Once again, Israel is witnessing protests calling for the end to the stipends given to married men with families who study Torah full time. One of Shas Party members, Chaim Amsalem, has spoken out siding surprisingly against the continuation of the stipend for Kollel members. Bringing communications from leading Sephardic Torah sage, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, purporting these Torah scholars earn their own keep. Rabbi Mazuz wrote as praising review for one of Amsalem’s book, states, “Students must be taught as early as age 16 various trades such as shechita (ritual slaughter), milah (circumcision), hazzanut (the art of being a cantor), writing Torah scrolls,” to enable them not to rely on public charity. One might question if such an effort is currently supported by Israeli law or are there in existence laws limiting these scholars’ abilities to be gainfully employed.
Currently, the Kollel members receive deferment from IDF duty with the proviso that they spend full time employ in Torah study and are limited in the number of hours they are allowed to work in order to remain deferred from the IDF. Pardon my pointing out a possible conflict for these men that would make their working to support themselves and their families at the least difficult, maybe impossible. If they are required to study full time and are restricted from working over a minimal amount of hours or earning above a set income in order to remain deferred from military service, then how are they to be expected to support a family? Where I agree that the Kollel members should be allowed, even encouraged being self-sufficient, first allowances must be made in order to facilitate this end.
I am not sufficiently familiar with all the numbers, restrictions, limits and laws pertaining to this situation, but if what I have understood my readings on this situation, I have a few suggestions. First, the limitation on hours spent in gainful employment and the amount of money earned needs to be adjusted, probably generously adjusted, and their minimal time studying Torah also brought into a manageable range allowing them time for gainful employ while still maintaining their military service deferment. It should be reasonable that they be made eligible for possible public housing assistance or other minimal support at a lesser level than the current amount and in return be expected to meet their own financial needs. Being self-sufficient would be in their best interest as it could only add to their self-esteem and give them practical life experience that would supplement their Torah studies. Hopefully, the government can work with these scholars who fill an important niche in Israeli society that would give them opportunities to be less of a perceived burden on society. The added tranquility of ending the protests would go a long way in healing what is a potentially dangerous rift in Israeli society.
Beyond the Cusp