by Rabbi N. Z. Grossman
The Old-New Campaign
A New Round in an Old Game
Vocational training for avreichim is once again under
discussion. Certain parties are again seeking to push their
plans forward, this time by exploiting the economic squeeze
that the government has engineered, which is intended to
foster an atmosphere of hardship and distress among Torah
In an article published in Ha'aretz, entitled,
"Needed: A Chareidi University," the "Chairman of the Society
for Encouraging the Establishment of a Chareidi Academia"
explains his ideology and the practical steps that he feels
should be taken towards its fulfillment. He argues that the
government has not made a good enough job of tearing
avreichim away from their gemoras and
channeling their talents in other directions, acknowledging
that, "while the economic measures encourage chareidim to
work, they do not provide high level vocational training." He
calls upon the Council for Higher Education, "to present the
Treasury with a plan for placing chareidim into special
academic frameworks and for setting up chareidi academic
schools for high level vocational training."
A response published in our Hebrew edition noted that this
unworthy initiative was in fact launched four years ago by
the then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his cronies. Then, at
the behest of the Torah authorities, our paper warned against
getting involved in public debate over "drawing
avreichim into the workforce." We pointed out that
this was just one more measure in a consistent and drawn out
campaign that had already then been waged for several years,
to try to instigate revolutionary changes within the Torah
community. It aimed to uproot Torah scholars from their
studies, to incite avreichim to change their
lifestyles, to sanctify the "cult of work" and to cast the
glow of enlightenment upon the benighted chareidim.
Their True Goal
Our leaders, ztvk'l and ylct'a, who have been
steering the ship of Torah Jewry in the past decades, have
repeatedly warned about the trials of the new generation.
Periodically, attempts are made at introducing novel
approaches to which our elders take exception. In particular,
they have warned against getting swept away by the glittering
allure -- and ultimate emptiness -- of "higher education" and
"professional academic training" in various forms and
Such initiatives come up for discussion from time to time,
depending on the ebb and flow of several factors. Among these
are damaging ideas which instill the wish to join the
"modern" and "enlightened" world, feelings of inferiority and
inappropriate justification based on "the need to earn a
livelihood" and the like.
From time immemorial, the goal of every chareidi family has
been that its sons should grow up to become Torah scholars.
Even those who were compelled by circumstances to leave the
beis hamedrash in order to earn a livelihood, never
viewed what they had to do as the fulfillment of an ideal or
considered it progress.
The opposite is the case. They honored, respected and admired
those who remained wholly within the daled amos of
halochoh. They regarded them as the leaders and as the
elite of the community. In recent years however, in the guise
of concern for having a means of support, proposals to
arrange professional training and chareidi academia have been
surfacing, whose true goal is to idealize leaving the beis
hamedrash and involvement in external studies.
HaRav Dessler and the Chazon Ish
In a letter on this subject, HaRav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler
zt'l, described how gedolei Yisroel stood guard
to ensure that even though there might be cases where it was
necessary to leave the beis hamedrash, the step would
never become a desirable one. They worked to contain any
tendency to be attracted by the lure of "a prestigious
profession" and they staunchly opposed the almost inevitable
shift in priorities and values that results from an
avreich's leaving the beis hamedrash, to follow
the path of "professional training for avreichim."
HaRav Dessler writes, "Of course, they remained on watch to
see whatever could be done for those who could not remain
bnei Torah but [they did] not [do so] in a way that
would draw others after them. For example, in the cases of
some of those whom they were forced to allow to leave, they
ensured that they would become shopkeepers or follow other
pursuits that are not professions, which do not require
training and do not attract the hearts of the
talmidim. As for those whose hearts' desire was to go
and learn a profession and certainly those who chose an
academic profession -- they had nothing whatsoever to do with
them . . ." (Michtov MeEliyohu vol. III, pg. 357)
Rav Dessler writes that this was also the view of the Chazon
Ish zt'l, who was most emphatic about it, even with
regard to the specific proposal about which Rav Dessler
consulted him, which was the subject that he discussed in his
letter, namely, opening a seminary to train chareidi teachers
that would give its graduates a B.A. degree. The letter is
well worth reading in its entirety, for its clear and
thorough treatment of the present topic.
Nothing to be Proud Of
We are in effect witnessing another attempt to effect a
sweeping change in values of chareidi society and to
introduce goals that daas Torah opposes, against which
Torah leaders have fought with all their strength. The true
aims of the proponents of chareidi academia are obvious from
the terms which they employ, such as, "drawing out into the
Whom do they want to draw out and where do they want to draw
them out from? Clearly, from the beis hamedrash!
These efforts to sully the integrity of Torah's transmission
are being leveled at all ages. They include the opening of
institutions for talmud Torah graduates where Torah
study is combined with tuition in secular disciplines.
Thirty-six years ago, a Chinuch Atzmai-run talmud Torah
named Yesodei Hatorah, in Tel Aviv, published a booklet
entitled "Nitzanim," which contains remarks made on this very
subject by HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman and HaRav Michel Yehuda
Lefkowitz. In those days, yeshivot tichoniyot (yeshiva
high schools) held a great attraction for many parents whose
sons were graduating from talmud Torah. Every year saw
protracted and heated discussions with both pupils and
parents, who were gravitating towards yeshivot
tichoniyot, thereby endangering their own or their sons'
The talks published in the booklet were delivered to parents
and students of the upper grades. In them, the distinguished
speakers express the unequivocal Torah view that rules out
any framework or institution that combines holy studies with
secular ones. The purpose of this opposition is to negate any
diminution of [people's understanding of] Torah's value and
of its necessity to Klal Yisroel. The struggle not to
lose a single ben Torah who has the potential to
develop and devote his life to Torah, is waged on all fronts
and at all ages, from the classroom until the
Although much has already been written on this subject, it is
one that requires constant reinforcing. Part of the training
that we all received in the holy yeshivos that we attended is
that even when circumstances force someone to interrupt his
sojourn within the daled amos of halochoh and
devote time to earning a livelihood, it ought not to be
viewed as something desirable but as the opposite.
Everyone who has to do this, the present writer included,
feels that it involves spiritual decline not ascent, and
envies those who have the good fortune to occupy themselves
with Torah at all hours. We have been trained to see life's
main purpose as the learning and teaching of Torah -- in the
words of Dovid Hamelech, "that I dwell in Hashem's house all
the days of my life" (Tehillim 27:4).
It would certainly never occur to anyone who had been
personally unsuccessful in devoting all his time to life's
main purpose, to turn his back on the Torah world and the
education that it gave him and go "to benefit society" by
supporting "going out to join the workforce" and "entering
the labor market."
We must never institutionalize departure from the beis
hamedrash. Woe to anyone who encourages such a step
through the opening of programs that offer training for
"prestigious" careers and the like.
End of Part I
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