The Bnei Yissachar, Horav Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro, zl, cites (Takanos Tamchin D’Oraisa) Chazal (Bava Basra 21a) who credit Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Gamla with being the innovator of universal Torah education for all children. He was concerned for orphans who had no parent to teach them Torah. He set up Torah teachers in every province and district so that all children, regardless of parents or financial ability, would be availed Torah instruction. Chazal laud him for having ensured that the Jewish People would not forget the Torah. In the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 245:7, it is ruled that communal monies may be used to provide Torah instruction for all children, to the point that members of the community may be taxed to fulfill this responsibility.
The Bnei Yissachar observes that while one fulfills the Biblical injunction of V’limadetem osam es bneichem by teaching Torah to one’s own child, he does not execute the Rabbinic command unless he provides for the instruction of all children – rich or poor. He adds that once Rabbi Yehoshua enacted his decree concerning universal Torah education, it underscored the Biblical mitzvah to the point that unless one provides Torah education for all children, he does not fulfill his personal Biblical mitzvah of V’limadetem osam es bneichem. Torah education that does not reach all aspects of the Jewish community is deficient in fulfilling the mitzvah.
This idea is based upon a ruling made by the Pri Megadim in his pesichah, preface, to Orach Chaim (3:78) where he states that if Chazal have added chumros, stringencies – which they feel enhances the mitzvah – one is not yotzei, does not fulfill his Biblical obligation unless he follows the Rabbinic enhancements. By adding their Rabbinic stringencies to the Biblical commandment, Chazal have altered the criteria from Biblical fulfillment, since the Torah commands us to follow Rabbinic interpretation. Therefore, since Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla entered his innovation into the mitzvah’s criteria, one must see to it that all children study Torah. Otherwise, he has not fulfilled the Biblical command of V’limadetam.
Horav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, zl, concurs that the mitzvah of V’limadetam demands universal education in order to fulfill (even) the Biblical command, but for a different reason. He quotes Ramban in his commentary in Devarim 33:14 concerning the pasuk, Torah tzivah lanu Moshe, morashah Kehillas Yaakov, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov.” Ramban observes the Torah choice of the word kehillas, congregation, over bais, house (bais Yaakov), or zera, seed/children (of Yaakov). He suggests this alludes to the Torah’s inclusion of not merely those born to Jewish parents, but all Jews, every Jew who joins the Jewish nation, accepting its mitzvos and living according to its traditions. Torah is the inheritance of all those who enter under the halachic rubric of Judaism. Torah for the kahal, congregation, includes converts.
With this in mind, Rav Teichtal posits that if Torah is the possession of the congregation, it should be the responsibility of each and every Jew to see to it that every member of the Jewish kahal have access to it, even if he has no father to teach him. How is this achieved? How do we see to it that every member of the kehillah receives a Jewish education? We follow Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla’s precedent. He showed us the way by providing Torah teachers in every Jewish community. It is insufficient to reach out only to individuals, since the Torah is a “group” inheritance, not an individual bequest. Thus, it behooves us to think outside of our self-proclaimed “box”, and view all Jewish children as being part of our extended family, because – when all is said and done – they are.