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Shas MK: Torah Students Should Support Themselves

MK Chaim Amsalem (Shas) cites letters from a leading Sephardic Torah sage stating the need for Torah scholars to support themselves on their own.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/11/2010, 11:02 AM / Last Update: 11/11/2010, 10:56 AM

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MK Chaim Amsalem – still a member of the Shas party, though apparently not for long – brings letters from one of the leading Sephardic Torah sages, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, stating the need for Torah scholars to support themselves via their own labor.

Amsalem, who served in the past as rabbi of a large synagogue in Geneva, has been outspoken in taking non-Shas-like stances on various issues, including most recently the matter of Torah study and work. Amsalem feels that Kollel members [married men who study Torah full-time] must not rely on others to support them. This morning, he displayed letters from Rabbi Mazuz, one of the most highly-regarded Sephardic Torah giants, supporting this position as well.

One letter, which Rabbi Mazuz wrote as an approbation for a book by Amsalem, states, “Students must be taught as early as age 16 various trades such as shechita (ritual slaughter), milah (circumcision), hazzanut (the art of being a cantor), writing Torah scrolls and the like, in order that they not be forced to rely on the public.” 

Rabbi Mazuz, Dean of Yeshivat Kiseh Rachamim in Bnei Brak, further wrote that the university students’ protests against the government stipends to hareidi-religious families is proof that “the situation nowadays is even worse than in the past.” The protests have been renewed in full force in recent days.

Another letter from Rabbi Mazuz to Rabbi Amsalem notes that Torah scholars traditionally supported themselves and did not rely on the public. He specifically noted the scholars of Jerba, who engaged in business or silver-crafting; the author of Chaye Adam; and the Chazon Ish, who supported his family only from the sale of his books.

“This method of the woman working to support her husband [while he studies Torah] was unknown to the Sages, except in the most special cases,” Rabbi Mazuz wrote. “Aside from Rabbi Akiva and his friends, the Sages of blessed memory supported their wives, and not vice-versa, as is written in the ketuba [marital contract]: ‘I will support and feed, etc.’”

MK Rabbi Amsalem concludes: “Since the law permits Torah students of age 23 and up to study 45 hours a week and to work some hours [without jeopardizing their army-free status], they should do so, rather than have the Torah be scorned because the scholars have to beg for meager stipends from the government.”

Amsalem is apparently planning to leave Shas and start his own, more liberal, hareidi-religious party.