Monday, November 27, 2006

Rambam on Being Paid to Learn or Teach Torah II

(continued from here)

The Rambam wrote in his commentary to Mishnah (Avos 4:7) that one is not permitted to use Torah as a source of income, thereby implictly forbidding accepting a stipend for studying Torah and -- perhaps more radically -- receiving a salary for teaching Torah. And so Rambam ruled later in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhos Talmud Torah 3:10). However, on this issue the Rambam was a lone voice and, even if not, his commentators are pretty clear that even the Rambam would permit it today because the economic environment demands it. As early as the sixteenth century, R. Yosef Karo in his Kessef Mishneh (ad loc.) wrote that the Rambam would agree that the situation demanded setting aside that law because of "Eis la'asos la-Shem" -- it is a time to act for the Lord by setting aside this rule.

However, what I would like to focus on is the talmudic prooftexts that the Rambam brought in his Mishnah commentary to prove his point. The Rambam states that we can see from the actions of the sages that they had gainful employment and did not benefit financially from their Torah knowledge. He cites the following examples:

  1. Hillel worked as a woodcutter (Yoma 35b)
  2. R. Chanina ben Dosa lived on almost no food at all (Berakhos 17b)
  3. Karna [or Rav Huna] was a water carrier (Kesuvos 105a)
  4. Rav Yosef would carry beams and Rav Sheshes worked at a mill [or vice versa]. They said that work is praiseworthy because it warms the body, implying that it is satisfying (Gittin 67b).
The Rashbatz (Responsa 1:142-148) disputed the Rambam's ruling and his proofs. He responded to the above in no. 147:
  1. Hillel only worked as a woodcutter when he was a student but once he became famous he stopped working in that profession.
  2. R. Chanina ben Dosa lived as a pious ascetic. He did not do it based on the law but for extra-pious reasons.
  3. Karna [or Rav Huna] also had a job rather than earn a living from teaching Torah out of piety. He did not consider it required by the law.
  4. Rashi explains that work warms the body, meaning that when one is sick one should work in order to sweat. This says nothing about having a job, just how to cure an illness.
The Kessef Mishneh also arrived at these responses to the Rambam's proofs. He added:
  1. Had R. Chanina wanted to be rich, he could have simply commanded a miracle to occur (cf. Ta'anis 24b-25a).
  2. Karna inspected wine storehouses, which is an easy occupation and not a proof. Rav Huna was a water carrier but, according to Rashi, he carried the barrels to water his own fields. Thus, it was not the respected position of being a landowner.
R. Yosef Kafach, his edition of Mishneh Torah (ad loc., n. 34), responds to these refutations:
  1. There is no evidence to support the claim that Hillel only worked as a woodcutter when he was a young student.
  2. The Rambam certainly would not have taken literally the story about R. Chanina ben Dosa being supported by a miracle.
  3. The Rambam disagreed with Rashi's explanation of that passage and understood that Rav Huna was literally a water carrier.
  4. The Rambam disagreed with Rashi's explanation that they only worked when they needed to cure an illness.
B"n more to come.

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