May 19, 2024
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Mitch Morrison’s essay “Is Learning the Only Thing? Yeshiva Year(s) and Beyond” (The Jewish Link, December 30, 2021) raises an important and timely concern: the trend of young adults who, upon returning from a gap year or two in Israel, abandon their college plans and instead devote themselves to full-time Torah study, with little or no concern for their financial futures. Many people who chose this path come to regret it years later when, in middle-age, the pressures of making a living catch up with and overwhelm them.

The notion that one’s child might “flip out” while in Israel and embrace a lifestyle that ignores the practical realities of this world is a genuine fear that keeps many parents up at night.

Mr. Morrison highlights the Talmud’s requirement (Kiddushin 29a) that a father teach his son a trade so that he will have a means of supporting himself. To that end, he quotes the Rambam who, in Hilchot De’ot (5:11), states that a person must properly prepare himself with a profession before—not after—taking a wife and beginning a family.

Furthermore, the Rambam writes in Hilchot Matnot Aniyim (10:18), “One should always strain oneself and endure hardship and not come to depend on others rather than cast oneself onto the community…. Even if one is wise and revered and becomes poor, he should engage in some kind of craft, even a menial one, rather than come to depend on others…. Great sages were splitters of wood, raisers of beams, drawers of water for gardens, ironworkers and blacksmiths.” (Translation: sefaria.org).

All of these sources, and more, candidly express the Torah’s demand for self-sufficiency and preparation.

So why do some of our children ignore these critical Torah messages? What does it say about the Torah study they wish to embrace if they willingly cast aside these vital Torah lessons?

The answer may be found within these self-same sources.

Alongside the directive to teach one’s son a trade is the command to teach one’s son Torah. “To what extent is a man obligated to teach his son Torah?” the Talmud asks (Kiddushin 30a). The answer to this question unfolds over the next page of Gemara. Suffice it to say that Torah study must occupy a central place in one’s life, at any age.

The Rambam quantifies this for us. In Hilchot Talmud Torah (1:12), the Rambam illustrates how one is to balance his required profession with Torah study: “For instance? If one was a craftsman and engaged himself three hours daily to his work and to Torah nine hours…” (Translation: sefaria.org).

Nine hours!

This so-called working man is colloquially known as “The Rambam’s Baalabus,” the fellow who, despite being gainfully employed, makes sure to carve out time—the majority of his waking hours—to study Torah. One who argues that the Rambam has strong words for those who rely on others for financial support must acknowledge that the Rambam also has strong words for those who do not utilize their “free time” properly.

Although nine hours each day may indeed be unfeasible for many of us facing contemporary economic realities, we ought to be capable of dedicating at least an hour or two each day to studying Torah. Add to that Friday nights, Shabbat afternoons, Sundays and legal holidays—and the hours do add up.

Dedicating so much of our time to Torah study is predicated upon believing in the importance and requirement of Torah study. Before criticizing our children for their newfound commitment to Torah study, are we living up to our own obligation in that area?

That obligation is one that many of our children never saw at home and are first introduced to during their gap years. They arrive in Israel, usually in or around Jerusalem, and are quickly exposed to a way of life they’ve never seen before: families built around the centrality and exclusivity of Torah study. They witness Kollel families, their rabbeim and distant cousins who live happily, if frugally, in this lifestyle. And many want that for themselves and their future.

They view it as an either/or proposition: Do they follow the path of an Orthodoxy where Torah study competes with many other activities, some compulsory, some frivolous; or do they follow the path of an Orthodoxy where Torah study is central, often to the exclusion of other obligations?

Many choose the latter. Can we blame them?

It is unfair of us to expect our children to integrate Torah study with financial responsibility when, as parents, we have not raised them in an environment that balances both.

One’s commitment to Torah study and one’s concern with making a living need not be mutually exclusive. No doubt, finding the right mix of Torah im Derech Eretz is challenging, but everyone is responsible for finding the right space for himself.

If we want our children to take our notion of Judaism seriously, we must first make sure our Modern Orthodoxy is a serious one, rooted in Torah im derech eretz and that our commitment to Torah study is serious, passionate and consistent. Then we and our children can together achieve greatness in Torah learning and Torah living.


Srully Epstein, a financial adviser, lives in Bergenfield, New Jersey.

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