Monday, November 22, 2010

Yeshivos and Kollelim

The following is a practical view of the reality of the Yeshiva system. It is not based on my views of Torah uMada which sees Mada as having intrinsic value that should be studied L’Shma.

Let me begin by saying that I have profound respect for all Roshei yeshiva as the leaders of Klal Israel. I believe that they are responsible for providing us with the next generation of Roshei Yeshiva and Gedolim. They provide the guidance spiritually - and a place to learn and thereby produce individuals who are capable of becoming our future leaders.

I would, also, like to make it known that my son is currently learning full time in Yeshivas Mir Yerushalyim, and is a Shoel uMeishiv to a Beis HaMedrash of over four hundred students in a new Beis HaMedrash there. He also has my full support to learn full time for the rest of his life, if he so chooses. This should give you some idea of my perspective. I am not a Yeshiva or Kollel basher.

The Problem

The problem is the systemic abuse of the Kollel and the Yeshiva in the sense that many Avreichim stay there far too long, and when they finally do leave they have virtually no training to enable them to compete in the Job market. I have spoken to many Roshei Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel about this problem and, so far, they privately agree with me. They, however, do not want to go on record.

To date as far as I know the only Rosh HaYeshiva who went on record was Rav Aaron Soloveichik, ZTL. He stated publicly as well as in print that not everyone is meant to learn full time, that learning full time is meant for the Yechidei Segula. " Vehogeisa Bo Yomim Va Lailos" is an imperative for them, in that fashion. The rest of us can fulfill our obligation of "Vehogiso" by being Koveiah Itim (setting aside time) both in the daytime and at night for learning Torah. One can theoretically even fulfill his obligation to learn Torah by reciting Krias Shema.

There are some Avreichim who don't have what it takes to make it in learning and, nevertheless, continue to doing so trying to “make it” despite years of not succeeding, instead of perhaps going into a field where they can contribute to a much higher degree to serve God and Klal Israel ( i.e. be more productive! ) Change is needed. The attitude needs to be developed that it is OK to get a job. It's not the end of the world if you want to support your family. In fact it is a very positive thing.

The problem is that The Roshei Kollel and Roshei Yeshiva are encouraging a “Torah only” approach as the only legitimate approach to Torah study. This attitude is based on the writings of Rabbi E. E. Dessler: Throw 1000 Bachurim into a Beis HaMedrash and if one rises to the top and the others fail, so be it! This is the “price” of creating a Gadol! 999 Bachurim or Yungeleit, who don’t make the grade don’t matter because: we need Gedolim!

I don’t agree that this is the “price”. Yes we need Gedolim, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice anyone. A Torah nation requires the full spectrum of goods and services that all of society requires and we should be encouraging our students to follow their “calling”. If, for example a student has a certain facility for science, why not encourage him to go into medicine or scientific research?

Maybe that student is bright enough to be a big Talmud Chacham, but his real brilliance may be in medicine. Under the prevailing conditions in the Yeshiva system, that student’s desire to go into medicine or science will be discouraged.

The Solution

As I have said many times all Bnei Torah should spend time learning full time after high school for perhaps at least 5 years. But in most cases there should be preparation for some of that time, in conjunction with learning, for one's Parnassa. Although I believe all Bachurim need to learn post high school for at least a year or two without any of the distractions of college etc.) I believe that the Roshei Yeshiva who in many cases are surrogate fathers to these Bachurim should be more proactive in guiding those who do not "have what it takes in learning" into other areas.

Any Rosh HaYeshiva worth his salt knows which of his students are destined for greatness (and should be encouraged to stay in learning full time) and which of his students are not destined for greatness in learning. They should be guided into Parnassa.

The benefit of such an approach is immeasurable. In addition to contributing to Klal Yisroel in a better way ( each individual custom tailoring his contribution), the money needed to support the vast amounts of people presently in Kollel will be freed up and better distributed to those Avreichim who DO have what it takes.

They currently learn with great material sacrifice to themselves and their families. Why shouldn't they be able to learn full time L’Shma and not have to struggle for their own material well being and that of their families? Wouldn't their learning improve if they didn't have to worry about how they were going to get their next rent check?

A former Avreich confided in me that the peer pressure to stay in Kollel is enormous, and that while one is in Kollel the impression is made on the Yungeleit that leaving learning is a terrible thing. He was able to leave and found out that it wasn't that terrible, and in fact he is pretty well accepted by all of his Kollel friends.


  1. I've never really understood what constitutes success in learning Torah. Is it the generation of chidushim? The ability to accurately recite the sources for any practical halachic decision? The ability to answer halachic questions?

    How do you know that it is appropriate for your son to stay in Kollel and not someone else's son? Is it based on how much they are enjoying themselves or some other metric?

  2. I believe that in a shiur that can be accessed from YUTorah, Rav Hershel Schachter quotes Rav Shmuel Rozovsky of Ponovezh as having a similar view as that stated of Rav Aharon Soloveichik. He believed that anyone should be allowed to sit in kollel, however, a series of tests would be given a couple of times a year to test the avreichim. if they didn't pass a certain amount of tests, they would simply be dismissed and forced to find a job.