Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is One Allowed To Learn In Kollel As A Career?

Over on Rationalist Judaism, Rabbi Slifkin seems to point out that it is actually frowned upon by most Rishonim (Medieval Rabbis) to learn in Kollel as a career (See Here). The reason for this discussion is because of all the poverty found in the Charaidi world because they believe they can only sit and learn all day. They believe that the only proper path for an orthodox Jew is to learn in Kollel, or be a teacher in Yeshiva. 

I would like to point out that there actually is something in the Midrash Tanchuma that seems to allow, or encourage, learning in Kollel (Quoted in Rashi on Breishis 49:13). The Midrash says (Parshas Vayechi:11),
זבולן לחוף ימים
קדם זבולן ליששכר.
Zevulun [will dwell] on the sea coast: 
Zevulun [is mentioned] before Yissachar (even though Yissachar is older)
שזבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא ויששכר עוסק בתורה, עשו שותפות ביניהם, שיהא פרקמטיא של זבולן ליששכר, שכן משה ברכן, שמח זבולן בצאתך ויששכר באהליך (דברים לג).
שמח זבולן בצאתך לפרקמטיא, משום דיששכר באהליך עוסק בתורה.
[Because,] Zevulun dealt with commerce and Yissachar dealt with Torah. They made a partnership between themselves, that the commerce of Zevulun [would support] Yissachar. [This can be seen in] the blessing of Moshe (Devarim 33:18), "Rejoice, O Zevulun, in your going forth, and Yissachar, in your tents." [Meaning,] rejoice, O Zevulun in your going out to [deal with] commerce because Yissachar is in your tents dealing with Torah.  


עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה (משלי י), לפיכך הקדים זבולן ליששכר, שאלמלא זבולן, לא עסק יששכר בתורה, ומתוך שנתייחד יששכר בתורה ולא עסק בפרקמטיא, ולא היה לו עמל בדבר אחר, לפיכך כתוב בו: מבני יששכר יודעי בינה לעתים (ד"ה א יב).
Why [should Zevulun be happy that Yissachar is dealing with Torah]?
"It is a tree of life for those who grasp it." (Mishlei 3:18, the hebrew reference is incorrect) Therefore, Zevulun is [mentioned] before Yissachar, because if it was not for Zevulun, Yissachar would not be able to deal with Torah. Since Yissachar was able to focus on Torah and not deal with commerce, and he did not have to bother with anything else, therefore it writes by him (Chronicles 1 12:32), "And of the sons of Yissachar, those who had an understanding of the times[, to know what Israel should do; their chiefs were two hundred, and all their brethren obeyed their word.]" 

This Medrash seems to be very clear that Yissachar was learning all day because Zevulun was supporting him. In fact, Rashi (ibid) is even clearer,
Zebulun will dwell on the coast of the seas: Heb. חוֹף. His land will be on the seacoast. חוֹף is as the Targum renders: סְפַר, marche in Old French, borderland. He will constantly frequent the harbor of the ships, in the place of the port, where the ships bring merchandise, for Zebulun would engage in commerce and provide food for the tribe of Issachar, and they (the tribe of Issachar) would engage in [the study of] Torah. That is [the meaning of] what Moses said,“Rejoice, O Zebulun, in your going forth, and Issachar, in your tents” (Deut. 33:18) Zebulun would go forth [to engage] in commerce, and Issachar would engage in [the study of] Torah in tents. — [From Tanchuma Vayechi 11] לחוף ימים: על חוף ימים תהיה ארצו. חוף כתרגומו ספר, מרק"א בלע"ז [גבול], והוא יהיה מצוי תדיר על חוף אניות, במקום הנמל, שאניות מביאות שם פרקמטיא, שהיה זבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא, וממציא מזון לשבט יששכר והם עוסקים בתורה, הוא שאמר משה (דברים לג יח) שמח זבולן בצאתך ויששכר באהליך, זבולן יוצא בפרקמטיא ויששכר עוסק בתורה באהלים:
Rashi says, explicitly, that Zevulun was providing the sustenance (translated as food by of Yissachar in order that Yissachar could learn Torah. That is the very definition of Kollel.

Also, the Medrash points out that because their entire tribe was devoted to Torah study, they were able to produce 200 wise men that were able to guide the nation. It took an entire tribe studying Torah in order to produce 200 wise men! This shows that this Zevulun-Yissachar bond is the best way to create Torah leaders that can guide the community.

Additionally, there is a Gemara in Sotah (21a) that seems to imply this type of Yissachar-Zevulun relationship is acceptable. The Gemara there states,
What means He would utterly be contemned(Shir HaShirim 8:7)?— ‘Ulla said: Not like Simeon the brother of Azariah nor like R. Johanan of the Prince's house but like Hillel and Shebna. When R. Dimi came he related that Hillel and Shebna were brothers; Hillel engaged in [study of] Torah and Shebna was occupied in business. Eventually [Shebna] said to him, ‘Come, let us become partners and divide [the profits]’. A Bath Kol issued forth and proclaimed (Shir HaShirim 8:7). If a man would give all the substance of his house etc.
This seems like an enigmatic piece of Gemara, but it is clearly talking about partnerships between one person learning Torah and another person supporting the learner. In fact, Rashi comes to give a little insight on why Azariah and R. Johanan are mention. He states (ibid),
He (Referring to Shimon the brother of Azariah) is a Tanna in the first Mishna in Tractate Zevachim. He learned Torah on account of his brother (Azariah) who dealt with commerce in order that they should split the merit of Shimon's learning, therefore he is called the brother of Azariah. So too Rabbi Yochanan learned on account of the Prince (Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi), for [the Prince] supported [Rabbi Yochanan.]  
According to Rashi, this Gemara is pointing out that if two people go into a partnership where the other person is knowingly supporting them, then it is fine. If one person is committed to learning and the other person is committed to supporting them, this is considered appropriate. However, in the case of Hillel this was inappropriate, why?

The Eitz Yosef on the Ein Yaakov on this Gemara (Ein Yaakov Sotah 21a) tells us an important difference between Rav Shimon the brother of Azariah, Rabbi Yochanan and Hillel. By Rav Shimon and Rabbi Yochanan, the scholars were only able to learn full time because of their prior arrangements. Neither one would have learned full time had they not had these prior arrangements that they would be supported (note: not throught charity). However, Hillel was already learning full time, he was just in adverse poverty (note again: did not take charity). (My interjection) This can be seen from the Gemara in Yoma (35b),
Hillel the Elder that every day he used to work and earn one tropaik, half of which he would give to the guard at the House of Learning, the other half being spent for his food and for that of his family. One day he found nothing to earn and the guard at the House of Learning would not permit him to enter. He climbed up and sat upon the window, to hear the words of the living God from the mouth of Shemayah and Abtalion — They say, that day was the eve of Sabbath in the winter solstice and snow fell down upon him from heaven. When the dawn rose, Shemayah said to Abtalion: Brother Abtalion, on every day this house is light and to-day it is dark, is it perhaps a cloudy day. They looked up and saw the figure of a man in the window. They went up and found him covered by three cubits of snow. They removed him, bathed andanointed him and placed him opposite the fire and they said: This man deserves that the Sabbath be profaned on his behalf.
(Back to the Eitz Yosef) Therefore, when a rich person came to Hillel and offered to support him full time in order that they split the profits (money and reward in the next world), this was inappropriate.  
These sources seem like irrefutable evidence that Kollel (or more accurately, learning while someone else is supporting) is something that has been around since before the first Temple and even after the second temple. Also, this is how the leaders of the Jewish people were trained. 

However, there are some very important differences between the Zevulun-Yissachar bond, these cases reported in the Gemara, and the current Kollel system. First off, the Medrash's point is to show us that Zevulun is the greater partner because he supports Yissacher, that is why he is mentioned first in the Torah. Second, Yissachar and these Rabbis are not being supported by charity, he has made a partnership with Zevulun and the Rabbis made partnerships with their supporters. This is important because, as the Rambam says in the Laws of Torah Study (3:10),
Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates [God's] name, dishonors the Torah, extinguishes the light of faith, brings evil upon himself, and forfeits the life of the world to come, for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world.
Our Sages declared: "Whoever benefits from the words of Torah forfeits his life in the world." Also, they commanded and declared: "Do not make them a crown to magnify oneself, nor an axe to chop with." Also, they commanded and declared: "Love work and despise Rabbinic positions." All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.
The current Kollel system seems to violate the words of the Rambam. Most of the Kollels seem to accept government welfare, which is charity and many other forms of charity (having someone going around collecting for a Kollel, especially when they say Tzedaka). (We can define government welfare as charity because only those who earn less than what the government considers liveable, or people who lie to the government and say they earn less, get it.)

Nevertheless, because of this Zevulun-Yissachar bond and the cases in the Gemara we can see that some Kollels are, indeed, permissible. First off, community Kollels found in the United States are perfectly acceptable for two reasons; 1) Most of the people learning in the Kollel often act as teachers, 2) If they are not teaching anything they are still not accepting charity because the town pays for the Kollel to be there the same way Zevulun supported Yissacher and the people supported the Rabbis. Secondly, a person who has a family member that is willing to support them while they are learning seems to fit in the Zevulun-Yissachar category as well.

The conclusion that I have reached is simple. Kollels that demand other people pay for them after the fact, take government money, or encourage their participants to take welfare seem foolish. That has no basis in the history of the Jewish people. Some Rishonim have allowed people to learn and be supported by charity, but I, personally, do not find their arguments grounded in anything but the "they will starve if you don't" logic. The proper way for a Kollel is, as stated, either be like one of the community Kollels that provide fantastic resources, or have someone make a Zevulun-Yissachar relationship, as seen in the Medrash and Gemara, and avoid charity all together. In these ways, it seems to me, Kollel would be allowed as a career.


MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Well isn't that what this week's parsha is about?
Moshe Rabeinu has the people on the border, he needs to set up an army for the invasion and everyone decides they'd rather sit in kollel in Sinai instead.

E-Man said...

I believe you are right. Bnei Yisroel were, according to the Midrashim, too scared to go to Israel. I mean, who wants to work the land and sweat when G-D will just give you the manna and all your needs are taken care of without effort. Heck, that was better than kollel.

joshwaxman said...

Here is what I think is a plausible answer. We have to see how prakmatya for a talmid chacham is defined, in Berachot 34a, לעושה פרקמטיא לת"ח, but -- and I have to track it down, though I have indeed seen it somewhere -- the idea is that the Torah scholar is *somewhat* engaged in commerce, and the lauded person deals with them, say by buying his wholesale items and then selling them on the marketplace. i can perform prakmatya e.g. on behalf of farmers who produce the goods.

that would then be the meaning of שיהא פרקמטיא של זבולן ליששכר, Zevulun, on the coastal areas and running merchant ships, takes the mazon provided by Yissachar (acquired via effort of buying wholesale) and engages in prakmatya on behalf of both of them. They split the profits, and Yissachar, able to stay at home, is able to learn more Torah than if Yissachar would go out on the sea or road to make this profit. the actions of prakmatya are on behalf of Yissachar's goods, not simply support after engaging in their own prakmatya.

This would then be the meaning of Rashi where he states שהיה זבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא, וממציא מזון לשבט יששכר. He would bring out the food (provided by/on behalf) of shevet Yissachar.

E-Man said...

Why would that be enough to acquire half of the reward for "supporting" the talmid chacham? The talmid chacham is still putting in effort to his livelihood. It, then, seems unfair for the talmid chacham to give up half of his reward, no?

joshwaxman said...

where does it say that Yissachar is giving up 1/2 of his reward, in the text of the midrash?

if someone enables someone else to do a mitzvah, then they are partners in it.