Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kollel & "God Haters"

I was completely disgusted by this article on Cross-Currents by R' Doron Beckerman of my alma mater OJ, and I suggest reading it through in context before reading my commentary, to which I'm adding a little bit at the end from the Jewish Economics presentation.
Is the motive of those who currently oppose Kollel, utilizing the Rambam as their model, that they just can’t bear that people are taking money for its study? Such an attitude can, virtually by definition, only come from someone who is exceedingly meticulous not to waste a spare moment available for Torah study. I think it safe to surmise that the percentage of people in this category, who did not spend at least a portion of their married life learning in Kollel, is infinitesimal.

?! More likely, those who oppose Kollel oppose it on the grounds that many of the people who are taking the money are NOT reluctant to "take the money". Moreover, they likely oppose Kollel on the grounds that it IS an imposition on the public.

To create a false choice of "opposition must come from someone meticulous not to waste a spare moment" to learn and then make another gross assumption that such people are few and far between is disgusting.

The undercurrent of the ideological gripe against Kollel is invariably the placing of the burden on the community to support it - and yet the Rambam writes that if the multitudes were asked at the time of the Tannaim to support Torah they would have gladly showered the Talmidei Chachamim with the greatest wealth!

This is also a horrible argument. There's a far cry from a poor man clearly dedicated to his learning not asking for anything, who, if he did ask, people would have no qualms giving versus a lifestyle which asks for the money upfront to live a rather comfortable lifestyle. Moreover, those same people back then - despite their complete trust that the poor man was in fact learning seriously - did NOT give the money anyway!

Based on the Rambam himself, in light of the consensus among the Halachic decisors from the time of Rambam and on, one would expect that there would be a communal sigh of relief, that we are able to fulfill our most fervent wish which is to increase Torah study and need not be concerned about the problem of the Kollel learners accepting funds, since Kollel has become universally accepted as legitimate.

This is just silly.

Has any one of those saying it is a burden recommended pro bono investment on behalf of the learners (they do often have wedding money!), which the Rambam (Avos ibid.) considers meritorious? Have they agreed to pay taxes on their behalf, which is obligatory for people engaged in full time Torah study?

Why don't they use that wedding money to cover their bills? Wedding money is not worth risking on short-term investments usually. What taxes, exactly?

It is meant to underscore the idea that we must sometimes examine what lies at the root of opposition to a particular system of widespread Torah study, and be certain that it does not stem from begrudging accomplishments of others.

...and we must be extremely careful when doing so to not only understand that not only does it serve nobody to make up or focus on negative arguments which serve no purpose, but to address the primary issues which are legitimate reasons to oppose. Nowhere does R' Beckerman address any of the legitimate reasons people are opposed to kollel, merely dismissing it as something people can place in the comments. He only not-so-subtly hints that those who are against kollel are "begrudging accomplishments", should "breathe a communal sigh of relief" that nobody looks twice at people taking money for being in Kollel, or should be coming up with more ways of handling their financial responsibilities.

Perhaps it is not "begrudging accomplishments" which upsets those who are against kollel, but the actual facts on the ground. What does not help, however, is the seeming attitude of those who are for kollel that implies that not only is what exists now wonderful - while ignoring and dismissing its drawbacks - but that everyone else should be doing even more to make it easier on them.
Let me add to that something I touched on during my presentation: The problem is not kollel. My brother is 34 years old and still learning - married, 4th kid on the way iyH. He also has zero dollars in debt, and doesn't take any tzedakah. One of the most interesting comments both people I spoke to from Mesila said was that as they discussed opening up in Lakewood, someone argued that they can't come into Lakewood and tell guys who are making $30k between their wives' jobs and their kollel checks that they aren't making enough to support their lifestyles: You'd be basically telling them to leave kollel and get a job, and that simply wouldn't fly there. They responded simply that those people are missing the point: The problem isn't learning, it's people who earn $30,000 spending $70,000 - and it's the exact same problem as someone who makes $150,000 and spends $300,000. If you show people that they simply need to understand their finances and live within their means, those who truly wish to learn will find a way to do so on less money - much like my brother has done. Those who are there merely to live an easy life will likely leave and start working, which is better for everyone.

One of the primary arguments against kollel is the financial burden it creates on the community at large. R' Beckerman does absolutely nothing to lessen that argument, instead choosing to imply that those who are against kollel must be jealous God-haters. He is in essence fostering the hate he's claiming to wish to diffuse. A better approach to the subject would be helping to determine what can be done to alleviate the burden perceived by those who are not in or who are against kollel, by minimizing waste within the kollel community and by ensuring that those who are there wish to be there and are willing to sacrifice to do so. By doing this, it would remove the primary qualms people have with kollel and will both reduce the amount needed while increasing the likelihood that people can - and are willing to - support it.