While I don’t think much of contemporary Haredi chiddushim (what little I’ve read), my list of names included certain moderately contemporary individuals, for whom I’ve great respect and whose literature holds a cherished place on my shelves.

    The Satmar Rebbe would be one such individual, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe another. The Rav (whom you evidently think I don’t respect, for no other reason than the fact that I called him Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) would be another again, and I am much enamoured of the Torah of his grandfather: the greatest and most revolutionary thinker since Maimonides. I am sure it doesn’t offend you to hear me say “Maimonides”, rather than the Rambam, so can we please get over this nomenclature nonsense? Yes, I normally append the title “Rav” when mentioning great rabbis. No, I’m not at all remorseful for having dropped it here (I usually drop it in speech, anyway) because I think the responses to my doing so have been ridiculous.

    Now, you commenced by saying that you agreed with much of my article, but that the comments turned you off. May I ask what it was that lost your support in what I wrote above? That you perceived a rejection of traditional approaches to Torah? There’s more to the world than Haredi vs. academia. What about all of the other yeshivot? Where have I criticised non-Haredi institutions? And where have I criticised Haredi institutions that are funded privately, or that are filled only with those who demonstrate potential?

    As for your assertion that full-time, mandatory study has nothing to do with the decline of the generations, I dispute this. I heard this equation so many times at Ohr Somayach and have heard it repeated endlessly in Rav Nissan Kaplan’s Mussar schmuessen (he alludes to it in this one, about five minutes in, although there are better examples than this). Also, Nosson Slifkin even mentions it in this post. This concept is integral to the modern kollel system, for without it, how else would you explain the fact that it never existed in the past?

    Now, I believe that the Haredi community is cutting themselves off from the outside world. You mention that it “may be a widespread attitude… among charedi kollelim, but it is not the basis of the institution”. On what grounds can you make such a distinction? You can say that “those guys” are just doing it wrong, but they think that you’re doing it wrong, and they’re in the majority.

    And finally, I’m going to quote you. “Full time Torah learning, in an economically and socially sustainable manner, should not be looked down upon as a cop out”. I never said that it should, and I am pleased that we can both be in agreement on this point. While a lack of respect for such a phenomenon will certainly lead to a lack of respect for the kollel system, you can see now that such a development doesn’t happen in reverse.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Simon, thanks for your reply. I’m pleased to see that we do in fact agree on more than I realised, and I appreciate the fact that you consistently exclude non-charedi yeshivot from your criticisms.

    I guess the main thing I take issue with is your constant juxtaposition between the traditional and academic approaches, with the conclusion that the university is churning out much higher quality talmud torah than the kollel. (I do realise that this is straying somewhat from your original article – as I said, it arose more in the comments.)
    In comparing the two approaches, you refer to the content studied – composition of the literature vs prescriptive content and nitty gritty machloket. Possibly as far as chidushim are concerned, the university is producing more than the kollel – I don’t know enough about this, so I’m happy to defer to your assessment. That might be the best measure of success of the university program, but not of the kollel program. Success of the traditional approach goes beyond the content studied, and would also be measured by things like the sheer number of people who include talmud torah in their day (even if what they produce is a chiddush to no one but themselves) and the effect this has on their spiritual wellbeing and middot.
    For this reason, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the success of the two systems in terms that are far more relevant to the academic approach only. It’s one thing to criticise what kollel people are NOT doing, and I agree with you on that; but to find them lacking in what they ARE doing, using only the academic measure of success, doesn’t do them justice.

    As an aside, I don’t think the basis for full time study has anything to do with the generations in decline (which I don’t believe they are, for the very reasons you’ve mentioned). That may be an often-quoted concept among rabbanim trying to keep people in yeshiva rather than encountering the big bad secular world, and it may well have contributed to the inflated kollel numbers we see nowadays; but I believe the original basis for full time study as a value is “v’hagita bo yomam valayla” – and when this mandate was given to Yehoshua, there hadn’t yet been enough generations to make a call about sociological trends. Whatever its deficiencies, the kollel at least fulfils this mandate.

  • Michael Kransky says:


    Given that you are a reformed/progressive Jew do you think you are in the best position to be commenting on this issue?

    Do you think you can identify with the mindset of these people in the same way a person of their (not your) religious persuasion might?

    Or could there be a hidden agenda somewhere in all of this?


  • Shira, you raise a very good point. I do not mean to assess the kollel system by academic standards, but to assess them by their own. There is no point debating whether or not Yeridat haDorot features as a motivation behind the establishment of the kollel: I have already provided you with sources to support my understanding that it does, but I cannot continue to do so if you won’t accept them.

    My point in this regard is that the kollel as a system of mass education has failed, so long as their intention was to revitalise the world of intensive Torah learning. If their intention was merely to provide individuals with a life saturated with words of Torah, for no other reason than the personal spiritual satisfaction that those individuals will receive, then they have succeeded in their aims. I do not think that this is what they were aiming to do.

    And Michael, you don’t know me. If you did, you would know that I am not a “reformed/progressive Jew”. Furthermore, if you had read other things that I have written (the comments appended to this post might be a nice start) then you would also know of the little, albeit important, experience that I have had in the Haredi community. I don’t think that there’s a hidden agenda here at all. In fact, anybody with basic English competency should be able to detect my agenda pretty clearly. You seem to have picked up on it, and I don’t imagine that you needed to read between the lines to do so.

  • ariel says:

    This article just appeared on ynetnews.com


  • Sorry, Ariel: I only just noticed your comment. I don’t like the article! Even though it might support certain claims that my post made, I find Ynet a highly sensationalist news service at the best of times, and everything about this particular article screams hearsay. The claim that this lone, anonymous yeshiva student “reveals truth behind yeshiva student stipends” makes me uncomfortable, even if some of the things that he says resonate with my experiences too.

    Also, since when does freier mean “sucker”? Somebody who speaks Yiddish correct me please, but frei means “free”. Referring to the irreligious as “free” is a reference to their having cast off the yoke of Torah and mitzvot, while “suckers” denotes gullibility and a propensity to let others get the better of you. I’ve never heard people in the yeshivish world refer to the irreligious as naive or guileless.

  • frosh says:

    I don’t know about the Yeshivish world, but in regular Israeli society, פראייר does mean sucker.
    To hear it in a sentence, click on the following link לא פראיירים

  • Thank you, Frosh and Dovid! You’re not going to believe this but, as soon as I went on Facebook, the very top of my news feed was a snarky post by a friend of mine, which featured this image emblazoned for all to see.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Simon,

    If only this image had been brought to our attention before your article was published, it could have been used as the accompanying graphic :-)

  • ariel says:


    That image is very telling.

    Logic dictates two solutions:

    a) All university students (okay, at least all FT Masters students) should receive the same stipends as kollel students; or

    b) All kollel stipends should be cancelled and anyone who wishes to study full time should have to pay for the privelage.

    I’ll leave you all to choose your preference…

  • frosh says:

    Hi Ariel,

    I think there are more options than that.

    A ‘HECS’ type system for those planning to become community rabbis or educators.

    Also, a continuation of the current stipends for exceptional students (just like we have certain scholarship grants in the secular education system).

  • dovid segal says:

    the problem in the kollel system isn’t too much torah, but too many thievs.


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