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Recently I posted a question on the order of removal of tefillin. I am most grateful for the responses. I subsequently read in ETHICS FROM SINAI by Reb Irving M. Bunim Z”TL. Perek II, Mishnah 2 the following:

“Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nai, said: It is good to combine the study of Torah with an occupation, for the exertion of both keeps sin forgotten. All Torah study that is not accompanied by work will come to nothing and bring sin its wake.”

The essential point of Reb Bunim's commentary is that at the Giving of the Torah the people “responded vibrantly, and in unity, ‘na’aseh v’nishma—We will do and we will understand’ (SHEMOT 24:7). This is the twofold program of Judaism: doing and learning, studying the precepts of Torah and then weaving them into everyday lives, in our worldly pursuits. The two tefillin symbolize this. On the arm, they connote na’aseh, our readiness to act; on the head, to symbolize nishma, our learning. We put on the tefillin of the hand first and remove it last; the tefillin of the head is never alone. The significance is: Judaism rejects learning without doing. Judaism cannot live and grow in the mental hothouse of an ivory tower. The Torah insists on thought for action, study for observing the mizvos.”

So from the wording of the mishnah and the commentary it seems that Torah study must be accompanied by a worldly occupation. Yet, I believe that some engage only in Torah learning without working.

How does Torah learning without working fit in to Jewish thought?

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    Hi @Sidney76 - just clarifying are you just looking for alternative commentary on that Mishna in Pirkei Avos or something deeper that is still connected to tefillin?
    – Dov
    Aug 22 at 10:47
  • Do you have reason to believe that contrary interpretations are out there?
    – Isaac Moses
    Aug 22 at 12:26
  • The question was likely to be closed for lack of clarity. I have dared to clarify it. I hope this meets the objectives of @Sidney76. If not, he can reject my edit. Aug 22 at 18:38
  • The Rabbeinu Yonah writes on this Mishnah the reason why Torah should be combined with work: "Also when the money from the gifts runs out, he will become a thief or a kidnapper (or gambler) and will bring 'home loot taken from the poor' so that he not die of hunger. And when a person reaches these traits, his spirit knows no restraint and he will not rest and not be still until he transgresses all of the commandments that are stated in the Torah"
    – Shmuel
    Aug 22 at 18:43
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    See Brachos 35B sefaria.org/Berakhot.35b.7?lang=bi. R Shimon bar Yochai had such an approach, but it’s not recommended for most. See Maharsha there. Another point, is today most people work in torah, either by being paid in kollel or other Torah related jobs
    – Chatzkel
    Aug 23 at 0:34

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Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in Igros Moshe Y”D chelek 4 siman 36 that the shitah of the Rambam is not quite what it would appear to be from simply reading the one halacha in hilchos talmud torah perek 3 halacha 10 where it seems like he would strongly disapprove of someone learning in a system like a modern kollel . This is because in the very next halacha he writes that it is simply a “ma’alah gedolah” to earn your own money. Rav Moshe learns that there are two levels of the mitzvah of talmud torah (according to the Rambam at least, he brings down a dissenting view from Tosfos in Makkos, ayin sham). One level is for ordinary folks and that only requires a little learning in the morning and a little at night. For such a person halacha 10 is the appropriate way of life. However, for someone who is matzliach in their learning and wants to learn, it is the biggest kiddush HaShem out there to be nisparnes from tzedakah to learn.

It’s a fascinating teshuva, albeit a little long. Very much worth everyone’s while to read. And everyone should see it inside because I was mekatzer a lot.

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I would like to start from the quote you cite in your question:

This is the twofold program of Judaism: doing and learning, studying the precepts of Torah and then weaving them into everyday lives

The last part, e.g. "weaving them into everyday lives" is exactly the point the Rabbeinu Yonah brings in his commentary on the Mishnah (Avos 2:2). He writes:

And all [study of the] Torah in the absence of a worldly occupation comes to nothing in the end: Like the matter that they said in our treatise (Avot 3 17), "If there is no flour, there is no Torah." The matter is like its simple understanding - when he neglects work, it brings him to poverty and it drags along several sins and its evil is great. As on account of it, he will 'love gifts and not live,' and flatter people even if they are evildoers, in order that they give to him. Also when the money from the gifts runs out, he will become a thief or a kidnapper (or gambler) and will bring 'home loot taken from the poor' so that he not die of hunger. And when a person reaches these traits, his spirit knows no restraint and he will not rest and not be still until he transgresses all of the commandments that are stated in the Torah, since 'one sin brings along [another] sin.'

The Mishnah says "for toil in them both keeps sin out of one’s mind". This can be explained by what the Rabbeinu Yonah writes:

and he will not rest and not be still until he transgresses all of the commandments that are stated in the Torah

If one does not learn Torah, and works, there is a chance that he will eventually transgress mitzvos. If one does not accept how much he earns, he might get involved in criminal behaviour, like stealing etc... The Torah teaches us that that is a forbidden act. Hence combining those two (learning and doing) is better than only one, since one does not know how to implement what he learned in real life.

I'll give you a parable: if you learn all the halachos concerning lashon hara and know what falls under the categories of lashon hara. That's great. However, imagine working with a few people who are known to be people that speak a lot of lashon hara about other people. You join them during lunch, and hear them speak some lashon hara. They ask you "what do you think?". What will your answer/action be? That depends on if you can combine the Torah with the daily life. Knowing the halachos is a must, but you'll need to implemenmt those laws into your own life. Torah is called "Toras Chayim", Torah of life.

The Bartenura explains that if one only learns Torah, without any occupation (work), at some point, the person needs food and because he has no work, so no income, he needs to steal the bread.

The Orchos Tzadikkim (9:37) writes:"

Moreover, if a man were freed from the necessity of work and did not have to trouble himself about his sustenance, he would kick out against all restraint and pursue wrongdoing as it is written : "When Jeshurun prospered, he kicked" (Deut. 32:15). And our Sages said : "The study of the Torah is good when combined with making a living, for the exertion necessary for both activities causes one to forget all thought of sinning" (Aboth 2:2).

In Vedibarta Bam, Rav Bogomilsky gives another interpretation. If one is an employee, he is bound by certain rules. He should arrive on time, do certain jobs etc.. So too with Torah. You should have regular times in study.

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Please the Nefesh Hachaim's (Shaar 1 perek 8) understanding of Rabbi Yishmael's approach and the aforementioned mishna

Rather the matter is, that Rabbee Yishmael’s view is definitely not that permission is given to a person to separate himself (heaven forefend) even a short time from being involved with Torah201Heb.: ei-sek ba-torah . See the footnote at the beginning of Gate 4 for a discussion of what “involvement with Torah” means to Rav Chayyim., to be involved [instead] with earning a living, during which time he would be completely lacking involvement with Torah (heaven forefend). However, Rabbi Yishmael hinted in his holy statement: “behave in them per the ways of the world,” to imply “with them” i.e., with the words of Torah—that at the same brief moment and time that you occupy yourself with earning a living to the extent necessary to stay alive, even so, in your thoughts you should be preoccupied only with the words of Torah.

And there it is stated that many did per Rabbee Yishmael’s directions and they succeeded, and many did per Rabbee Shim’on Bar Yo-khai’s words and they did not succeed. It says specifically “many” because definitely, for most of the masses it’s nearly impossible that they could dedicate all of their time only to involvement with Torah, to not turn away from it even a brief time for the sake of earning a living sustenance203Heb.: par-na-saht m’zo-note. And about this the sages stated in Avot: “that all Torah that is not accompanied by labor...”. But an individual, if it’s possible for him to only be involved his entire lifetime with his Torah and his service to the One (blessed be His name), the obligation is definitely upon him to not separate even a brief time from Torah and service to earn a living (heaven forefend), in accordance with Rabbee Shim’on Bar Yo-khai’s opinion [*].

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The Rambam leaves nothing to interpretation on this score:

Anyone... who makes up his mind to study Torah and not work, but live on charity, profanes the name of God, disgraces the Torah, obscures the light of religion, causes harm to himself, and deprives himself of life in the future world. [Mishneh Torah, Sefer Ha-mada (Book of Knowledge) 10-11]

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  • On the contrary, this source doesn't address the question; the question wasn't about taking charity while learning instead of working, which is what the Rambam is decrying here. One can learn exclusively without having to live on charity, as the Rambam himself did for years when he was being supported financially by his brother, which allowed him to focus on his studies.
    – Jay
    Aug 23 at 2:35
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    Being supported by family is not depending on charity? Aug 23 at 3:02
  • Apparently Rambam himself did not consider it charity, at least not in the sense we are discussing, because as mentioned he himself was supported while he learned. And I think his reasoning is very understandable - it profanes the name of God to take away money from funds reserved for poor people so that you can learn. But if someone wants to have a Yissachar-Zevulun-type arrangement with you wherein he supports your learning, how is that profaning God's name?
    – Jay
    Aug 23 at 12:03
  • And in any case this doesn't answer the question because one can have the financial means to learn without working at all or being supported by others, and that is not addressed by this source, regardless of how you define Tzedakah
    – Jay
    Aug 23 at 12:07
  • His brother David did not support him but rather invested his money in the Diamond industry . I would not call that charity. Aug 23 at 14:06
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Thank you to all who responded to or commented on my post. My replies:

Dov, I was looking for alternative commentary on that Mishna. Thanks. Isaac Moses, yes, I had strong reason to believe there are contrary interpretations for the following rationale. There are many, many observant Jews who learn full-time and do not work. If, as the Mishna provides, this would “bring sin”, one would think there would be authority defending the practice. I was most curious to learn of this position. Thank you, Avrohom Yitzchok, for your edits. They are most welcome and beneficial. They do clarify my question. Thank you for your comments, Maurice Mizrahi and Jay. They are very interesting. More on Jay’s post below. Chatzkel, with all due respect, I do not consider being paid for attending kollel to be responsive to the admonition in the Mishna. Shmuel, your analysis is most insightful and helpful. Thank you.

I must say that I really expected my post to be closed by reason of the issue having already been addressed— long ago. In my experience, it is a quite common and highly controversial “debate”. At least it is here in Israel. Of course, there are numerous other factors involved in the matter here. These include but are not limited to:

  1. the extremely large number of men who learn exclusively—and for many years;
  2. the fact that the vast majority of these men a) do not pay taxes; b) do not serve in the military and there is mandatory service or alternative national service; c) receive funding from the government while learning full-time;
  3. there are issues peripheral to the question that very much exacerbate the schism including: a) many of these full-time learners do not include the prayer for the nation in their davening, do not honor Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and indeed visibly reject it and do not stand for the siren honoring Israel’s martyrs—the young men and women killed while defending the State—and basically ignore Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day);
  4. the religious political parties which quite frequently determine which coalition forms the government, basically serve in the Knesset solely to advance the interests of the religious community and in particular the men who learn full-time and their families.

As I say, it is and has been for years, an extremely hot topic here.

One more point-- Jay’s comment actually reminded me of another issue in the consideration of this question. That is the “Yissachar-Zevulun Partnership”. This arrangement or “contract”, if you will, between two of Yaakov’s sons can be summarized as: Zevulun works and supports Yissachar who learns full time and both men receive the merit of learning Torah.

This arrangement is discussed at length by Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer at dinonline-- https://dinonline.org/2015/12/16/the-yissachar-zevulun-arrangement-between-charity-and-contract/

It is a most interesting analysis. I heartily recommend it. I, in fact, know of two such partnerships.

One final comment, on a personal note-- Whenever I see thousands upon thousands of yeshiva and kollel students gathered at the funeral of a revered rav or virulently protesting some action by the state (such as a decision by law enforcement and/or medical authorities that an autopsy was critically necessary and so forth), my thoughts are of loss. I cannot help but wonder if, among these thousands of thousands of men, there are not individuals who could make a significant contribution to the state if they worked in a profession. Could there be persons who could develop their skills and expertise in science, medicine, engineering, the arts, architecture and so forth and be of benefit to Israel, Israelis and perhaps beyond our borders? Sadly we will never know.

Again, many thanks to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts and knowledge. I very much appreciate your insights and participation.

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    Food for thought, it was those full time learning institutions that produced the Torah that we find in abundance our days. Imaging what would have happened if these institutions weren't created or this haskafa wasn't followed. Could it be that the rabbanim who instituted it held that it is necessary for the sake of the Torah continuance.
    – Yoreinu
    Aug 23 at 13:24
  • You're welcome. Please let me know if you need anything else.
    – Shmuel
    Aug 23 at 15:34

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