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"Are Charedim Parasites?" Answer to a Reader...

Published on Sunday September 20th, 2020

Following an article from Rabbi Sitruk on the theme of parnassah which explained the way to obtain good sustenance was above all spirituality, emunah and Torah study ... the Torah-Box team received the following remarks, to which we wished to answer.

"A portion of the Israeli population imposes its livelihood and survival onto others. Part of the population is living off the middle class, which is productive and bursting under the weight of responsibilities and the cost of living.

A portion of the people behave in an irresponsible way and live like a parasite. They give birth to children for whom they do not even have the expenses. Their wives have to work at home and outside. They receive money from the tax office and they do not pay taxes themselves. They go down to shelters with women and children while other men fight and defend their borders for them. Until when will this parasitism continue? Until when will the Haredi world look out only for themselves? All Haredi scholars are able to study from morning to night? When will this lie be exposed? Until when will this disparity and injustice continue? Until when will the blackmail of Haredi political parties continue ? When will this Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) end?

According to what you say, Bachurei Yeshiva should study and should take nothing from the state. G-d will provide for their needs. I know and recognize the value of Torah study, but when things are done by force and blackmail, it is no longer Torah.

He who does not teach his son a job teaches him to depart from the right path. (Masechet Kiddushin) - Any study of Torah that is not accompanied by work leads to idleness and leads to mischief. (Masechet Avot)”.

 Torah-Box Team answers:

Dear Sir,

1) You mentioned women working outside, in addition to their housework and raising children. Certainly many virtuous women bravely fulfill these activities, especially during the early years of marriage, since they realize the unparalleled value of Torah study. Nobody forced them to make this decision and, on the contrary, if they did decide to marry a Torah student, they wanted to do so in the first place. By allowing their husbands to study, they earn an equal share in the world to come. The Talmud goes so far as to say that the resurrection of the dead is a merit which is dependent upon Torah study. Women who cannot do so but who help their husbands in following suit, will achieve this merit.

Furthermore, in numerous classic couples, only one of the two spouses work. Nobody takes offence to it and if you claim that it is an obligation of the husband to his wife, I shall answer you that it may be an agreement between the spouses; they are therefore the only ones involved.

2) You claim that there is a blackmail coming from the religious parties? You know very well that the state of Israel state is a democratic state in which the total amount of votes of the religious parties (which represent only 18 seats out of 120 in the last elections or 15% of the electorate) are the result of an absolute freedom to vote.

3) But it seems to us that this is where the fundamental problem lies:

The Midrash explains that Hashem "contemplated" the Torah and then created the world, like an architect who designs the plan and builds it.

It shouldn’t surprise us therefore that all the answers to human problems can be found in the mitzvot. If we follow the plan, we know how to find the pieces we are looking for, which is not necessarily the case when we search on our own.

Thus the Torah has given answers to questions in education, economy, metaphysics, relationships, and also about a fair distribution in society. Everything is structured by means of mitzvot, just like keeping Shabbat, Kashrut or praying.

Let's take a quick historical look at the subject: following the conquest of the land of Israel by our ancestors, it was planned that the tribe of Levi would not inherit any territory but live in cities. Their sustenance did not come from the fruit of their agricultural work, but from the dimes that the other Jews were giving them. Some of these Leviim, the Cohanim (descendants of Aharon) received all kinds of gifts, 24 in total, in the form of cereals, fruits, wine, wool, and meat.

Why this distribution? Because the Leviim had to devote themselves to the study of Torah and therefore had no territory to call their own. As for the Cohanim, in addition to serving in the Temple, they brought sacrifices from their brothers and brought them atonement, whereas the text speaks about salary.

Here is an excerpt from the book of Numbers (chap.18) which describes those levies:

"All levies that the Israelites have to make on the holy things in honor of the LORD, I bestow onto you, and your sons and daughters, as a perpetual form of income. It is a covenant of salt, unalterable, established by the LORD to your benefit and to the benefit of your seed. "[20] And G-d said to Aaron, ‘You shall not possess in their land, neither shall any lot be yours.’ among them: I am your land and your possession in the midst of the children of Israel. [21] As for the sons of Levi, I give them all the money in Israel as an inheritance, in exchange for the service they are charged with, that is the service of the tent of meeting".

 The members of the tribe of Levi are therefore presented as civil servants in the service of the people. They were however also team leaders, literate in the field of Torah and capable to teach it to all sectors of society, who were otherwise preoccupied by their lucrative activities.

As a matter of fact, all advanced societies have since copied this pattern of social organization by dividing roles into occupations that tend to provide livelihoods, defense, education, politics, and even cultural development.

No one, however, questions the fact that firefighters, the police, members of the government, the administration, including the Minister of Culture, are paid by taxpayers. For it is obvious that a society must have its managers and officials. Why are those who study the Torah and therefore teach it blameworthy? Moreover, who will guide our descendants if we do not elevate the younger generation to know our heritage in depth?

4) At the end of your intervention, you quoted these verses:

1. "He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to depart from the right path" (Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin)

2. "Any study of Torah that is not accompanied by work leads to idleness and leads to error" (Pirkei Avot)

Regarding your quote from the Tractate Kiddushin, it is written that it is as if he taught his son the job of thief. The nuance is important and it concerns those who cannot exceed the stage of adolescence in study.  Indeed, they must learn a trade, making sure they keep their boundaries, especially with regard to the problems of tzinut to which the world of work exposes them. Others however, need to continue growing during their youth, even if they are not brilliant, and continue to do so even several years after their marriage.

The modern world is filled with pitfalls, seductions, and treacherous paths; If, for centuries, the Jewish household was sufficient to bring forth individuals who were characterized by a strong identity, nowadays it takes longer to achieve.

Concerning your quote from Pirkei Avot, please allow us to comment. The Rambam (Maimonides) mentions it in his work, the Mishneh Torah, and specifies what is the authentic Jewish thought in the chapter on the laws of Yovel and Shemitah (chapter 13, law 13) by explaining:

"This is not an exclusive privilege attributed solely to the tribe of Levi, but every Jew who is willing to stand before Hashem to serve Him, to know Him, to behave righteously as G-d did, is not interested in pursuing the futilities that occupy men - he is a holy among the saints, Hashem will be his inheritance forever and he will see his needs met as it was the case for the Cohanim and the Leviim".

Once again, the idea of combining ​​study and work is recommended for those who cannot devote themselves solely to divine service.

Finally, we must recognize that without Torah students that are more or less accomplished, the Jewish people today would be threatened with rampant assimilation, in Eretz Israel and abroad. As long as we are not ready to accept this obvious fact, we face the risk of being trapped by its negative presumptions.

Best regards

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