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The Gemara (Bava Basra 10b-11a) records a story in which the mother of the king of Persia offered donations to two great yeshivos. Rabbi Ami turned down the gift for his yeshiva, while Rava accepted the one for his.

Rabbi Ami was upset and sent Rava a message, “Don’t you know that the prophet Yeshaya said she will break when her harvest dries up?” In other words, don’t you know that Moshiach will only come when the merits of the nations keeping us in exile dry up? By accepting money from government for your yeshivah, you’re confering merit upon the nations they lead, allowing them to endure longer, which delays the advent of Moshiach.


The Gemara concludes that Rava agreed with Rav Ami but thought the Persian king might take offense if his mother’s largesse was spurned. So Rava took the money but did not use it for his yeshiva. Instead, he established a fund for indigent non-Jews. Although Persia gained the merit of charity as a result, it didn’t gain the far more potent merit of supporting Torah.

The teacher who first taught me this Gemara at age 12 or 13 was the late Rabbi Shimon Groner, a passionate rebbe at Yeshiva Mesivta Chaim Berlin. And it had an outsize impact on me. Imagine! The Jewish people can reach a point where they are ready for redemption. After thousands of years, enduring every imaginable privation, we are ready to open the door to the World of the Future. The stage is set for Moshiach. Yet, despite the king fully dressed for his grand entrance, word comes of a delay, possibly of long duration.

Why? The nations have bought themselves a reprieve by delivering money into the accounts of Torah institutions. Jewish schools gain a few bucks while Jewish redemption is set back a few years.

The horror of this vision grew on me as I went through the yeshiva system and saw that this prohibition was honored in the breach rather than the observance. Yeshivahs were lining up in front of government offices begging for cash – the more the merrier. Jewish communal organizations called celebratory dinners to announce new subsidies, new stipends, patting themselves on the back so loudly that the plaintive moan of Moshiach was drowned out.

I doubted myself: Was I the crazy one? Why am I alone in a wilderness of torment while everyone else laughs all the way to the bank?

The truth is that the Rambam cites an exception to the prohibition against taking government money. He says a yeshiva may accept government help if it has no other way to stay afloat. Until 1980, I told myself it was permitted for post-Holocaust yeshivahs – in a country where the Orthodox comprise a minuscule percentage of the Jewish community – to consider the financial condition of Orthodox Jewry a state of emergency, which would allow them to rely on the Rambam’s exemption.

It was in this context that I saw the election of Ronald Reagan. Yaakov Rajchenbach, a great Chicago philanthropist, may have thought I was nuts at the time, but I sat in his car before the November 1980 election and laid out for him what was happening:

“Reagan will win,” I said, “because Hashem is ushering in a new era for the Jewish people and its institutions. Reagan believes in the Kemp tax cuts, and he will get them passed in Congress despite the Democrat majorities. Instead of paying 70 percent of your income in taxes, you will pay about 40 percent. You and other wealthy Jews will literally double the amount of money you make a year. This will give us enough money to support our own institutions with dignity, without taking handouts from the government.”

My vision of a grand new prosperity for Orthodox Jewry was realized. The Kemp tax cuts were passed by August of 1981, zipping through both Houses of Congress in days. The top tax rate went from 70 percent to 28 percent, from where it has since inched its way back up to 37 percent.

Yet, with all that new infusion of money, there was no sign of organizations stopping to knock on government doors. On the contrary, now they had bigger budgets for lobbying efforts, and there was more money than ever to request. These entities that claim to operate on the wisdom of Torah continued to honor Democrats who wrote them checks from other people’s money. They never dreamed of honoring Reagan or Kemp who freed up billions that Jews could earn from their own toil.

Another other exemption from the Gemara’s law comes from the Taz, who says that any subsidy the government gives equally to all schools may be accepted by Torah schools as well. I begged one organization to limit itself to lobbying only for vouchers for all low-income children, and its founder said some positive words which I took as agreement.

Other than that, I have never heard any organization lay out the halachic rationale on which it bases its activities. (A friend once challenged the late Rav Beinish Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Mir in Jerusalem and a grandson of the Alter of Slabodka, for taking money for his yeshiva from the secular government of Israel. He replied, “American yeshivahs are holding back Moshiach by giving merits to non-Jews while I bring him closer by giving merits to Jews!”)

To me, the issue seems simple enough. Safek Moshiach l’chumra! If there is any chance at all that we are giving non-Jews the ability to dominate us for longer and to delay the redemption of the entire world, what amount of money is worth it?

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Yaakov Dovid Homnick is the author of 20 sefarim on Shas, most recently “Marbeh Beracha” on Maseches Brachos. As “Jay D. Homnick,” he is the former deputy editor of The American Spectator and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research in Washington D.C.