Rabbi Twerski’s Bombshell at AJOP

I’ve fallen terribly behind in offering our readership a report on the annual convention of the Association of Jewish Orthodox Programs (AJOP). I posted one piece on Rabbi Lowenbraun’s decision to test the feasibility of committing some of the tools and resources of the kiruv community to energize parts of the mainstream community that are suffering from feelings of apathy and disconnect.

At some point I hope to summarize one of the sessions that I delivered, entitled “The Top Ten Reasons Why Frum People Are Unhappy With Their Yiddishkeit.” I pulled no punches, but deserve little credit for candor. I live on the West Coast, relatively out of the reach of those who detest candor and honesty. Truth be told, though, nothing I said held a candle to the breathtaking courage of Rabbi Benzion Twerski of Milwaukee, who spoke to 600 people, roughly evenly divided between kiruv professionals and laypeople from the New York area who drove up to Stamford to try out some of what Rabbi Lowebraun put together for them. R. Twerski spoke after the two other scheduled speakers at this session, namely R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlit”a, the Novominsker Rebbe, shlit”a, both members of the US Moetzes.

After close to a twenty minute lead-up to the centerpiece of his presentation, he spoke of the need to relate differently to the expectations of those to whom we reach out and offer membership in the community of the halachically observant. More importantly, he said we need to relate differently to a need in the lives of the tens of thousands of yeshiva-trained people who have left the beis Medrash for the world of employment.

The transition came with a story, courtesy of Rabbi Berel Wein. A talmid told him that he was no longer learning in yeshiva. “But don’t worry. I’m not working, either.”

With that, you could sense that something momentous was about to happen. R Twerski was going to talk about an idea Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken. In a very refined and gentle way, he pitted the chassius of Chernobyl against the others, and declaimed on the positive aspects of working for a living! Here is an excerpt that is close to verbatim:

Yaakov Avinu meets up with Esav after the years that he spends with Lavan. Rashi tells us that Yaakov said, אם לבן גרתי ואחר עד אתה. : “Im Lavan garti, v’taryag mitzvos shamarti.” (I dwelt with Lavan, but I observed all the 613 mitzvos.) Now, anyone who is thinking about Esav’s perspective has got to be surprised that Yaakov Avinu is trying to brag that he get Taryag mitzvos. Who is he talking to? Why would Esav care?

The meforshei ha-Torah talk about the fact that there was a division. Yaakov Avinu inherited Olam Ha-bo, and Esav was given Olam Ha-zeh. And when it came to that chazon that Yaakov Avinu had on Har ha-Moriah, where he went to sleep and he had this awesome vision of the ladder, Yaakov said אכן יש א-קים במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי [Behold, Elokim is in this place, and I did not know it.] And the meforshim say there, that Yaakov Avinu who had just come from Yeshivas Shem V’Ever was totally mufrash from Olam Ha-zeh. And here he came, on the way to the house of Lavan to get involved with the business world, and here is where he has the awesome vision? When he came to meet up with Esav years later, and Esav sees him coming – tzon u-bakar, avadim u-shefachos – it is a violation of the terms! You are ish tam, yoshev ohalim! I’m supposed to have the money; I’m supposed to have the business. What are you doing with my stuff?

Says Yaakov Avinu, “Dear brother – I discovered indeed my mitzvah was limud ha-Torah. But ever since that dream I had on Har ha-Moriah I came to discover that there are actually another 612 mitzvos in the Torah. Taryag mitzvos shomarti! This was not a division. And in order for me to observe the rest of the Torah, it requires tzon u-bakar. We can’t do ma’aser behemah without animals.” And so on.

R Twerski observed that people sense the apologetical attitude towards parnasah that is common in the yeshivah world. Involvement in material concern is but a tool to facilitate more learning. It is a bedieved. He urged a thorough investigation of what the seforim actually write about the value of involvement in Olam ha-Zeh, and the avodah it entails. It is the only way that we are going to feel any real value in our involvement in the physical world. Whether it is our involvement in the workplace or doing carpool – “It can’t be an excuse. It has to be real.”

The audience waited for the earth to open up and swallow him – or at least for a strong response from the previous speakers. Neither happened. Some speculated that gedolim are sometimes secretly pleased when others say things that their position as shepherd to many different types of sheep does not allow them to speak their hearts and minds.

It was a moment to remember.

[For those who wish to listen to or view the session (or other sessions at the convention) AJOP has posted the mp3 audio of the most recent convention on Ajop.com for $1.99 a download, and the videos on torahanytime.com The login for torahanytime is ajop, ajop613.]

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53 Responses

  1. chardal says:

    It is a very nice vort. My question is why do people allways need to resort to vorts to make this point. Is it not an explicit mishna (Avot 2:2):

    רבן גמליאל בנו של רבי יהודה הנשיא אומר, יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ, שיגיעת שניהם משכחת עוון; וכל תורה שאין עימה מלאכה, סופה בטילה וגוררת עוון

    Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi said:
    Excellent is the study of the Torah together with a worldly occupation,
    For the exertion [expended] in both of them causes sin to be forgotten.
    And all [study of the] Torah in the absence of a worldly occupation comes to nothing in the end and leads to sin.

  2. Harry Zeitlin says:

    Kol HaKavod for him saying that and Kol HaKavod for your presenting it in this article.

  3. Allan Katz says:

    Thanks for sharing. We need more people of courage to bring back the true Torah values. I was at a Purim se’uda when boys were collecting money for their friend. We then discussed the change in values. A man spoke of his experience when his family were in financial difficulties. He went to night school and helped support his family. Earning money and then transforming that money into mitvahs can be a very spiritual experience.

    the real problem as one of the commentors has said that it does not pay for people to leave Kollel because they earn very low salaries.

    I want to share a ‘ meeting ‘ I had on the bus with some 17 year old yeshivah students here in Israel that reflects the values young boys are picking up. They were not candidates for Kollel as they had part time jobs as waiters. I asked the one if he had intentions to enlist for army service. He said No – chareidim don’t go to the army – in any case I am not a FRIAR – the boys kill themselves for a miserable 500 shekels.


  4. Mr. Cohen says:

    Mishnah, tractate Avot, chapter 1, paragraph 10:
    Shemayah and Abtalyon received the tradition from them.
    Shemayah taught: Love work…

    Mishnah, tractate Avot, chapter 2, paragraph 2:
    Rabbi Yehudah the Prince taught: Torah study is good together with Derech Eretz,
    because the labor required for both of them causes sin to be forgotten.
    Rabbeinu Yonah explains that Derech Eretz means work.
    Bartenura explains that Derech Eretz is work or trade.

    Tanna DeBei Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 18, Paragraph 1:
    Rabbi Yochanan taught:
    I testify that any Torah Scholar, who studies with sincere motives and works to support himself,
    will be fortunate in this life and the afterlife. He will be revered by:
    his wife, his children and Gentiles. Angels will help him, and G_d will love him completely.

  5. joel rich says:

    Would be interesting to see if the result would have been the same if he spoke in Eretz Yisrael at a similar convention. I’m often reminded of the story of the shocheit who wanted to become a business person because he was too worried about keeping halacha of shechita correctly. The punchline was you think it’s tough to be a shocheit, it’s tougher to be in the “real world” (but perhaps that’s the reason for the stay in learning approach ?)

    Joel Rich

  6. A. Schreiber says:

    There are vast numbers of men who’ve chosen to become ballei battim whose learning exceeds, or at the very least equals, the learning of those who’ve chosen to become roshei yeshivas or rabbis. Such men dont like to be patronized. They dont need to be reassured that their decision is lechatchila and not only bidieved, they are well aware of it. Nor are they looking to be feted and honored (although lets face it, everyone likes a little kovod.) It seems to me they simply dont want to be talked down to. That there should be some public recognition of what everyone knows privately – that this isnt 18th century Europe, and that the so-called “klei kodesh” arent necessarily the intellectual elite, just people who for one reason or another have gone into clergy. We are constantly celebrating mechanchim, when the truth is that although many entered this field out of a sense of mission, many others did so out of a sense of inertia of simply remaining in the yeshivah culture they started in. It takes a lot more courage for someone in yeshivah to get up and take the steps to become an entrepenuer or a learned professional. We as a society dont seem to acknowledge that.

    Bottom line – if 100 years ago the pendulum in this country was too far to the left in not respecting mechanchim and rabbis, by now it has swung too far to the right. Klei Kodesh of all stripes deserve resepct, sure, but nt more – at the least – than the respect we owe the ballei battim who not only are learned themseves and frequently teach others, but who do so while engaging the world and supporting it at the same time.

  7. Esther says:

    Why Chernobyl? Why not Satmar with its work ethic and tens of thousands of Chassidim?

    [YA – Because R Twerski great-grandfather was the Rebbe of Chernobyl!]

  8. YS says:

    If they disagreed, do you think those gedolim would have gotten back up to speak? I was there and have been attending the AJOP convention for years, many people speak with varying opinions and I have seen disagreement between speakers, but never saw one to get back up to counter another when that one already spoke.

    [YA – I have. After a presentation by R Twerski’s uncle, many years ago.]

  9. Dovid says:

    How sad it is that affirming the value of work is a “bombshell.”

  10. Michoel says:

    I really would not expect Rav Shmuel or the Novominsker to object to this, publicly or privately.

  11. YEA says:

    Yaakov Shwekey’s latest CD includes a track with the lyrics “aini m’lamed es b’ni ela Torah”. Perhaps it’s time for the words “Amar Abaye, Harbei Asu KeRabi Yishmael VeAlsah BeYadam; KeRabi Shimon Bar Yochai VeLo Alsah BeYadam” to be set to music.

  12. joel rich says:

    R’ A Schreiber,
    But of course the other side of the coin is could we be losing some of the best and the brightest to other fields? I may be wrong but I would guess that if the gedolim were convinced that the cream of the crop would stay in learning, then there would be much less opposition to allowing others out (I’m thinking R’ Dessler would agree based on my understanding of michtav meliyahu)

  13. mb says:

    The Litvaks were correct in not trusting the Chassidim!

  14. Dr. E says:

    I think that I can pretty much predict that the ensuing comments here will be, so I don’t think that I will add anything profound.

    The fundamental issue is that for the most part, such a piece resonates but merely “preaches to the choir”. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between most of the CC community which includes Rabbanim and even those who would refer to themselves as Chareidi “classic” (to use a Rabbi Yakov Horowitz label) and the leadership of the mosdos for young men and women. The problem is that there is no real channel of influence to the heads of the mainstream Yeshivos both in America and in Eretz Yisroel. Even if these pages (as well as some recent articles by Rabbi Wein) are to be printed and put in front of all of the leadership of mainstream Yeshivos (and their spinoffs), would any decide to introspect and effect change. People in the CC community do not have credibility and are perceived to have a reformative “agenda” of taking people out of the Beis Medrish. But, is it really so? Isn’t the concept of working as a noble profession one that has been effectively synthesized with maintaining Torah values and regimen of study for time immemorial? Aren’t those who were products of these same Yeshivos the ones who built the organizational infrastructure on which these same mosdos are based today?

    As we know, work and parnassa do not come with a snap of a finger. Not in today’s economic times and not in better times. That is what underlies hishtadlus, which is based on the natural order of things. Hishtadlus in this area takes many years of education and hard work. This process actually begins really in junior high and high school, which are environments in which young people can be adequately exposed to subjects in which they have acumen and/or passion, that might in fact lead to a targeted career exploration. So, this is 10 to 15 years prior to any on-ramp to the workforce. But, even assuming that the values of work and responsibility are nurtured in the home, are parents (BT or FFB) making informed educational choices (early enough) that will ultimately put their children in a position to work? Are the Yeshivos and the Kollelim ready to remove the stigma associated with working and/or the prerequisite preparation (often including college) in order to do so? (I would have tongue-and-cheek concluded this paragraph in Talmudic fashion, with the Aramaic word “Tiyuvta” sandwiching the name of a random Amora, but it wouldn’t have been accurate, since they all worked!)

    So, the question is whether the community is ready to apply the financial pressure that might be the only tried-and- true way of getting anyone’s attention. Anyone connected to facts-on-the-ground knows that a historical correction is needed not only for practical economic reasons, but for the (often linked) Ruchniyus ones as well.

  15. David F. says:

    Funny thing is that I didn’t attend this year’s AJOP convention for a variety of reasons, but I did speak to a number of my colleagues who were in attendance. As usual I asked them for the highlights and not a single one mentioned Rabbi Twerski’s “bombshell.” Perhaps not all found it as illuminating as Rabbi Adlerstein. I have enormous respect for Rabbi Adlerstein, but methinks he speaks here with a prejudice that isn’t reflective of real life in the Charedi world.
    Yes, we all wish we could have found a way to remain within the כותלי בית המדרש if only because the challenges of outside are so numerous and offer little possibility for nurturing the “inner rosh yeshivah” that so many believe we harbor. Nevertheless, a quick glance through the Lakewood phone book will reveal that the majority of ex-yungerleit are now working in one form or another and many more join them each month. This is true for Lakewood and much more so for every other out-of-town community where following a stint in Kollel one either gets a job as a rebbe, kiruv, or finds something in the secular world. I’ve lived in two such communities besides Lakewood and I know this first hand. In BP where the chassidim reside en masse, working is expected of all but the most elite yungerleit.
    Of course, in EY the situation is different and there’s much to lament about that, but this isn’t EY and comparing the two is impossible. Here in the good old USA, working is no longer taboo. Most see it as a necessary next step. The fact that they don’t embrace it with the fervor Rabbi Twerski or Adlerstein believe they should is mostly because of a true sense of fear about what will happen to them on a רוחניות level. Judging by what I’ve seen, that’s not altogether a bad thing.

  16. CJ Srullowitz says:

    “There are vast numbers of men who’ve chosen to become ballei battim whose learning exceeds, or at the very least equals, the learning of those who’ve chosen to become roshei yeshivas or rabbis.” – A. Schreiber

    Perhaps. But it is unhelpful to compare the elite baalei battim with the mediocre roshei yeshiva. As a resident of a populous New Jersey community that is not Lakewood I can attest to “vast numbers of men” who cannot learn a piece of gemara without ArtScroll, who leave the batei medrash of their town near-empty every night, who are at the highest echelons of their professional tracks but do not aspire to the highest echelons of Torah study. I’m not talking about bad people – “Atu biresha’ei askinan?” – they go to shul daily, give vast amounts of tzedakah, avoid lashon hara, and pay their taxes. But, for many of them, learning Torah is simply not the priority it is for members of other communities.

    For a Torah im Derech Eretz movement to truly swell up from the grassroots, those who currently preach it have to practice it in its fullest, most demanding sense: through tefillah, limud haTorah, professional occupation (with its concomitant demands of integrity), family life, and the endless pursuit of kiddush Hashem.

  17. dovid2 says:

    mb: “The Litvaks were correct in not trusting the Chassidim!”

    Do you care to elaborate?

  18. dovid2 says:

    Esther: “Why Chernobyl? Why not Satmar with its work ethic and tens of thousands of Chassidim?”

    Why not Lubavitch with their work ethic and tens of thousands of Chassidim? Why not misnagdim with their work ethic and tens of thousands of misnagdim? And if you really care about work ethics why not yekim with their work ethic and tens of thousands of yekim?

  19. Meir Goldberg says:

    WADR R’ Adlerstein, I’m not sure that the people complaining about the attitude of the Yeshiva world towards working, are aware of the reality. I live in Lakewood and I can tell you that 50% of yugerleit entering BMG (the Yeshiva) will not stay in Kollel long term. In reality, other than the hard core yeshivishe (i.e. South Fallsburg, Mesivta of Lakewood, etc) most Lakewood men do not idealize those in long term learning who are not cut out for it. In fact, in the eyes of most of the people in town I know, if you are in Kollel in your 30’s and not serious, you are considered a loser. I went to a pretty mainstream Lakewood branch mesivta and a third of the graduating class are lawyers and the attitude towards working is only getting more positive since then, not less so.

    Rav Mattisyahu Solomon has told numerous fellows to leave kollel and Rav Yehuda Jacobs (also a mashgiach, though he is no longer in the Yeshiva) used to always tell the bochurim about the “30 test.” That is, the time you stop learning at a high level, it is time to leave and get a job.

    Numerous men in Lakewood, go to courses, night school, law school (go to Rutgers Camden and check it out). American Charedim do not have the same attitude to working that Israelis do.

  20. shlomo zalman says:

    I find it disingenuous for those here who suggest that kollel followed by working is and was the accepted norm for a ben-torah from Lakewood or Lakewood-type yeshiva.

    For the last 40 years, the mantra accompanying mesivta boys’ education (sic) has been that working is un unacceptable b’di’eved. Working people exist to serve and support the true klei kodesh. Ner Israel, Chofetz Chaim and the like were looked at with suspicion and even quiet disdain, and YUers were out and out shkotzim. These attitudes were instilled in the minds of almost all teenage boys who studies in the “real” litvish yeshivas. We all know the names.

    The truth is that many if not most of these boys eventually matured, married, had children, and realized that they had been at best misguided, and at worst, fed hashkafic rubbish. Being true ma’aminim, they tried to shrug off the brainwashing they received as teenagers, move on and try to do the best for their wives and children without taking revenge on the system. This is to their credit, because the system has not yet formally changed. This change is inevitable and important, but I suspect that the unfortunate history will be aggressively revised to hide the truth. I’ll take it, you can’t win ’em all.

  21. BZT says:

    Is MB serious about his comment above? I think that there are differences in Hashkafa in this area between the Chassidim and the Non Chassidic world.

    [YA He’s not.]

  22. A. Schreiber says:

    “It is unhelpful to compare the elite baalei battim with the mediocre roshei yeshiva. [there are] “vast numbers of men” who cannot learn a piece of gemara without ArtScroll”- CJ Srolowitz

    There is a reverse corollary to that statement, CJ, which I think you can figure out on your own. Perhaps not with learning (although then again, perhaps yes), but with other attributes and qualities a talmid chacham is supposed to have.

    “following a stint in Kollel one either gets a job as a rebbe, kiruv, or finds something in the secular world.” – David F. (For Meir Goldberg also)

    That speaks volumes of our corps of mechanchim, does it not? When you’re through with kollel, simply become a teacher. Just like that. I’m not saying one has to go through 4 years of training to get a degree for it, but we have ample testimony from hundreds of years of history and ruined students that you can’t just walk into a classroom and become a teacher.
    And as for simply finding something in the “secular world” (ie, the world) – would that it were so simple! I spend a lot of time helping ex-yungeleit with their resumes. It is very hard when they have to face the reality that there is nothing there that counts as a real skill. No matter how well you dress up years in a yeshivah with fancy-sounding “fostered collaborative study environment” phrases, it still doesnt cut it. The only jobs available to many of these young men are low paying jobs in a large company owned by a big-hearted gvir. Often – and again, this is also first hand – the yungeleit are shocked at how low the pay is. More than that – many simply cannot come to grips with the fact that they are expected to show up on time for work, every day, at 8.00 am. They dont have the luxury that business owners or even professionals have. I have heard even frum owners reluctant to hire ex-yungeleit, because they think they can come late every time there’s a Bris or Selichos.

    The point of this is that its very nice to hear about students leaving the yeshivah to look for work, but as Dr. E writes, you have to prepare years in advance, and its often too late. Even if they go to law school with a Thomas Edison diploma (or whatver they’re giving out these days) law firms can figure out how old you are without asking you, and they are not interested in 35-year old first year associates.

  23. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Many readers seemed to have missed my point – and Rabbi Twerski’s. There is indeed nothing unusual in arguing that people ought to work – at least in some circles. Certainly nothing remarkable when a chassid makes the argument. The bombshell was in anyone suggestion that a large cause of alienation and dissatisfaction with Yiddishkeit among yerei’im u-sheleimim is that work is treated as a bedieved. R. Twerski was not arguing that people should be encouraged to get jobs. He was arguing for a subtle shift in focus in yeshivos, that would underscore the opportunities for real aliyah, the positive aspects of avodah, as well as the challenges in parnasah. People then would not wake up with a sense of cognitive dissonance, as if 90% of their waking time was being spent in activities that are essentially meaningless, save as ways of putting food on the table.

    I believe that making this suggestion constitutes a bombshell

  24. Dr. E says:

    “The bombshell was in anyone suggestion that a large cause of alienation and dissatisfaction with Yiddishkeit among yerei’im u-sheleimim is that work is treated as a bedieved. R. Twerski was not arguing that people should be encouraged to get jobs. He was arguing for a subtle shift in focus in yeshivos, that would underscore the opportunities for real aliyah, the positive aspects of avodah, as well as the challenges in parnasah.”

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    That is sort of a subtle point, perhaps lost on those readers whose comments seem to have missed the mark, in your view. Once again, I would think that most CC readers would take it as a given that in addition to a paycheck, working and the fulfillment it brings, will serve to enrich and complete a person.

    Regardless, the apparent digression of the comments on the thread (myself included) indicates some strong feelings about the viability of the status quo.

    (In terms of the lack of “rebuttal”, although there is some cross-over of personalities, I guess the AJOP Convention is not an Agudah Convention—both in terms of who is allowed to speak or the urgency of need for a rebuttal.)

    “Rav Mattisyahu Solomon has told numerous fellows to leave kollel and Rav Yehuda Jacobs (also a mashgiach, though he is no longer in the Yeshiva) used to always tell the bochurim about the “30 test.” That is, the time you stop learning at a high level, it is time to leave and get a job. “

    Reb Meir Goldberg:

    Is it really that easy to “leave Kollel” and find a decent job that will support a family when a person is 25, or certainly when he is 30? If you owned a business, would you hire such a person and assign him the level of responsibility that would be commensurate with the compensation that he requires at that juncture?

  25. David F. says:

    A. Schreiber,

    Of course not everyone is fit to be a rebbi and thankfully there’s no reason why anyone who isn’t, should be offered a job any longer. When I was younger, many of my rebbeim were rejects who were unsuited for anything else. This is not the case with my son’s rebbeim. Today, a rebbi job is a coveted position and generally only the best obtain those jobs and hold onto them. I know quite a few who’ve had their opportunities and were let go or left because they were deemed unsuitable after a year or two.
    Regarding how easy it for yungerleit to transition to the working world, I don’t believe I addressed that in my comment, but I agree that it’s not always easy and there’s a learning curve. What I’ve observed is that the more proactive and motivated ones quickly get up to speed and often excel, whereas the less motivated take much longer and often never exceed a meager salary. The question is whether they would have ever done much better had they gotten on top of it a few years earlier? I can’t say for certain but it is a fact that in the general population only some do well whereas many never get above a certain point and it may well be that what you’re blaming on kollel life is really more closely related to that. I don’t know and I’d be interested to hear more from someone who is not inherently anti-kollel [i.e. Dr’s. E. and Bill] but approaches it with an open mind and has some facts to back up his observations.
    I know too many former yungerleit who are now in computers, law, accounting etc. and who have a serious work ethic to accept a charge that they are all the exceptions to the rule you claim exists.

  26. David F. says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    I may have missed that nuance, but I couldn’t disagree with it more now that you pointed it out. It may be a contributing factor, but to claim “that a large cause of alienation and dissatisfaction with Yiddishkeit among yerei’im u-sheleimim is that work is treated as a bedieved,” is, in my estimation, rather farfetched. The alienation and dissatisfaction probably has more to do with the exorbitant tuition we pay [and I have no taanah on the schools – private ed is expensive], the cost of summer camps, the cost of living as an Orthodox Jew in general, the cost of making Chasunah’s and supporting children or putting them through college so that we won’t have to etc.
    Those of us who “work” for a living do so out of an expectation that at least we’ll have an easier time with all of the above. When it turns out not to be the case, it’s not always an easy thing to swallow.
    Most folks are working too hard to spend much time wondering whether it’s a b’dieved or l’chatchilah. The only thing on their mind is “Just gimme my paycheck and let me get out of here.”

  27. c-l,c says:

    David F.,meir Goldberg and yours truly as members of the younger crowd would agree,you’re out of date.

  28. Mr. Cohen says:

    Perhaps causes of alienation and dissatisfaction with Judaism
    among Orthodox Jews could be a Cross Currents discussion topic.

  29. Meir Goldberg says:

    To Shlomo Zalman, I went to Scranton and we were never taught that working was an unacceptable b’dieved. We were taught to idealize learning Torah lishma and to try to become a gadol b’Torah. I never saw the attitude of looking down at work from any of the Lakewood hanhalla and Rav Mattisyahu Solomon certainly does not express that view. As a matter of fact, Rav Uren Reich, no liberal, praised the Yeshiva for producing balabatim of Lakewood and their gadlus in learning and avodah one year during the “tent” evening to support the Lakewood Kollel, an event largely attended by Yungerleit.

    In the Modox world they have preached the greatness of accomplishments in the secular world as much as in the yeshiva world. Who in their right mind would then want to become a low payed school Rebbi if it is as chashuv to become a well payed professional? So they are stuck hiring Yeshiva world alums to do their teaching and so the Modox cannot effectively pass down their hashkafah to their kids, which is why some of those kids turn to the right.

    Learning and klei kodesh must be idealized or else very, very few would want to go through the effort and mesiras nefesh to become great in learning or a cheder rebbi (a low paying, thankless job, even though it is the most important job in klal yisroel). I don’t think it is a coincidence that many of the Lakewood balabatim (the ones who don’t stay in learning) are serious yodei sefer and talmidei chachamim.

  30. Meir Goldberg says:

    To A. Schreiber, your assumption that Kollel yungerleit go straight into becoming rebbeim is an incorrect one. All of the rebbeim I know went through training in Torah Umesorah’s courses and many get practical experience teaching in summer camps. I have a number of children in elementary school and I am often pleasantly surprised to see how much the quality of the rebbeim is improving over the years.

  31. joel rich says:

    R Meir,
    “In the Modox world they have preached the greatness of accomplishments in the secular world as much as in the yeshiva world. Who in their right mind would then want to become a low paid school Rebbi if it is as chashuv to become a well payed professional? So they are stuck hiring Yeshiva world alums to do their teaching and so the Modox cannot effectively pass down their hashkafah to their kids, which is why some of those kids turn to the right.”
    Actually imho an economic analysis of why there are “low paid Rebbi” would show that the supply and demand of “Yeshiva World Alums” is what likely keeps the pay down (e.g. to run a local kollel with Yeshiva World Alums probably costs less than 1/2 of running one with MO alums). MO can’t have its cake and eat it too.

  32. BZT says:

    I wish to clarify one point. I sense a far reaching “bittul” to the working class in many corners in Klal Yisroel. Do we need more than the insulting “Baale Batishe svara” to prove this point? The issue I was trying to raise was that working in the business world is an Avodah. No excuses are needed to justify it. Not even supporting Torah study or Tzedakah are reasons to involve oneself in Parnasah. The Meor Eynayim insists that Hashem considers one who works according to Choshen Mishpat an Avodah onto itself, akin to other Mitzvos. Does the Avodah in the Bais Hamikdosh require twisted rationalizations to give it merit? Neither does serving Hashem in the office!There is no question that in addition to being an Avodah itself, it is ALSO a means of supporting Torah study. I hope I am wrong about the condescending attitude I perceive. I would much prefer to hear about two types of Avodah, rather than one being exclusively a support vehicle of the other.
    Benzion Twerski

  33. A. Schreiber says:

    “Learning and klei kodesh must be idealized or else very, very few would want to go through the effort and mesiras nefesh to become great in learning or a cheder rebbi (a low paying, thankless job, even though it is the most important job in klal yisroel).”

    That’s an example of the over-swing of the pendulum I mentioned above. Cheder rebbeim are the most important jobs in klal yisrael? Since when? To the contrary, for almost all of our history a melamed has been one of the most looked-down upon jobs in klal yisrael. I dont think that’s right either, but your comment illustrates my point perfectly.

    Very few people in Kollel exhibit mesiras nefesh. They are supported, willingly or begrudingly, by a hodge-podge of parents, in-laws, wives, charities, and community institutions. The many yungeleit I see every day drive the same cars and live in the same houses as everyone else their age, usually late 20s or 30s. They eat the same as everyone else, and often better, because they get their food either from WIC or at discounted rates. Where’s the mesiras nefesh in that? They have no student loans to repay, no problems with shabbos and yomtov, no clients to placate, no bosses to answer to, no sales to make – no nothing. And yet all we hear from our public pulpits and in our publications are about how wonderful and how special avrechim are, and how they are moser nefesh – . Please, just stop with the nonsense.

    This is a huge problem. It’s never discussed publicly, because a) invariably whenever one points this out he gets accused of being bitter, small, uncharitable, etc., b) ballebattim dont have the time or public resources to use in turning this into a public issue, especially when they know they’d be opposed by entrenched interests. There are other reasons too. In short, the alienation has nothing to do with lechatchilas and bideiveds. Its caused by the exact same feelings that gave birth to the Tea Party: People are tired of paying for other people. That we go so far as to glorify the recipients only makes it worse.

  34. Phil says:


    I don’t know when you attended Scranton but I also learned there (in the 1980’s) and didn’t sense that kind of tolerant attitude, especially from certain Rabbeim. There never seemed to be much respect for baaleibatim as a whole and college was verboten, as were the Yeshivos that allowed it. Friends of mine planning to attend YU were written-off and one Rebbe was famously quoted as saying, “We learn more Torah in our bathrooms then they learn in Ner Israel’s Beis Medrash”. The funny thing that they’d never admit is that many of their alumni who later attended college are more learned and choshuv than many who didn’t. As they have moved to the right, I’m sure these attitudes are only more explicitly expressed.

    In Lakewood, if you are in your 20’s and thinking about a future career and parnassa, you are considered a loser (at best and probably also a kofer). Regarding the training of mechanchim, a few Torah U’mesorah courses does not a Rebbe make and the trend amongst right-wing Yeshivos is to discourage their bochurim from working in summer camps. With the nationwide shortage of teaching jobs, it’s fascinating to hear all those bochurim who formerly said they would one day “go into chinuch”, now say they’ll “go into kiruv”. A big part of respecting the concept of work and those who perform it is an understanding that a career doesn’t just happen by itself; as with other major life decisions, it requires serious planning, preparation and effort.

  35. mike says:

    Obviously work/parnassah is b’dievid. Adam HaRishon had no need for parnassah. He was cursed with b’zias apecha tochal lechem. Most of us have no choice but to work to feed our families. But at least we know which way up is. Let’s not play games. Make Torah keva, primary, minimize the need for parnassah by spending controls, steal more time for learning. What’s wrong with this? Be a kiddush Hashem in the workplace and chap all the mitzvohs you can wherever life leads. But let’s not play pretend so we can all, California style, ‘feel good’. I’m also not a Kohen, but I still love being a Yisroel. I’m not in kli kodesh – but I love being a Jew. And I can appreciate what an elevated lifestyle is and I don’t have to have or stoke “Jewish class envy” to be happy with my brochos. Why is this so complicated? I think the dissatisfaction comes from not appreciating our lives as Jews and the opportinities that Torah and mitzvahs represent for us personally. But that won’t come by “evening things out”.

  36. BenShaul says:

    perhaps an additional reason for the difficulty of going to work is the fact that the government gives enough money to the poor that it simply doesn’t pay to get a job. I know of a recent scenario where an individual was getting over 35k from all the various programs -WIC, food-stamps, HUD, CAP, etc. This in addition to the very low pay of a yungerman.

    As to the assumption stated that kollel guys just become a Rebbe -nothing could be further from the truth. There is such a “surplus” of guys looking for a job that the mosdos require experience training, and are able to be very picky about who they hire.

  37. Formerly Orthodox says:

    I concur with Rabbi Adlerstein that the negative attitude of Orthodox Jews towards working for a living is a turn-off, along with the attitude mentioned by A. Schreiber (March 7 comment) that those of us who do work should feel obligated to support those who choose not to. The fact that the rebbeim to whom we trusted the education of our children would put such notions into their heads, was definitely a contributing factor to our decision to leave Orthodoxy.

  38. Dr. E says:

    One thing which bears some form of definition here is what exactly is the “work” which seems to be bearing the negative stigma in certain communities? (It would seem that the party of interest is male Yeshiva student and not a female.) It is important to flesh out from among the following. Each would seem to be rationally independent, but many are implicitly quick to lump them together to argue a point, without acknowledging the nuances.

    What is the “work” that is referred to here?

    • Earning a living that would go towards the objective of supporting one’s family
    • Leaving of full-time Torah study, as a quantitative and quantitative ideal
    • Transitioning into just being “koveah ittim”, which might either be seen as a downgrade, or a slippery slope towards a result that might be less than koveah ittim
    • Leaving the spiritually and socially protective context of the Beis Medrish and venturing out into a dangerous spiritual environment

  39. lacosta says:

    while being a melamed may have been 100 yr ago the bottom of the totem pole, one must consider that in the haredi O community [not MO –they have both smaller families, and increasingly , public school as a budget-balancer], when the school rebbe [not mora, she may teach full time , but without the kavod and financial benefit] earns free tuition for all his progeny [if he has 5 kids at a time in the mossad that’s like >100K pre-tax dollars no?] , it may prove to be the wisest career move of all…..

  40. David F. says:

    A. Shreiber,

    “Very few people in Kollel exhibit mesiras nefesh. They are supported, willingly or begrudingly, by a hodge-podge of parents, in-laws, wives, charities, and community institutions.”

    Obviously there are some yungerleit who exhibit very little mesiras nefesh thanks to the circumstances you describe above. There are, however, so many others who most certainly do live with great mesiras nefesh in order to pursue Torah with unusual diligence. The sort you describe rarely last in Kollel more than a few years and are not the sort I wish my children to be or marry. There are plenty of others who receive precious little support, receive a pitiful amount of government assistance and work as hard as can be to make ends meet. They take on tutoring jobs during Bein HaSedrim, their wives work very hard to bring in an income, their living standards are very low and their entire focus is on sitting and learning. You may not have noticed them, but they’re out there and not in small numbers.

  41. DF says:

    Regarding going to law school after years in yeshivah . . . its not so poshut. Recently I had to counsel a 35 year old ex-yungerman who had actually started a yeshivah that never took off, and was now in law school. He was asking about various law firms. His confidence was charming and will stand him well in life, but his naivete was just shocking. He seemed to think that a frum lawyer can just “hook up” another frum lawyer with a big firm, like it was that easy. He seemed to have no idea how over-saturated the legal market was, and how even well qualified attorneys had trouble finding a job, let alone high-paying ones.

    The biggest problem, though, which makes this issue germane to more than just law school, was one thing – his speech. After years in a yeshivah, this fellow spoke as though he were in a beis medrash. So few bachrum appreciate how fast they speak in comparison to society at large. [And I’m not even speaking of using yeshivish lingo, which one has to work hard to eradicate from one’s system.] The best advice I was able to offer was, SLOW DOWN!

  42. meir goldberg says:

    To A. Schreiber, you are right that being a cheder Rebbi was not a prestigious job in Europe and that was a contributing factor to the dismal amaratzus that often existed and the subsequent mass flight from yiddishkeit. See R’ SR Hirsch’s Nineteen Letters, letter 1 and R’ Elias’ notes. I ask you though, what is a more important job than giving the next generation the yesodos of Emunah, Torah and most importantly a geshmak in yiddishkeit?

  43. meir goldberg says:

    To Phil, it’s unfair to take comments from one Rebbi in Scranton who is known to be a kannoi and make as if the entire yeshiva shared his sentiments about Ner Yisroel. I was there in the 90’s and never sensed antagonism to Chofetz Chaim, Ner Yisroel or torahdige balabatim. Their issues with YU were not about parnaassah. They were the same ones all of the Yeshiva world had with YU.

    Second, aside from the hard core yeshivishe in Lakewood, a man in his 20’s who is considering a career is not considered a loser. Half of the Yeshiva goes into kollel considering a future career.

    Additionally, while many hundreds of Lakewood people are involved in Kiruv in a limited way, very few here consider it a viable career. Sounds to me like you are commenting about a town you don’t know that much about.

  44. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    He seemed to have no idea how over-saturated the legal market was, and how even well qualified attorneys had trouble finding a job, let alone high-paying ones.

    Fill in the following blank: “What are we going to do about all those people who spend years and years studying ________ and virtually guarantee that unless they are of the elite, they will have problems making ends meet?”

    Why is it that only one area of study gets all the abuse in this context, the one that the Netziv (Harchev Davar, Shemos 25:20) has to say this about:

    … Klal Yisrael is sustained either in the merit of Avodah or Tefillah…, and then they must put forth much effort and prepare all of their needs, or in the merit of the battle of Torah, wherein they bear and guard the glory of His kingdom… and they are supported by Hashem’s supervision without effort for their sustenance. And it is well-known already that Hashem has more desire for those who stand before Hashem in the gates of Halachah, more so than those who are in the tents of Yaakov involved in Avodah… Now, it is the will of the king that anyone who is fit for battle should become a soldier, and anyone who shirks this, even if, based on the laws of the kingdom, he is not obligated to be a soldier, nonetheless that is not the primary will of the king. Similarly, it is the will of Hashem that all Jews who are fit to toil in Torah should be Bnei Torah, and one who shirks this, even if he has reasons which bring this about for him, nonetheless he is called “Not doing the will of Hashem,” in Berachos (35) and Bava Basra (99). Although they were involved with Avodah, nonetheless since they were not toiling in Torah as when they were in the desert, that is not called doing the will of Hashem.”

    There is room for discussion regarding what precise practical parameters apply to the individual in terms of how to assess whether he is “fit to toil in Torah,” but at least the Netziv is clear that there an attitude of parity in terms of “career choice” between Torah and Avodah, as worthy as that is, is incorrect.

  45. David F. says:


    “His confidence was charming and will stand him well in life, but his naivete was just shocking.”

    Your point is a good one. The world of law school and the profession itself is in big trouble and many yeshivalite are slow to pick up on this. I’m just not sure they’re the only ones. Seems to me that law schools are churning out thousands of graduates each year who have made similar calculations and will have a difficult time repaying their debt. The same is true as well for a large percentage of all college students who spend years and astronomical sums of money earning degrees that will do nothing at all for them. I’ve met so many of these I can hardly count them. The problem extends well beyond the frum world. The saving grace for the secular world is that because they start university at 19 and graduate at 23, they have plenty of time to go back to school to earn additional degrees before starting a family etc. A Kollel fellow has no such luxury. He better get it right the first time or he’s in deep trouble.

  46. Yunge-"enlightened" says:

    I’d like to add my voice to those that applaud this post and decry yeshiva systems that seem to eliminate 612 mitzvos. I attended a Yeshiva Kollel and as I left, found my ignorance of the job market (both “chinuch” and “secular”) and the proper way to pursue “Tzon UBakar” more threatening than anything else in my new level of exposure to the secular world.
    To anyone that has implied a person can walk out of long term Kollel and into the job market:
    • Please show me any one of them that lives in a major Jewish city and can keep up with its cost of living. Which profession immediately hires people who’ve sat out for 5-6 years and then place them at a salary level commensurate with the expenses of a 30 year Orthodox Jew with at least 3 children!!
    • Are there tuition committees that give reductions to “Yungeleit” who delayed entry into the workforce but now need to raise their family with an income level compatible to their classmates to avoid a negative reaction to learning in Yeshiva?
    • Do people who have not left the Beis Midrash for years receive preferential treatment when applying for a job in chinuch, or does that go to someone who has learned less and gained experience teaching in small towns over the years? (I am not saying this treatment is improper, rather, a factor that should be considered when staying in Kollel long term.)
    • Does anyone really believe that “Summer camp learning Rebbe” is a meaningful resume entry!
    • Can anyone anticipate one’s family’s needs for “Tzon UBakar” and how there availability or lack thereof will affect their spiritual development when they live among peer groups in mainstream Jewish society?

    After leaving Kollel, I met a Rosh Kollel from another Yeshiva who told me that “Mesirus Nefesh” for Kollel really comes after it, because it is then that one must compensate for late entry into “society”. I wish someone would have allowed me to prepare for that.
    In my opinion, introducing the other 612 mitzvos” as Rabbi Twerski suggests would allow Yungeleit to do so, and give them an authentic opportunity to be Moser Nefesh when facing the challenges that lie ahead.

  47. Evan Steele says:

    Consider the following: One of the pitfalls of the Western psychological paradigm is that one’s psychological process is of such importance that it is always worthy of endless analysis. The truth is that psychological process is only important in the context of content. If I choose certain words, display a certain body language, or have a certain tone in my voice when discussing a particular topic, it may be meaningful; however, simply choosing certain words or shifting in my seat out of the context of content is not important. To pretend that it is, is at best silly, and, at worst, narcissistic.

    Perhaps Torah is the process of how we live our lives. Torah guides how we “do” the content of our lives, i.e. productive work and relationships. When we do the Torah work of self-examination of our content-filled lives, then the examination is (hopefully) productive. When the process becomes the content, however, it creates distortions. When one is in a constant state of self-examination, that examination devolves into examination of examination. Again, such efforts are often useless at best or narcissistic at worst.

    Perhaps what turns people off in the anti-work ideology of some communities is not simply intellectual disagreement or economic handicap. Perhaps the model itself creates disortions that simply don’t produce healthy lifestyles.

  48. Reb. Dr. R. says:

    It is interesting that R’ Twerski conjectures that a large cause of alienation and dissatisfaction within this demographic is due to yeshivish concept of work being a be’dieved, but I personally agree with David F.’s comment on March 6. American jewry is pretty diverse, but for the crowd that has been paying their way through it all, the financial burden is overwhelming. The result? In many homes, mothers, let alone fathers, work 2 jobs, sometimes more, sometimes doing things they would be less than comfortable doing in an ideal situation, just to make ends meet. And I don’t mean keeping up with the Joneses, I mean keeping up with the yeshiva tuition bills–for many of us that tuition bill is by and large the greatest household expenditure, easily dwarfing our mortgages, car payments, utility bills and insurance premiums (combined!). Saving a few dollars by making our own challah, changing to fluorescent lightbulbs, turning down the thermostat, baking our own cookies, walking to shul for mincha etc is laughable in the face of what often amounts to $120-150,000 in taxable earnings (do the math: $10-15K per child, assuming it is not a seminary or bais medrash EY year X avg of 5 children multiplied by your true tax bracket). Imagine telling someone that you buy a new jaguar each year, year in, year out. That is the equivalent of what we are doing (does a jaguar even cost that much? well, maybe a Bentley!). And are we getting a jaguar’s worth of education for our money? I suppose that is debatable, but let’s not go there. Why shouldn’t we be burned out and disaffected? Those of us who grew up in frum environments will attest to the fact that our Bais Yaakov educations prepared us NOT AT ALL for any of this. Is it any surprise if they find themselves asking: is this really what Hashem wants of me? We are not given any support: hashkafic, emotional, psychological or otherwise for this. Our own parents are at a loss of explaining how this happened (thank you former generation, for saddling us with educational systems that lack sustainable business plans, but we won’t go there either, will we?). No one is applauding for us at the school dinners, we certainly are not being lauded in the halls of our childrens’ schools or family shuls. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we are invisible. We pay the bills for our children and often our neighbors’ children and yet are invisible to society. If you are one of the lucky few to daven in a shul like R’ Hopfer’s in Baltimore, perhaps before t’kias shofar you will get a bit of chizuk that Hashem is not blind to your sacrifice on behalf of chinuch. While I personally believe that we who are shouldering this burden honorably and honestly are rewarded with tremendous nachas, yiddishe and otherwise, if you want to talk about disaffection and alienation among frum people, this might be a good place to start.

    Is it because of the yeshiva attitude to parnassa? There is clearly some link. If we had more yeshiva bred men who would have been encouraged by their venerable institutions to think positively about earning a living outside of klei kodesh; if their rebbeim could even conceive of the concept of fulfillment from work, rather than it being a be’dieved and all “baalei batim” as “amai haaretz” (fill in the name of the culprit yeshiva here..); if we a society which was open and honest about the cost of raising a jewish family including tuition obligations so that said yungerleit could have had the mentoring and encouragement for planning for ‘life after kollel’; if we had roshei yeshiva who weren’t so threatened at the concept of the yungerman putting in the time and toil to prepare for a suitable and suitably recompensed career out from under his thumb and sphere of power; then maybe we’d have more men in our community who could pay the tuition bill and it wouldn’t be so impossibly high for the few to carry on their own. Oh, and perhaps more yungerladies who are less disaffected with a life of nothing but earning and earning and earning like cash cows to pay for a life for which no school, seminary, family or rebbi prepared them.

  49. Steve Brizel says:

    Unfortunately, R Twerski correctly touched a raw nerve within the so-called “yeshiva world”. I can only speak for my RY in RIETS who never viewed Baale Batim who are Kovea Itim LaTorah as serving at best a Bdieved function and source of $. We were always exhorted that no matter we did in life that we should be Kovea Itim LaTorah. OTOH, when one sees the programs geared to those who are now working, but who had formerly been within the daled amos of the yeshiva world, the same view anyone who is working as in dire need of rescue, serving a second-class Bdieved function, etc.

    One of the posters mentioned ArtScroll. The bottom line remains that ArtScroll serves a valuable function for textually challenged BTs and FFBs. However, the use of such sources IMO can only be seen as a crutch for someone who knows how to learn, and worse-the intellectual equivalent of Methdone-because once you are accustomed to ArtScroll, whether in Tanach or Talmud. you will never experience Ameilus BaTorah, let alone become a Ben Torah, Talmid Chacham or Isha Chasuvah.

  50. Shades of Gray says:

    “The bottom line remains that ArtScroll serves a valuable function for textually challenged BTs and FFBs…you will never experience Ameilus BaTorah, let alone become a Ben Torah, Talmid Chacham or Isha Chasuvah.”

    Unless you are R. Elyashiv 🙂

    As R. Scherman said in a VIN interview:

    “While some have accused Artscroll of making learning too easy, R’ Scherman disagrees, saying Artscroll seforim are meant as study aids, used to complement the actual seforim. They should be used to resolve difficulties in the original text, or as a way to make learning fit into a busy schedule when time constraints don’t permit reviewing the complete text and commentary inside the actual sefer. R’ Scherman smiles as he explains that even R’ Elyashiv finds it helpful to go through the Hebrew comments in an Artscroll gemara, adding “If it’s okay for R’Elyashiv, it’s okay for me and you.”

  51. Dr. E says:

    Steve (Brizel):

    The fact that it touched a raw nerve at the gathering and on CC is that within the Yeshiva World, there is a golden legacy of Yeshivos takling pride in putting out Baalei Battim. These graduates went on to work and subsequently were inclined to “give back” both financially and by being role models to the next generation of students. Unfortunately, that has morphed into a “once upon a time” and no longer is a goal that is within reach. Hence, the dissonance.

  52. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I really wish R’ Sherman and Artscroll would prove their sincerity that they are meant to be “study aids” by printing their fantastic Gemara and Chumash Rashi comments in a separate sefer. Then the sigma of looking them up would be removed.

  53. YS says:

    At least in the States there are Baalei Batim who can attend these conferences and maintain a dialogue with the yeshiva-world, davening in the same shuls and sending their kids to the same yeshivas. This is simply impossible here in EY, where the Ba’alei Batim are the non-Charedi world and where the Charedim simply circle the wagons tighter and tighter whenever anyone suggests that they not limit their contributions to society to learning and occasionally working for the Hatzala-like organizations.

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