Does anyone know of any specific sources in Chazal or Rishonim (or even earlier achronim) that indicate that l'chatchila all Jewish males should learn full time forever? I know that this is the opinion of R' Shiman Bar Yochai in Berachos 35b, but the conclusion of that gemara seems to be that most people should not go in this direction. There is also the opinion of R' Nehorai at the end of Kidushin, but I don't know if there is any indication that this is how we poskin. Also, I'm not sure that his opinion is necessarily the same idea.

Someone told me that the Nefesh HaChaim says this, but I couldn't find it.

This is a very prevalent strain of thought in the charedi world, especially in Israel. I was just wondering if anyone knows any sources that back this up, especially since there are many sources that seem to go against this, like the aforementioned gemara in berachos, the mishna in Avos - "yafe Torah im derech eretz" - which all the rishonim I've seen on it (Rashi, the Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah, Rav Ovadiah m'Bartenura) say that it means that it is good to work for a living.

  • sb, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the important question! Please consider editing your question to fully cite and preferably link to your sources and to use less Hebrew jargon, per lo.yodeya.com/2010/01/guidelines-jargon.html. I think this question could be interesting to a wide audience, including many who may not understand all of the terms you use. – Isaac Moses Apr 8 '10 at 15:41
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    Once upon a time, the Rabbis made this silly assumption that people feel shame when begging and living off of community funds instead of working for themselves... – avi Dec 18 '11 at 17:06
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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/28500 – msh210 May 6 '13 at 15:23
  • Rambam Hilchos Mashiach – LN6595 Jan 7 '20 at 14:42

11 Answers 11


Yalkut Yosef (156:1) holds that it is better to learn all day and get a salary from the Yeshiva or Kolel than to work and learn a few hours a day. He brings Rabbi Haim BenAtar to support him (Rishon Lesion 246:21). As well as the Maharsha"l (Yam, Hullin 3:9).

  • As far as I can see in the מהרש״ל יש״ש חולין ג:ט he never says that there is a positive חיוב on every male to sit in Kollel. What he says is that someone who is a great Torah sage should not under any circumstances leave his learning even to support himself, as that would be a disgrace to the Torah. Nothing about mandatory Kollel for the masses. – moses Jan 8 '20 at 1:00
  • Maharshal says it is fine to take money "given as presents, in an honorable manner", but not to ask for charity to support oneself as a scholar. I do not think he can be a source to support the modern Kollel system which is very much based on asking for charity. – simyou Jan 8 '20 at 12:54

The Gemara does not give a conclusive p'sak. It just says that many did like RASHBI and were not successful. It does not imply that the other approach was overruled either. The impression it gives is that the choice is up to the individual, but if he chooses like Rabi Shimon then he better really be committed and there are no guarantees that he will be able to see it through.

As far as Nefesh HaChaim goes, in Shaar Dalet he definitely says statements to the effect that it should be all learning all the time however I have heard from my Rebbeim (many of them as Chareidi as can be) that he was writing for a certain audience who are willing to commit to such a level of existence.

This all fits with the cave story as well.

  • The OP requested sources for for an idea in Hazal, Rishonim, or early Aharonim. You have not presented any, and this is consequently, not an answer. – mevaqesh Nov 22 '16 at 1:58

See this link:


Also see M"B in Biur Halacha (231 d.h. Bachol) where he discusses how these days are different from the days of the Rambam and how that impacts on this question.

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    that link looks like its discussing what career to do, not whether to get one – Ariel K Dec 18 '11 at 0:15
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    It would be really helpful if you could write a two-sentence summary of that link. – Shmuel Dec 18 '11 at 5:43

Clearly the Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah (perek 3 halacha 10), which essentially concludes as Rabban Gamliel b'no shel Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi: kol torah she-eyn imo melocha sofah betaylo etc.

What was instituted in Yerushalayim initially was the same as assarah batlonim, who learned for the whole city. Because there were few talmidey chachomim in America, the yeshivos instituted kollelim. However, to say that this is the way for the rabbim (community at large) is incorrect. Those who can become rabbonim or roshey yeshiva should be given some time to reach proficiency, the rest should get a job. The situation is untenable with impoverishing people institutionally without recourse because they feel inadequate. Instead they should be taught harbey assu ke-Rabbi Yishmoe-l ve-olso beyodom.

There is a letter from Rambam to his most gifted talmid, Rav Yossef ben Yehudah ibn Aknin, for whom he wrote the Moreh. Essentially he told him to remain practicing medicine and not become a rosh yeshiva! How would this teshuva go over in certain circles? The Gemoreh in Kiddushin concludes that although one has to learn a trade for parnossa - if he can, it is best to have a trade associated with Talmud Torah, such as becoming a rebbe a maggid shiur ,a mohel a shochet etc...

  • Although the 10 batlanim are commonly referenced in terms of learning, Rashi writes that their purpose is to make a minyan. Rambam in Hil. Megilah (IIRC) write that it refers to those who base themselves on the synagogue and deal with communal affairs. In a responsum (P'er Hador 10 IIRC) he writes that the correct girsa in the Yerushalmi is that the 10 batlanim do not need to learn! He explains that they are already "fully" learned and therefore can now divert their attentions to communal affairs. – mevaqesh Apr 15 '15 at 5:07
  • The Gemoreh in Kiddushin concludes that although one has to learn a trade for parnossa - if he can, it is best to have a trade associated with Talmud Torah, such as becoming a rebbe a maggid shiur ,a mohel a shochet etc... Really? Where? – mevaqesh Nov 21 '16 at 3:11
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    This does not seem to answer the question. It provides the opposite of what the OP requested. – mevaqesh Nov 22 '16 at 1:56

The rambam (at the very end of Hilchos shmittah and Yovel) states: Not only the Tribe of Levi, but each and every individual human being, whose spirit moves him and whose knowledge gives him understanding to set himself apart in order to stand before the Lord, to serve Him, to worship Him, and to know Him, who walks upright as God created him to do, and releases himself from the yoke of the many foolish considerations which trouble people - such an individual is as consecrated as the Holy of Holies, and his portion and inheritance shall be in the Lord forever and ever. The Lord will grant him adequate sustenance in this world, just as He granted to the priests and to the Levites. Thus did David, peace upon him, say, "O Lord, the portion of my inheritance and of my cup, You maintain my lot." I have heard quoted in the name of Rav Wolbe, that according to R. Eliezer haGadol's definition of faith (Sotah 48b) that anyone who has bread in the basket and worries about what he will eat tomorrow is of little faith. Meaning having Bitachon to allow one to choose to live like a levi, means not having health insurance, or a freezer.....

  • Not having health insurance == bread in the basket? Seems kind of the opposite, no? Also, related ... – Yishai Aug 12 '14 at 20:36
  • Having bread in the basket means that you have enough for today. The idea of insurance is to protect yourself for the future when you may not have enough, hence insurance is at its essense a lack of Bitachon. – avner Aug 14 '14 at 17:15

As I understand it the conclusion of the Gemara which you mention is a concession to the difficulties of such a path, not a disagreement that l'chatchilla one should devote oneself to learning.

  • Where do you see from the Gemara that l'chatchilla one should devote oneself to (only) learning? – Yahu Apr 9 '10 at 1:45
  • It's more a matter that the Gemara treats the alternative as a pragmatic issue rather than an ideal, כנ"ל – Yirmeyahu Apr 9 '10 at 4:32
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    Maybe pragmatic is ideal! – Yahu Apr 14 '10 at 6:24

An evolving 'kula' of 'es l'asos' that may have gone too far...

It does not seem to have much precedent in earlier sources. Chazal seem to be against the idea of even a rabbi receiving money for learning or teaching torah, and the Rambam ruled accordingly. Other rishonim and achronim said that it was necessary in their times for a rabbi to receive money for the continuation of Torah (they also argued on the interpretation of certain gemaros). A similar explanation was used more recently to justify kollelim, where people are paid to learn torah. In Israel, this system grew to encompass the majority of haredi men. It is unclear what justification there is for this system to continue with such large numbers, and it is not sustainable in the long-term. Some haredim feel the system needs to change. For example, Jonathan Rosenblum, who is a spokesman for Haredi Jewry, said:

After every catastrophic event that destroys the previous equilibrium, there is a pendulum swings until a new equilibrium is found. Let us take one contemporary example. The period between the beginning of World War I and end of World War II completely destroyed a European Jewish civilization built over nearly two millennia. In order to rebuild the entire world of Torah learning destroyed by the Nazis, Rabbi Aharon Kotler in the United States and the Chazon Ish in Eretz Yisrael declared a societal ideal of long-term Torah study for all males that had few precedents in Jewish history. The pendulum swung in one direction, as part of the rebuilding.

As the original small flock of dedicated idealists who rallied to the banner of Reb Aharon and the Chazon Ish has miraculously swelled today to an entire community of hundreds of thousands, encompassing a wide range of abilities and spiritual levels, the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction in search of a new equilibrium...

  • The OP asked for sources for an idea, the only line here that answers it is It does not seem to have much precedent in earlier sources Which is not very compelling, since there may still be some precedent, as other answers here attempt to demonstrate. – mevaqesh Nov 22 '16 at 2:00

"Someone told me that the Nefesh HaChaim says this, but I couldn't find it."

In Nefesh HaChaim Sha'ar 1 Perek 8 in the course of explaining why Shlomo HaMelech set up the keruvim the way he did (not directly facing each other) Rav Chaim explains his understanding of the machlokes beetwen Rashbi and Rebbi Yishmael.

The conclusion seems to be the following: There is a difference between what the ratzon of Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu for Klal Yisrael as a whole is as opposed to what His ratzon is for people as individuals. Both Rashbi and Rebbi Yishmael agree that for the individual, since it is possible to only be involved with Torah and mitzvos his entire life there is for sure an obligation not to separate even for a short amount of time from Torah and mitzvos in order to be involved in parnassah. Rashbi and Rebbi Yishmael disagree only with regards to the (main) ratzon of Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu for the Jewish people as a group.

Although the application of this is its own discussion (this pshat creates many questions both in the Gemarah and in the idea itself), maybe this is the source you were told about.

See also Rabbeinu Bachyah (Bechayeh) and Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Avos 2:2 that discuss this topic.

It's interesting to note that even according to Rebbe Yishmael, a person is still obligated to be involved in thinking about Torah and learning during his derech eretz. I that's not possible I wonder if (according to Rav Chaim) it would be permissible to hold such a job.

(With regards to your request for Rishonim that discuss learning full time, look at the perushim of Rishonim on Pirkei Avos 2:2).

  • (With regards to your request for Rishonim that discuss learning full time, look at the perushim of Rishonim on Pirkei Avos 2:2). Since this is pretty much the only line that answers the question, this is pretty much a link only answer, minus the link. Consider editing in what they say. – mevaqesh Nov 22 '16 at 2:02

מסכתות קטנות מסכת סופרים פרק טז

הלכה א ר' נהוראי אומר מניח אני את כל האומניות שבעולם, ואני מלמד את בניי תורה, שאדם אוכל משכרה בעולם הזה, והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא, ושאר כל האומניות אינן כן, שאם יכנס אדם לידי חולי או לידי זקנה או ליד מדה של ייסורין, ואינו יכול לעסוק במלאכתו, הרי הוא מת ברעב, אבל התורה אינה כן, אלא משמרתו מכל רע בנערותו, ונותנת לו אחרית ותקוה בזקנותו, בנערותו מהו אומר, וקוי י"י יחליפו כח יעלו אבר כנשרים ירוצו ולא ייגעו ילכו ולא ייעפו, בזקנותו מהו אומר, עוד ינובון בשיבה דשינים ורעננים יהיו.

הלכה ב אמר ר' יהושוע בן לוי הדא אגדתא הכותבה אין לו חלק לעולם הבא, והדורשה מתחרך, והשומעה אינו מקבל שכר.

In summary, the first paragraph says how wonderful it is to avoid all worldly pursuits and focus on Torah always. The second paragraph claims that anyone who teaches over the first paragraph loses his share in the World to Come.

The text is from Tractate Sofrim, a minor tractate finalized in the 8th Century.

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    Maybe you shouldn't have posted this, then.... – msh210 Dec 22 '11 at 16:09
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    I'm not sure that הדא אגדתא necessarily means "this aggadata" (i.e., the one just mentioned). In many places in the Yerushalmi and other texts written in the Eretz Yisrael dialect of Aramaic, הדא is simply a definite article (examples include Yer. Berachos 1:1, הדא כוכבתא, and 2:8, הדא תאינה). So Halachah 2 may simply be starting a new train of thought: "R. Yehoshua ben Levi says, regarding aggadata, that anyone who writes it..." – Alex Mar 11 '12 at 21:34
  • @Alex So you want to say that RYBL is opposed to teaching any agadata at all? – Double AA Apr 2 '12 at 1:16
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    @DoubleAA: Higger (in his edition of Maseches Soferim) suggests that RYBL might be talking specifically about heretical works containing various aggados. The other possibility (per Korban HaEdah to Yerushalmi Shabbos 16:1) is that the second and third clauses of RYBL's statement are referring specifically to a written text of aggadah (as in the first clause), not to someone who delivers a lecture on it orally or attends such a lecture. – Alex Apr 2 '12 at 17:24

The Cesef Mishna in Rambam hilchos talmud torah at the end of the piece praises learning all life.

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    At the end of which piece? – Double AA Aug 11 '14 at 23:05
  • The question wasn't whether a person should learn all of his life, but rather looking for sources that everyone should learn full time. – mevaqesh Nov 22 '16 at 2:03

i understand that what I'm gonna quote does not indicate that one should be lechatchila learning all day his whole life, but perhaps it's something to consider (I'm also sorry if this was already suggested, I haven't looked so thoroughly through the answers). Look in Mishnah Torah Hilchos Talmud Torah Perek 1 Halachos 8-10 https://www.sefaria.org.il/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Torah_Study.1?lang=bi

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