Last month, I had the privilege – and I do mean privilege – of attending an event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Toronto hosted by the Canadian Friends of Machon Lev, the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), at which an honorary degree was bestowed on John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister.
For the organization, it was a way of showing its deep hakarat hatov and appreciation for Mr. Baird’s unflinching support for the State of Israel and “his role in making Canada an example of international responsibility and morality.”
However, after hearing several speeches, including one given by the president of JCT, Professor Dana-Picard, and seeing a video of what JCT is all about, I realized that the college and Mr. Baird had a special trait in common – both were dedicated to looking out for the future security and wellbeing of Israel’s citizens, Mr. Baird through foreign policy, JCT through education.
JCT in particular is reaching out to Israel’s economically disadvantaged populations – charedi men and women and Ethiopian immigrants, opening the door to higher education and ultimately productive jobs that benefit both worker and Israeli society.
Machon Lev was established over 40 years ago, with the goal of producing young graduates with skills in the engineering, high tech and business management fields – as well as providing a place where religious students could continue their yeshiva education.
No doubt its founder, Professor Ze’ev Lev (William Low), a Vienna-born Israeli physicist and Torah scholar, had taken to heart the wisdom of Rabi Elazar ben Azariah who in Pirkei Avot (3:21) said “Eem ein kemech ein Torah; Eem ein Torah, ein kemach. If there is no flour there can be no Torah and where there is no Torah, there can be no flour.”
The message being conveyed is that without “flour” – without the means to support oneself and family, there cannot be Torah, since poverty and a subsequent lack of food and shelter is a distraction. How can one focus on learning when you or your loved ones are hungry or cold? Likewise earning a living is devoid of meaning without Torah guidance to infuse spiritual values that will elevate your materialism.
However, in recent times the concept of combining work with learning has fallen to the wayside, with full time learning in yeshivas or kollelim being emphasized in many chassidish and yeshivish communities in the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael.
It was suggested to me by a very bright young man (who by coincidence spent a year in Machon Lev’s overseas yeshiva program) that after the Holocaust, there was a crucial need for a mass infusion of Torah learning to make up for the destruction of the great yeshivas, Chassidic courts and Torah centers of Europe and the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews. Hence yeshivas and kollelim slowly sprang up, and over the years gained great momentum so that in a relatively short time, young men were flocking, post high school, to learn – postponing, or totally giving up the idea of going to college or a trade school and eventually going out to work.
This young man feels that at this point in time, we have pretty much regained what was lost and that staying in kollel beyond a year or two should be an option only for genuine, very gifted Talmudic scholars who can then be supported by the community.
The facts on the ground tell us that too many young men are sitting in the beit midrash not being productive in their learning, are not the right “shnit” for intense study, and ultimately end up depending on their overburdened wives and parents/in-laws to provide the necessary kemach.
I recently heard that the “going rate” for a potential son-in law who is in learning full time is over $40,000 annually. A boy will not bother calling a girl on his ‘list” before it is agreed that if there is a marriage, he will be supported for X numbers of years at this rate.