Reply To: The Post Kollel Financial Crisis

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This situation is such a complex one, and each of the sides has important points, there is no real simple solution. In fact it really is a very old argument- is Torah learning for the masses or for the elite?
I remember learning about Avraham’s Eshel, which chazal explain either as a tree (pardes, orchard) from which he fed his guests, or as an inn (pundak) to receive guests. The Pundak would be open for all- Torah for the masses. the Tree was more for the elite. So even Chazal disagreed which was the best approach to spreading Torah learning.
To add to the mix a few things to think about (applicable to America, not to Israel where army service/laws against working also play a factor in the length of learning).
People raised the point that only the best and brightest should be supported in learning (Pardes approach), as in the past where the great Yeshivos in Europe had strict entrance requirements and so only the best stayed in learning.
1. We are far wealthier today as a whole than the Jewish communities of Europe were in the past, so the model of only being able to support a small few in learning is not comparable.
2. One of the problems with the old system was that Torah became an exclusive right of the elite, leaving the rest of the population disenfranchised, and with only a weak link to frumkeit. Chasidus stepped in to give alternative means to become close to hashem even for the non-learners. So perhaps the danger is minimized today, with other means to develop in ones’s avodas Hashem, and because the general population has far more opportunities to learn Torah today even in a non-Kollel environment than the typical Cheder boy of yesteryear who stopped his learnings at a young age to work. But we would still be wary of a scenario where Torah is only for the elite. Also there is another danger- If full-time learning is reserved for a minority, that minority might lose its standing and respect (as has been true in the past, say mid 20th century America), so that the best and brightest will not turn to Torah learning.
3. How many need to learn in order to continue to produce gedolim b’Torah? The gemara talks about 1000 in entered the Beis Medrash to produce 1 gadol. There is a concept that you need a critical mass of Torah learning to create an environment that fosters gadlus b’Torah. Torah greats will not be produced in some ivory tower of elite learners only.
4. As Joseph said (one of the few times I actually agree with him), it is hard to predict who will be the future gedolei hador- IQ and brilliance is not necessarily a predictor, hasmada and desire to learn can often overcome lesser intellectual skills. We’re not talking about those who are breaking their teeth trying to understand and see no success in their studies. Long-term learning is somewhat of a self-selective process. Those who can’t learn for whatever reason will not be sitting in kollel for 10+ years. At the most, they will stay in Yeshiva because of shidduchim pressures, and maybe 1-2 yrs after marriage, but at some point their self-esteem and other interests will override external pressures and they will leave learning. So really the “controversy” is about those who stay 3-10 years, who can learn, although they may not be the best at it.
5. The model of yesteryear when one could work and learn at the same time (think cobbler learning as he fixes shoes, milkman discussing Torah with his colleagues as he delivers the milk) is sort of obsolete. Not too many laborers and craftsmen these days. The well-paying jobs that frum people tend to go for require many years of study and then involve many long hours of work which involve total concentration, leaving not too many hours left for learning, even if he can muster the intellectual stamina to do so. There aren’t many openings these days for shepherds.
6. If one waits until he needs parnassa to get one, then there will be long schooling delay that he cannot afford. If he gets his degree/training before his kollel years, then by the time he is ready to/needs to work, his skills will be obsolete and his job opportunities limited due to the gap. So he needs to get his degree/training as he learns, but that distracts him from his learning, with one foot constantly out the door… What is the solution? By the way, there are training programs in place – even in Lakewood. They help the men earn BTLs (for whatever they are worth), there are accelerated accounting programs, kiruv training programs, and others.

Whew (long)!