Debate over kollel-student stipend goes to ‘the sources'

MK Gafni: “I totally disagree with what your letter states regarding income assurance, historically but primarily halachically."

Mishne Torah 311 (photo credit: Ron Peled)
Mishne Torah 311
(photo credit: Ron Peled)
As the debate over funding for Torah study in the draft 2011/12 state budget intensifies, members of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee received a lesson on the Jewish sources regarding that issue, courtesy of the liberal modern- Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah Ve’avodah (The Faithful of Torah and Labor) group.
“Since the haredi parties are presenting [the question of funding haredi kollel students] as a religious struggle, here is a brief overview that clearly and unequivocally shows that the request for extensive funding of Torah study has no sources in Judaism,” Shmuel Shatach, chairman of Ne’emanei Torah Ve’avodah, wrote to the MKs last week.
Beginning his survey with biblical times, when “it was entirely clear that a person had to work,” Shatach proceeds to present the Halacha instructing a father to teach his son a trade, also mentioning the Shulchan Aruch and Maimonides (1135 to 1204), who wrote that anyone who thinks of supporting himself by charity to study Torah is desecrating the name of Heaven and disgracing the Torah.
Shatach also notes that in all of Jewish history, the sages not only studied Torah but also had jobs.
“Today’s phenomenon of tens of thousands do not support themselves is a unique condition in Jewish history and nonexistent among haredi communities abroad. It only began in the past decades, after the establishment of the State of Israel,” Shatach writes.
Economic Affairs Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), who penned the section of the draft state budget in question, launched his response by wondering why Shatach did not issue halachic rulings on all the other amendments that are part of the state budget and do not conform with Halacha.
“I totally disagree with what your letter states regarding income assurance, historically but primarily halachically,” Gafni wrote on Friday. “Either you don’t understand the adjudications in the last two clauses in Maimonides’ Shmita and Yovel laws, or you chose to ignore them.”
“The hatred for Torah scholars does not pass over those who preaches faithfulness to Torah and labor, or perhaps begins from there,” the haredi legislator said.