Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar II 5760 - March 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Our Ideal is Torah Studies and not Secular Learning

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

A few months ago Israeli newspapers reported that the "Israeli Board of Higher Education has launched a new initiative: Providing chareidim with an academic education in the aim of encouraging them to join the country's work market." I will later discuss these two new "values": Academic education and entering the work market, but first I want to point out that the program's initiator, Prof. Nechemia Levtziyon, commented to the press that he sees in this a "historical turnabout with far- reaching social implications."

Newspapers said that this involves a study program within the framework of the Jerusalem College of Technology (Lev Institute -- JCT), an academy in which religious and secular studies are combined. According to this program: "Chareidim will study [Torah] in the morning at their yeshivos and the academic studies will take place during the evening. The studies will go on for three semesters a year to enable students to attain a bachelor's degree after four years [instead of the usual three]." JCT announced that it intends to create additional branches in chareidi areas "and to recruit the academic faculty [to teach in these branches too] so that the level of study will be identical in all institutions."

Newspapers reported the above some seven months ago and at that time they quoted the rector of the Jerusalem College of Technology as saying that they are not actively engaged in promoting their program of academic studies for chareidim "so as not to anger the rabbonim." Lately we have, however, heard that they have changed their minds and have been advertising in chareidi areas offering "Torah and work for avreichim" through applying for evening courses to attain an academic degree.

Maranan Verabonon zt'l and ylct'a, the leaders of Torah Jewry, have frequently warned about such new undesirable trends. In particular they have alerted us about the specious veneration for forms of "higher education" and "scholastic training." Some well- known Jews have, because of various considerations, proposed college studies for Torah Jewry. These so-called benefactors either want us to "become part" of the modern and "enlightened" world -- which is in itself definitely an unworthy aspiration -- are obsessed with an inferiority complex compared to those who work for a living, or their reasoning, albeit unjustified, is the necessity of earning a livelihood.

We recall well the battles our Torah leaders waged in chutz la'aretz and even in Eretz Yisroel to halt the attempt to set up a chareidi university such as Touro College and the like. Gedolei Torah regard such institutions as alien to our community. They understood that these educational frameworks endanger the Torah World and could change our public's entire makeup -- and Torah chinuch itself.

However, we must first and foremost totally dismiss their justifications on the grounds of "livelihood considerations" and the urgency of creating "work opportunities" (although even for those needs such a breach is not allowed). Everyone knows that today there are numerous Torah-true Jews who find their livelihood as hired or independent workers without having to study in any university, chareidi or otherwise.

All chareidi Jews who we see working in stores, factories, and offices, do not have any academic background but doubtless find ample livelihood. We are concerned with an idea having a totally different aim: establishing a chareidi academy so we can "blend into the enlightened world." The initiators of the academic studies for chareidim in Eretz Yisroel hope to create prestigious educational institutions to further the widespread objective among compromising circles such as the Mizrachi. These people want to develop academic alternatives for the yeshivos and kollels (and parallel to this they also propose an academic substitute even for the pure chinuch institutions of Beis Yaakov girls -- a topic which needs to be discussed separately).

Until now it was accepted that the aspiration of every chareidi family is for its children to become gedolei Torah. Someone forced to abandon the beis midrash to find livelihood did not do so because he felt it was the ideal thing. He did not picture his decision as lechatchila but as a necessary, but bedi'eved step. On the contrary, he honored all those who remained exclusively within the four amos of halocho. He realized that they are the true leaders of Klal Yisroel and the elite of the Torah-true.

The idea of a chareidi university is being disguised as a means of satisfying the pressing need to earn a livelihood, but eventually, if approached in this way, leaving the yeshiva and studying in college will be considered an ideal way of life.

HaRav Eliyahu Dessler zt'l in a letter concerning this issue, warned against academic studies and college degrees for our community. He wrote that our rabbonim absolutely prohibited the different types of colleges, including even these with so-called hechsherim. Our Torah leaders ensured that even those who must leave the yeshiva for their livelihood should not do so in a way that necessitates that they devote time and effort to academic studies.

"Naturally they are on the alert to do what they can to help those who cannot remain bnei Torah, but it is done in a way that will not attract the rest [to leave their studies]. For instance, they tried to set up as storekeepers or other non-professional businesses those whom they were forced to allow to leave the yeshiva. These were occupations where there was no need for preparation and did not appeal to the young talmidim. They did not attend to those boys who wanted to study a profession, and surely not those who chose an academic profession, so that they should not ruin others while helping them" (Michtav MeEliahu 3:357).

HaRav Dessler indicates that this was the view of Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l who was ardently opposed even to a course of studies whose aim was merely awarding college degrees to chareidi teachers, as was the specific case dealt with in that letter.

This is the way of the Torah World: Parents and educators toil to imprint upon the new generation an aspiration for studying Torah with no other aim in life. Even someone who -- after many years of studying Torah -- was forced to forsake his studies to some degree and to engage in earning his livelihood, was steered to routine work or to a business requiring only natural talent and hard work. This is the way many rich chareidim who studied in the yeshivos kedoshos and whose whole education was only Torah, succeeded. They did not dedicate themselves to time-consuming studies nor to exerting their brain and heart in training themselves.

(One cannot claim that the "new professions," such as computers, require a chareidi academy, since we are all acquainted with frum people who have absorbed understanding of Torah during their years in yeshiva and kollel, and later succeeded in learning computer skills from their friends who are experts in the field and through on-the-job training without needing any formal university studies at all. Even if we assume that there are any brand- new areas requiring academic study, who says a person is obligated to find his livelihood in these specific channels? Who allowed him in the first place to choose ways of seeking livelihood that maranan verabonon shlita are opposed to, when there are a thousand and one other ways?)

We are dealing here with an attempt to generate a general change in values and to admit trends opposing daas Torah through the back door against which the gedolei Torah waged war with all their might. Furthermore, we must caution against the cliches used by those initiating "academies with a hechsher" and "chareidi universities" so as to "put them into the work market." To whom are they referring and from where should they be removed? The obvious answer is: to remove yeshiva and kollel students from the beis midrash!

Of those who were educated in yeshivos kedoshos, even someone who of necessity stopped his studies and went to work for a living or to engage in klal matters did not see in this any advantage over studying Torah full time. He admired those who were zoche to continue studying Torah all day. We were educated that the main aim in life is to study as much Torah as possible, to "dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life" (Tehillim 27:4). Whenever it is possible, we raise our children to study only Torah. Surely we did not think to estrange ourselves from all our Torah chinuch and encourage others to go to work or to blend into the work force of our economy.

How can abandoning the beis midrash become an ideal? How can someone advocate this by founding academic institutions? What is the big simcha if someone is forced to leave the yeshiva? This is surely not his aim in life. A hungry person who eats is not doing so because he it is his aim to do so or because he is following some ideology. What role model do we want to present to our children: kollel students studying Torah with mesiras nefesh or that of people going to work or those taking academic training? Do we want to honor the Torah or work and a college degree?

When several years ago one of the Mizrachi leaders besmirched the Brisker Rav ztvk'l, Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l, protested publicly against this disgrace to Torah. (The full text of the Rosh Yeshiva's protest has been recently printed in Nitei Ne'emonim, published by the Mishnas Rebbe Aharon Institute and the Federation of Talmidei Kletsk and Lakewood). At the conclusion of the protest, HaRav Aharon Kotler discussed college studies, a subject quite relevant today too.

"I would also like to speak about a topic connected with honoring the Torah. There is another limud and pshat for the posuk (Bamidbar 15:31) "because he has despised the word of Hashem (ki devar Hashem bozoh)" on which the Rambam, the Shulchan Oruch, Rabbenu Yonah and other poskim also rule. The Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:13) writes: `"Because he has despised the word of Hashem" refers to someone who totally neglects divrei Torah, or someone who has the opportunity to engage in Torah study but does not do so, or someone who has studied Torah and later abandons it for the vanities of the world. They [both] are all included in "he has despised the word of Hashem."' The Shulchan Oruch rules similarly. Rabbenu Yonah (Sha'arei Teshuvah 3:143, 153) and other poskim discuss at length the severity of despising Hashem's word. If we all understand how severe despising Hashem's word is when it concerns the Brisker Rav [shlita] zt"l, we must reflect and be careful not, cholila, to be negligent about the second way of despising Hashem's word that is also ruled in halocho.

"I want to talk explicitly before this assembly of yeshiva students about the terrible stumbling block of the nibbling away of half a day for studying in college. We must be horrified by this. Apart from the shortcoming of despising the Torah, we are in this way decreasing Torah study and gedolei Torah from Klal Yisroel. How can a `Brisker Rov' or someone of that caliber grow when boys direct their talents and time to external studies?

"Besides this point, we must bear in mind what is of foremost importance. This condition has not come about because we are looking for ways of livelihood, since there are many ways of finding a living. This results from copying the non-Jews in the world, those whose feet never stood on Mt. Sinai and were not given the Torah. In their opinion, a person's mastering general studies is his personal perfection and with it he becomes a cultured person. They picture personalities like our Chasam Sofer or R' Yisroel of Salant as lacking. Their only way of measuring a person is by his academic studies. For them this is man's entire essence.

"We however, think entirely differently: `Our whole Torah should not be like your idle talk' (Bovo Basra 116a). Our whole Torah, is a Torah that the mal'ochim begged to receive, a Torah that has been studied by the Jewish People from the time of Moshe Rabbenu and even before. The Ovos too studied Torah whose `measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea' (Iyov 11:9). The glory of the Torah, whose gedolim we are gathered here to honor, is in our producing great scholars and sages. Surely we cannot accomplish this by dividing the day between Torah and college studies. The Torah girds itself with sackcloth since people abandoned it and imitate the non-Jews.

"The disease of ignorance has spread among the masses [who are] far from Torah and they cannot properly evaluate Torah. We are measured [by them] according to our college education. This disease has penetrated some tents of Torah where there are those who take time out for their college studies as if to turn the ben Torah into a so-to-speak "complete" person. Cholila vechas. A person who has discerned and clarified even one sugya in Shas is ten thousand times more familiar with all worldly matters.

"The only thing gained by those following this mixed path is emptiness. Not only emptiness in significant sugyos and poskim, but even emptiness in preparing and saying a drosho, and emptiness in formulating a proper sevora. To understand even one word of Tosafos is a thousand times more important than all of these vanities. They take off time from Torah and when tests come they close the gemora altogether for a period of time. This is an excessive degree of `despising Hashem's word.' How can the Torah germinate, how can gedolim and rabbonim grow in Klal Yisroel?

"Since we are discussing the topic of `despising Hashem's word' we cannot help but ask ourselves, all those who are now present, the bnei Torah, the cream of the Jewish Nation, to pay attention to this matter. What of the Torah that is the most precious gift for am Yisroel? We must strengthen ourselves so we will not, chas vesholom, also `despise Hashem's word.' We must remember and review what the Rambam (Hilchos Avoda Zorah 2:3) rules: that if a person hears or ponders about something that can cause him to think or reflect about a matter negating his emunah he violates a lo sa'aseh of `you shall not seek after your own heart and your own eyes after which you go astray' (Bamidbar 15:39). Such a person will intellectually build on what he has heard, and deteriorate to heresy, and lose his Olam Haboh. Who is so confident to imagine he can withstand this danger without harm? We have seen many who have succumbed and even those who have not deteriorated have become extremely blemished. This is an unremitting danger.

"The truth is that we must dedicate another meeting and separate activities to combat the danger of the State's spirit and culture penetrating the Torah institutions. However, at this opportunity of a meeting to honor the Torah and protest about an act of `despising Hashem's word,' we must let the assembled bnei Torah know of the severity of this matter. This is especially important since there are many who follow this way because it is in fashion and they only want to be admired by their environment. By doing so they are abandoning the Torah and changing their whole way of life and thinking and becoming different from those engaged in Torah. What I have said must surely strengthen bnei Torah and even those who were in the past bnei Torah and are today busy with their livelihood. Let us all fortify ourselves and work together to raise the Torah's glory, to become greater and more honored, speedily in our days. Omen."

Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l spoke about a certain problem that at the time bothered American Jewry, but his main theme is pertinent also to the initiatives of chareidi college studies and a "chareidi university" planned here and now in the Holy Land.

As he explained, this has nothing to do with looking for ways of earning a livelihood since there are many ways. Rather, he explained that it is rooted in a desire to copy the non-Jews. To them, a person's secular education is his personal perfection. They consider our gedolim to be lacking. Their only way of measuring a person is by his academic studies. For them this is man's entire essence.

He warned that ignorance has spread among the masses far from Torah and they are unable to properly evaluate the Torah. Those who go to seek secular education find countless reasons to justify their aims, but the truth is, as Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l wrote, "there are many who are following this way because it is in fashion and only want to be admired by their environment. By their doing so they are abandoning the Torah and changing their whole way of life and thinking and becoming different from those who are engaged in Torah."

It is well known that the gedolei Torah ztvk'l and ylct'a have warned repeatedly about this danger. We are all aware of the campaign Maran the Rosh Yeshiva shlita waged every time plans for a chareidi university emerged. We are therefore obliged to shake ourselves free of such initiatives since our entire ruchniyus is dependant upon it.

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