Remaining Bnei Torah after Kollel

Few issues are of greater significance for the future of the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael than the status of those young (and not so young) men in transition between kollel and either the workplace or academic/vocational training in preparation for work. The numbers of such men increases from year to year..

The primary impetus for leaving kollel is economic, Low child benefits by Western standards, small kollel stipends, increased tuitions, skyrocketing housing prices for young couples, and the exhaustion of any accumulated wealth from previous generations combine to put most chareidi families under great financial strain, even when the mother works.

Yet even for a family struggling to put food on the table, the decision to leave kollel is often an extremely painful one. First and foremost, there is the dramatically reduced time for Torah learning. Then there is the loss of one’s carefully nurtured identity as a kollel yungerman. A man’s status in the eyes of his wife, his children, his wider family, and the community of Torah learners with which he identifies comes under threat.

There will inevitably be those who try to convince the former yungerman that his departure from kollel is a form of betrayal and that he has set himself on the path of spiritual decline. And he may feel himself to be a failure by virtue of no longer being involved in full-time learning.

The predictions of spiritual decline can become their own form of self-fulfilling prophecy. The norm of long-term kollel learning in Israel, ironically, makes it more likely that those who break with the norm will cease learning altogether.

At the other end of the process of leaving kollel lies unfamiliar territory, whether the work place or an academic setting. In many ways the transition can be compared to travelling to a foreign country where one does not speak the language.

For the former kollel scholar, there is a chasm between the environment which he is leaving and that which he is entering. Until now, he was taught that use of internet is comparable to an issur yichud. Now internet is essential for his work. Until now, he has never been outside a sexually-segregated environment. Now, he may find himself working in a mixed environment. That change can be a shock to the system.

THE CHALLENGE that chareidi society faces with respect to those in transition from full-time Torah learning is two-fold. First, there is the external challenge of ensuring that those who enter the workforce can do so in an environment consistent with maintaining their religious values.

Then there is the internal challenge of ensuring that those who leave full-time beis medrash learning continue to view themselves as bnei Torah, for whom several hours of Torah learning remains part of their daily schedule and who continue to derive their primary spiritual and intellectual satisfaction from that Torah learning.

In response to these challenges, which have such far-ranging implications for the identity and internal health of the chareidi community in coming decades, one of the first projects of the newly formed Haredi Institute for Public Affairs (of which the founder and CEO is Mr. Eli Palay, the publisher of Mishpacha) addresses precisely these issues.

The centerpiece of the project is the creation of appropriate learning frameworks for those no longer in full-time learning. That involves a national survey of existing initiatives in the area, and the opening of new batei medrash for working bnei Torah. The form of learning in the new centers will primarily be chavrusa learning, as in kollel, and a list has already been compiled of fifteen maggidei shiur, some of them prominent roshei yeshiva, to give high-level shiurim. Eight batei medrash have already been established, and the goal is to have twenty – each with its own organizer – by the end of the coming year.

The Institute has commissioned two studies by chareidi researchers – one for men and one for women — to make concrete recommendations on ways to ensure that entrance into the work force is not at the expense of religious observance or communal identification. The researchers are in the process of conducting in-depth interviews with a cross-section of working 30-50 men and a similar number of women to determine what they felt was lacking in their preparation for the workforce and what steps can facilitate a positive transition from a religious standpoint.

The Institute is simultaneously preparing material for courses to be offered – and hopefully required – by institutions providing academic and vocational training to chareidim that will prepare students for the challenges that may arise in their work environment and guide them as to how they can be handled. Ideally, young people entering a particular field or place of work will be provided with mentors in that field or place of work who can guide them. Such a program already exists for women through Temech.

THE LITHUANIAN WORLD could learn a lot about maintaining the bond to Torah learning after the years in kollel from our Chassidic brothers. Within the largest Chassidic groups – Gerrer, Vizhnitz and Belz – every chassid belongs to a particular shtiebel. Should he be absent from tefillah for more than a few days his absence would be noted immediately.

Few products of Lithuanian yeshivos and kollelim, however, are part of such well-organized communities. As long as they are in yeshiva or kollel, their presence or absence would be noted. But once they are out of kollel, the minyanim where they daven rarely function as a community. The life of a former yungerman, then, is often lacking the web of formal connections to others that is characteristic of the Chassidic world.

In each of the largest Chassidic groups, there is an established time when every chassid is expected to be in the beis medrash learning, and that is true whether he is currently a kollel yungerman or it has been decades since he last learned full-time learning. Absence from learning seder will be duly noted by the gabbai of that particular beis medrash, Anyone who misses a few days can expect a call inquiring about his well-being and where he has been.

That one hour a night is a minimum; many learn more hours throughout the day with chavrusos. No one suggests that one can become a talmid chacham learning one-hour a day, but the sacrosanct nature of that hour helps Chassidim retain a connection to the community of Torah-learners and reaffirms the central place of Torah in their lives.

A Belzer chassid with whom I was speaking last week estimated that no more than two percent of Belzer Chassidim regularly miss the designated hour for learning. When shidduch inquiries are made about the family, one of the first questions to be asked will always be about the father’s kvias itim l’Torah. And the subject is invariably emphasized in the Rebbe’s annual “standing Torah” drashah, the “state of the union” speech delivered on Motzaei Simchas Torah.

But it took a good deal of effort to get to this situation. One year the Rebbe invited a number of Chassidim to join him for Kiddush on Shabbos. None of those invited were informed as to why they were singled out for such a kavod. When they discovered the source of their distinction, however, they were somewhat less thrilled: Each of them had been reported by the gabbai of their respective shtiblach for non-attendance at the nightly learning, and on that account “earned” a fervent talk from the Rebbe on the importance of consistent, nightly Torah study.

Social pressure in the far less cohesive Lithuanian community can never achieve the same results. That makes the search for new ways of maintaining a vital connection to Torah learning for those who may be overwhelmed by the pressures of their work or their studies or struggling with a loss of identity so absolutely crucial.

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39 Responses

  1. tzippi says:

    This is just as important chutz la’aretz as in Israel. (My first sentence was actually, “Yet again, you see the dichotomy between Israel and chutz la’aretz”, but I need some time to organize my thoughts.) Last week, Hamodia featured a magnificent article called “You Too Can Learn Shas” about a true role model, R’ Gil Mordechai Tal of Israel. It should be required reading.
    For those who feel themselves not capable of such learning, either from the time commitment or high level, everyone needs, may I say deserves, some Torah study that animates him (and at the least, connection to Torah that animates the hers) on a regular basis; this is the true meaning of “morasha kehillas Yaakov.”

  2. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    After my Chareidi cousin in Israel read the Cross Currents article I wrote about the challenges women face when their their husbands leave kollel (, she shared with me the story of her neighbor whose husband left kollel and became a handyman, but hid his tools whenever friends or family came to visit his apartment. And it was his wife’s idea.

  3. joel rich says:

    WADR if one can’t change the culture that inculcates in its members from their youth that “A man’s status in the eyes of his wife, his children, his wider family, and the community of Torah learners” “comes under threat” if he isn’t learning full time in Kollel, than while all your suggestions are good ones, they will IMHO not address the root cause of the existential alienation which drives the results that concern you.
    Joel Rich

  4. Y. Ben-David says:

    What you related here should not be surprising because things have gone so far that even if an Ashkenazi (I am not aware if the Sefardi Haredim have fallen into this yet) leads a totally Haredi lifestyle without television or internet their children may still be barred from certain schools because now there are schools which will not admit children whose fathers work. This explains an article Rav Berel Wein wrote some time ago pointing out that he has observed that it is now more respectable in certain to live off of schnorring than it is to work. It seems that a new sort of Indian-style caste system is being created among the Jewish people. Is this indeed the way of the Torah?

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Joel Rich-I think that RJR has hit the nail on the head-in the charedi world, the idea of a learner-earner appears to be gaining traction as it is apparent that not every kollelnik has the ability or desire to learn indefinitely. OTOH, Halevai, that the idea of a learner-earner in the MO world who spends as much of his spare time learning Torah was viewed in practice as equally desirable to “my son the doctor”, etc.

  6. chaim says:

    An excellent article. A system that allows its talmidim to do a minimal amount of preparation for their careers while shteiging in Yeshiva, (e.g Ner Yisroel) can teach young men that their lives are not one that is all or nothing and they will never feel that they are leaving the Bais Hmaedrash.

  7. Jewish Observer says:

    From the postulation it sounds like the root cause is being in Kollel in the first place

  8. Aaron says:

    The truth is that preparation for how to remain a ben Torah in the “outside” world must begin within the regular chinuch framework. When the Chareidi chinuch system will acknowledge that many of their bochrim will need to find jobs in the workforce they can then help train and equip their talmidim to confront the challenges of the workforce. All too often shmoozen in yeshiva are geared towards those that are, and will be engaged in full time torah learning. Much is heard about ביטול תורה and ביטול זמן, however not much is heard about בכל דרכיך דעהו. The Yeshivos should stress to their tamidim the importance of making all decisions, including career decisions based on עבודת השם. As boys get older they should be paired with mentors who are frum doctors, lawyers, accountants and other business professionals who can discuss the unique challenges and nisyonos present in their fields and how to best deal with them.

  9. Y. Ben-David says:

    I find it interesting to note that we see here that even after years of intensive full-time Torah study, many people believe that without overt outside coercion, someone who leaves the Kollel world might easily give up the effort to maintain Torah study and observance. What does this say about how peole really INTERNALIZE the Torah they are learning? If people really believe that coercion and public humilation are the only way to keep people “within the fold”, doesn’t this mean they they themselves don’t believe the Torah has anything that would attract people on its own?
    IMHO opinion the problem is that today, Torah is taught in such a way to make it seem it has NOTHING to do with the outside world, and it has no message for the world at large. This approach is even seen to be desirable, in order to deter the kollel student from looking around him OUTSIDE the walls of the Beit Midrash. However, by looking below the surface, below the level of the generally external manifestions of Jewish observance (the day-to-day mitzvot) we see it does have deep insights into the world around us and mankind (and not only the Jewish people’s) role in it. The problem seems to be that this message is NOT inclulcated in today’s Torah education system and even those who spend years, immersed full-time in its study, seem to come out of these educational systems with what seems to be a superficial understanding of what the Torah is really about.

  10. jolly says:

    “Until now, he was taught that use of internet is comparable to an issur yichud. Now internet is essential for his work.”

    I don’t see how they are mutually exclusive. Issur Yichud remains the truth even when working as the internet should only be used in a public place.

  11. Yair Daar says:

    I hope that this initiative will be funded by the newly-minted learner-earners themselves instead of furthering their reliance on public support for their learning.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    This article is very enlightening and I gained some insight into the mental walls that have been erected to keep chareidi men life time learners. It seems that the tide is turning ,albeit slowly, and with a lot of turmoil. Several points made an impresson, one is that it is all or nothing. If you leave Kollel, you might as well stop learning. If you leave Kollel, hide it from your neighors. This whole scenario shows tremendous insecurity and fear that any exposure to the secular world will infect you. It is sort of like the native Americans who died from measles because they had no immunity.
    You also showed in stark contrast that the Chassidm have rebbes and the Litvaks are left on their own.
    I wonder if you could explain dispasionately why there is such a vaccum in the Lithuanian world of bold leadership able to readjust to changing times. Hashem is supposed to provide each generation with leaders and this lack of leadership is a major question in hashkafah. Let’s not hide from it.

  13. DF says:

    A healthy dose of reality is needed to balance this post:

    1. “Several hours a day of learning” – a fantasy that never was and never will be. Leave aside the inclination – 95% of people simply do not have the time to do that. Gross exaggerations like that only deflate or appear dismissive or those who actually do put in time learning. It also gives wildly unrealistic expectations to the substantially baal teshuvah community within orthodoxy who have no idea that few people in Europe knew how to learn at all, period, let alone “three hours a day.”

    2. No more than 2% of Belzers miss their (minimum) hour a day of learning – if this type of fact checking occurred in the mainstream media, JR would rightly lampoon it as ridiculous. Do we take everything everyone says at face value? With all due respect to JR, the story of the gabbai keeping track of every chassid’s attendance, like a mashgiach of a high school, is total fiction. Thankfully.

    3. “Cant be a talmid chacham with one hour a day learning” – Really? The shulchan aruch was designed to be reviewed once a month. I was taught one could be a talmid chacham with five minutes a day. It means you take advantage of your time. An hour a day is actually quite a lot, if you use the time wisely. Remember, the premise of your article was about people leaving kollel, and that after years in the beis midrash. Did they learn nothing all those years? But perhaps we have different understandings of what a talmid chacham is and what actual learning is.

  14. tzippi says:

    Jewish Observer, I don’t think that kollel is the problem. Maybe it’s the current iteration. I know of a generation of octogenarians who went through kollel. Some learned under Rav Aharon and stayed in full time-Torah service in some capacity for life. Others learned under one of the gedolei Slobadka who sent his talmidim out with an exit plan to continue growing in Torah. And wow, did they.

    The young men who are serious about learning may not have that kind of relationship with a Torah mentor, for a variety of reasons that deserve to be explored. There is also the mindset detailed in this article that their self-worth will plummet. Chutz la’aretz, there is still a generation or so – those octogenarians referenced above and their children – who are serious working bnei Torah and setting a wonderful model. Still, the younger generation is confused. There is a feeling now that one is seriously cut out for learning, and should, for a minimum number of years that is arbitrary and largely unrealistic, or one is not. There is no middle ground. The young men in the latter group, if they’re lucky, will find healthy endorsement in other ways, such as showing up for davening, working responsibly, etc. But many don’t have the connection to Torah that they deserve to have. There are wonderful efforts to connect these young men to Torah. Note R. Ben Tzion Shafier, and rabbanim starting kehillos in different communities.

    Then there are those in the former group, who are capable of serious learning and for whom the ratzon is there, but the financial realities dictate another direction. That’s where R. Rosenblum’s article comes in. And I think it’s very important. I also think that the importance of finding and maintaining ongoing mentorship should be discussed. For the young men, and all middle school parents. Because most of those parents will be sending their children to new schools for high school, often out of town. Even if sending locally parents need to start nurturing these relationships. I think this could be a game changer. Assuming the roshei yeshiva, mashgichim, rebbeim, and chavrei kollel have the broad shoulders for this.

    (I must add a postscript: I’m not advocating that parents outsource their responsibility for guiding their children through life. There should be mutual respect, but recognition that the serious lomdei Torah in the institutions their children are attending will be looked at as role models. And this can be a great thing.)

  15. Bob Miller says:

    Not just any work will provide enough money to help these families and communities. Professional education for some men within these communities will have to be fostered and respected. This will mean that some grounding in the relevant areas of knowledge will need to be in the elementary and secondary school curricula. A cram course later in life won’t do it.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    L. Oberstein Wrote, “Hashem is supposed to provide each generation with leaders…”

    In some generations, the greatest leaders may be Chassidic Rebbeim.

  17. Dr. E says:

    Reb Jonathan:

    You bring up an important challenge that exists in transitioning from Kollel to the workplace However, making the move from Kollel to workplace, while fraught with stigma and challenge to become a “Ben Torah earner”, is not simply a switch which one can flip “when the time comes”. Nor is it just a matter of having a well-thought out and mentored exit strategy.

    Making the move in the ideal way which you envision requires a “plan”. Such a plan needs to be strategic and begin during critical stages of intellectual and social development. It is not something that one can start in mid-20’s or early-30’s. In 2015, it likely begins around Fifth Grade.

    To make such a transition requires three components to be in place:

    (1) Education and Training
    (2) Skills which are current and marketable
    (3) Attitude

    You note that there is an initiative of researchers to “make concrete recommendations on ways to ensure that entrance into the work force is not at the expense of religious observance or communal identification”. As we know, that is very important to Shomrei Torah U’Mitzvos (or in your formulation a Ben Torah). However, that only speaks to #3, and even there partially so. #1 provides the foundations for success and #2 builds on those foundations. Unfortunately, there is a self or communally–perceived moral superiority and a collective overrating of intelligence or “analytical skills” relative to the rest of the world (in Israel and elsewhere). The reality is that those assets do not make people competitive or compelling candidates for employment. So, attitude (#3) is multi-dimensional. One’s “ruchniyus readiness”, while necessary, is insufficient.

    The “dissing” of general education really needs to stop in order to effect change. The curriculum in high schools needs to as well. Otherwise, the idea of a Youngerman taking a 6 or 12 month vocational training course towards a job which will support his family will end up being an unsubstantiated claim. It is also critical that what poses spiritual challenges of adults in the workplace is kept within an accurate perspective and is without bubbameises and hyperbole of what takes place. For this, the rhetoric, which until now has only reinforced the stigma associated with “leaving the Beis Medrish” into unchartered spiritually shark-infested waters, has to stop.

  18. L. Oberstein says:

    I discussed this with someone in the upper echelons of the Litvish world,who is honest, in private. he says that there is a leadership vacuum and that you cannot compare today’s askanim or gedolim to those of even one generation ago. Today, there is a lot of hype and showmanship,but little real leadership.
    He said that this article is getting flack because it insinuates that some guys stay in Kollel because they are ashamed not to,but would leave in a heartbeat if they could. There is objection to saying this,not because it isn’t true,but because we keep all criticism in house and never admit to the outside that we have problems.
    Change will come from below, not from above. The whole idea that we are led by specific Gedolim and that their word is law is a figment of imagination and when it is imposed, is usually ignored.
    On the other hand, Chassidism is led by rebbes who actually lead. Their rules are followed and they do encourage work. The differenc, it was explained to me, is that on Shabbos all the Chassidim wear the same garb and are all treated like equal chassidim (of course some are wealthier,but that is a different story). In the Lithuanian world, a learner is valued, a working stiff is lower class,as this article correctly points out.

  19. Shades of Gray says:

    Trivia Question–Name the author of the following statement:

    “There have to be yeshivas who don’t allow their talmidim to go to college and there have to be yeshivas who do allow their talmidim to go to college. Rabbi Kotler came to this country and he wouldn’t hear of establishing any other kind of yeshiva but one that is kulo kodesh (completely holy), pure torah. Any kind of secular education has no part in the life of his talmidim. He had to do it that way. There has to be a certain standard for torah in its highest form…

    There are people in New York City and write circulars, who make propaganda that you shouldn’t send your children to college. To a great extent, I think it is naïve. I have no qualms about trying to influence an individual not to go to college. I wouldn’t send my children to college. They wouldn’t dream of going to college. I’ve raised them with a different hashfaka (perspective) — with a hashfaka of that type of torah life where they’re ready to sacrifice college. There are two camps but there is a necessity for both. The secret to torah in this country is due to the fact that both camps are here and one without the other could not have brought torah to the position where it is today.”

    (“Interview with Harav Yaakov Perlow”, 12/28/77, in “Interviews conducted by Professor William Helmreich with various Roshei Yeshiva”, pages 12-13)

  20. Dr. E says:

    Aaron’s points are spot-on. The Chareidi world spent much energy demonizing a certain frum Knesset member who recently advocated such changes to the chinuch system. Many American Yeshivish who obviously get much of their validation from abroad, were quick to pile on. I found that perspective interesting, as the proposals for chinuch modifications would be far below what they would ever tolerate for their own children. The typical retort is that the double standard is understandable acceptable (“ha lan, v’ha l’hu”). Yet, they snicker when 5 collectors walk into Shacharis to ask for money because they are undereducated and have no other means of Parnassa.

  21. L. Oberstein says:

    Shades of Grey goes all the way back to 1977. Times have changed. Today, there is a dichotomy, I am told,even in Lakewood. Some avreichim are taking college online and getting degrees. other avreichim are sending their yingelach to chadorim that do not teach goyish in lower elementary school even, just like in Bnai Brak. There are a lot of people making a good living in Lakewood and also many who struggle to learn in poverty (with government help).Th battle over college in 1977 is long over. There are options to get degrees that do not entail mixed gender classes, mixed religion classes and who are scheduled to meet the requirements of frum yungeleit. College is more of a trade school, career planning school for moxt. it is not a place where one is exposes to heresy and immodesty. Rav Aharon Kotler was a great leader and his approach is ascendent. Rav Ruderman told me personally that he permitted college because he felt a personl obligation to enable talmidim to earn a living and not live in poverty due to lack of a skill. He viewed college as a b’dieved but permitted it openly and not under the table. I do not know if there are Gedolim of his level today who would have the shoulders to openly permit college as he did. I am told by those who actually know,that the yungeleit in Baltimore are not inferior to those in the non college yeshivos and this greatly surprised a certain Eretz Yisroel individual who returned after many years and thought he was coming to a mediocre yeshiva and was amazed to discover the level of learning. It is possible to have both without lessoning one’s committment to learning and also to klal responsibility.

  22. G says:

    Let me tell you a true story:

    Once upon a time I worked in investments, a friend worked as an accountant, another friend in real estate. Together we came up with the idea to create a series of classes for older yeshiva bochrim and newly marrieds in kollel to lay out the common financial issues that every family will one day need to navigate. The point was not to scare them and promote working over learning, only inform them of what is awaiting everyone no matter how much they earn so that they might be better prepared.

    We presented this idea to the Rosh Kollel of our local yeshiva (one of the largest in America). The response was that this was something which was greatly needed and would be highly beneficial “…but you can never do it in the yeshiva”. We asked if these classes were scheduled at night in town would the yeshiva endorse it and push people to attend. The answer to both was a definitive “No”. We were confused and asked why if this was such a great idea would the yeshiva not want to help it become a reality. This was the response: That if the guys knew what was waiting for them out there they would become too scared and would no longer be willing to sit and learn…That the system required a certain degree of ignorance on the part of the learners in order to survive.

    And this took place outside of Lakewood! In short, the yeshiva does not want to help create a better transfer from “inside” to “outside”.

  23. s leiber says:

    I’m just curious if any of the above respondents include(d) themselves in the camp that JR is talking about.
    Did any of you live a kollel life for 10+ years?
    I just think it’s easy to point fingers, generalize, hypothesize, criticize etc. a category of people that you personally don’t associate with.
    Isn’t there something beautiful about talented, smart, dedicated, capable men to minimize their material needs and interests, minimize their outside pursuits/hobbies and dedicate themselves FULLY to Torah, growing in Yiras Shamayim and middos.
    Listen, you didn’t choose the lifestyle. OBVIOUSLY, you don’t agree with it. It’s easy for you to critique, since it’s not close to home.
    I just suggest that anybody who really CARES about this issue, should stop blogging and degrading serious Bnei Torah and FIRST, spend a month [remember those 5 minutes a day] learning all the maamarei chazal about how chashuv Limud HaTorah is. (don’t shake your head and prepare to quote/misquote famous Rambams…). Just spend a month learning the other side. Spend a month appreciating the wellsprings of bracha that Limud HaTorah brings into this world [if 5 minutes a day can make you a Talmid Chochom, what can 10 hours a day make you?]
    THEN, after a month, I’d love to hear your commentary. I think the starting point will be different. You might have some good suggestions, but the basic respect will be there.
    [OK, if anybody jumps in here with anecedotals like “My cousin learns in the greasiest yeshiva in E”Y and all he does is smoke cigarettes all day”, please see above]

  24. s leiber says:

    And by the way, just to explain a couple of points mentioned above, from an insider:
    1 – As I understand it, many x-kollel yungerleit begin working and between their already large, demanding families and full time hours at work, find only 1-2 hours a day to learn. For somebody used to learning on a really deep level, Daf Yomi doesn’t cut it. I’m not Chas V’Shalom minimizing Daf Yomi, I just mean that if you are used of chewing over 3 lines of Gemara for 3 days, you can’t just plow through the text and feel satisfied. The disconnect between wanting learn on a deep level, but not having enough time to, or enough energy between all other responsibilities [5am may not be the time when your brain is fully functioning, even if you do show up] – makes it very hard to maintain zest. They can’t be satisfied with anything less than they are used to, from years in “the field”, but don’t have enough time to do both simultaneously. dissatisfaction naturally leads to…less time spent learning.

    2- Part of the Kollel lifestyle is the shelter provided from the outside world. Many kollel families (at least here in E”Y) still don’t have internet. Or, if the wives do, for work or emailing pictures to doting grandparents, the men certainly don’t have access.
    Men walk the heilige streets of yerushalayim, go to kollel, learn all day, come home, help at home, walk through clean streets to night seder and come home. They don’t have radio, internet, commutes on public transportation, billboards, secular media at all etc. This atmosphere is conducive to striving for a high level of kedusha [again – please no anecdotals – of course some people choose to live Kollel differently, especially those who plan to leave within a year or two. But, I’m describing HUNDREDs of people I know personally after years and years of being here]
    Leaving this environment certainly makes it hard to maintain such levels of Yiras Shamayim. JR isn’t describing people who stop keeping shabbos c”V. but yes, if everybody in the office is talking about the news, or if his boss requires he get an iphone and read business week, it might make an impression.
    I’m truly envious of anybody who can live in the outside world and show ZERO influence after 3 years.
    Same for the wife. I always tell my husband, I’m thrilled to wear a short shaitel and opaque nude tights. But if he takes a shteller in a really trendy, rich neighborhood in America, it would be very hard for me not to be swayed when the ladies around me look like they just stepped off the runway.

  25. Shades of Gray says:

    s lieber,

    The question is on the quote from L. Oberstein, above, that “some guys stay in Kollel because they are ashamed not to, but would leave in a heartbeat if they could.”. This, in itself, is not a criticism of the Kolel system, because there are misfits in secular colleges as well. Two points about this, the first theoretical, and the second practical.

    1) R. Sternbuch, according to R. Daniel Eidensohn, added an important clarification to R. Dessler’s statement(Michtav M’Eliyahu 3:356-357) of “Don’t think that they didn’t realize from the beginning that this approach would ruin some who would not be able to deal with this extreme lifestyle…those who had a strong desire to learn a profession and surely those were interested in become academics were completely abandoned and not dealt with at all… One thousand students enter to study Bible and only one comes out as a posek and G-d says “that is the one I desire.” They also mentioned the words of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, “It is better that 1000 fools die in order to obtain one Torah scholar.”

    “Rav Sternbuch told me to append a note to this letter of Rav Dessler’s letter. He said that the halacha is clear that it is not allowed to produce gedolim if it causes others to stop being observant. He said that Rav Dessler doesn’t mean that it is certain that people will go off the derech because of this approach – but only that it can happen. In addition that going off the derech here refers to a possiblity of losing the yeshiva standard of observance – not giving up religious observance entirely.” (“R’ Dessler – Produce gedolim even if most students are destroyed”, Daas Torah Blog, 10/6/08)

    2) Jonathan Rosenblum concedes that change is needed, but wrote in “Yesh Atid Sets Back the Clock”(6/14/13) that “[Lapid] has set back every trend that he and his fellow “reformers” of chareidi society claim to support by a decade or more, if not irreversibly.” Aharon Ariel Lavi wrote similarly in Mosaic this past December that “the process of change requires a great deal of patience and a delicate touch, two attributes lacking in most politician…Nettiot’s pre-military academy for haredim, a groundbreaking project that struggles to survive, was approached several times by one of Israel’s most significant political figures offering the kind of government support that could eliminate the program’s financial problems. All he asked in exchange was that we organize a well-publicized visit to the site. We had to turn him down: the instant such publicity came out, haredi political “handlers” would devour us.”

  26. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    s lieber, yes, it’s so hard to maintain those levels of Yiras Shamayim, yes it *does* make an impression (you respectfully suggested “might”),yes some influence might show after working in the outside world. And as a wife, you bet it’s hard when the ladies in shul look they just stepped off the runway. The sheltered life of kollel and the kedushah in Eretz Yisrael you are describing is real, but going to work and earning a parnassa is real, too, for the many kollel graduates who must and do leave kollel. Not everyone is going to live the lifestyle.

    Yes, these men struggle when they go to work since they are used to a high level of learning and long hours. Yep, their learning isn’t going to have the same zest, and they may feel dissatisfied. So truth is, their learning IS going to be different because they are working but that’s REALITY for working men. They should be prepared for it! Smart phones, office talk about the news (it could be much worse), reading Business Week — yes, it’s true! But does that mean he should avoid the workforce? If for whatever of the many possible reasons, a husband needs to go to work, he can’t run away from his obligation just because it might (and often does) pose a spiritual struggle of sorts, and the fine balance is that they can’t run away from their learning obligations either.

    You are blessed to be able to maintain this lifestyle. The problem of transitioning to the outside world is a truth for many as Rabbi Rosenblum and many of the commentators describe. That doesn’t mean that the respondents you are referring to don’t care are disrespectful to serious Bnei Torah.

    I wish you and your husband many continued years of full dedication to Torah, Yiras Shamayim and middos development. I wish myself, other wives of working Bnei Torah, and our husbands the same, with an additional caveat: that we should always have chashivus for Torah despite the lesser hours that our husbands devote to Torah study.

  27. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    I must add a comment for those who carve out time to learn despite their busy work days and all their other time-consuming responsibilities, and whose learning is actually quite vibrant (even at 5 a.m. for those who have the stamina) — it is indeed because of their limited time for learning that makes it so precious to them. Let’s remember that their Torah also brings wellsprings of bracha into this world.

  28. Y. Ben-David says:

    S. Leiber-
    Could you explain to me how Judaism survived for millenia considering that 99.99% of Jewish boys and men did NOT study Torah as intensively
    as modern Kollel people do? No one denies that the Jewish people need a scholarly class, but this is not for every one. Rav Steinsaltz and
    other Rabbanim say that the Talmud was not intended to be for intensive study by the masses. Coercion will not work for people who are not
    up to it , and this is the majority.

  29. joel rich says:

    Isn’t there something beautiful about talented, smart, dedicated, capable men to minimize their material needs and interests, minimize their outside pursuits/hobbies and dedicate themselves FULLY to Torah, growing in Yiras Shamayim and middos.

    How aboutthis version: There is something beautiful about talented, smart, dedicated, capable men who try to balance their commitments to self, family, community and nation by balancing the material needs and interests of all those paries, while balancing their outside pursuits/hobbies in dedicating themselves FULLY to balancing all concerned parties growth in Torah,Yiras Shamayim and middos. Here’s the real secret – it’s not all about you!

  30. tzippi says:

    s leiber, I appreciate your voice.
    We started in kollel 30 years ago, in the US, and made it for 4 years. I realize that if someone “only” learns full-time for 4 years they’re not perceived as being serious. I hope and pray that his mindset changes. My husband is a true ben Torah. I think I can say he has not been influenced by the work environment. Depressed and demoralized, yes 😉 ; on the whole, he’d rather be learning, or at least be doing something more productive for society than what he’s doing.

    I appreciate how difficult dealing with the outside world is. Let’s leave hashkafa about the desirability of interacting with said world is. But shouldn’t we all be strong enough to face this world? I realize that as we circled our husbands we were both hoping that we should have the zechus of creating a secure and pure environment for them to grow, but is this environment not a psychic and portable one?

    As far as this wife goes, maybe your husband will find a shteller out of town. It’s sane here. I guess I’m lucky that while there are runway ladies here, it’s not my chevra and AFAIK there isn’t extreme pressure.

    Now as far as the daf goes: The Siyum Hashas really powered my husband to start learning the daf. We have wonderful magidei shiur here but not the kind of depth he wants so he spends hours a day on the daf, learning it inside and listening to outstanding shiurim, in addition to the chavrusa he has with our son.

    Now if anyone has an in with Hamodia, can you please ask them to put the article about R’ Gil Tal on the website so that this url can be disseminated as widely as possible? I see this as a potential game-changer.

  31. Gershon Pickles says:

    S. Lieber – please, spare us. It’s not as though there’s only a few kollel families out there that commenters “don’t really associate with” because “its not close to home.” There are thousands and thousands of kollel families, and tens of thousands more in Israel. There are numerous kollelim in every decent sized city. The criticism is coming from people very familiar with the lifestyle, thank you very much. As for your suggestion that we learn all the blessings promised for learning Torah, as though no one here has ever heard of such a thing before – again, please spare us.

  32. David Z says:

    I think if you can use the word “Chassidic” you can us the word “Litvische” or however you’d like to spell it. “Lithuanian” just sounds bizarre.

  33. David Z says:

    You really expect someone working a full day to learn “hours” EVERY day? Seriously? Maybe Sundays and Saturdays. But with davening and family, even two hours every night is almost inconceivable.

  34. Aaron says:

    S. Lieber – I have spent more than 10 years after my chasunah learning in yeshiva and kollel. The problems JR has described are quite true and accurate. The vast majority of men are not capable of learning productively in Kollel for 10 plus years. Many understandably lose their cheshek and zeal. Most are unable to find positions in chinuch that they would find fulfilling. Being ill equipped and unprepared to enter the workforce many make due with their kollel schedule while their families live in abject poverty. Furthermore, because of their dire financial situation many are forced to rely on government aid in order to survive. All too often sheker and highly questionable accounting methods are used to qualify for these programs. The obligation for a manto provide for his family and earn a livelihood is not a “misquoted Rambam” but rather a clear cut Mishna and Gemara. The obligation to earn a livelihood is understood to be binding in the literal sense by the Rambam, Chovos Halivovos and basically every other rishon. The Mahrsha states that the opinion of Rav Nahorai, that one may only teach his son Torah, is not to be understood literally. The Sefer Habris states that one who educates his child according to the literal understanding of Rav Nahorai will be required to answer for his deeds after his death, and will surely be punished (even if he intent l’shem shomayim). As for your claims about the benefits of leading a life of seclusion, that too can be strongly debated.

  35. SA says:

    May I say something from the perspective of a couple in their 50s?
    It might be possible for ex-Kollel men and their wives to psych themselves up by remembering that our generation is one being blessed with relatively long lives. Yes, leaving kollel in one’s late 20s or early 30s can be a downer, because you will have spiritual challenges and your life will be full of obligations and pressures that make it harder to learn for many hours a day.
    But kids grow up and eventually demand less of us. If you hang in there, you might be able to reclaim a lot of that time. Your “learning life” is not necessarily over. You are just taking a break to do other important things, and need to be patient.
    We have six children, BH, five of whom are married. Our youngest is 19 and when she’s home, she’s only a help. We are still helping all the marrieds in one way or another, and from a financial perspective, retirement is a long way off. Yet our child-care responsibilities are behind us, and our household responsibilities are reduced – and that frees up time.
    My husband, who even while working for a major accounting firm was scrupulous about carving out time for learning every day, has gradually been able to expand his learning (and teaching – he gives several shiurim), both during the week and on Shabbos, because he is no longer busy learning with the kids or helping in the house. (By the way, we live in Israel, so we don’t have Sundays). Soon our grandchildren will be old enough to be “learning projects,” but that, of course, will be at his discretion.
    Eventually, as our kids’ situations stabilize (full disclosure – none are in kollel) he may be able to cut back on his work hours and spend even more time learning. That is his dream. But he recognizes that he’s not there yet, and is grateful for the increasing opportunities provided by the present.
    Does Torah learning between the ages of 50-80 have less value than Torah learned between 20-40 – especially if one has the capacity to share it via teaching? There are a lot of possibilities, if we just stay aware and willing to take advantage of what opens up to us.

  36. Jewish Observer says:

    “Jewish Observer, I don’t think that kollel is the problem”

    – to be clear, I didn’t say Kollel is the problem. I said that was implied by JR

  37. s leiber says:

    Thanks for all of the responses. It definitely insightful to hear perspectives from people years ahead of me!
    I realize that my tone initially was argumentative. Apologies.
    I guess that with all of the effort we expend to live in E”Y, husband a masmid and Rosh Kollel (maybe for YOUR son in law), me working a corporate job at night/morning (from home) to support everyone, raising many little kids without any creature comforts, convenience foods or cleaning help, running a gemach to help families going through a temporary hard time (maybe for YOUR daughter in law) and more, it’s tiring to hear people make it sound like I’m on vacation, wasting my time and mooching off the world.
    Oh, and by the way, we never received ONE “monthly” check of support from our parents, from day one.

    My main point was as follows:
    Of course there are issues. Of course the system is far from perfect.
    BUT, we’re Klal Yisroel. We LOVE Talmiday Chochomim! We LOVE learning Torah. We believe it brings down so much bracha into the world, every minute is invaluable, and it helps ALL of us. We revere our Roshei Yeshiva. Do you know that they started in Kollel too. AND, they probably didn’t know they were going to be Roshei Yeshiva when they were 25.
    We all want amazing Rebbeim for our kids. We all want future poskim.
    Let’s start from there. Let’s say “V’Talmud Torah keneged KULAM” every morning with our whole heart.
    Then, we can think of ideas. But the vehemence might be gone. The tone might be different. It might sound like this:
    “I run a business. I’d love to help a kollel yungerman who feels stuck in the system. I’m ready to offer mentorship, pay a reasonable [fair to me, fair to him] starting salary and offer advice about educational courses that can be done concurrently [weekend MBAs do exist!].”
    By all means, use your strong feelings to assist individuals, offer your expertise to kollel grads starting businesses etc. If you can, help support their families while they go back to school.
    But please, please don’t make it sound like the 5,10,15 years they spend within the 4 koslei bais medrash is a crime because it didn’t contribute their their retirement fund.

  38. Aaron says:

    S. Lieber – “BUT, we’re Klal Yisroel. We LOVE Talmiday Chochomim! We LOVE learning Torah” and we love applying Torah values to our daily lives as active and involved members of the world we live in. The Chovos Halivovos understands the need for hishtadlus in a physical world as a way to apply the theoretical Torah knowledge learned to the actual physical world. Torah was not given to malochim. It was given to physical human beings who would apply its rules and dictates to their physical needs which includes earning a livelihood. 10,15 years in Kollel may work for some individuals, but it is wrong to foster it on the population as a whole. “Talmid Torah Kneged Kulam” but “Torah shein imoh melacha sofo bateilah vgoreres avon”. Starting a job and expecting to make end meet after 10 to 15 years of kollel study (when families are already large) is virtually impossible.

  39. Aaron says:

    S. Lieber – The life of seclusion that you extoll is also quite questionable from a true ruchniyus perspective.

    You refer to the “heilige” streets of Yerushalayim that your husband walks each day. Perhaps you would stop to read the may patchkavilim that plaster these holy streets. Perhaps you would read the signs of lashon horah and machlokes that exist on a level unseen in “rich neighborhoods in America”. Perhaps you would overhear the zilzul talmidi chacahmim that takes place. Perhaps you might see the boy or the girl sitting on the street corner because the yeshiva or bais yaakov wont admit him or her because they have already filled their quota of sefardim or Americans. Perhaps you might walk the streets at a volatile time when rocks are thrown at passing cars and garbage cans set alight to protest some perceived injustice. Perhaps you would then feel that Business Week and knowledge of world events is not all that bad. When we stay oblivious to the news of world events we are not holier for that, but rather we miss the messages that Hashem is communicating to us. How can we daven and care for others if we are oblivious to their pain or suffering? How can we develop intelligent views of the issues confronting us in our times when we are clueless to what is actually at stake?

    Furthermore the world is not divided between “short sheitel” wearers and people who look like they “just walked off the runway” There is a happy medium of “regular sheitel” tzniusdik ladies who engage with the world that they inhabit.

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