Thursday, November 24, 2011

Torah Study & Working: Shulchan Aruch (156) vs Mishneh Berura

Shulchan Aruch  (O.H.#156): After a session of Torah study go to work. This is because all Torah which is not combined with a job will eventually come to nothing and will lead to sin… Nevertheless one should not make his work the chief focus of his life but rather secondary to his Torah and in this manner both with flourish…

Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10)Whoever decides that he will study Torah and not have a job and therefore will be financed from tzedaka – disgraces G‑d (chilulul HaShem), degrades the Torah and extinguishes the light of religion and causes evil to himself and removes his life from the World to Come. That is because it is prohibited to benefit from the words of Torah in this world. Our Sages said that whoever benefits from words of Torah takes his life from the world. Furthermore they commanded not to make Torah into a crown to be elevated in the eyes of others nor should Torah be used as a shovel to dig with. Furthermore they said to love work and to hate the rabbinate. They also said that all Torah which is not accompanied by a job will in the end be lost and will bring about sin and that in the end such a person will end up stealing from others.

Avos(2:2): It is wonderful to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation because the efforts invested in both cause sin to be forgotten. And all Torah study which is not combined with worldly occupation eventually comes to nothing and brings sin in its trail…

Biur Halacha(156:1):The seforim write that this is rule is addressed to the masses since not everyone is able to have the merit to exist on the high level to be involved exclusively with Torah study. However there are always individuals who are in fact able to devote themselves totally to Torah study. [This is what is mentioned in Berachos 35b, “Many did like R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and they were not successful in Torah. That means that the masses were not successful in exclusive Torah study – but there were individuals who were]. And G‑d will surely provide them with a livelihood as the Rambam (Hilchos Shmita chapter 13) wrote, “And not just the tribe of Levi alone…”And it is obvious that if there already exist men who wish to support them in order that they devote themselves to Torah study that this directive to combine work and Torah study is not relevant. The proof for this is provided by the Yissachor-Zevulun relationship.

R’ Yishmael said that Torah study should be combined with a job. R’ Shimon Bar Yochai said that is impossible. If one ploughs, sows, reaps, threshes and winnows in the appropriate season there is no time to master Torah. In fact if one is totally devoted to serving G‑d then all his work is done for him by others… Abaye said that many have followed the advice of R’ Yishmael and  have been successful while many who have followed the advice of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai have not been successful. Raba requested his students not to come to yeshiva during the months of Nissan (in order to plant) and Tishri (in order to harvest) so that they not need to worry about sustenance during the rest of the year


  1. A man once came to the Chazon Ish asking him advice. He got 2 job offers, and he wants to know which to take.

    The first is Kashrus administrator of the rabbanut, a position in which he is confident that he would be able to change the kashrus standards in all of Israel, causing the public to eat only kosher food. If he does not take this job, they will hire someone who does not have his standards and the public who rely on this hechsher will not eat kosher (note: I do not know what the issues with the hechsher were, or how severe).

    His other choice is to be a rebbi in a yeshiva. If he does not take that job, the Yeshiva will hire a different Ben Torah, on the same level as him, so its not as if the kids are going to be less frum.

    Which job should he take, he asked.

    The Chazon Ish asked him, "Do you think, if you take the job as a Rebbi, that you could perhaps convince 2 of your students to learn during a Bain Hazemanim?"

    "Yes," he said. "I think I can do that."

    "Then you should know," said the Chazon Ish, "that two kids learning Torah bain hazemanim as if it were the zman, is much more valuable to Hashem than making the entire Eretz Yisroel eat kosher!"

  2. We say it every day; Talmud Torah Kneged Kulam. This means, say Chazal, that learning one word of Torah imparts more holiness than a lifetime of doing Mitzvos!

    The Vilna Gaon comments: So when someone learns just one page of Gemora, he covers hundreds of words, each of which gives him more Kedusha than a lifetime of doing Mitzvos.

    As Rav Hutner ZT'L used to point out - every utensil in the Bais HaMikdash had some kind of Avodah done with it. Except the Aron. The Aron did nothing but exist. The Aron represents the Talmid Chachom, the container of the Torah. It does not need to do any act. Its very presence is its success. (Of course, this does not mean that a Talmid Chacham does not have to fulfill the Mitzvos. Doing Mitzvos is part of being a Talmid Chacham, because if someone does not do what he learns, then obviously his learning is not meant seriously, and is not real learning.)

    But a Talmid Chacham does not have to be "employed." The Vilna Gaon had no "job." He was not the local Rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva, or anything. He was like the Aron Kodesh. In our days, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler, and yibd"l Rav Chaim Kanievsky had/have no "jobs". Each are an Aron HaKodesh.

    Rav Ahron Kotler ZT'L said in his hesped of the Chazon Ish, that the reason the Chazon Ish was bigger than him, was because the Chazon Ish had no yeshiva to run; he had nothing in his life except Torah. The goal of becoming a Talmid Chacham is so, so, so desirable, that everyone is encouraged to pursue it. If you cant, or wont, for whatever reason, nobody is judging you. But no question -- if our goal in this world is to bring Nachas Ruach to Hashem / to accumulate merits for Olam Habah / to sanctify the world / etc etc -- becoming a Talmid Chacham is by far the best way to go.

  3. Kollel was never for “the best” learners but rather for anyone who WANTED the honor of learning in Kollel, as the Rambam describes those who WANT to join Shevet Levi. He does not condition their membership in the Kollel community as having to be the best, but rather having the desire. The idea that only the “best’ should learn in Kollel is a baseless falsehood and it is against the Halchah as expressed by the Rambam which states that anyone who so chooses may learn in Kollel. See also YD Laws of Talmud Torah 246:21 and Shach ad loc. Kollel is a special privilege and status that anyone can go for if they so choose, the Rambam says.

    Sitting and learning all day is the ideal. "Talmud Torah kneged kulam." Chazal say, one word of Torah is higher than an entire lifetime of doing these Mitzvos. Chazal often mention that Toroso Umnoso is the ideal, that we do nothing all day but learn. Nowadays poskim say that w cannot reach that level, but clearly the closer the better. Also, Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Toalmud Torah, in the Shach ad loc, says that nowadays learning all day is the ideal, and that if someone has the ability to do it, he should. The Shach adds that regarding learning all day in general, nowadays we cannot reach our potential in learning the way the Rambam etc. did, since we are not on that level. Therefore, we should learn all day if we can.

    The Rambam writes that a "working person" is someone who learns 8 hours a day and works 3. Not works 9am to 5pm.

  4. A few other falsehoods that need responding:

    1) All Chazals, such as Im ain kemach ain torah, just means that if you have no food, you cannot learn. Other Chazals say that if you have no food and you try to learn anyway, you will end up having to steal to eat, and what good is that. None of this has anything to do with Kollel. If you are supported by your parents, in laws, Yeshiva, or wife, you are not in a situation where you have to steal, and you have fulfilled the Chazal.

  5. 2) All Chazals that encourage people to work are also fulfilled by our Kollel people, and only exclude someone who has no means of support. Learning in Kollel is 100% a legitimate parnasa. If I become a baseball player and I have people pay to watch me play ball, that's OK, but if I become a scholar and have people pay me to learn - that's not?? If I got a job in a think-tank thinking of stuff all day, that's wonderful - but if I get a job in Kollel thinking of Chidushei Torah that's not?? Why should learning be any less? B'H today we have people who specifically want to support Kollelim, similar to Yissachar-Zevulun. If I were hired by these people to dance for them, I would be considered having a job. And it is no worse if they hire more to learn and provide them with Olam Habah instead of entertainment.

    The exhortations in Chazal against being unemployed refer to those who have nobody who wants to pay them for anything, and are forced to take money form what was designated for the poor, which they do not have to be if they would get a job. But Kollel is not Tzedakah for aniyim. There is a big difference. Kollel support is support in return for learning. Tzedakah is support in return for nothing. As long as I am earning your support - regardless of whether it is through defending you in court or learning Choshen Mishpat - I am employed.

    None of this "living off tzedakah" material has anything to do with kollel people. This is a common error. Tzedakah means that I give you money for no other reason that you need it - I do not demand anything in return for my donation. If I do demand something in return for my donation, it is not a donation but payment for services rendered. So if I pay you to entertain me, to be my personal trainer, to sing and dance for me, to be my baby sitter, I am not a baby sitter living off charity, but rather a paid worker. And so the statements about people living off tzedakah refer to people who are given money because they are poor, with no expectation from the donor that they learn, or work, or sleep, or do whatever they want. However, if someone gives money to you because he wants to merit the zechus of supporting Torah, and expects you to learn Torah because that is what he is supporting you to do, then that is not tzedakah at all but rather a simple business deal, the same as if I pay you to play baseball.

  6. If I give you tzedakah money because you are poor, and you sit home all day watching television, then you may be an unproductive member of society but you are not a thief - I gave you tezdakah for food, and you are spending it on food. It was my choice to do that. But if I give you money to learn in Kollel and you stay home all day watching TV then you are a thief, because you took money specifically to learn and you did not keep your end of the bargain.

    Thus, taking money for learning in Kollel is NOT living of tzedakah. Since I, the recipient, must provide something in return for payment received, that is a simple business deal. If I do NOT have to provide anything in return for payment received, that is Tzedakah. Since Kollel people must learn Torah in return for the payments they receive, they are NOT living at all off Tzedakah. Not any more than any person who renders services for payment received.

    (As an aside, incidentally and for the record, the Halachah is that you are nowadays ALLOWED to live off Tzedakah to learn (see the Ramah and Shach in Hilchos Talmud Torah).

    Regarding maaser - The maaser goes to the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva pays the Kollel. The Maaser is only going to them in return for and under the condition that they learn. This is not living off Tzedakah. This is a receipt of money in exchange for doing something, which is not the same as living off Tzadakah. This is providing a service that is considered valuable to those who provide the payment. it is no different than a singer getting money to sing or a baseball player getting money to play. The fact that you are allowed to use your maaser to support these fellows is no different than the fact that you are allowed to use your maaser to support Tzedakah organizations that pay fundraisers, administrators and other workers. Maaser is not the same as Tzedakah. Nobody would consider the head of Hatzolah as someone who "lives off tzedakah" even though he is paid through donations given to the organization. The same thing applies to someone who learns, and because he learns, is supported by whatever source, including maaser.

  7. 3) There is an obligation on every Jew to become as great in Torah as he is able. There is also an obligation to not steal, or not to put yourself in a situation where you will have to steal. Or to make sure the Torah scholars live respectfully and not as beggars. The ideal situation is to have both.

    But the standard of livelihood required is bare minimum. "Kach hi darkah shel torah - pas b'melach tochal etc." -- Bread salt and water - if you have that, you have parnasah. The Rambam writes that a typical Baal Habayis works 3 hours a day and learns 8.

    This is what a "working person" is. Three hours a day. 8 hours learning.

    What in the world does that have to do with today's working man's lifestyle where he works 8 hours a day and almost never even learns 3? It proves nothing that Chazal endorsed working, since working in those days meant learning 8 hours a day.

    4) The Rambam praises those who learn all day and don't have jobs, as the elite "Shevet Levi" of our days. Clearly, even if working is endorsed, it is inferior to those who learn. To reconcile the Rambam with your Chazals, you can choose any of the commentaries available, some of which explain it similar to above.

    5) If learning in Kollel is against the Chazals about Melachah and Derech Eretz, then so is being a Rebbi or a Rav. See the Rama YD 246:6. He brings your Chazals and says that therefore nobody can be a paid Rebbi or a Rav either, since he relies on the congregation. But then he brings dissenting opinions, and rules that the custom is that Torah scholars do benefit from their learning, by support from the community.

    Then he brings other opinions that the community should support its Torah scholars even to the point of affluence.

    The Rama then says it is a Midas Chasidus - praiseworthy - for someone who can become a Gadol B'Torah and make an independent living, but continues that not everyone is capable of this. It is clear that he is saying that if you have a choice between becoming a Godol B'Torah or making a living, becoming a Godol B'Torah comes first.

    The Shach on the spot points out that the Halacha always follows the Minhag and the Minhag is like those opinions that one may depend on the community to support him in order to learn. He says that this is because of the Halachah of Ais La'Asos, meaning, even if it is theoretically prohibited to rely on the community, but because nowadays we cannot do both, become great in Torah and make independent livings, the right thing to do is to learn Torah and be supported.

    He continues by saying that if someone spreads Torah and spends all his time learning and teaching, even if he has a skill with which to make a living, it would be wrong of him not to allow the community to support him, since this way he would be able to spend his time learning and teaching, rather than working.

    See, its very nice to make an independent living, but it is more important to become a Godol B'Torah. If you cant have both, then Torah is the right choice. Whatever advantages there is in making money, they do not come close to those of becoming a great Torah scholar.

  8. Being a welfare bum dependent on the goodwill of others is always a bad thing. It's dehumanizing and emasculating. Producing a society full of people like this will collapse the society's values and eventually turn it into modern-day Greece (bankrupt with violent rioting in the streets because the money-tree ran out of money to give out).

  9. Englishman,

    Here is the flaw in your thinking. Granted that full time learning is the best and there is no sin in being supported to do so. This works great for Jewish society when only a few choose to do this. But when Jewish society is setup, as it is now in Israel and some American communities, so that almost everyone is expected to learn full time for many years, society is being forced to support a system which is not only untenable, but unhealthy and against Chazal. Not only that, the money spent on this system takes away from other priorities such as chinuch.

  10. They always say proof is in the results.
    We have more problems in klal Yisrael now, then ever before, and we have made those problems.
    Shidduchim, girls who can not afford the demands of Kollel want to be's. Many bochurim and married people on pills against depression, people who have no food on their table. Divorces and extortion on a daily basis.
    And where are the R Moshe of this generation? The kollels are letting go of their yungeleit and many have stopped paying. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

  11. Rav Elyashev is the Rav Moshe of this generation. There are MANY MANY Talmidei Chachomim and Tzadikim in our midst.

  12. No Steve, Rav Eliashiv is not the Rav Moshe of this generation. Rav Moshe didn't pasken by fiat, he didn't lash out at people who disagreed with him and he didn't let askanim present messages in his name to the point that he had to say "If you didn't hear it directly from me then don't believe I said it".

  13. "Our Father, merciful Father who is compassionate, have mercy on us, and grant our heart understanding to comprehend and to discern, to perceive, to learn and to teach, to observe, to practice and to fulfill all the teachings of Your Torah with love." Brachot Shema.

    Obviously, fulfilling mitzvot is just as important as studying Torah, and if we study and do not fulfill, our Torah is worth very little indeed. What good is studying Torah all day long if those doing it can't manage to fulfill their own ketubah, which requires them to support their wives, not the other way around?

    "These are the precepts, the fruits of which may enjoys in this world, while the principle reward remains in the World to Come: ….performing deeds of kindness…..hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick….bringing peace between man and his fellow man and between husband and wife. And the study of Torah is equivalent to them all." Shabbat 127a.

    Torah study is equivalent to them because Torah study informs us about how to do mitzvot and inspires us to do more mitzvot. If Torah study does not increase our mitzvah observance, does not inspire us to do more acts of kindness, then it is a chillul Hashem because it is as if we are proving Chazal wrong.

    Our greatest rabbis over history have been experts in the secular sciences and have used their knowledge to help others. Many (Rambam, Ramban, Ramchal, Sforno) were doctors. Saving a single life is equivalent to saving a world (Sandhedrin 37a) -- how is this somehow beneath a Jew today? Even if the Vilna Gaon and Chazon Ish didn't work, they took enough time away from Torah study to become quite learned in mathematics and astronomy. Shouldn't we follow their examples?

    Part-time work with a fixed time for Torah study is the ideal of Chazal. It is now more possible than ever to work part-time, if you devote the necessary time and effort to acquire a marketable skill (which Chazal says our fathers are required to teach us anyway!).

  14. The actual performance of mitzvot is the most important:

    "The main thing is not study, but action." Avot 1:17.

    "A mitzvah is not complete until it has been brought from potentiality to actuality. It must be realized in actual fact. When a potential mitzvah is made actual, this is literally the `creation of the universe' -- because the mitzvah sustains the entire universe….Action is the main thing, not study, and you should see to it that your practical achievements are greater than your intellectual development." (R' Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Eitzot.)

    Torah study alone is "useless:"

    "To achieve complete fulfillment one must be developed in one's character and learned in Torah at one and the same time. Our Sages said that `an ignoramus will never be a saint' (Avoth
    2:6). On the other hand, to be learned by itself is useless. It is possible to be learned and completely wicked, and when a person is unworthy the Torah becomes an elixir of death for him. But when a person is both learned in Torah and saintly in his actions he is like an angel of the Lord of Hosts." (R' Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Eitzot.)

  15. Um, I did not write the comment that began with thanking englishman for his diatribe. I only wrote that first brief comment which mentions greece bankruptcy.

    Did you use my name by accident or something?

  16. @ Englishman Said

    Thanks for your diatribe. It was most enlightening and thouroughly entertaining.

    1) How do you explain the significant lack of Gedolim and Talmidei Chachomim in our times when there are more people in Kollel now than at any other time in history

    2) You talk of not needing to steal as Fathers in law, wives and Yeshivas provide funding. Pity to see the unfortunate number of Fathers in law sitting in prison for stealing and a newly exposed phenomena of Yeshivas stealing all because the need to provide food for more and more people.

    3) Thank you putting words in the mouth of the RAMA by extrapolating his comment that its praiseworthy for someone to learn and work, indicating that if someone can't do both then learning is the option to choose.In addition to the FACT that the RAMA never actually says this last point, perhaps you can explain why up until 30 years ago no-one bothered to live to this premise. Particularly with Yeridos HaDoros, you would assume that our holier forefathers would have figured this and listenedto the RAMA rather than leaving their learning at the age of 12-15 years to get jobs

    4) Same can be said of your interpretation of the Shach, how now-a-days its better to be supported than to work. Again, why is the concept of "NOT relying on the community for finances" a theoretic concept that isn't relevent today? Particularly when this underlying premise was the cornerstone of generations of Jews worldwide in how they lived and interacted with each other- until the last 30 years? How come these holy Jews didn't listen to the words of the RAMA and the SHACH

    5) I was always taught that a Rebbe/ Melamed was NOT allowed to charge for his services in teaching Torah -> what went so horribly wrong in previous generations that they never allowed the community to support them and today we managed to get back on track

    6) What happens if you can't become a Talmid Chochom - what are you supposed to do? At what point do you or someone else determine that you are NOT going to become a Talmid Chochom, or do you just keep trying? If trying is your answer, then what happened to all the Holy Doros preceeding us - why have we only got this message in the last 30 years?

    I could keep going, but you and I both know that your so focused on the validation of your belief structure that nothing I could say would make a difference and even if I could convince you.

  17. What lack of Gedolim and Talmidei Chachomim? There are many many such people today.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.