When I was in High School I shared pretty much the same opinion as most of the bloggers here. I was totally against Kollel and the thought of Kollel disgusted me. I couldn’t understand how these people chose to live in poverty. My views were mostly influenced by my brother who was adamantly against Kollel. He was against the Kollel people being off the books and stealing money from the government by getting food stamps and all kinds of government help.
He told me a story of how there was a daughter that went to one of the schools that advocated marrying a kollel guy, and she did just that, then when it was time to enroll her daughter in a school, she figured she would send her daughter to the school she went to. So she applied, but then unfortunately she didn’t have enough money to pay for tuition, so she told the school she can’t afford to pay all of it. They said sorry, but we can’t help you with that. So he was telling me how it was hypocrisy, the same people that told her to live a kollel life, weren’t going to accept her daughter because she didn’t have money. So I was naturally appalled by this story.
My brother was also very pro college, so it made it very easy for me to go against my school and apply to a cuny college. My teacher took it upon herself to call me out of class every week since she found out I was going to college, and tried to convince me not to go. She said I was going to start believing that abortion is okay, and that people being gay is okay. I looked at her thinking that’s crazy, I would never believe that stuff. It came to a point where I couldn’t stand being the middle person, I felt like I was the child of divorced parents, where both sides tried to get you to side with them. At first also, I wasn’t going to go to seminary, I thought it was going to be like 13th grade. So I finally said I will check out a seminary, I found one that had a college program too, so I told her I’m applying to there. At first the seminary closed down, so then I felt helpless, but then it opened back up again. So it all worked out, my teacher thought that I was going to be going to the seminary's college program and didn’t realize that I was only going to the seminary part, and was still going to go to the cuny college.
My good friend actually enjoyed drawing sketches of my life, So I’ll put up some illustrations.
My teachers would always talk about the importance of being a yarei Shamayim, and the importance of learning. I just never understood all of it, and it went over my head, and I wished they talked about more practical stuff. I got annoyed at hearing about learning.
In High school, I was one of the few with internet. I was brought up on it since I was a kid, so I knew how to work the computer and browse the web. I would print out funny e-mails I got and bring it in to class, and my classmates all loved it, during class it got passed up and down the rows for everyone to look at. They would look forward to the things I brought in. I had a collection in my loose-leaf of them. Then when it was time for tests, especially literature tests, I would go to spark notes or some other website and get multiple choice questions on tom sawyer or whatever book we were having a test on, and surprisingly the teachers questions on her test were the same ones! so everyone was thankful to me for bring it in. Come to think of it, I was able to do so much chessed because I had internet. Girls would come to my house to use my computer, to check out aish’s website, or to check their e-mails for important e-mails from organizations, and all kinds of stuff.
In seminary, I went to a more open one, that was very different from my HS, and gave me the perfect balance, and it was exactly what I needed. It showed me a love for being Jewish, and gave great logic based classes which I truly enjoyed. For the first time in my life I realized that so many things which I thought were Halachos were actually chumras, and it was very comforting to find out there’s a distinction between the two. Then somehow my views changed, and I started appreciating what learning is, and better understood what it means to be a yaarei shamayim.
So now getting back to Kollel, I understand the joy in learning, of finding a chiddush, and finally understanding something. I always loved learning Chumash, it was my favorite subject, with all the Rashi’s and different meforshim, with questions and answers and arguments. I always felt so proud when I was able to figure out Rashi’s question and answer’s and to fit the whole puzzle together so that it made sense. I loved hearing the teacher say “Excellent” to what I said. It felt good when teachers quoted me when I had the right answer. Of course there were times when I was wrong too, but I never let that stop me from guessing.
So anyways, I realized how much joy learning could be, and I understood why men would want to join Kollel for that reason. Imagine being able to fill your mind with so much knowledge a whole day, to learn so much. To figure things out and become enlightened as to how you are supposed to be living your life.
Of course I acknowledge that not everyone can get the same joy out of it, and not everyone can truly appreciate what it is to learn and how it puts you on a high. Some can’t follow along so well, and their brain doesn’t allow them to grasp the material so easily. So for them of course they wouldn’t belong in a Kollel.
I of course still don’t plan on marrying a guy who will only sit and learn and not work, I believe it’s a man’s job to make parnassah and support his family. But yet, because I understand the value of learning and why men would want to choose that way, I would support them, and give tzedaka to help them. I feel that these 2 paths are really connected, there is allowed to be both and both are good, after all there was a yissaschar and zevulan relationship. I used to always use that argument to be for working and against Kollel. But now I’m going to twist it, and say that the working is for the sake of the learning. The main goal is the learning.
As it is, I think the people who do join Kollel, only do it for a short few years after they get married, and then they go to work. My neighbor actually pointed out a pro to this, he said why would you want your husband to be working with immodestly dressed woman during your shana rishonah. So this way when their learning that first year, their mind is on higher things, and their not distracted by what’s out there, and they will be more faithful.
So I don’t think it’s a problem if a man wants to learn in Kollel for a short few years after he gets married, if afterwards he plans to work and support his family. So it won’t be a continuing chain of him leeching. For those that want to spend their whole life in Kollel, they should truly enjoy it, and not just want to sit and schmooze with friends and take coffee breaks all the time. If they are truly into it, then I look up to it as a great thing, and who knows they may become the next gadol hador.