Kollel or…?

Can a young couple committed to building a deep relationship with God also find success outside of the kollel world? Executive summary: yes.

A young, unmarried woman (a baalas teshuva) is struggling to find her ideological place within the confusing and ever-shifting landscape of Orthodox Judaism. She wondered if, once she finds her husband, it would be possible to live a life of deep commitment to God’s Torah while engaged in the world around her, of if there is no choice but to join the kollel movement.

She’s certainly not the only person to have asked this question…

Every Jew throughout history has been expected to become great in Torah. As it’s such a very difficult and demanding task, individuals have not always been entirely successful. But, nevertheless, it should be an active goal of any Jew no matter what he happens to do for a living. I personally know a number of outstanding Torah scholars who have succeeded despite – or perhaps, in concert with – working at a career.

Still, in the shadow of the deep and painful communal losses of the first half of the 20th Century, some senior rabbis felt that rebuilding would require the creation of a “Torah-only” ideal in which all young men would be encouraged to study full time. I suspect that no one expected 100% compliance over such a broad population – nor was it necessarily supposed to permanently replace the Torah’s historical emphasis on husbands shouldering their financial responsibilities. It was just a desperately needed temporary adjustment to get us back on our feet.

So where does that leave a young couple in 2012 now that, in terms of the spread of serious Torah study, we’re back on our feet? There is no question that someone who wants a life saturated with Torah values might well find satisfaction in the kollel world (although these things are never guaranteed). However, anyone who claims that being part of a working family¬†requires¬†spiritual compromise is staking out a position in direct conflict with the Talmud!

For instance:
“Greater than one who fears heaven is one who benefits from his hard work” (Talmud Brachos 8a).And:
“Any Torah that is not accompanied by work will end in laziness and causes sin.” (Avos 2:2)Of course the kollel lifestyle is a wonderful choice where practical, but that shouldn’t blind us to the other approaches that can also lead to fear of God!

So it is certainly possible – perhaps even more likely – for a serious young couple to achieve Torah greatness while working. You have to be deeply committed and willing to work very hard. You also have to be somewhat independent-minded and ready to attach yourself to mitzvos the right and pure way no matter what your neighbors might say.

If you’ve got those qualities (or if you’re interesting in working to develop them) then you will probably gain a great deal from the writings of R’ S.R. Hirsch.

You might also enjoy my own book on the subject: Working With Torah.

Now I should add that you probably shouldn’t make any firm decisions without first consulting your husband. And since you’re currently not sure just how to contact him, perhaps you would be best off keeping all your options open before you. But these are some thoughts that might, with God’s help, soon be useful once you do find this lucky young man.

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