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A kollel (Hebrew: כולל‎ "a gathering/collection [of scholars]") (plural: kollelim) is an institute for advanced studies of the Talmud and of rabbinic literature for Jewish men, essentially a post-graduate yeshiva which pays married men a regular monthly stipend or annual salary (and/or provides housing and meals) to study Judaism's classic texts in depth.


Original sense

Originally, the word was used to identify the support organizations of the Yishuv haYashan, which were scholars who went up to spend the rest of their life with devotion to God. The Kollel was the umbrella organization for all their needs.

The first examples were Colel Chabad for the Russian Hasidim and Kolel Perushim for the non-Hasidic. The Polish Jews were divided into many Kollelim; Kollel Warschau, headed by Rabbi Chaim Elozor Wax; Kollel Vilna Zamutch was under different leadership; and the Galicians were incorporated under Kolel Chibas Yerushalayim. The last initially included the entire Austrian Hungarian Kingdom, but as each subpparty looking for more courteous distribution, the Hungarians separated into Kolel Shomrei HaChomos.

Modern sense

The first "kollel" in the Jewish diaspora was the Kovno Kollel, the modern sense of the term, the "Kollel 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 kollel.

The advocate for the modern sense of the kollel was Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the founder of Beth Medrash Govoha, America's largest yeshiva located in Lakewood, NJ. The community kollel 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. Even those engaged in outreach work, teaching, or administration can be said to be "in kollel" as long as they are financially dependent on a yeshivah.

With the rise of the kollel movement, members spending increased time on adult education, the term is increasingly becoming a generic synonym, in popular usage, for Torah classes.

American kollel

In the early 1970s kollelim were functioning in Los Angeles, California; Toronto, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan Other examples of successful community kollelim include kollelim in Dallas, Texas;St. Louis, Missouri; Atlanta, Georgia; Seattle, Washington; and Phoenix, Arizona.

In the past 30 years about 50 Haredi "community kollelim" in North America have been opened by yeshiva-trained scholars as centers for adult education and outreach to the Jewish communities in which they located themselves. The activities of these institutions have caused Jewish communal leaders to look seriously at the need for adult Jewish education and to address this need with more extensive programming, including sincere and successful efforts at reaching out to the unaffiliated Jewish community.

A kollel is primarily an institute for advanced Talmudic and/or Halakhic study, often attached to an established advanced yeshiva in a large Orthodox community that is devoted purely to studies by advanced Talmudic scholars.

In contrast, a "community kollel," connotes the inclusion of a community education outreach program. Topics include everything from basic Hebrew to advanced Talmud. In addition to imparting Torah knowledge, such kollels function to impart technical skills required for self-study.

Across the United States, community kollelim are a combination of classes in Talmud or Talmud study in havruta geared as outreach to the unaffiliated Jewish community.

Most Kollels have a scholar as a Rosh Kollel who is the head of the Kollel. He decides on the subject matter studied by the Kollel. In many cases he spends a lot of time fund-raising to support the Kollel.

Many Orthodox Jewish yeshiva students study in kollel 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 kollel study commonplace for yeshiva graduates. The largest U.S. kollel is at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, with over 1500 kollel scholars attached to the yeshiva which is 4700 strong in total, large kollels also exist in Ner Israel Rabbinical College numbering 180 scholars and in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin of over 100 scholars. In the Israeli Haredi Jewish community thousands of men study full-time for many years in hundreds of kollelim.

Kollel 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 Kollel often go on to become rabbis, poskim ("decisors" of Jewish law), or teachers of Talmud and Judaism.

Reform and Conservative Judaism

A minute number of kollelim have been opened by those affiliated with Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. In the non-Orthodox Jewish community a kollel is an adult-education program or center that has courses available on Talmud, Midrash, learning Hebrew, Jewish ethics and related topics; less emphasis is given to Talmud.

See also

External links


  • 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)