May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Bava Batra 21. These are some highlights.
Bava Batra 21: In a small community, should kollel families start a new Beit Yaakov for their daughters or should they send them to the community school?
Rav Yaakov Weinberg, z”l, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael of Baltimore, derived a powerful lesson from our daf.
Our Gemara teaches that initially Torah education was done in the way Hashem mandated in the verse. Hashem said, “And you shall teach them to your sons.” You yourselves should be the teachers. The best way to teach Torah is for the father to lovingly impart Torah to his sons. Initially, that is what was done. Fathers taught their sons. There was a problem. There were orphans who did not have fathers who would teach them. The community set up a center of learning in the holy city of Jerusalem in fulfillment of the verse “For from Zion Torah shall emerge and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” Orphans were still left out. Only those with fathers would be brought to Jerusalem. The orphans had no one to bring them there. They set up yeshivot in the districts. When boys matured and could travel on their own, at age 16 or 17, they would travel to the district school. This also did not work well. Students who begin to learn as adolescents might reject the discipline and pressure their teachers attempt to bring on them to get them to learn. Yehoshua Ben Gamla, the high priest, solved the problem with an important enactment. He instituted that in every locale the community had to make a yeshiva for the children to study in it.
Asked Rav Weinberg, but what about all the children who had fathers and who could have had the ideal form of Torah instruction? Why were these children to lose out on the personal touch and instead have to attend a local school to enable the orphans to study? Rav Weinberg answered that this Gemara teaches us an important lesson. Hashem gave His Torah to the Jewish nation. To succeed in Hashem’s Torah we need Hashem’s help. We only get His support when we demonstrate care for all the members of His nation. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Gamla taught a great principle. If the majority would learn well, but a minority would not learn at all, the learning of the majority would not last or succeed. Each individual will only succeed if the community as a whole is succeeding. Better that all learn on a lower level, but all learn, than to have some learn at a higher level with others not learning at all. As Jews, we have an awesome responsibility to ensure that all Jewish children gain a Jewish education.
Some small towns in the U.S. are blessed with groups of idealistic Torah families who learn in a center for adult study, a kollel. Sometimes these small communities only have a small day school. It is a community school. Some of the children come from observant homes. Others come from homes that do not observe Torah law. The kollel families might grow. They might want to start their own school. In the school they will teach their children at a high level. However, were they to start their school, they would pull their kids from the community school. The community school might not survive the exodus of the students. Many of the children from the non-observant families would not attend the kollel’s Beit Yaakov. They would not be willing to challenge their children with such high Torah standards. Without a community school they might send their children to secular schools. Educators brought this scenario to Rav Weinberg. Should the kollel families start a school for their children if it might cause the collapse of the community school that serviced more kids?
Rav Weinberg felt that our Gemara provided an unequivocal answer to this question. The kollel families should not start their own school. They should keep their children in the communal school. We need Hashem’s help to succeed in raising observant children. Hashem helps those who help His children. The kollel families should stay in the communal school. In the merit of their keeping the communal school open Hashem would surely bless them with success. If the community was large enough to sustain two schools, and the breakaway would not cause the collapse of the communal school, then Rav Weinberg permitted the kollel families to start separate schools for their children.
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.