Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Existential Danger: Kollel 'Culture'

Who hasn't discussed it innumerable times? Who hasn't asked, wistfully, how long the culture of institutionalized poverty for which Kollel culture is responsible can sustain itself? Who hasn't deeply resented the supercillious attitude of Rashe Yeshivah and their students toward equally religious (and learned) Jews who (together with their spouses) work long hours not only to support their families, but to sustain those who have decided that they 'deserve' to be supported in their studies?
Who, in the non-Hareidi world, doesn't resent the outright Hillul HaShem that Life long Learning on other people's חשבון causes?

And, among those who know, who hasn't been outraged by the price that this 'holy poverty' exacts upon the families subjected to it? Malnutrition, broken families, drugs, juvenile delinquency, and all of the evils illnesses of Egypt accrue to families who subscribe (or are subscribed) to the idiotic idea that everyone should learn Torah full time; that everyone will be the Gadol HaDor and that getting a job and supporting one's family (and, a fortiori, getting the education required to make a living) is a terrible shame and should block the marriages of such a person's children.

For whatever reason, those of us who know better, are silent. We have bought into the idea that we are second class Jews. Our Torah is no Torah. Our mitzvot are of lesser value. Our lives, like those of the Gibeonites, only validated because we are the water-carriers and the wood choppers of the Yeshiva World, whose denizens protect us from our enemies. God, they would have it, prefers their Torah to that of those who work all day and study by night (מיעוט שינה); who defend the lives of six million Jews and learn whenever they can.

Now it appears, that the Kollel Culture is not only a drain, it's a danger. According to a recent study, reported in today's Jerusalem Post, universal Kollel study ad infinitum is an existential danger to the State of Israel:

As the latest “State of the Nation Report: Society, Economy and Policy” by Jerusalem’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies warns, growing segments of our society are ill-equipped to participate in modern economic processes. Being left behind doesn’t just impact them and play havoc with our national statistics. It also costs the productive members of society heavily, forcing a diminishing population segment to support those who don’t pull their weight.

We’re hit by a double whammy. Israel’s economy is denied the contribution of those who remain on its sidelines, and it also must deduct from its GDP what’s shelled out to nonproductive societal components by way of entitlements – money spent on social services. We may be fast approaching a situation in which we pay out more than is coming in. Less will consequently be left to encourage innovation, tempting the more enterprising, upwardly mobile but inordinately burdened among us to pull up stakes and relocate to greener pastures.

ABOUT ONE-THIRD of Israeli households nominally subsist under the poverty line, while almost 20 percent of men between the ages of 35-54 don’t work. The malaise, though, isn’t equally endemic in all social sectors. Its gravest concentrations are among Arabs and haredim. Unemployment figures for Arab men had soared from 15% in 1979 to 27% in 2008.

Among haredi men it spiralled from 21% 30 years ago to a whopping 65%.

Making these numbers more alarming yet are school-enrollment trends. Should these continue, by 2040 78% of Israel’s youngsters would be educated in haredi or Arab schools, the very ones that notoriously ill-prepare their graduates for the modern workforce.

Everyone should have the right to learn Torah. Those who are uniquely gifted, should be fully supported to grow in learning, just as we support young scientists and writers. Anyone else should work like a mensch. If he or she chooses not to work there is absolutely no reason that others should pay for it. Certainly, as R. Israel Salanter used to say, no one, absolutely no one, has the right to do mtzvos at someone else's expense. Enough is enough.

It is time to stop the global support of Kollelim and to enforce the Rambam's unilateral declaration:

רמב"ם הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק ג הלכה י

כל המשים על לבו שיעסוק בתורה ולא יעשה מלאכה ויתפרנס מן הצדקה הרי זה חלל את השם ובזה את התורה וכבה מאור הדת וגרס /וגרם/ רעה לעצמו ונטל חייו מן העולם הבא, לפי שאסור ליהנות מדברי תורה בעולם הזה, אמרו חכמים כל הנהנה מדברי תורה נטל חייו מן העולם, ועוד צוו ואמרו אל תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהן ולא קרדום לחפור בהן, ועוד צוו ואמרו אהוב את המלאכה ושנא את הרבנות וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה סופה בטילה וגוררת עון, וסוף אדם זה שיהא מלסטם את הבריות.

The Torah will only benefit.


Religion and State in Israel said...

Check out the great charts at: Taub Center for Israel Studies

Anonymous said...

The question is - how on earth do we go about trying to change this. I can't imagine there are many avreichim who are reading this blog and have now changed their minds, and on the other hand I can't imagine that many of your readers were big fans of the kollel culture in the first place. For those who agree that the Israeli Charedi system is disastrous and needs to be changed for all of our sake's - how do we do this?

Anonymous said...

there is much i agree with you here, but i will choose to focus on our differences.
1. i think you are highlighting the extreme problems in the hareidi world. malnutrition? how pervasive is that?
2. i think that it is very difficult to compete in the street with the purity of 'torah only.'
3. i question the validity of the stats. there are arabs and hareidim who make money off the books, which is not accounted for in these stats.
4. the paragaph 'about one third' is unclear. in israel is there 20% unemployment among young males?

but overall you make strong points, and make them well. [i particularly like your givoni imagery; unfortunately, not only is this position internalized by the working religious, it is internalized by the learning religious, i.e., isnt god great, providing for us by giving us these people who work and give us, as we are the ones who are really keeping the world functioning.]

but how do you propose to put an end to the pervasive kollel lifestyle?

Brian Meeks said...

I found that piece very compelling. I am not a religious person and didn't understand many of the words, but your writing is so compelling that I just couldn't stop reading. The only comment I can offer to the discussion is wow, what a wordsmith!

The issues you address do sound dire, I would imagine that with people like you to lead the discussion, surely a solution can be found.

Now off to Google to try to figure out some of those words that aren't in my silly American vocabulary.