Monday, May 14, 2007

What, Exactly, Is Expected Of Us?

Over at WildTumor, Moshe shows us an email conversation between a well-known rabbi (his identity hidden behind the label "Rabbi B.") and a friend of his ("AL") regarding the merits of learning vs. working in the "shidduch market." The rabbi's opinion in this conversation is that if one is not learning full time, he's not doing what God wants him to do.

Here are some excerpts:

Rabbi B: ...However, there is no question in my mind that you are NOT doing that which HaShem wants you to do. He didn't give us the Torah so that a person would spend 40 prime years of his life learning one hour a day!!


AL: There is nothing more that I want than to build a torah home based on yiras shomayim with someone who is commited to those same ideals. I don't consider myself tainted because I'm out in the working world.

Rabbi B: "Tainted"? Why tainted? However, you cannot honestly believe that this is what HaShem had in mind when he gave us the Torah.
Come on now!


Rabbi B: Anyone who really believes that he is a true Oved HaShem when he spends only one hour a day in the BM is really very very confused.

Now, I'm certainly no scholar, and I'm certainly no tzaddik. But what I can do is read... I can open up a chumash and take a look at several sections. Specifically, the Torah gives us all sorts of laws that apply to farmers. Why? If everyone is to spend all of our time learning, then why give us laws that apply to farmers? There are laws that delineate how one is to behave in business dealings. Why? Who is going to go into business? There are laws covering all sorts of professional and personal activities that shouldn't be necessary if we are expected to learn all day long.

Many of our gedolim throughout the years supported themselves by taking jobs. Were they not doing what God expected of them? My son's Rebbe (fifth grade) doesn't learn as he could for several hours a day because he's busy teaching elementary gemara and chumash. If he learned full time, I have no doubt that he could answer many more difficult ktzosim (see the original exchange) than he can teaching little kids. Is he not living up to his potential? Is he a disappointment in God's eyes as well?

Ultimately, however, I think that the there is a much more basic point to make here. The point is that we, as people, live in this world. God created us as we are, with our physical needs for food, clothing and shelter. God, in His wisdom, decreed that man must work for his living. God provides for us, but only indirectly. It's with His help and guidance that I earn a living, but, in the end, I still have to show up at work every day. I suppose that if I didn't want to work and God wanted me to have a living, He could cause a winning lottery ticket to show up in my wallet one day... but generally, He does not work like that. The way of the world is that one needs to earn a living (or be supported by others).

To my knowledge, there are very few cases where people have been miraculously sustained and therefore free to pursue Torah learning with absolutely no encumbrances. The most famous example was probably the Generation in the Wilderness. God provided manna from heaven, their clothing did not wear out and their shoes did not decay. As such most, if not all, of the Jews were able to pursue learning full-time. Once that ended (upon the entry into Eretz Yisroel), did people generally learn full time? No - they became farmers, vintners, metalsmithes, scribes and any of the dozens of other occupations that were needed to create a functioning nation. Were there people who learned full time? Certainly - but certainly it wasn't a majority or even a significant minority.

Another famous example concerns Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar, who were sustained by God in a cave for over a dozen years while in hiding from the Roman authorities. During the dozen years that they were in hiding, they did nothing but learn, as God provided for their needs miraculously. Indeed, what happened upon their exit from the cave? Their world-view was so out of step with everyone else's that God had to remind them that working for a living was not wrong or evil. In other words, God explicitly told them that man was meant to work - and sent them back to their cave for another year until they could learn that lesson.

So, what does it all boil down to? When Rabbi B says that a working person is "NOT doing what HaShem wants him to," he is clearly wrong. After all, if God didn't want us to earn a living, why did he send R. Shimon and his son back to the cave? He should have instructed them to convince all of K'lal Yisroel to put down their tools and learn all day. But that's not what He did.

Does this mean that full-time learning is wrong and contrary to God's will? No, I don't believe it is. The Jewish nation has need of professionals in every time period -- whether they be farmers and vintners in the ancient agragiran society of Israel of old, or doctors, lawyers and computer professionals in today's world. But they also need people who are experts in Torah -- in every age. We need people who learn full-time so that we can have poskim and rabbis and teachers. But we can't be a nation of exclusively learners. And those who work full-time and learn when they are not working are doing just as much to help further society.

If God truly wanted all the Jews to learn Torah full-time and not engage in professional activities, then He'd provide for us in the manner that He did in the Wilderness. The fact that He does not, and that he gave laws regarding our professional conduct, clearly indicates that it is permitted and worthy for us to enter into such activities.

The Wolf

Hat tip: Ezzie


Ezzie said...

Well put. Slightly related - see my post from yesterday morning.

As an aside, he's not hiding behind Rabbi B - it's a mass e-mail list and all of the students know who he is.

BrooklynWolf said...

I should have been clearer. I didn't mean that the Rabbi was hiding his identity, but rather that Moshe was hiding the rabbi's identity.

Anonymous said...

Well said, but I don't like your logic. Just because there are agrarian laws and business laws in the Torah does not impley how many people are supposed to utilize them.

You left out the best proof: The Gm. says that some can do like R' Shimon, but when many tried, it was a failure. Thus the many should do like R' Yishmael - work.

Here is the big fallacy I see in Rabbi B's argument:

He says: However, there is no question in my mind that you are NOT doing that which HaShem wants you to do."

How does Rabbi B. know what Hashem wants "you" to do? If he addresses and individual, everyone is unique. How can he say this so definitively !

In a general sense, God does want us to be involved with Torah and Mitzvos all the time. But that can only happen if the yoke of parnassoh is lifted from our shoulders. We have not merited that yet. And like the many that tried to be like R' Shimon, they were not successful.

Ezzie said...

Actually, he isn't either. The way the emails are set up, IIRC, show the responses as Rabbi B.

The Hedyot said...

I agree with you totally, but I don't like your logic.

My simple retort to people with that view is that the torah never makes any mention of such a concept, ever. If it was really the most important thing to do, there would be some mention of it, somewhere. But there is no direct statement that a person has to learn all day long. In fact, the very idea of learning at all is only mentioned a few times. But it doesn't ever say anything at all about learning all the time.

More arguments against:
God designates only one tribe to be devoted to teaching - the Kohanim. Everyone else was supposed to be doing what people normally do. So obviously, there is no imperative to do that (however, if you're a kohen...).

There is also the well-known (yet questionable) idea of the partnership between yisachar and zevulun. So according to that one is supposed to be devoted to learning. However, even if one believes that one of them is supposed to learn and the other support him - that's only one shevet doing learning! Everyone else, though, is supposed to be doing normal things, no?

(Don't ask me how these two argument fit with one another. They clearly don't. But it's not my problem - those ideas are straight from the tradition. I didn't make it up.)

Disclaimer: I don't actually subscribe to these views, but I recall when I was still frum, and struggled often with people trying to convince me how I was living my life wrongly by not learning more, these were some of my arguments.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

«waves to the hedyot, long time no see!»

i actually just spent a few hours talking to a friend of mine in rabbinical school, and he was laying out this vision of the ideal jewish community which is full of normal people who have jobs and at the same time are highly educated jewishly so that they can give shiurs and pasqen shaalas -- like the rabbis of the mishna and the gemara, everyone having a day job and learning and teaching in addition to their career. this is the direction that many of the new young communities are heading in, connected to the independent minyan phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

I was going to bring up the Yisachar Zevulun partnership, but I see that The Hedyot already did. I'm not familiar, however, with why he refers to it as "questionable". Could you please elaborate on that?

Larry Lennhoff said...

In the Midrash, when Moses comes to get the Torah from Hashem, the angels oppose giving it to him. Hashem directs Moshe to refute them. All of Moses' examples of why the Jews should receive the torah are based on the fact that Jews will actually follow the halacha, while the angels can only study it.

The reason Hashem gave the Torah to us instead of angels then is precisely because we can take our everyday occupations and make them kadosh by infusing them with halacha. To simply study the law and never apply it is to refuse to make chol into kadosh, and IMHO to miss one of the major purposes for which we are here.

The Chainik Hocker said...

You lack bitachon, you apikores!

Seriously, though, the attitude our yeshivos are going in seems to be "we'll take the cream of the crop and everyone else can go jump in a lake". This is a very dangerous direction to be heading in.

When the malochim were objecting to Moshe taking the Torah to the B"Y, he responded "do you have parents? can you fulfill the mitzvah of kabed es avicha?"

Next time someone hassles you about not learning full time, ask him "do you have scales that you have to keep honest? do you have workers that you have to pay on time?"

Learner-earner and proud of it.

mother in israel said...

The rabbi doesn't think that all Jewish males should learn full time, only haredim.

The Hedyot said...

What I mean by questionable when referring to the Y/Z relationship is basically in the fact that the blessing given to them nowhere specifies that this is about some partnership where one goes out and supports the other one while the other stays and devotes himself to torah. All it says is, "Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out, and, Issachar, in thy tents." I don't see from that anything remotely related to some sort of partnership.

I think there are further difficulties in how the idea is used nowadays, but what the hell - What good is the Bible for anyway if we can't co-opt it for our own agenda?

Anonymous said...

> What good is the Bible for anyway if we can't co-opt it for our own agenda?

That is the tradition. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Even Zvulun has to learn a little, too. I remember reading a blog recently where the writer made just that point: just because you're in a Y/Z relationship doesn't mean the merchant is off the hook from study.
Having said that, I agree with the idea that yes, we all should study to the best of our abilities; no, we shouldn't condemn those who are not cut out to be the next gadol hador; no, nothing wrong with working: G-d Himself tells us that "you shall labor for six days" (I'm meikel and live in America: 5 days), so how wrong could it be if G-d says so?

BrooklynWolf said...


I agree with you completely. Everyone needs to learn.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"But there is no direct statement that a person has to learn all day long"

No, You have to learn "Beshivta bevesecha" "Uvelechtacha Baderech"

To talk about Torah. And this is a high standard. But not learn and never do anything and not live in this world.

Anonymous said...

It is so sad that Rabbi B. has the ability to effect so many others from his e-mails.That may be enough reason that his name be known.Irecommend a sefer by Yehuda Levi called 'Torah Study' that has voluminous sources on the importance of Torah and work.In Israel here agriculture is alive and well and all the Torah and Rabbinic laws are not just theoretical.

Orthonomics said...

If this email exchange is true, which it may well be (anyone ever seen the frumteens site-don't know if exists still), I think it would be nice to know which American Yeshivot are preaching these values. .. . . because as a parents I don't want my children to buy into all of this lock, stock, and barrel and I wouldn't want to risk sending my child to a school where he becomes a failure because he will work.

Jacob Da Jew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacob Da Jew said...

Wolf, great post and I linked to it:

Lion of Zion said...


"I think it would be nice to know which American Yeshivot are preaching these values"

i don't know where you live, but where i live this is the hashkafah of the vast majority of the schools. in terms of high schools specifically, i think we are talking 90% or more (with perhaps some minor variations on the overall theme of the sentiments).

BrooklynWolf said...

I can tell you that this is the hashkafah of the high school division of my sons' elementary school.

Guess where they aren't going to high school? :)

The Wolf

Orthonomics said...

Ari-That should have read American Yeshivot in Israel. Somehow I thought Israel was implied.

I don't plan to send my boys to Lakewood or something similiar. If possible, I'd be happy to see them at YU.

Orthonomics said...

Con't: I'm less concerned about any messages that the Rebbes give off in HS in our moderate place of residence because of the day to day contact. But there have been kids who have made major life altering decisions without parental input while in Israel and it could be a cause for concern.

Lion of Zion said...


"Guess where they aren't going to high school?"

you once wrote about the difficulties in choosing a h.s. for your son.

maybe it's my biases and uninformed impressions, but afaik the only schools in brooklyn that really value secular education and/or openly support going to college are flatbush and the syrian schools. i assume neither are options for your kids, so do you really see a local option for them?

Lion of Zion said...


does this mean we can look forward to a series of posts on the yu tuition crisis as well? (:

Malach HaMovies said...

I don't see anything wrong with what the rabbi wrote. He was being brutally honest.

In the past 25 years or so the attitude among the right wing yeshiva high schools has been to make the worker/earner feel like a schmata (unless they will eventually give big bucks to the yeshiva).

Unless someone is planning to have only 2 children (even if he's a high paying professional) the modern schools are not an option.

The costs of these schools are astronmicaly much higher (and going up each year) then the charedei schools.

Bottom line, there is no option unless your'e willing to send your kids to public schools.

Orthonomics said...

does this mean we can look forward to a series of posts on the yu tuition crisis as well? (:

That is why I said "if possible." At this point I don't see 13 years of private schooling + 4 more years of private undergrad + (possibly) grad school as an option sadly enough.

Anonymous said...

The standard for being "Dan l'chaf zechut" is in Shabbat, 127a. We need not go nearly to the extent of the worker in that Gemarra, to judge the Rabbi more favorably here. This seems to have begun as a private exchange between a Rabbi and his student, so we can assume the Rabbi was trying to give mussar to his talmid, who he seems to feel isn't learning enough, rather than a general proclamaition about the value of the working world.

If the latter were intended it would seem very difficult if not impossible impossible to square with the numerous ma'amarei Chazal praising those who support themselves by honest effort.

onlyajew said...

This goes to the heart of the first blog on my site such as this one are lost in an abyss of enablers....if it sounds on...

I am a member of the Jewish Community and until very recently a very proud one. My father is a graduate of the Mirrer Yeshiva and Columbia University. (bet that doesn't happen too much anymore) He has smicha (Rabbinical Ordination) from the Mirrer and has finished Shas (Talmud) 4 times. He is not Chassidish but would qualify, as would most of my extended family as Charedi. I have loads of relatives living in Lakewood (double digits) and "learning" in Kollel there. For the life of me I don't get it. What I do know is that my dad, the Columbia graduate, who spent zero days in Kollel, can learn my lakewood relatives under the table. I don't get it.

I don't get why we are allowing our greatest assets-our future-to go door to door asking for hand-outs. Rabbi Berel Wein points out that at it's height in Europe, there were less than 150 men in ALL OF EUROPE learning in Kollel. The back corner in Lakewood has FIVE HUNDRED. Think about that for a second. 150...why? Because KOLLEL WAS NOT MEANT TO BE A PARKING LOT FOR EMOTIONALLY IMMATURE KIDS WITH NO DIRECTION. It was meant to form, train, sustain, and protect the future leaders of their communities. Men who will be learned Rabbis and teachers so the communities that supported them will gain from that support as those men came back to lead and teach there. That WAS what Kollels (im) where set up for and nothing else. Ravina of the Talmud was a wealthy man who worked all day-no one today could withstand his Torah questioning. Rav Shmuel had a job, as did Rav Ashi, Rava, Abeye, Rashi, The Rambam, I do not believe I need to go on... This is a horrid joke. This is a crisis of epic proportions and the defenders and enablers of this practice will have a lot to answer for at 120.

Understand this please and read carefully...THE STUDY OF TORAH, not Torah, THE STUDY OF TORAH has become the Avodah Zarah of our generation. We must do something as a people to stop the destruction of our communities. We need to stop demanding that our daughters be mother, partner, caretaker, emotional supporter, and bread winner of a young family all before she reaches 25. We need to demand that our children be given an honest account of what life will be like on their own, without the support of their parents-will the Roshei Hayeshivas support our children if G-d forbid something happens to us or will our children have to learn the hard way that life is not easy on your own with no source of viable income. If that means we need to call out our leadership and hold them accountable for their failures, WE MUST DO SO-as uncomfortable as that may sound.

Lakewood will never return Charles Kushner's money. I would warn them to study in a few places in Shas, where the honor of the Kohein Gadol was bought and sold...I used to wonder how the Jewish people could let such corruption flourish at the time of the Bais Hamikdash, but unfortunately I have witnessed exactly how it was done.

We have allowed our leadership to work unfettered as we did at the time of the BH...we have allowed them to issue edicts whether right or wrong-and swallowed them full just because they are from supposed "das Torah" and therefore if it sounds frummer it must be frummer-just as we did at the time of the BH...we have allowed them to bring idols into holy places ie illicit money from evil doers with no remorse-just as we did at the time of the BH....we have allowed them to elect their own cronies and blood lines to sustain and fortify their own unholy behavior-just as we did at the time of the BH...we have allowed them to cover up their illegal deeds and those of their friends-just as we did at the time of the BH...we have allowed their defenders to out shout, dismiss, intimidate, and marginalize those with the courage to point out that the emperor has no clothes-just like we did at the time of the BH...I no longer wonder how well meaning G-d fearing Jews allowed corruption to take hold of their people without doing anything to stop it, because I witness it every day and now I know what Disraeli meant when he said, those who fail to learn from history and destined to repeat it.

We need to hold our leaders accountable as it says in Chaggiga regarding Acher-the sins of the "righteous" are held in far greater contempt then the sins of the regular man for they know better and still sin against G-d...We need to clean up our house post haste for if we just sit back and let the foxes rule the hen house, our fate and the fate of the Jewish people will be far more fatalistic than that of our forefathers...G-d have mercy on our souls...and by then the excuse of " but my rav said..." will be of no significance...


Anonymous said...

sfardilady, depending on where you are sending your kid to hs you are making a big mistake. remember, for a standard frummie yeshiva brooklyn-style hs, the kid is gone from early morning to late night. your influence at that point may not be as strong as the yeshivas.
it may be that the last education decision you make for your kid is hs.
i do not exaggerate, but speak from experience.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi B is a perfect example of the narrow-minded, triumphalist, ignorant bigotry that passes itself off as "learning" in the haredi world.