Monday, July 21, 2014

A Jew is Required to Learn Torah, Period

Guest Post by Yossie Litwak*

In a recent post I wrote about changes happening in the Charedi world that impacts on their Shiddach situation. I received the following e-mail from a young man deeply committed to the Charedi paradigm of Torah study. In the interest of fairness and balance and in my continuous goal of seeking Emes and I have decided to publish it.  As a condition for publication he asked that I not reveal his real identity. I agreed. His words follow: 

I enjoy your column but would like to respectfully disagree on your recent post: Should Women Marry a Kollel Man. Before I start I'd like to tell you that I am 21 years old and just recently got back from a 3 year learning stint in Israel. This can either be taken as "he's full of unreasonable and illogical enthusiasm," or, as I like to see it in my friends and myself, we are at the height of our spiritual growth. It's not a coincidence that many people, as they live through more of life’s experiences, lose touch with their original passion for Torah and its goals. I would like to suggest that the fresh insights from a boy straight out of yeshiva can have a lot of the truth, clarity, and honesty that may get lost as people older, notwithstanding that the boys' views may be unpolished, due to age.

The way our world works is that above all else, a Jew is required to learn Torah. Period, end of story. Anyone who denies this is not a believing, observant Jew. Notice - I didn't say someone who doesn't learn Torah is not observant, rather someone who denies that a Jew must learn. 

To sit and learn all day in Kollel is a beautiful thing. From what I have observed up close Kollel men are largely the best of the best, elite of the elite. The way the world would work if we all had unlimited money, and will work when mashiach comes,is that we'll all be learning and essentially serving g-d full time a la “shivti b’veis hashem kol yemei chayai”. Torah is not just another obligation to quickly fulfill. Technically, merely saying shema would satisfy the obligation to learn, but would totally miss its spirit.

Now that that's established let's look at our Kollel system. True, it is not a perfect system, but what system is? Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. Experience shows that religious Jews from all backgrounds appreciate its beauty. It's incredible! Thousands upon thousands of young men learning all day, with beautiful middos, families and hashkofos.

I did my research and found out that when this trend started 25-30 years ago everyone asked the same questions that they ask now, "Who will support the next generation, etc." But the fact is, they have, and still do, get by, and more importantly, they end up preserving the beauty of total devotion to Torah.

Meaning that at the end of the day they are scraping and getting by. Let's not focus on the rich parents scenario; i.e. who support fully, forever, from unlimited cash, to fancy vacations, to huge houses, because they are definitely in minority. Let's focus on the majority of the Kollel world. Yes, there may be many sleepless nights, psychological worries, fears of the future (not that these phenomena aren't there in working families) but - to repeat - they are getting by!!

Most Kollel families (and I mean real Kollel families, not “52-week honeymooners” in Arzei Habirah) are not going on vacations, not spending a dime more than they need to, not eating fancy foods, not buying fancy clothes. They are scrimping and saving and struggling, all to do the will of G-d to the best of their understanding.

Those who experience it up close, as I recently have in Israel, know that it’s truly a beautiful thing. You might tell me that the system will collapse. But as I have said, what's with the last 30 years, we are already a couple of generations into it, to everyone’s surprise.

If these heroes of ours are willing to scrimp, save and sacrifice in order to learn, then to suggest that we pull them out of yeshivas and/or discourage the next generation from attending Kollels can be viewed as bitul Torah and, in my humble opinion,Jewish suicide!

One can argue that working families have more money and are more comfortable etc.
But working families' needs are greater, no matter how much a working man makes - he needs more. His standard of his cars, houses, and vacations go up. A real Kollel man sacrifices all of these! He needs a roof, food, and water. It may be very hard, but if they're willing to sacrifice other pleasures, as many as there are, so be it!!!

For those among us who will be martyrs of physical pleasure for the spiritual sake of the Jewish nation, that is their struggle to decide to take on, and kol hakavod! 

As I said before, if no one is keeling over in the street because of lack of food and if these people keep learning for the sake of g-d, then they should continue uninterrupted and unchallenged!

In the year 2014, with all our technology etc. which make it so easy to drag one down, shouldn’t we be thrilled to know there are such men who are our shining light through the heavy darkness, keeping us a nation with a vibrant pulse, I know this sounds highly idealistic but I believe in the strongest sense that it's all true. Let us not be stuck on how we have done things in the past (eser batlanim, etc.). Let us be modern in our thinking and be flexible and innovative by focusing on today’s needs; which call for a dose of extra ruchnius, more than we have ever needed.

One may also argue that not everyone belongs in Kollel full time. I would respond to that argument with my strongestagreement! My main point is NOT to send all of the world’s Jewish youth to Kollel. Rather, that if they choose to go on their own, let us applaud it rather than denounce it, and recognize that at the end of the day, they will sacrifice, and ultimately survive,all for the greater good of klal yisroel. Is there social pressure to do this? Undoubtedly. Is it from their rabbeim? Surely! But so is their core belief in Hashem, their commitment to shmiras Shabbos and their concern for klal yisrael. Of the all the pressures out there on our youth, mah tov that THIS is the pressure that is our “problem”.

I do agree with your secular studies point - and this Kollellifestyle is not for everyone obviously! However if one wants to go, let him go! At the very least let us, first and foremost recognize and celebrate all the positive in Kollel, before focusing on the drawbacks.
Again, one may chalk all of this up to youthful idealism or naiveté, but I feel we are privileged that for the first time in how many generations we have merited a dominant national mindset to go learn G-d's Torah as a priority!

Let's embrace it, not challenge it! If these noble Kollel men arephysically alive, strong willed, and battling, then they're heroes of the highest regard!!

*Not his real name