Thursday, July 16, 2009

Igros Moshe on Kollel Income

Hirhurim recently had a post which discussed the appropriateness of giving money to those unwilling to work. Inevitably, although perhaps not intentionally, this led to commenter's discussing the propriety of giving to support those learning in Kollel. I have therefore done my best to produce this humble translation, a loose and unfinished translation, of a teshuvah by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt'l on this topic:

Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 116

Regarding a Talmid Chacham who wishes to engage in learning Torah and to become wise, knowing the Torah in quantity and quality and he sustains himself by the income he receives from the Kollel. And likewise with Rabbanim who receive income for teaching students or Roshei Yeshivos who receive income to sustain them: Is it permissible to do so or is their basis to reconsider this and that it is a middas chassidus to not be supported by this, but rather by the work of one's own hand?

Certainly it is permissible to do so, and this is the ruling of the Rama in Yoreh Deah 246:21 that even a healthy person is able to receive the distributions from the givers in order that their hand be strengthened in learning Torah, since in doing so they will be able to engage in Torah study with peace of mind. And the Shach in seif katan 20 also cited the Kesef Mishnah who rules do even if we say that this is not in accordance with the opinion of the Rambam since all of the Chachmei Yisrael who preceded the time of our Master (the Rambam), as well as those which followed, were accustomed to receive payment from the congregation. And even if the ruling is in accordance to the Rambam, the Sages of the Generations relied on doing so because it was an "Eis la'asos l'Hashem... (A time to act for Hashem)" since if there wasn't support for students and teachers [of Torah] ZZZ and they would not be able to exert themselves as appropriate and the Torah would be forgotten from Israel. And with that ZZZ he will be able to increase the Torah and magnify it." This is the language of the Kesef Mishneh on Hilchos Talmud Torah 10
towards the end.

Likewise it is brought down from the Maharashal who writes: "Truthfully were it not so the Torah would already have been nullified from Israel since it is not possible for a person to engage in Torah and to become wise in it while sustaining themselves from the work of their hands. . . . since it is not possible that he will

Therefore it is a clear and obvious ruling which has been excepted in all generations, whether according to strict halachah or whether because it is an "Eis la'asos", that it is permitted to engage in learning Torah and to sustain themselves by receiving stipends, or from what he receives from teaching Torah to others or for being a Rav or Moreh Hora'ah, and there is no reason to refrain from this even as a "midas chassidus."

Furthermore it is my opinion that those "Mischassidim" from the side of the Rambam's opinion is advice from the yetzer hara in order that they interrupt their learning and engage in labor and commerce and the like until ultimately they forget even the little which they already learned and aren't relaxed enough to fix even a small amount of time for learning Torah.

Since if the Rishonim were like melachim and said that it was not possible to engage in Torah and become wise in it while engaged in labor to sustain themselves by the work of their hands, certainly in our is not possible for anyone to boast that he is able to engage in labor and become wise in Torah. Therefore do not let the thought arise in your mind that advise of the yetzer hara that with a stipend from learning in Kollel, being a Rabbi, teacher of Torah, or Rosh Yeshiva there is any sort of sin or lack of middas Chassidus, since it is only to instgate one into separating from the Torah.

And one who gives and there are found men willing to sustain many talmidei Chachamim, they are increasing b'nei Torah, Gedolei Yisroel, and experts in instruction as is the will of the Holy One blessed be He, since there is nothing for Hashem in His world except the four amos of halachah.


I would like to add a couple of observations. First of all it is very revealing that those who like to bring up the shita of the Rambam do not do so with respect to pulpit Rabbis or teachers, although his opinion would apply to them as well equally. Secondly is the implication that, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure most men in American Kollel's are hired employees, such people do not view Torah as a "real" job. Any other service isn't similarly dismissed. Entertainers are regarded as having earned their money even if we think they get paid too much. We are accept the payment of those who work full time for charities (from charitable funds no less) provided that the overhead is within reason, despite the fact that the giver receives no direct benefit from the service. Ultimately I do not see how we can help but conclude that such people do not believe that those who learn in Kollel do not produce anything of value for those who pay them, i.e. there is no value in learning Torah.

(B'ezras Hashem I will fill in the gaps in the translation. I apologize for any inaccuracies. Any comments kindly given will be graciously received. I also hope to add a few other relevant discussions soon).

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