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Friday, July 14, 2006

Sydney’s kollel: a welcome initiative

yossi aron

A KOLLEL is by definition a small graduate-level school catering to students of an extremely high academic level. It differs from a yeshiva in that it involves married students.

The kollel concept in the post-Holocaust era developed in Israel under the guidance of the Chazon Ish and in the United States at the instigation of Rabbi Aaron Kotler who wrote in The Primacy of Torah Study: “The perpetuation of Jewish peoplehood depends on the development and growth of authentic Torah scholars. It is they who transmit our spiritual heritage from generation to generation.

“In this generation, following the destruction of European Jewry, the lofty task of rebuilding what was destroyed and replanting the wasteland has been placed upon world Jewry, which must create a climate of devotion to Torah tradition and total dedication to Torah learning.”

Recent decades have seen kollelim established worldwide by many streams of the Torah-dedicated world. Today, with a kollel located in the heart of a Jewish Diaspora community, its members continue studies under the guidance of distinguished Torah scholars, while both the students and their wives form a close relationship with the host community. Members of the local community join the core of full-time students day and night for group shiurim as well as one-on-one study sessions – the traditional chavruta. Thus intensive scholarship and outreach activity go hand-in-hand.

The financial support for kollelim comes from the local community in the longstanding tradition of Yissachar and Zevulun – the businessman (Zevulun) supports the Torah student (Yissachar), and both share the merit of the Torah study that results.

Melbourne’s first two kollelim – Kollel Menachem Lubavitch and Kollel Beth HaTalmud – were established in 1981. Since then, the Adass community established a kollel, as did the Mizrachi community, in Kollel Torah MiZion.

There is however a difference between Chabad-style kollelim and those like Beth HaTalmud and its new Sydney counterpart whose origins are in the world transplanted from prewar Lithuania into the renowned Beth Medrash Govoha – the Rabbi Aaron Kotler Institute for Advanced learning in Lakewood, New Jersey.

In Chabad communities, kollel members spend a year or two after their marriage in advanced religious study and then move out of kollel life to serve the community through Chabad houses, teaching in educational institutions, occupying synagogue pulpits, providing other services to the religious community, or perhaps engaging in business.

But members of kollelim associated with the stream of Orthodoxy following in the footsteps of the Lithuanian yeshivot tend to make full-time study and the kollel lifestyle a lifelong calling. In all kollelim, the wives of rabbis teach shiurim, as well as being involved in the social life of their communities.

A talmudic adage provides that a city is not worthy of that name unless it has “asara batlanim” – 10 individuals who do nothing else with their time except engage in full-time study. Melbourne achieved this status more than 20 years ago.

This week, Sydney Community Kollel’s rosh, Rabbi Shalom Silberberg, and its head of the management committee, Dr Geoffrey Zeilic, who played a key role its establishment, joined the community in welcoming the initial seven kollel member families to Sydney. The city is to be congratulated on its good fortune in having now joined the ranks of those cities that are leaders of Orthodoxy on the world stage. May the new kollel have much hatzlacha as Torah learning in Sydney goes mechayil el chayil – from strength to strength.

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