Torah Study or Profession

“A Spade With Which To Dig”
The Mishnah (Avot 4:6) begins by teaching us the desired intention
when studying Torah:
“If one learns [Torah] in order to teach, he is given the means to
learn and to teach; if one learns in order to do, he is given the
means to learn, to teach, to observe, and to do.”

The Mishnah continues:
“Rabbi Tzaddok says, ‘Do not make the teachings of the Torah into a
crown with which to adorn (i.e., be proud of) yourself, nor like a
spade with which to dig (i.e., earn a living).’ Hillel would say, ‘One
who makes use of his crown passes away.’ From here we see that whoever
derives benefits from his Torah knowledge removes himself from the
world.”

The Practice of the Talmudic Sages
This was indeed the practice of the great Torah scholars from the
Talmudic era. No less an authority than Hillel the Elder, before being
appointed to the position of president of the Great Sanhedrin, would
earn a meager salary as a woodcutter. When he took his position as
president, however, the community bestowed great wealth upon him. This
was the rule. Whoever was appointed to a position of authority, such
as president of the Sanhedrin or deputy to the president, would be
made wealthy by the community. The practice of enriching community
leaders was carried out because having rich and distinguished leaders
brought honor to the community, for wealth caused their leaders’ words
to carry more weight. It is told of R’ Abba of Acco that he was poor,
and R’ Abahu went out of his way to have him appointed to an important
position so that he should be granted wealth (Sotah 40a).

However, other Torah scholars who did not hold positions of authority
did not live at the expense of the community – even very great Torah
scholars. R’ Shimon HaPakuli used to make cotton; R’ Yochanan the
Cobbler used to earn his living repairing shoes; R’ Meir supported
himself by performing scribal work; R’ Pappa used to plant trees; etc.
In those days, people used to assist the rabbis in their work and
business. Rabbis were thus able to earn what they needed in a short
period of time, while dedicating most of their time to Torah study.

Rambam’s Position
In his commentary to the Mishna, Rambam comes out strongly against
those who study Torah and demand that the community support them. He
brings numerous examples of leading Torah authorities from the period
of the Mishnah who would earn their own living and never even
considered having the community support them.

Accordingly, Rambam rules, “One who decides that instead of working he
will occupy himself with Torah study and live from charity, profanes
God’s name, disgraces the Torah, extinguishes the light of the law,
brings harm upon himself, and removes himself from the World to Come,
for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Torah in this world.
Hence, the sages teach: ‘Whoever derives benefit from his Torah
knowledge removes himself from the world’; they have also commanded
us, saying: ‘Do not make them (the teachings of the Torah) into a
crown with which to adorn yourself, nor like a spade with which to
dig’; they have also commanded us, saying: ‘Love labor and despise
status’; and, “Any Torah that is not accompanied by labor is destined
to be nullified and to lead to transgression, and such a person will
end up robbing other people.’”

The Tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar
On the other hand, it is well known that the tribe of Zevulun occupied
itself with commerce and supported the Torah scholars from the tribe
of Yissachar, and in this regard the sages taught,
“When Moses came to bless the tribes of Israel, he blessed Zevulun
before Yissachar, in accordance with the verse: ‘It is a Tree of Life
for those who cling to it, and those who support it are
content’” (Bereshit Rabba 72:5, 99:9).

Rambam Approves of Such an Approach
Rambam, of course, approves of the practice of Zevulun and Yissachar.
And while he holds that earning a living through the sweat of one’s
brow is praiseworthy and pious behavior as he writes in Hilkhot Tamud
Torah 3:11],
“One who earns a living through his own labors possesses a great
virtue, and such was the custom of the early pietists, and one who
behaves in this manner merits all honor and goodness in this world and
attains the World to Come, as the verse states, ‘When you eat the
labor of your hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with
you.’”),
a person is not obligated to adopt such a pious practice. In fact,
sometimes, in order to disseminate Torah amongst the Jewish people, it
is preferable to forgo such piety. Indeed, for years Rambam himself
studied Torah diligently while being supported by his brother David
who dealt in commerce. Only after his brother drowned at sea was
Rambam forced to go into medicine in order to support his family and
the family of his brother.

Do not make yourself dependent upon the community
We find, then, that the difference between the prohibition of
supporting oneself through the Torah on the one hand, and the practice
of Yissachar on the other, is in two areas: (a) the pure intention of
the student, and (b) that it be done respectfully, not disgracefully.
Members of the tribe of Yissachar did not study Torah in order to earn
a living. They no doubt had fields and were accustomed to working
them. Rather, members of the tribe of Zevulun, possessing as they did
great wealth, approached the tribe of Yissachar and encouraged them to
spend more time studying Torah. To this end the tribe of Zevulun would
be willing to support them financially. It never occurred, though, to
the tribe of Yissachar to approach the tribe of Zevulun in order to
ask for such support.

The Dissenters from Rambam’s Opinion
Many early Torah authorities disagree with Rambam on this issue. They
argue that if Torah scholars were to refrain from receiving money from
the community, the light of Torah would be extinguished from the midst
of Israel, and there would be no one to teach the people Torah.

Even those who disagree with Rambam admit that to eschew the financial
support of the community is a pious attribute and that, in the days of
the Talmud, Torah scholars indeed worked to support themselves while
at the same time establishing many students. However, say these
authorities, over the course of time there was a decline in Torah
greatness, and it is no longer possible to occupy oneself with earning
a living while studying and teaching Torah.

In the age of the Mishnah and the Talmud most emphasis was placed on
depth of understanding, for the quantity of Mishnayot and Baraithot
was not so great, and study was, for the most part, aimed at deepening
the Torah foundations. It would appear that their labor did not
prevent them from continuing to deepen their Torah contemplations as
they worked. However, with the passing of time, the number of opinions
and interpretations multiplied and the learning material grew
immensely, and students of Torah were forced to spend many more hours
studying in depth and memorizing the Talmud, the Geonim, and the works
of the early authorities.

Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach, in his work Hatashbetz (vol. 1, pp.
142-148), agrees with the above opinion and cites many supporting
sources. The great later authorities, most importantly R’ Yosef Karo
(Kesef Mishneh, Beit Yosef 246) and R’ Moshe Isserles (Yoreh Heah
246:21), ruled likewise.

Dispensation for Yeshivah Students Who Plan To Teach
In addition to everything we have said so far, because of the gradual
decline in Torah scholarship and the great increase in books, it goes
without saying that it is impossible to produce even moderate Torah
scholars unless they study Torah on a full time basis. And if the
community does not finance the study of these Yeshiva students, there
will not arise any Torah scholars who will be able to teach and guide
the next generation.
Hence, though according to the letter of the law it would be best if
those who learn Torah would earn their income through the labor of
their own hands, over the course of time it has become necessary to
change the original custom and to support Torah students in order that
the Torah continue to thrive in Israel’s midst.
This, moreover, is the desire of the community. The community wants to
foster Torah scholarship in order to assure that Torah scholars will
arise who will be able to teach Torah and render rulings on questions
of Jewish law. And since the only way to realize such a goal is by
allowing students to dedicate themselves to Torah study on a full time
basis, the community donates funds in order to support Talmudic
academies in which Torah students and educators learn. This position
is taken by Maharashal and Shakh (Yoreh Deah 246:20), as well as R’
Chaim ben Attar (Rishon LeTziyon 246:21).

An Additional Dispensation for Our Generation
An additional problem has arisen in our own generation, namely, that
many youths are slow to reach a level of knowledge that allows them to
live in accordance with the Torah. Therefore, because there is a
commandment to educate children so that they know the Torah and are
able to live according to its laws, parents must continue to finance
their children’s studies for another few years in the Yeshiva in order
that they succeed in acquiring a firm Torah foundation. And because
there are parents who are not able to pay for their children’s
education (and there are even some parents who do not want to pay),
the community as a whole must take this responsibility. Therefore, it
is necessary to gather donations in order to support Yeshivas.

Students Who Are Not Suited To Teach
However, after a student has studied for a number of years in a
Yeshiva and has received a firm Torah foundation, it is best to direct
him according to his talent and ambition – whether in the field of
Torah, viz., education or Rabbinate, or towards some practical
occupation which suits his character, such as, for example, business
management.

As far as our present inquiry is concerned, if a person finds that he
is not suited to be a teacher or to serve in the Rabbinate, he is no
longer permitted to study Torah on a full time basis and to be
supported by the community or from charity.

This is the path which we follow at Yeshiva Har Bracha. Upon
completion of the standard course of study, which lasts five years
(and includes military service), each student chooses the path in life
that he feels truly suits him – whether in religious or secular
vocations. The Yeshiva, for its part, encourages each student to be
true to his unique character. In this manner, many of our students go
on to learn a profession, and they do this on the most prestigious
level that they possibly can according to their ability. At the same
time, they continue to set fixed times for Torah study each day,
internalizing values of self-sacrifice and love for the Torah and its
study and for the scrupulous performance of the commandments. They
also strive to practice much charity and kindness, to aid in the
development of the Land of Israel, and to sanctify God’s sacred name.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is the Dean of Yeshiva Har Bracha and a prolific
author on Jewish Law. Rabbi Melamed is one of the most active leaders
amongst the religious-Zionist public. Parts of this article were
translated either from his highly acclaimed series on Jewish law
“Pininei
Halacha” or from his popular weekly column “Revivim” which appears in
the Basheva newspaper. Rabbi Melamed’s books “The Laws of Prayer” “The
Laws of Passover” and “Nation, Land, Army” are presently being
translated into English, and are due to be printed, please God, in the
near future. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi
Melamed can be viewed at: yhb.org.il/1 This article also appears
at: www.Yeshiva.org.il

Torah Study or Profession?
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

“A Spade With Which To Dig”
The Mishnah (Avot 4:6) begins by teaching us the desired intention
when studying Torah:
“If one learns [Torah] in order to teach, he is given the means to
learn and to teach; if one learns in order to do, he is given the
means to learn, to teach, to observe, and to do.”

The Mishnah continues:
“Rabbi Tzaddok says, ‘Do not make the teachings of the Torah into a
crown with which to adorn (i.e., be proud of) yourself, nor like a
spade with which to dig (i.e., earn a living).’ Hillel would say, ‘One
who makes use of his crown passes away.’ From here we see that whoever
derives benefits from his Torah knowledge removes himself from the
world.”

The Practice of the Talmudic Sages
This was indeed the practice of the great Torah scholars from the
Talmudic era. No less an authority than Hillel the Elder, before being
appointed to the position of president of the Great Sanhedrin, would
earn a meager salary as a woodcutter. When he took his position as
president, however, the community bestowed great wealth upon him. This
was the rule. Whoever was appointed to a position of authority, such
as president of the Sanhedrin or deputy to the president, would be
made wealthy by the community. The practice of enriching community
leaders was carried out because having rich and distinguished leaders
brought honor to the community, for wealth caused their leaders’ words
to carry more weight. It is told of R’ Abba of Acco that he was poor,
and R’ Abahu went out of his way to have him appointed to an important
position so that he should be granted wealth (Sotah 40a).

However, other Torah scholars who did not hold positions of authority
did not live at the expense of the community – even very great Torah
scholars. R’ Shimon HaPakuli used to make cotton; R’ Yochanan the
Cobbler used to earn his living repairing shoes; R’ Meir supported
himself by performing scribal work; R’ Pappa used to plant trees; etc.
In those days, people used to assist the rabbis in their work and
business. Rabbis were thus able to earn what they needed in a short
period of time, while dedicating most of their time to Torah study.

Rambam’s Position
In his commentary to the Mishna, Rambam comes out strongly against
those who study Torah and demand that the community support them. He
brings numerous examples of leading Torah authorities from the period
of the Mishnah who would earn their own living and never even
considered having the community support them.

Accordingly, Rambam rules, “One who decides that instead of working he
will occupy himself with Torah study and live from charity, profanes
God’s name, disgraces the Torah, extinguishes the light of the law,
brings harm upon himself, and removes himself from the World to Come,
for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Torah in this world.
Hence, the sages teach: ‘Whoever derives benefit from his Torah
knowledge removes himself from the world’; they have also commanded
us, saying: ‘Do not make them (the teachings of the Torah) into a
crown with which to adorn yourself, nor like a spade with which to
dig’; they have also commanded us, saying: ‘Love labor and despise
status’; and, “Any Torah that is not accompanied by labor is destined
to be nullified and to lead to transgression, and such a person will
end up robbing other people.’”

The Tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar
On the other hand, it is well known that the tribe of Zevulun occupied
itself with commerce and supported the Torah scholars from the tribe
of Yissachar, and in this regard the sages taught,
“When Moses came to bless the tribes of Israel, he blessed Zevulun
before Yissachar, in accordance with the verse: ‘It is a Tree of Life
for those who cling to it, and those who support it are
content’” (Bereshit Rabba 72:5, 99:9).

Rambam Approves of Such an Approach
Rambam, of course, approves of the practice of Zevulun and Yissachar.
And while he holds that earning a living through the sweat of one’s
brow is praiseworthy and pious behavior as he writes in Hilkhot Tamud
Torah 3:11],
“One who earns a living through his own labors possesses a great
virtue, and such was the custom of the early pietists, and one who
behaves in this manner merits all honor and goodness in this world and
attains the World to Come, as the verse states, ‘When you eat the
labor of your hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with
you.’”),
a person is not obligated to adopt such a pious practice. In fact,
sometimes, in order to disseminate Torah amongst the Jewish people, it
is preferable to forgo such piety. Indeed, for years Rambam himself
studied Torah diligently while being supported by his brother David
who dealt in commerce. Only after his brother drowned at sea was
Rambam forced to go into medicine in order to support his family and
the family of his brother.

Do not make yourself dependent upon the community
We find, then, that the difference between the prohibition of
supporting oneself through the Torah on the one hand, and the practice
of Yissachar on the other, is in two areas: (a) the pure intention of
the student, and (b) that it be done respectfully, not disgracefully.
Members of the tribe of Yissachar did not study Torah in order to earn
a living. They no doubt had fields and were accustomed to working
them. Rather, members of the tribe of Zevulun, possessing as they did
great wealth, approached the tribe of Yissachar and encouraged them to
spend more time studying Torah. To this end the tribe of Zevulun would
be willing to support them financially. It never occurred, though, to
the tribe of Yissachar to approach the tribe of Zevulun in order to
ask for such support.

The Dissenters from Rambam’s Opinion
Many early Torah authorities disagree with Rambam on this issue. They
argue that if Torah scholars were to refrain from receiving money from
the community, the light of Torah would be extinguished from the midst
of Israel, and there would be no one to teach the people Torah.

Even those who disagree with Rambam admit that to eschew the financial
support of the community is a pious attribute and that, in the days of
the Talmud, Torah scholars indeed worked to support themselves while
at the same time establishing many students. However, say these
authorities, over the course of time there was a decline in Torah
greatness, and it is no longer possible to occupy oneself with earning
a living while studying and teaching Torah.

In the age of the Mishnah and the Talmud most emphasis was placed on
depth of understanding, for the quantity of Mishnayot and Baraithot
was not so great, and study was, for the most part, aimed at deepening
the Torah foundations. It would appear that their labor did not
prevent them from continuing to deepen their Torah contemplations as
they worked. However, with the passing of time, the number of opinions
and interpretations multiplied and the learning material grew
immensely, and students of Torah were forced to spend many more hours
studying in depth and memorizing the Talmud, the Geonim, and the works
of the early authorities.

Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach, in his work Hatashbetz (vol. 1, pp.
142-148), agrees with the above opinion and cites many supporting
sources. The great later authorities, most importantly R’ Yosef Karo
(Kesef Mishneh, Beit Yosef 246) and R’ Moshe Isserles (Yoreh Heah
246:21), ruled likewise.

Dispensation for Yeshivah Students Who Plan To Teach
In addition to everything we have said so far, because of the gradual
decline in Torah scholarship and the great increase in books, it goes
without saying that it is impossible to produce even moderate Torah
scholars unless they study Torah on a full time basis. And if the
community does not finance the study of these Yeshiva students, there
will not arise any Torah scholars who will be able to teach and guide
the next generation.
Hence, though according to the letter of the law it would be best if
those who learn Torah would earn their income through the labor of
their own hands, over the course of time it has become necessary to
change the original custom and to support Torah students in order that
the Torah continue to thrive in Israel’s midst.
This, moreover, is the desire of the community. The community wants to
foster Torah scholarship in order to assure that Torah scholars will
arise who will be able to teach Torah and render rulings on questions
of Jewish law. And since the only way to realize such a goal is by
allowing students to dedicate themselves to Torah study on a full time
basis, the community donates funds in order to support Talmudic
academies in which Torah students and educators learn. This position
is taken by Maharashal and Shakh (Yoreh Deah 246:20), as well as R’
Chaim ben Attar (Rishon LeTziyon 246:21).

An Additional Dispensation for Our Generation
An additional problem has arisen in our own generation, namely, that
many youths are slow to reach a level of knowledge that allows them to
live in accordance with the Torah. Therefore, because there is a
commandment to educate children so that they know the Torah and are
able to live according to its laws, parents must continue to finance
their children’s studies for another few years in the Yeshiva in order
that they succeed in acquiring a firm Torah foundation. And because
there are parents who are not able to pay for their children’s
education (and there are even some parents who do not want to pay),
the community as a whole must take this responsibility. Therefore, it
is necessary to gather donations in order to support Yeshivas.

Students Who Are Not Suited To Teach
However, after a student has studied for a number of years in a
Yeshiva and has received a firm Torah foundation, it is best to direct
him according to his talent and ambition – whether in the field of
Torah, viz., education or Rabbinate, or towards some practical
occupation which suits his character, such as, for example, business
management.

As far as our present inquiry is concerned, if a person finds that he
is not suited to be a teacher or to serve in the Rabbinate, he is no
longer permitted to study Torah on a full time basis and to be
supported by the community or from charity.

This is the path which we follow at Yeshiva Har Bracha. Upon
completion of the standard course of study, which lasts five years
(and includes military service), each student chooses the path in life
that he feels truly suits him – whether in religious or secular
vocations. The Yeshiva, for its part, encourages each student to be
true to his unique character. In this manner, many of our students go
on to learn a profession, and they do this on the most prestigious
level that they possibly can according to their ability. At the same
time, they continue to set fixed times for Torah study each day,
internalizing values of self-sacrifice and love for the Torah and its
study and for the scrupulous performance of the commandments. They
also strive to practice much charity and kindness, to aid in the
development of the Land of Israel, and to sanctify God’s sacred name.

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