Tuesday, June 24, 2008

age discrimination in Kollel

A Guest Post by Rafi G.

(cross posted from Life in Israel blog)

Mishpacha magazine recently ran an article about the Kollel system and how their is a growing phenomenon of kollel's rejecting older students. Once someone hits middle age, usually around 40 or so, his spot in any given kollel is at risk.

The article described how Rosh Kollel's consider these men to be difficult to hold for a number of reasons. The main issue was sphere of influence. Rosh Kollels want to have influence on the guys learning in their kollels, and that is more possible with younger guys than older guys. Also older guys stick to the kollel schedule less. And older guys want more flexibility to learn their preferred material rather than that mandated by the kollel. Also there is the sense that if the guy is sitting in kollel for so long, he must not be successful - otherwise he would have started his own kollel or yeshiva.

A more thorough review of the article was written by bluke.

In light of the article, Wolf wrote a post asking what the point of kollel is. If it is to produce gedolim, than kollel should be scaled down and only be for the elite and top learners, and not for the masses like it is. And if it is just to have lots of people, as many as possible, sitting and learning Torah, no matter at what level, than why should a Rosh Kollel care how old the fellow is?

Kollel is clearly not for the the purpose of creating gedolim. Some specific kollels might have that goal, and some might have the goal of creating teachers and Rosh yeshivas.

In general though, kollel is for the purpose of learning Torah. The more kollels there are, the more people are able to learn Torah.

That does not mean every kollel is appropriate for every avreich. Just like not every yeshiva is appropriate for every yeshiva student. Some will learn better in a larger yeshiva, some in a smaller yeshiva. Some will want one that studies in a certain style, some in another style.

It is true of any institution of learning. Some will select one medical , and others will select a different one. And so on and so forth.

The same is with Kollel. One Kollel is good for this person and a different one is good for someone else. The Rosh Kollel has to be discerning with whom he accepts, and not just open his doors to the masses.

Another issue is that the Rosh Kollel puts in a lot of effort to maintaining a kollel. Every Rosh Kollel has levels and styles he wants to adhere to. A certain type of learning. Specific materials studied. Studying at a certain level of depth. etc.

The Rosh Kollel goes out fund raising to maintain the kollel. He deals with the government issues and the army issues. He deals with logistics. He prepares shiurim and directs them in their learning. All so his group of guys he has put together can sit and learn.

The Rosh Kollel puts all that effort into his kollel and his avreichim because he wants it to run a certain way - the way that he sees best.

If someone is not appropriate for this kollel, he can find a kollel that is more appropriate. For this Rosh Kollel, such a person is baggage using up resources that he works hard to obtain.

So if a Rosh Kollel decides, and the article says this is becoming common, that the older avreich is not appropriate for his kollel, I understand that.

Age discrimination is illegal in the workplace. But kollel is not, and has never been, compared to the general workforce. While I feel bad for these older guys with the problem, I understand the Rosh Kollel's point of view.

What would really be interesting to see is if someone would sue a kollel for age discrimination. I wonder how the courts, or even a beis din, would relate to kollels. Would they consider kollel equal to the workforce and be obligated under the general labor laws and therefore not be allowed to discriminate, or would they say it is a place of learning and not a work place and therefore allow the Rosh Kollel to be more discerning (i.e. discriminating).

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