Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Inherent Contradiction of Being In Kollel

Over at RationalistJudaism, Rav Natan Slifkin has pointed out in his usual inimitable fashion the problem with Chareidi claims that their right to army exemptions derives from their Torah learning being the real source of protection for the State of Israel.  He starts by brings an excerpt from a column by the venerable Rav Yonasan Rosenblum in Mishpachah Magazine in which he notes that it is in the Chareidi community's interest to support certain financial benefits for those who serve in the army:

To insist on the equivalence of kolleleit to any other societal group is a double-edged sword. A few years back, income supplements for kolleleit meeting certain criteria were challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court on the grounds that such supplements were not available to university students. The Israeli Supreme Court agreed, and rather than extend the supplements to university students, it got rid of them altogether.
I argued at the time that the Supreme Court had erred because university studies and kollel studies are manifestly not the same thing and provide different benefits to society. A democratic legislature can favor one over the other and in different ways precisely because they are manifestly not identical.
No issue so enrages secular Israelis about the chareidi community as the draft deferment for yeshivah students. Chareidi support for generous benefits for those who serve in the IDF is one means of mitigating that animosity. As Rabbi Grylak frequently reminds us, we are a minority in Israeli society, and, as such, should go out of our way not to irritate our secular brethren, especially at a time when Prime Minister Netanyahu has already vowed to review internal social priorities in light of the “social justice” protests.
We will not convince secular Israelis that kollel students protect Israeli society no less than IDF soldiers, and demanding that social policy conform to that assumption only infuriates them.
It is the last paragraph that we are to pay extra attention to. In truth, it's actually less radical than the usual set of claims one hears because it assumes equivalence between the Tzahal's efforts and those of the KDF (Kollel Defence Force) instead of the more common "The KDF is the real army of Israel".  But as Rav Slifkin notes:
Never mind secular Israelis - you won't convince anyone of that. On a theoretical level, it has a very shaky foundation. On a practical level, nobody really believes it - not even charedim.
Further on, Rav Slifkin states:
Second, and most significantly: Regardless of the sources that someone might dig up/ reinterpret to claim that yeshivah and kollel students are protecting Israel, the bottom line is that (a) the facts on the ground demonstrate otherwise, and (b) when push comes to shove, the charedim don't even believe it themselves.
The facts on the ground - as the Gemara would say, הא קא חזינן דלאו הכי הוא! From the tragedy of the Holocaust, to the 1929 massacres in Chevron, to the murders several years ago at Mercaz HaRav Kook, it is evident that Torah students are not even automatically protected from harm themselves, let alone protecting others. And this is only military harm - there are plenty of other kinds of harm that affect Torah students, from illness to fires to road accidents. And Israel does not seem to be any safer now than in 1948, despite the fact that there are 40,000 extra people learning in yeshivah/ kollel.
The charedim don't even believe it themselves. In Kiryat Sefer and Betar, bastions of the charedi community which are full of kollelim, they have the same security fences and armed guards as every other town in Israel that is over the Green Line. They have the same protections against different types of harm; in fact, charedim often seek to get the best doctor, not just a regular doctor! Any charedi person, given the choice of living in a settlement with a kollel but no guards, or a settlement with guards but no kollel, would choose the latter.
Certainly one can think back only a few ago to Operation Cast Lead.  The souther Chareidi community's reaction to the barrage of rockets shot out of 'Aza was not to run to the beis medrash but to Bene Beraq.  If Torah study protects, why the need to flee?
It is Rav Slifkin's final line, however, that leads one to see the innate contradiction that the idea of the KDF presents:

So, if you want to claim that we need lots of people in kollel in order to rebuild Torah after the losses of the Holocaust (although there is vastly more Torah learned today than before the Holocaust), fine. But don't claim that you believe that kollel students are remotely equivalent to the IDF in terms of protecting the country. They're not, and you know it.
Now here's where the inherent contradiction comes in.  The reason the "Gedolim" decreed after the Holocaust that the only good Jew is a full-time learning Jew is because of the need to rebuild the devastated Torah community.  However, if Torah study protects as the KDF claims it does, how did the Holocaust affect the Torah community of Europe?  Should they not have been immune to the devastation?  And if Torah study doesn't protect, if the IDF is superior to the KDF, then what excuse does the community really have for evading their share in the protection of Israel?

8 comments:

Adam Zur said...

Kollel is not defensible from a Torah standpoint.
It comes from either such a devotion to learning Torah that even the fact that it is against the Torah does not make any difference. Or it comes from a great desire for easy money and respect and in Israel the desire for power.

Bob Miller said...

I personally know someone in kollel who is a dedicated, purely motivated genuine Torah scholar, for sure not in it for money or power. He's one of my sons! Not all are cut out for the kollel life, but many are, and the best do great things for our people.

In general, resist the urge to generalize!

Adam Zur said...

Bob Miller--I don't disagree with you. The problem with Kollel today is it is a battle ground of the best best people and the worst. It is filled mostly with charlatans and frauds and yet has a decent share of sincere people devoted to learning and keeping Torah with absolute self sacrifice. If one of your children is one of the later then i think that is great. But then you could ask how i would defend this from a Torah standpoint. Well I would say a lot depends on the particular Kollel. some are run like a business and that is forbidden. if the arrangement is money per time spent that is forbidden. If it is run like a charity then that is permitted. (Ie making the Torah a business is forbidden but accepting charity to learn Torah.) the major place where kollel is forbiden is Israel where all kolles are run as a businesses.

Garnel Ironheart said...

There is no question that we need full time learners. Where are the next generation of poskim and leaders going to come from?
The problem isn't the sincere learners. It's the guys who are there because they don't know anything else, have been taugh contempt for everything that's not learning but never rise about mediocre.

Friar Yid said...

The idea that you can have the majority of your community be full-time learners is self-centered, childish, and contrary to historical precedent. As recently as 100 years ago, the only people able to be full-time scholars were the very rich or the subsidized-- in either case, a very small elite. Through an odd fluke of history, the Haredim have found a scenario in which their men can be in kollel forever and never need to choose between feeding their children and studying Talmud, and sadly, their leaders have demonstrated that they do not have the wisdom to turn down this temptation.

The irony is that there is a very solid principle behind the idea of wanting to create a "society of learners"-- namely the concept that anyone should be able to become a scholar, regardless of social position or financial wealth. However through a combination of becoming dependent on government money and generally missing the forest for the trees, the Haredi community has created a model which is ultimately unsustainable. The fact that everyone theoretically can be a scholar does not mean that everyone should be a scholar, and clinging to this idea denies its men the opportunity to be self-sufficient and learn trades and job skills, making them burdens on the state and their wives. Add to that a seemingly ever-increasing birth rate, and you've got a big problem waiting down the road.

Obviously, the issue of army service cannot be ignored in this larger question, but I also fear that the fact that working has been so devalued by Haredi society in favor of learning poses a very serious challenge to anyone who would like to see a major Israeli Haredi culture change. Haredim the world round recognize the need to grow up and provide for their communities and families, saving the few spots in kollel for the true geniuses who would most benefit. I cannot understand the mentality of Israeli Haredim who think that they are, or should be, immune from the basic social requirement to work simply due to their good luck to be living in Israel and wearing a black hat.

Anonymous said...

"There is no question that we need full time learners. Where are the next generation of poskim and leaders going to come from?"

The last generation of poskim and leaders did not come from full time learners! Nor any generations before that!

Anonymous said...

Meir says
I have to agree with 2:19.
Who are these great poskim today who have come out of the kollel. How many have ever written anything when its so cheap to write today. It cost nothing to write on the net. You are under an illusion if you think kollel will bring poskim and leaders. The same poskim as 50 years ago are the ones today. No new ones are growing up. The whole kollel has to be shaken up.

Adam Zur said...

I agree with any situation in which a a father father in law supports his son in law in Torah.
But kollel as practiced nowadays has two major problems. (1) It is against the halacha. (2) I would like to suggest that the entire value of yeshiva and kollel is exactly proportional to the a degree that it inspires people in it and out of it to be better people.
Yeshiva helps people grow morally and emotionally and spiritually. And positively effects its environment. Kollel does the exact opposite. It causes people to shrink morally, intellectually and emotionally.
I suggest that this is exactly what the Rambam saw in his days and that is why he came out so vociferously against supporting yeshivot.