A friend of mine was recently approached by a relative of his, concerning the financial plight of a young couple. The couple, both orphans, had just had their third child in five years. The oldest child was forced to sleep on the floor, as the parents could not afford a bed, as the father was in full-time learning, making only 1,000 NIS (around $230) a month. The friend bought a bed for the child, as she could not bear the idea of the three year old sleeping on the floor. Nevertheless, before she made delivery of the bed, she made her feelings known to the relative that it was unacceptable for the father to be neglecting his family in such a way. She felt that it was a disgrace that he sat and learnt while his family was left starving.
I feel the same way but do not have the nerve to express this to the people suffering. Often, people knock on my door asking for financial help. I never say no, but I always get irked when after telling me his sob story, the person says that he’s in kollel, as if he is doing something so righteous that I have a duty to support him. I always want to shout out: "So get a job then instead of coming round begging!" It is for this reason that for a few a years now I have stopped donating money to Kollels – I see them as the biggest perpetuators of poverty (possibly after certain Israeli political parties) amongst our people.
As you can imagine, those collecting for kollels often challenge me, saying that the learning their students do helps sustain our people. The problem is that I do not believe that to be the case. Most people are in Kollel because they do not know what else to do. Very few actually learn all day long, many double dip, going to different kollels in the morning and afternoon, claiming an allowance twice, (many also go to a further evening kollel and get a third allowance) and many, do not even bother turning up to their kollel, yet still claim their stipend. Very few are in it for the sake of heaven.
I remember a conversation I once had with a young kollel student. He told me that because his wife worked and they only had one child, he did not need to bother with evening kollel.
However, what bothers me most is the way that many educators not only encourage their students to be kollel learners (and female students to marry those in learning)--they actually look down on those who choose a career, as if they are only second best or have somehow failed.
It is time that our religious leaders and educators look about and see the damage that this policy is doing to young families. Poverty is not an ideal; it is an evil. I really have no problem with a select elite of brilliant people choosing this lifestyle and being supported by the community. However, career learning, in its present format is creating and perpetuating tremendous suffering.
Coincidentally, I notice that Sephardi Lady also tackles this subject this week, though from a slightly different angle, see http://orthonomics.blogspot.com/2007/01/propping-up-ailing-system-charlie-hall.html.