Judaism: Hareidi-Draft Issues: Making Money for Learning Torah

A continuing debate is taking place on Arutz Sheva on the issue of the hareidi way of life, yeshiva learning for everyone, serving in the IDF. Links to some of the other articles on the subject are below.
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 7:07 PM


When two religious Jews disagree, they open the holy texts to find resolution to their divergent viewpoints.

While Arutz Sheva should be commended for putting dissenting views in the public eye, the rebuttal to my article cries for a reasoned response. In this article, I will address the well-known Rambam about money and learning that is hailed constantly as the foremost source against the hareidi way of life.

As for the issue relating to Army vs. Torah learning, it will be addressed separately in a coming article. For the benefit of all, the sources below are hyperlinked.

We, the hareidim, are not blind to the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Talmud Torah, 3:10

"Anyone who comes to the conclusion that he should involve himself in Torah study without doing work and derive his livelihood from charity, desecrates [God's] name, dishonors the Torah, extinguishes the light of faith, brings evil upon himself, and forfeits the life of the world to come, for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world."

Our Sages declared: "Whoever benefits from the words of Torah forfeits his life in the world." Also, they commanded and declared: "Do not make them a crown to magnify oneself, nor an axe to chop with." Also, they commanded and declared: "Love work and despise Rabbinic positions." All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.

We are also aware that – contrary to popular opinion, and in stark contrast to the Rambam – just about every single Rishon and Achron (early and late Torah sage, ed.) disagrees with the Rambam, starting with the Kesef Mishna, Beit Yoseph, the Bach, The Ramah, the Abarbanel, the Tashbetz, and Rashi. Even the Rambam admits that most Gedolim in his time, and before his time, accepted money to support their Torah learning.

The Arizal was financially supported, the Gaon of ’Vilna was financially supported, the Baal Shem Tov lived off of public funds and the list goes on. In addition, although often the Tannaim (sages in the days of the Mishna, 1-3rd century) are cited to have worked, the Kesef Mishna as well as the Rishonim and Achronim in his wake assert that Tannaim who worked, did so out of Midat Chasidus (extra, ed.), not as an obligation, as they did not want to take any form of charity. These same Tannaim did not eat at their parents' table as they considered it a form of charity.

Legitimacy of Financial Subsidies for Torah Learning.

Obviously, these are special examples and we are not comparing every yeshiva boy to the Gaon of Vilna. However, the Remah Yore Deya 246, the deciding authority of Ashkenazic Halakhah, writes explicitly that one is allowed to take money for learning and this leniency applies to anyone, even if they are healthy and are physically capable of working. This obviously applies to anyone who seeks to learn full-time.

The Abarbanel, although he himself worked, (both as a doctor and later on as the finance minister of Spain in the 15th century, savingJews from the Inquisition through the use of bribes), in Avot explains that in order to preserve kavod hatorah (honor of Torah, ed.) , taking money from public funds is permitted. A rabbi shouldn’t have a boss, or another authority on his head as it is degrading for the Torah.

The underlying principle is the preservation of respect for Torah –therefore, there are halakhot that say that a Talmid Chacham can't have a stain on his shirt, should be presentable, and look sophisticated so the respect for Torah grows. It is for this reason that Talmidei Chachamim are paid from the community – to prevent disgracing themselves in front of others and in order to highlight the prestige of Torah learning.

Likewise, the Kesef Mishna adds that even if one would say that the halakha should be decided according to the Rambam, it would still be permitted to accept money because of Et Laasot La-Hashem-a crucial act ifor God - for without financial support for learning, the Torah would have already been forgotten. It is therefore absolutely permitted to accept money to increase Torah learning.

This is finalized by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l , the greatest halakhic arbiter of the recent period, who writes:

“And therefore it is a clear and simple halakha that was accepted throughout the generations if from the din (existing law, ed.) or from a takana (new bylaw,ed.)  of Eit Laasot La-Hashem Heferu Toratecha that it is permitted to learn Torah and be supported financially from it or from what he teaches others or that he is a rabbi and a dayan, and one should not refrain from this even because of Midat Chasidus.

"And I say that those self righteous based on the Rambam that it is the advice of the Evil inclination to stop learning and to work and trade etc. until they forgot even the small amount that they learned, and don’t even to place aside a short time to learn Torah, because if the Rishonim (early sages, ed.) that were like Angels, said that one cannot engage in Torah study and to become wise from it if he works and supports himself with his own hands, even more so in our generation of orphans of orphans, and also we would not find righteous women that would want to suffer poverty and distress like in those generations, and certainly no one can boast that he can work and become wise in Torah.

"Therefore you shouldn’t even consider the yetser hara's (evil inclination, ed.) advice that accepting money for learning in Kollels and salaries of Rabbis, teachers and Rosh Yeshivas is a sin or lack of Midat Chasidus, for that is only to incite you to turn away from the Torah.”

It should be noted that the Rambam forbids accepting any form of charity or social benefits from society, including Rabbis getting a paid salary. Thus, in reality, nowadays there is no one who decides in accordance with the Rambam. Every Rabbi, whether Sephardi or Ashkenazi, gets a salary to support hs efforts as a rabbi.

Therefore, for those quoting the Rambam alone, note this: his halakhic opinion was rejected by just about all Torah scholars throughout history.

Rest assured, halakhically we hareidim are in good hands.

[More articles on this topic: Reflections on the Uniform of the IDF ;  A Yeshiva Bochur Reacts to the "Equal Service Bill"Response to theYeshiva Bochur on Equal Service]