The Sad Collapse

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What have we created with the kollel system and lack of secular studies? The only surprise is that anyone is surprised at this economic collapse of this unsustainable system. The long-term answer is not charity or government assistance because that, too, will eventually collapse. The answer is teaching the skills necessary to acquire well-paying jobs and creating a social environment where parents are applauded for providing for their children.

According to reports, this video was shown at the Agudah convention, presumably to encourage philanthropy. Philanthropists should be mobilized to soften the humanitarian crisis but the full problem can only be rectified by changing the communal attitude.


About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. The problem is more far reaching. Even those now receiving training in segregated charedi schools insist upon working in segregated work environments that 95% of Israeli business cannnot afford and should not undertake. Twenty segregated charedi women in a high tech in modiin is not a success, it is a long term suicide. The monastic existence still cannot find a way to interact with the secular world, even in business.

  2. A) This issue of prevalent poverty of Torah scholars only applies to the situation in Eretz Yisroel and not in America.

    B) It isn’t a new problem in EY.

    C) It has recently been exacerbated by the cut in State funding.

    • A) That’s not true at all. In the town in which I grew up (in the Midwest, not N.Y.), most Yeshivah/Kollel families are on food stamps, WIC and other government assistance. America has more money than Israel, and Charedim are a far smaller percentage of the population, so it’s not as noticeable a hit on the economy.

      B) True, but Israel’s economy is contingent on growth, and the only growth these days is the population of Charedim on welfare.

      C) Again, true, but sometimes you have to cut off a limb to save the body. If the State never cut funding, it would face eventual collapse. I doubt enough has been done to avert it even now, but it’s certainly not wise to do nothing at all.

  3. From 1998-2011, Israel government expenditures, as a fraction of GDP, dropped from 54.7% to 44.6%. In the US the ratio went from 34.6% to 41.7% . Israel is not country whose government spends a high fraction of its GDP. Israel is probably the only developed country that faces a serious existential security threat and therefore does spend more on defense (as a fraction of GDP) than other countries.

    Israel does not spend money on most government services. For better or worse it has changed its ideology in the past 35 years. For example, I am aware that public schools including mamlachti dati can have more than 35 children per class. I suspect that many of the convention registrants at Agudah are not in favor of increased US taxes to take care of poor Americans-here they are complaining that secular Israelis do not want to pay more to support able bodied young people who choose to learn in Kollel rather than work.

  4. The cuts in government funding didn’t cause the insustainability; the insustainability led to the cuts in government funding. The government simply didn’t have enough money, and it cut almost everything, including critical army training and lots more, and raised sales tax (VAT), and cut child subsidies for all citizens, and more. The numbers of people collecting tzedaka door to door had skyrocketed before the government cuts. The government cuts were an attempt to bring a solution by motivatjng chadorim and yeshivos to give the bare minimum of secular studies like is done in America.

  5. Gil:
    This is hardly a chiddush. Of course, the chickens have come home to roost. The purpose of this presentation is continued and escalated philanthropy. The Israeli government has always been a scapegoat for the collapse, in an incremental way over the years. Now, with Yesh Atid, it is quite easy. The typical American Agudist (more recently told to identify as “Chareidi”) who shows up to such gatherings is for the most part college educated and working. Somehow they are being convinced that what Dov Lipman and Yesh Atid are proposing (3-4 hours a week of secular studies) is a full-throttle assault on Torah and Mesorah. If they have a moment of intellectually honest contemplation, they will of course realize dissonance—inasmuch as they themselves would not be OK with even double that amount for the chinuch of own children. The only real way to reconcile this is that there is somehow an acceptable double-standard for Israel and America. This distinction of course has no precedent in any traditional sources prior to 1980.

    The victimization complex perpetrated at gatherings like this formulates the narrative as a political vendetta against Chareidim and a Torah lifestyle. While convenient, this totally deflects the attention away from Chazal, Halacha and Hashakafa which has always favored personal financial autonomy within a Torah context. This was the worldview which informed the aforementioned American Agudists during their formidable years. And this is what allows them to attend such a convention and engage in philanthropy.

    Lest anyone think that the marginalization of Secular Studies is limited to the Chareidi community in Israel, the consequences of this trend in American Yeshivish communities over the past 30 years is palpable. It starts with younger grades. The outcomes are often similar regardless of whether the schools are Lakewood Yeshivish or Torah U’Mesorah. The world has moved ahead and fundamentally changed. The preparedness for that world has been sorely absent, with the assumption that despite the new normal of hishtadlus, people will figure things out. The results have been a combination of underemployment and young people looking elsewhere for formulae of financial independence. The American Agudist has no doubt seen this first hand among his children and grandchildren–for whom he must both live and work until he is 120.

  6. If you can’t see the video above, it is available on YouTube here:

  7. The Israeli Govt wont let Charedim succeed in the work . If they do they will resent it and blame the charedim for being too rich.

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