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A kolel or kollel (Hebrew: כולל, pl. כוללים, kolelim, a "gathering" or "collection" [of scholars]) is an institute for full-time, advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature. Like a yeshiva, a kolel features shiurim (lectures) and learning sedarim (learning sessions); unlike a yeshiva, the student body of a kolel are virtually all married men. Kolels generally pay a regular monthly stipend to their members.
Originally, the word was used in the sense of "community". Each new group of Jews, who came from various European countries to settle in Palestine, established their own separate community with their own support system. Each community was referred to as the kolel of ... to identify the specific community of the Old Yishuv. The overwhelming majority of these Jews were scholars, who left their homelands to devote themselves to study Torah and serve God for the rest of their lives. The kolel was the umbrella organization for all their needs.
The first examples were Kolel Perushim who were the students of the Vilna Gaon, and who established the first Ashkenasi Jewish settlement in Jerusalem, Colel Chabad for the Russian Hasidim. The Polish Jews were divided into many Kolelim; Kolel Polen(Poland) headed by Rabbi Chaim Elozor Wax; Kolel Vilna Zamość was under different leadership; and the Galicians were incorporated under Kolel Chibas Yerushalayim. The last initially included the entire Austro-Hungarian Kingdom, but as each subparty looking for more courteous distribution, the Hungarians separated into Kolel Shomrei HaChomos.
The first "kolel" in the Jewish diaspora was the Kovno Kollel, the modern sense of the term, the "Kolel Perushim" founded in Kovno in 1877. It was founded by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, and directed by Rabbi Isaac Blaser. The ten students were required to separate from their families, except for the Sabbath, and devote themselves to studying for the Rabbinate. There was a four-year limit on one's membership in the kolel.
Two people can be considered to have spearheaded the kolel philosophy and outgrowth in today's world - Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the founder of Beth Medrash Govoha, America's largest yeshiva located in Lakewood, New Jersey, and Rabbi Elazar Shach, one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community in Israel until his death in 2001. The community kolel movement was also fostered by Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools.
Currently, the term is applied in America to any stipend given for yeshiva study and is now a general term for the yeshivah approach to life.
The unique philosophy of the kolel, in which members are subsisting entirely on support from others, is part of an overall philosophy of some Orthodox Jews, that God desires that the children of Israel primarily occupy themselves in this world with the study of His Torah, and gave certain Jews more of a propensity to work with the intention that they should support the 'learners'. In orthodox Judaism this has become known as the 'Yissachar-Zebulun' partnership, after the Midrashic legend that the tribe of Zevulun financially supported the tribe of Issachar so that they could occupy themselves with Torah study. The reward of the supporter in the World-To-Come is seen to be equal to that of the scholar's reward.
In the late 20th century, "community kolels" were introduced. They are an Orthodox outreach tool, aimed to decrease assimilation and propagate Orthodox Judaism among the wider Jewish population. In the early 1990s "community" kolelim (or kolels) in North America were functioning in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Detroit; a kolel was also established in Montreal. Other examples of successful community kolelim include kolelim in Dallas; St. Louis, Missouri; Minneapolis; Atlanta; Seattle; Pittsburgh;Las Vegas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Phoenix, Arizona.
In the past years about 30 Haredi "community kolelim" in North America have been opened by yeshiva-trained scholars to serve, in addition to the full-time study by the members of the kolel, as centers for adult education and outreach to the Jewish communities in which they located themselves. Topics include everything from basic Hebrew to advanced Talmud. In addition to imparting Torah knowledge, such kolels function to impart technical skills required for self-study.
Most Kolels have a scholar as a Rosh Kollel who is the head of the kolel. He decides on the subject matter studied by the kolel. In many cases he spends a lot of time fund-raising to support the kolel. Many kolels employ former students (also known as avrechim, or אברכים, sing. avrech/אברך) as fundraisers, often giving them euphemistic titles such as "Executive Director" or "Director of Community Programming". Fundraising projects include sponsorships of specific events or "day(s) of learning", and many kolels are savvy users of social media for fundraising purposes. (For example, some kolels have recently released fundraising videos that attempt to capitalize on concern for the terror attacks in Israel as motivation for financial support for the kolel.)
Many Orthodox Jewish yeshiva students study in kolel for a year or two after they get married, whether or not they will pursue a rabbinic career. Modest stipends or the salaries of their wives and the increased wealth of many families have made kolel study commonplace for yeshiva graduates. The largest U.S. kolel is at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, with over 4,500 kolel scholars attached to the yeshiva which is 6500 strong in total. Large kolels also exist in Ner Israel Rabbinical College, numbering 180 scholars, and in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, with over 100 scholars. In the Israeli Haredi Jewish community thousands of men study full-time for many years in hundreds of kolelim.
Kolel has been known at times to cause a great deal of friction with the secular Israeli public at large, and garnering criticism from the Modern Orthodox, non-Orthodox and secular Jewish community. The Haredi community defends this practice with the argument that Judaism must cultivate Torah scholarship in the same way that the secular academic world does, no matter how high the costs may be financially in the short run, in the long run the Jewish people will benefit from the large number of learned laymen, scholars, and rabbis.
Yeshiva students who learn in kolel often go on to become rabbis, poskim ("decisors" of Jewish law), or teachers of Talmud and Judaism. Others enter the world of business and are now in the position to support others while still setting aside time for their own learning.
- "Bereshit Rabbah 99:9".
- Ferziger, Adam F. (2006). "The Emergence of the Community Kolel: A new model for addressing assimilation" (PDF). The Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish Vitality, Bar Ilan University. Retrieved February 2010.
- Helmreich, W. The World of the Yeshiva (The Free Press, 1982), p. 261
- The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry William B. Helmreich, KTAV Publishing House; ISBN 0-88125-641-2; Augmented edition (February 2000)
- The way we were before our destruction: Lives of Jewish students from Vilna who perished during the Holocaust Yulian I. Rafes, VIA Press ; YIVO Institute for Jewish Research; ISBN 1-885563-06-X; (July 1, 1998)