Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi #3

Become a Supporter Library Library

Ask the Rabbi

December 12, 1993; Issue #3

This publication is also available in the following formats: [Text Format] [Acrobat Format] [Microsoft Word Format]
Explanation of these symbols | Subscription Information |

  • How can people justify studying Torah all the time?
  • Subscription Information
  • Back issues are indexed both by issue no. and by subject
  • Ohr Somayach Home Page

  • How can people justify studying Torah all the time?

    Confused from Jerusalem asks:

    Dear Rabbi,

    I was told that according to Jewish law a person must work for a living. If so, how do those people who only study Torah all day justify their lifestyles?

    Dear Confused,

    At first glance it seems that what you were told is correct. Maimonides paints a grim picture for one who relies on charity to support full-time Torah study.

    "Anyone who decides to study Torah and not work, making his living from charity, desecrates Hashem's name , disgraces the Torah ...and any Torah that is not accompanied by work will lead to it's own undoing and cause sin....

    However, in a different statement, Maimonides appears to contradict himself. He teaches the Tribe of Levi has a special dispensation from earning a living from their own labor, and he adds:

    "And not only the Tribe of Levi, but any person whose spirit moves him to separate himself and stand before Hashem, to serve Him in order to know Him...behold he has become sanctified as the Holy of Holies, and Hashem becomes his portion, his inheritance for ever. And He will provide his basic necessities for him in this world, as with the Kohanim and Levi'im..."

    The "Brisker Rav" resolves this apparent contradiction by suggesting that these are the two lifestyles that the Talmud teaches:

    Rabbi Yishmael emphasizes the verse "And you shall gather your grain" that the study of Torah is to be accompanied by earning a livelihood. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, however, contends that "when Israel does the Will of Hashem, others will do her work..." The Sage Abaye concludes that "many did like Rav Yishmael and succeeded; as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and did not succeed."

    The Brisker Rav explains that Abaye is saying to choose your own path - but Rabbi Yishmael's is the path for the masses. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's approach "works" for only a few, determined individuals. The first statement of Maimonides is directed toward the masses. The average person's commitment will not stand up to the demand of full-time Torah. The second statement is relevant to the individual who is able to fulfill such a commitment.

    Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (Rama) quotes Maimonides' first statement, that encourages earning a livelihood. He notes, however, that there are dissenting views, and that their opinion is the one that "all places in Israel" have adopted.

    Rabbi Israel Meir Kagen (Chofetz Chaim) rules that even the Rambam would agree that nowadays one may learn full-time., since it is so difficult for someone to simultaneously devote himself to a livelihood and also master the Torah.


    • Maimonides, "Yad Hachazaka", Talmud Torah, 3:10.
    • Ibid., Laws of Shemita and Yovel, 13:13.
    • Rabbi Yitzchak Ze'ev Soloveichik (Brisker Rav), "Maran R.Y.Z. on the Torah", Parshat Chayei Sarah.
    • Talmud, Tractate Brachot 35b.
    • Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Talmud Torah, 246:21.
    • Rabbi Israel Meir Kagen (Chofetz Chaim), "Mishna Brura", Laws of Brachot 231:1 (in the Biur Halacha).

    © 1993 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved. This publication may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue newsletters. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission, and then send us a sample issue.

    This publication is available via E-Mail
    Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students.

    The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.

    Ohr Somayach's Web site is hosted by TeamGenesis

    Copyright © 1993 Ohr Somayach International. Send us Feedback.
    Dedication opportunities are available for Ask The Rabbi. Please contact us for details.
    Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.