Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

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41 Responses

  1. Y. Ben-David says:

    Unfortunately, the polemics used by the Haredi communtiy are contradictory and damaging their campaign. Sometimes they do use the “Torah study” argument like we see outlined here. Sometimes they say that they don’t use this argument, but instead claim their lifestyle precludes them from mixing with non-Haredi people. Other times they say simply that “they want to be left alone as they always have”.
    Actually, the “Torah study” argument seems to include the idea that that all Haredi men are involved in full-time Torah study, but everyone knows that is not true. People ask why someone who isn’t studying Torah full-time can’t serve the country like most others do. Then the “lifestyle” argument is brought out. The problem with this is that the new law indeed allows young men to continue studying and delaying IDF indcution until they are older and probably married with children which then reduces their time of service considerably. It even allows a number of top scholars to be permanently exempted from service. This is the first time that Torah study is specifically defined by the state as a form of service along with military service.. The argument then is that even older people will then be negatively affected by contact with outsiders. This strikes an odd chord because it is a direct implication that Haredi education is ineffectual because the inherent assumption is that any Haredi who comes in contact with non-Haredim will immediately throw out everything they have learned and is a frank admission that the Haredi lifestyle can only be perpetuated through coercion. Natioma; service under Haredi auspices has been proposed in order to get around the “lifestyle” problem in addition to special Haredi untis in the IDF which meet their religious criteria.
    Finally, the “wanting to be left alone” argument can then be turned on its head by secular Israelis demanding that the Haredim leave THEM alone, and no longer demand that people get married only through the Rabbinate, that bus transportation and business be allowed to operate on Shabbat, that Hametz be sold legally on Pesach and that non-kosher meat be imported, all of which are prohibited up until now by religious legislation that the Haredi parties have insisted on over the years.
    It is for these reasons that show the arguments the Haredim have used can be refuted that the public has finally demanded that reforms in this area be implemented.
    It is not simply “demagoguery” by Lapid, this is a real issue that has been ulcerating for decades and the public wants something to be done. In spite of the vitriol being directed at the legislations and those who have supported it, great concessions were made to the Haredim, including allowing a delay in conscription of Haredi young men and speical Haredi national service frameworks.
    It is time the Haredi community look at this soberly and to see how it can benefit them by making its young men who are not cut out to be scholars to be more productive members of society which will benefit first and foremost the Haredi community itself.

  2. YS says:

    “No one is going to argue that when the geo-political situation is such that there is an imminent danger that all available people should go out to protect the nation.”

    With all due respect, I have one question. Why?

    This statement alone makes it pretty clear that you and the Gedolim/Roshei Yeshiva/Poskim you quoted don’t really believe that that learning is as important to the physical welfare of the Jewish people as soldiering.

    It’s pretty clear, particularly in view of the above-quoted sentence, that the midrashim you quoted (which, anyway, refer mostly to Talmidei Chachamim and not just anyone who wants to learn) and statements made more recently by some of our leaders, were almost metaphorical statements, meant to emphasize the tremendous importance of learning. Klal Yisrael must be learning Torah, but this in no way means that someone who is learning Nezikin is actually providing the security of someone who is physically defending the country. And this is without even getting into the obvious point that one group is risking their lives to protect the country and the other is not.

  3. joel rich says:

    I’m pretty sure that the Manhattan Project was not staffed based on a random group of folks self selecting to join up for that duty. I’m also pretty sure that the freely elected leadership of the country made the decisions as to where resources were allocated and in what amount.
    KT
    Joel Rich

  4. Confused says:

    Certain sectors of our community firmly believe that learning Torah is what is protecting the State of Israel from her enemies. Why then are these demonstrations and essays needed?
    Why does learning work to protect the Israel from the surrounding Arab armies that want to drive its inhabitants into the sea but does nothing to protect against “shmad” decrees from an “evil” government.

  5. Abe says:

    A few thoughts/questions (I truly do not know the answers to some of these questions (though I think I can guess as to some of the answers I readily recognize they are just guesses) – and if I don’t I am quite sure the average Israeli does not). Others I ask rhetorically – I certainly don’t have the answers but I think asking these questions would be a step towards re-building bridges that are breaking down.

    1. The author recognizes that there is unfortunately a lack of hakaras hatov for the soldiers on the part of some who are beneficiaries of their bravery . . .and holy role. Does the author feel that there is sufficient effort placed by those Haredim (most I would think) who do feel hakaras hatov, in making sure the chayalim and the society in general knows it. Because to non-Haredi outsiders it often looks like the more extreme elements are the ones who speak for all in their contempt for the State and Chayalim. Conversely, since the author further recognizes that the average non-charedi Israeli has not likely been steeped in the same level of ki hem chayenu veorech yamenu, and so as they send their sons out to battle, is it not understandable that they look askance and even feel bitterness that their neighbors are not contributing in that way? And whose responsibility should it be to explain that to the public b’nachas so that it can be understood and accepted? What does the author think about claims of anti-Charedi bias in this regard? Can a secular Jew not raised in the same Torah environment be blamed for resenting the current situation? Do the yeshivas make an effort to instill hakaras hatov for the soldiers and medina in the talmidim? Would doing so be bittul Torah?

    2. Do Haredim learning full time treat that learning as seriously as army service? During wartime do they sit in the beis medrash night and day (I recall a story of a Rosh Hayeshiva-I don’t recall who, who was makpid that his talmidim do this). At all times is their a cadre of talmidim on duty learning Torah equivalent to the number of soldiers on active duty on the borders and Yehuda Vshomron (maybe there is?). are their repercussions for a talmid who goes AWOL?
    What happens during bain hazmanim? How many talmidim are on duty in the besi medrash full time even during the chagim (which is of course one of the hardest times for those soldiers who cannot go home). would the Haredi talmidim be willing to spend bain hazemanim at army bases being mechazek the soldiers? Are there widespread objective standards which a talmid must meet to remain in a yeshiva in lieu of army service? Is every talmid examined to determine whther he would best be in a full time yeshiva program, or perhaps regardless of background, some are better suited to a hesder type program) seems to me that type of calculus is recognized by the supporters of all haredi brigades (thought hose differ from hesder)

    3. Id their is R”L a level a national emergency Milchemes Mitzva, in which “everyone should go to war” how will these untrained yeshiva students contribute -maybe they should take some basic training during bain hazmanim? Further, why is it that in a national emergency we no longer say that the learning itself is enough of a contribution? If the answer is because obviously a national emergency is very severe a hishtadlus in the form of fighting is needed, who will make that determination -Rabbonim or generals? Will that determination be accepted by the talmidim?

    4. Who should be at the forefront of trying to bridge the wedge between segments of our people? IMO it is those who are dedicating their lives to Torah study, and who are often minsunderstood by people ill equipped to understand them, and who therefore reasonably from their perspective feel they are giving them a free ride with regard to army service. Because I think it is impossible for any Jew residing in Israel to rationally feel that the soldiers do nothing for them. (Unless they are on such a high madreiga that the vast vast vast majority of us simply are not on).

    5. Is fighting for another nations army in WWI a good comparison to the situation in Israel today? There are so many nafka minas. I don’t think it is a chiddush that historically we did not want Jews drafted into foreign armys, and the terrible experiences of those who were, for example in Russia, are etched into our national psyche. But that’s not what we are talking about here.

    IMHO since I am pretty sure we can all agree that most Haredim have great Hakaras Hatov for chayalim, there should be a push to make that felt, and a push to demonstrate that those who don’t fell that are a minority whose views are rejected by the majority. Furthermore their should be a push to show how serious the learning is via standards that can be understood by the general public.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    The Manhattan Project was a direct part of the physical war effort of WW2, for project participants in or out of uniform.

    The more apt comparison might be to American yeshiva students (and religious seminarians in general) legally exempted from the draft in WW2 and later US wars because spiritual leadership was considered to be a force strengthening the nation. They were not expected to design weapons, etc.

    The current situation in Israel has a new aspect, the high percentage of one large social group that seeks to be exempted. Percentages, as far as I know, were much lower in WW2. To get all their draft-age yeshiva students (in good standing!) exempted, chareidim need to focus on building bridges to other Jewish groups in Israel. This effort has never been done on the scale needed.

  7. YM Goldstein says:

    Nice article. I would also add that the issue of drafting teenage Yeshiva students out of the Beis Medrash and the issue of men not working are separate issues. If the “problem” is men not working, then allow them to work when they are ready to leave full-time learning.

  8. Mark Zomick says:

    You leave out the most critical point. Thousands upon thousands of yeshiva students (talmidei chachamim and those that are less so) will be exempt. The current numbers are not sustainable and rather than negotiate in good faith to send who they can to the army (or to other means of national service) the Rabbonim cry Nazi. I believe this fact makes your arguments moot.

  9. J. says:

    Rabbi Hoffman neglects to mention that Rav Kook was asking Rabbi Hertz to secure an exemption for yeshiva bochurim from the English army – not the Israeli one.

    And to quote Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook in support of mass draft exemptions is inaccurate – he was certainly of the view that Mercaz Harav (as opposed to the regular hesder arrangement) was for the “top” talmidim – but using that to argue in favour of the current Charedi system is akin to claiming that since Harvard produces the best academics, everyone, including those with no academic aptitude, should not only attend it, but stay in academia forever.

    The following quote from Rav Shaar Yashuv Cohen is illustrative:
    “Later, as I exited the yeshiva, I saw huge notices pasted on the entrance to the yeshiva. It was a broadside quoting Rav Avraham Isaac Kook in order to prove that yeshiva students should not be drafted into the army. When I read the notices, I was in shock. Was I acting against the teachings of Maran HaRav Kook?

    Agitated and upset, I made my way down the road toward Zion Square. There I saw a figure walking toward me, slightly limping. As he came closer, I saw that it was Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah.

    I felt very close to Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah; he was like an uncle to me. When he saw my shocked look, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah became concerned. ‘What happened, She’ar Yashuv? Why do you look like that? Don’t be afraid, tell me!’

    Under the pressure of his questioning, I told him about organizing a fighting yeshiva in the Jewish Quarter, and my distress when I saw the announcements which indicated that we were acting against the guidance of Rav Kook.

    When he heard my words, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was horrified. He grabbed me by my shoulders and began to roar, “This is a complete forgery! A distortion and utter falsehood!” He was so upset, his shouts echoed down the street.
    After calming down, he explained that his father had written this letter during the First World War, regarding the draft of yeshiva students who had escaped from Russia to England. Rav Kook felt that these students should be exempt from the draft, just as the British exempted other clergy students. But here – Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah continued with emotion — here we are fighting for our hold on the land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem. This is undoubtedly a milchemet mitzvah; whereas in England, the demand was that the yeshiva students fight for a foreign army.”

  10. micha says:

    Actually, the new law does not contravene the status quo agreement. Until 1977, under PM Menachem Begin a”h, the Status Quo agreement was limited by a quota and to the yeshivos that pre-existed the founding of the state. Before then, Labor dominated the government, and they weren’t making any deals with the chareidi parties. But this marked the beginning of chareidi parties weilding that odd power Parliamentary Government the third-largest block.

    Also, the status quo agreement included requiring chareidi day- and high-schools to provide the core curriculum.

    For decades now the chareidi parties obtained more and more privileges for their constituents, but not through cooperation with the other parties or negotiation, but through repeatedly holding the coalition captive. The problem is that now, when they no longer constitute that third, coalition building, block of seats, they have no good will and history of cooperation to appeal to for help.

    And it’s premature to talk unity with people who stand on a street corner fighting the Israeli government drafting members of their community by quoting Asaf, “א-לקים באו גוים בנחלתך, טמאו את היכל קדשך … שפך חמתך אל הגוים אשר לא ידעוך, ועל ממלכות אשר בשמך לא קראו…. — G-d, nations have come into Your portion, defiled Your holy Temple… Pour out your anger on the nations which do not know you, and on the kingdoms which do not call out in your name” (Tehillim 89:1,6) And I do not know which I fear worse: that the gedolim who chose to include these words realized what they were teaching the youth, or that they didn’t.

    Your essay speaks beautiful words of rapprochement, but meanwhile your rabbinic leadership teaches its children to curse those they depend on for safety, utilities, infrastructure, and subsidies.

  11. Shua Cohen says:

    Rabbi Hoffman’s premise is based almost entirely on the following quotes which he brings down:

    “Avrohom Avinu was punished with his descendants having to become exiled…because he drafted Talmidei Chachomim.”

    “Assa…was punished for the same reason. He trotted out Talmidei Chachomim.”

    “Amsha is not considered a Mored b’Malchus when he
    purposefully did not draft the Talmidei Chachomim.”

    —————————————————–
    With all due respect, Rabbi Hoffman is egregiously conflating the term “Talmidei Chachomim” with stam “yeshiva bochurim.” Let’s not be so incredibly disingenuous: we are not talking about talmidim in the academies of Hillel and Shamai here. The glaring reality is that thousands of army age young men are sitting in the “Bais Medresh” for the simple reason that they don’t want to be on the “street corners” when the bullets start flying. That, they know, is a fool’s errand, and their rebbe’s have drilled it into their heads from the first days of cheder that the non-frum are Klal Yisrael’s fools (R”L), so let THEM do the dying.

    See Rav Eliezer Melamed’s piece, “Haredim and the Mitzvah to Service in the IDF” [on The Times of Israel website, March 9, 2014] for a cogent rebuttal to Rabbi Hoffman’s (futile) defense of the imploding chareidi hashkafa in Eretz Yisrael.

    P.S. I am appalled that bnei Torah in chutz l’aretz have the chutzpah to declaim about the situation in Eretz Yisrael, the Eretz HaKodesh that they spurn every day of their Diaspora-clinging lives.

  12. Reb Yid says:

    This essay artificially constructs a binary choice.

    You can learn Torah AND serve in Tzahal. Or at the very least, if you are female, perform national service. My cousins do it, are very committed observant Jews, and are highly sought out by Army officials for top assignments.

  13. eri says:

    for the trillionth time.
    no one can learn torah at an age other than army age?
    where are all the 25-30 year old full time learners?
    it’s like as soon as a torah learner ages past draft age, he winks out of existence– so that, minus the draft-age boys, suddenly there’s no full time torah!

    (whether the army age should be 18-21, vs moving the entire age up, is a separate issue– although I certainly think that, were the charedi world at all interest in negotiating this issue, such a request would be a very valid one. just like there’s no reason a non 18-23 year old’s torah learning magically becomes irrelevant, there’s also no particular reason 18-23 absolutely MUST be the army age. male strength doesn’t start seriously deteriorating till 30s, so 21-24 or 23-27 year olds serving really should be an option….)

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Putting aside R Hoffman’s well researched article, Kdarko BaKodesh, the following excerpt strikes me as the key to the entire article:

    “Serious-minded Chareidi Jews do not merely recite the words of the blessings of the Shma perfunctorily. No. When they recite the words, “Ki haim chayeinu – for they are our life – v’orech yameinu and the pathways of our days.” – they mean it, and they mean it as the sole pursuit in life. They view the notion of Zionism as a form of secular nationalism and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal.”

    This represents the issue-the refusal to accept the fact that a Jewish state in the Land of Israel has any positive religious conotation whatsoever. As long as the discussion is rooted in a sense that the life of someone who serves in Hesder or Charedi Nachal is more expendable than someone learning in a yeshiva where noone serves, and that the dichotomy is the unnecessarily stark contast that either everyone learns or everyone serves with no room for any necessary Cheshbon HaNefesh, the issues remain in the grasp of whose rhetoric is more over the top.

    BTW, I saw no reference to any book or study that set forth that those who worked in the Manhattan Project were viewed as second tier soldiers in WW2.

  15. Rav Shmuel says:

    These two points are not the main points in your article but I feel they are extremely important nonetheless…

    1. The Anu mashkimim song was NOT used by both sides to denigrate each other. It was posted by a major chareidi website – kikar hashabbos – there is a kikar hashabbos logo in the upper lefthand corner of the entire video. There has been some discussion online about whether it was actually produced by a chareidi or by a clever person from the other camp. Either way the fact that the chareidi website picked it up and that it received a positive response from many of that website’s readers pretty indefensible. The 2nd video is a RESPONSE to the first video and by claiming that both sides produced these hateful videos attacking each other you are guilty of blatant equivocation.

    2. In The 5 Towns Jewish Times you wrote – “There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and a holy role. Certainly, all of us who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.”

    However, here you wrote – “There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and a holy role. Certainly, all of us who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being. It is unfortunate that some do not.”

    I would suggest removing that last sentence from this site as well because it raises a question that is at the heart of this issue; one that members of the chareidi camp and articles like yours wish to stay far away from. And here it is: Exactly how and when is hakaras hatov and prayer for the well being of Israeli soldiers ever publicly expressed in chareidi society, yeshivas, shuls and batei midrash?

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, the mashul of the Manhattan Project requires more documentation-General Leslie Groves coordinated the efforts under the Manhattan Project, which was a top secret project, but which played the critical role in developing the two A-Bombs that ended the war in the Pacific that would otherwise have cost hundreds of thousands of lives of American soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors if the US would have had to invade the Japanese home islands.

  17. Moshe Dick says:

    I don’t know Rabbi Yair Hoffman but he uses sophistry and , dare I say, sleigh of hand to convince us that there are gemoros that support the chareidi view. It saddens me to say that but it is almost as if he is looking purposefully to skew “maamorei chazal” out of their true meaning. I hope this was not his intention. Allow me to show how the three gemoros he brings down actually show the exact opposite of what he is saying !
    He quotes the gemoro in Nedarim 32a as to why Avrohom Ovinu was punished with his descendants going into exile-for drafting talmidei chachomim. With a sleigh of hand, he writes “the gemoro answers” as if this is the accepted norm of the gemoro. Nothing is further from the truth! It is the view of ONE “man de’omar” (Rabbi Avuhu ben Rabbi Elazar) while there are TWO “man de’omar”s, Shmuel, (to which Rabbi Hoffman admits) and Rabbi Jochanan who have very different explanations! Why should Rabbi Avuhu’s saying take precedence? Additionally, the gemoro says that Avrohom Ovinu employed the talmidei chachomim -“oso angaraai”. We shall see in a moment that this term means something totally different and not at all army service!
    The second gemoro he quotes is from Sotah 10a about Asa, where Rovo says, why was Asa punished because,and here we have that word again, “oso angaraai” with the talmidei chachomim. So what does that term (angaraai) mean? Rashi explains “avodas hamelech”-the work of the king! Nothing about war, nothing about soldiers, it was simple work for the king! No wonder he was punished for taking talmidei chachomim for simple work. R’Yair Hoffman mentions Rashi but he dismisses Rashi out of hand, which ,in itself , is a brazen act. He then says that “most meforshim say it is a milchemet mitzvah”.I did not search many meforshim but the Maharsho clearly says that it was NOT a milchemet mitzvah!
    Lastly, he quotes the gemoro in Sanhedrin 49a where the gemoro (here it is stam gemoro) quotes Avner in saying that Amoso should not have been killed by Yoyov as a “mored bemalchus” when he left talmidei chachomim alone and not asking them to come to David’s help . Why that should even be called a milchemet mitzvah is beyond me. The strugggle between Dovid Hamelech and his enemies doesn’t qualify as milchemet mitzvah under any of the criteria mentioned in Rambam so this is a totally misleading source that proves nothing.
    This attempt at justifying a stance on the “ptur” of talmidei chachomim from army service is absolutely against the Rambam and Mishneh. The gemoros that R’Hoffamn quotes are all ‘aggadata’ and have no bearing on halocho ,as codified in Sotah 44 and the Rambam hilchos melochim. Additionally, his interpretations are fanciful.
    I’ll let other commentators dismiss his other assertions.

  18. truthseeker says:

    Serious minded Chareidi Jews only think of Torah, and nothing else, as opposed to, one guesses, serious minded non-Chareidi Jews who are on a lesser level of Torah observance.

    Enough said.

  19. Sam says:

    With all due respect, you cannot be serious. If you truly believe learning torah protects as much as a soldier then move all the yeshivot to the gaza and lebanon borders. In fact , why not put yeshivas on busses and drive them to sderot where the rockets are falling. When my children , orthodox children, hear this so blatantly unjust position espoused by rabbis it drives them away from respect for rabbiS and torah

    This is especially true when it comes from rabbis outside of Israel

  20. Noam Stadlan says:

    It is ironic that this site accuses the left of misinterpreting and ‘cherry picking’ sources and then posts this article with nary an objection. In addition to the above rebuttals, I would like to point out today’s email from Eretz Hemdah, which was founded by Rav Yisraeli. The post noted the position of yeshiva, which was approved by Rav Yisraeli, not to accept any students that had not served in the IDF. They also state that those who have not served are not qualified to assume Torah leadership. This dovetails with R Melamed who wrote that those who cannot acknowledge the responsibility to contribute to society cannot be considered gedolim.

  21. Raymond says:

    All one sometimes needs to do to clarify an issue, is to go the extreme logical conclusion of each side of the debate. In this particular case, on one extreme, we have every single adult Jewish male living in Israel, studying the Torah day and night. On the other extreme, we have every single able-bodied adult Jewish male serving in the Army.

    Given that Israel is hated by virtually the entire world, and given how Israel is immediately surrounded by hundreds of millions of extremely hostile, savagely violent people who want every Jew in Israel to drop dead, with which of the two scenarios that I just presented, do the Jews in Israel have any realistic chance of surviving? Or to bring it down to a more immediate example, if a terrorist breaks into the home of some innocent Jewish family, would that family have a better chance of surviving if the father of the home respond by taking out a Talmud to study, or if that same father had a gun in his hand and used it to protect his family?

    The point is, that we Jews need to be reality bound, if we are to have any hope of surviving. Today in Israel, more Jews are learning Torah, than at any time in all of Jewish history. We have the Israel Defense Force to thank for that, for without their protection, Torah study in Israel would be all but impossible.

    What good does it do for the Chareidi world to somehow think they are above all other Jews, that somehow they are exempt from helping to defend the lives of their fellow Jews from enemy attack? Such an arrogant attitude does nothing but foster resentment among the rest of the Jewish population, plus it makes Chareidi Jews look like cowards hiding behind their holy books. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, King David, and so many other great Jews in our history, did not hesitate to put down their Torah books long enough to fight military battles to protect their fellow Jews. I would hope that the Chareidim do not presume to think they are somehow more privileged than these great Torah personalities.

  22. SA says:

    One of the things that I cannot figure out, especially given the threatened “gezeiros” of the past couple of years, is why, if Torah learning is so crucial, yeshivos are continuing to give their talmidim a month off in Nissan, three weeks off in Tishrei, and three weeks off in the summer. Few other professions allow such generous vacations, and given the current climate in Israel this practice seems to undercut the haredi leadership’s argument.

    Of course there are individual masmidim who continue learn, and various bein hazmanim learning programs, generally aimed at youngsters. But the bulk of the “yeshiva division” protecting the nation is off duty. If that’s good enough for 20 percent of the year, it’s hard to understand how a couple of thousand young men in the army at any given time can cause the sky to fall the rest of the year.

  23. Ari Heitner says:

    I’ve said it over and over again, and I don’t think I’m the only voice. Nor do I think this time will help. Oh well.

    The Hareidi MKs were participating in the Shaked Committee process. They stated the party line many times: any boy who is not studying should enlist. There are minority voices which reject any participation, but Rav Shteineman and Shas have been clear from the outset.

    The event that caused the Hareidi representatives to withdraw, and which directly prompted the Atzeres Tefillah last week, was the specific addition of criminal sanctions to the law, at Yair Lapid’s insistence and over the objection of many other voices (especially from Bayit Yehudi). Even though these clauses are somewhat indirect – they only take effect after a handful of years if draft goals are not reached – they are a statement that a boy who wants to study Torah is a criminal.

    Note that economic disincentives to stay in yeshiva (read:fines) didn’t provoke this response – in the end, if someone wanted to be moser nefesh, that would remain his decision.

    Ayelet Shaked has been pointing out all over the media that this bill is not an “equality of burden” bill (she prefers “reduction of inequality”) and that the majority of Yesh Atid MKs did not serve in combat units.

  24. SA says:

    Mr. Heitner, one of the reasons that criminal sanctions were “added” to the law despite everyone’s acknowledgement that they were provocative was to at least pay lip service to some degree of equality and give the law a fighting chance against legal challenges.

    That’s because the law that was on the books for over 60 years ALREADY called for criminal sanctions for draft dodgers (as many writers have pointed out here, again and again). And saying outright that secular people who don’t serve can be jailed, while yeshiva students who don’t serve won’t be jailed, would never pass muster with the High Court of Justice.

    Well, as of this writing, the law has just passed in the Knesset, and already some good-government group has filed a petition against it, claiming it violates the principles of equality, because of all the accommodations it makes to the Haredim, as well as the fact that hesder yeshiva students only serve 17 months, and not three years. This was inevitable, as MKs across the spectrum knew. The Haredim seized on the “addition” of criminal sanctions as inspiration for great slogans about studying Torah being turned into a crime, but this was a disingenuous response, at best.

    In the end, the court will decide, and it’s possible that even this law will be thrown out, which will leave all Haredim exposed to the draft under the old defense law, and put everyone back to square one.

  25. Shlomo Pill says:

    Ari Heitner:

    “The event that caused the Hareidi representatives to withdraw, and which directly prompted the Atzeres Tefillah last week, was the specific addition of criminal sanctions to the law . . . they are a statement that a boy who wants to study Torah is a criminal.”

    No more than when yeshiva students are made subject to arrest for driving without a license because they were too busy learning to spend a day at the DMV getting tested and licensed to drive. No more than when yeshiva students are subject to fines and criminal penalties for failing to file tax returns because they are too busy learning to engage is such empty frivolity.

    Boys who study Torah are not criminals; boys who ignore other legal obligations because they decided that their personal desire to spend that time studying is more important are subject to criminal sanctions like any other person who fails to live up to legal obligations.

  26. Moshe Dick says:

    Ari Heitner: good try but no cigar!
    I know your approach is being pushed now by the chareidim but it is very disingenuous because the whole bill was resisted by the chareidim at the outset. What happened to all that “cooperation” of Shas and UTJ when they were in the committee? Don’t you think that if the chareidim would have acquiesced to some kind of draft that the opponents would not have accepted, rather than going through this whole tragic episode? You must be very naive if you truly think that the chareidim were willing to accept a draft. Just check out the signs at the asifas and the articles of the chareidi press!

  27. Shua Cohen says:

    > “…they are a statement that a boy who wants to study Torah is a criminal.” Ari Heitner (above)

    >> This monumental absurdity has been spouted so many times from Chareidi sources that I want to SCREAM!!! If a yeshiva bochur decides to become a professional pickpocket, for the sole purpose of getting money to pay yeshiva tuition, Reb Heitner would have it that if his criminal conduct is punished it’s because he “wants to study Torah.” As I averred above, chareidi hashkafa is imploding from such (mis)representations of a skewed reality! “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  28. Marty Bluke says:

    The parallel to the Manhattan project is anything but obvious. The Manhattan project picked a highly skilled set of individuals based on objective criteria to join the project. If the Charedi world did the same no one would be complaining and in fact that is exactly what the new draft law does. It exempts 1800 scholars a year. Unfortunately, that is not the case today in the Charedi world. The Torah students are a self selected group that anyone can join with no objective criteria and no criteria for success. Someone can sit in Yeshiva for years and not succeed and he will still be exempt. When the exemptions started in 1948 most Charedim served in the army and therefore to get an exemption meant making a conscious decision to dedicate yourself to learning Torah. Today it is just the opposite. All Charedim in Israel are simply assumed to be learning and there is tremendous societal pressure to do so. Anyone who chooses to not learn (e.g join the army) is an outcast, off the derech and looked down upon. Therefore, how many 18 year olds today are truly making a choice to dedicate their lives to Torah as opposed to simply following the path of least resistance?

  29. YM Goldstein says:

    We need an asifa now even more than last Sunday. Klal Yisroel is in a heap of trouble.

  30. Arnie Lustiger says:

    “There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role. Certainly, all of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication. should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being. It is unfortunate that some do not.”

    Abe asks why this hakaras hatov is not expressed publicly. “IMHO since I am pretty sure we can all agree that most Haredim have great Hakaras Hatov for chayalim, there should be a push to make that felt, and a push to demonstrate that those who don’t feel that they are a minority whose views are rejected by the majority.”

    I have to disagree with Abe’s assertion. The last gadol to publicly express hakoras hatov for the sacrifice of Israeli soldiers was R. Chaim Shmuelevitz in the 1970’s, and he was severely criticized within his own community for doing so. Even when R. Aharon Leib Steinman *privately* acquiesced to a limited number of bachurim joining Nachal Chareidi, he placed himself in personal danger, as we all witnessed a few months back. The crisis in which we now find ourselves would never have occurred if the Chareidi community, from the leadership on down, had regularly expressed the requisite hakoras hatov. Intead of hakoras hatov, “magia li” was the motto of those who attended the Israeli Atzeres Hatefila. Indeed, as a result of this attitude, hagiyus (or beit hasohar) yagia.

  31. Ari Heitner says:

    Moshe Dick:

    In fact I’ve been following the process carefully since the outset, from Israel, in the Hebrew-speaking press (both secular and Hareidi). What I described is exactly the approach R’Shteineman advocated: continued cooperation (including instructing boys to register with the Draft Office) as long as no criminal penalties were imposed. R’Shmuel Auerbach and the Eidah of course disagreed – but they are a tiny minority. R’Shmuel’s group had a hafganah a few weeks ago which featured bochurim dancing around while the police sprayed them with water cannons; you can imagine the kiddush Hashem (the Eidah didn’t come – they were busy with their own internal machlokes). After that (tiny!) event, including a co-rally in Ashdod which apparently featured some violence, many DL rabbonim (prominently R’Chaim Drookman) warned people to stay away from the Asifah, expecting more violence. I was very disappointed when I heard that, and I was also disappointed by the negative signs at the Asifah. Nonetheless the message from R’Shteineman’s “mainstream” Hareidi camp has been that any boy who is not learning should serve – and that has been the message since the Tal Law and Nachal Hareidi was founded. I am sorry that the entire community gets painted with the broad brush of R’Shmuel’s kanaus but speaking from the epicenter (RBS and proud of it!) it is no more representative of the rov than the idiots fighting about the graves.

    Shua Cohen:

    Forgive me, I’m not understanding you. According to the law, if in 2018, a boy wants to stay in full-time learning rather than join the army, and the enlistment goals have not been met, and he isn’t personally blessed by Dov Lipman, he will be thrown in jail. Not because we desperately need him to drive a tank or defuse bombs – competition is already intense for those jobs. No, because if he hasn’t followed in Yair’s footsteps by writing for HaMachaneh for a few years, he hasn’t carried his weight with society.

  32. Y. Ben-David says:

    Ari Heitner-
    The fact that Yesh Atid Knesset members may not have all served in combat units is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. This is merely repeating the myth that this whole gius thing arose because of some evil machinations of secular politicans. WRONG! It is the public that has been demanding reforms in this area for decades. The politicians here in Israel, for once, are carrying out promises they made to the public and which there is a large public consensus in favor of. Also it is important to remember that the Supreme Court ruled the current situation of granting Haredim automatic exemption from miitary service even if they are not studying Torah is grossly unfair to the public at large.

    Secondly, the outrage over the criminal sanctions makes no sense. If there is law that is supposed to be obeyed, then how can you tell someone right off the bat that he doesn’t have to obey the law? The law then becomes a joke. I have encountered secular Israelis, including Sara Netanyahu’s nephew who have spent considerable time in prison because they refused to serve in the IDF, even though some at least have offered to do national service in lieu of the IDF but the state has no such program and refused to accede to their request, even though the new Haredi gius law does offer such a program for Haredim. Is this fair?

  33. Michael Halberstam says:

    This article reflects beautiful ideas, and I am willing to concede the sincerity of the author in writing them. However, any one who reflects on what has happened in our world over the last twenty years cannot fail to be struck by the constant denigration of anyone, particularly observant Jews, who do not feel that they have to toe the line established by those in the Chareidi world who benefit from the status quo, and who are terrified of the notion that there are other acceptable alternatives for observant Jews. It equally ignores the fact that in countless homes of our people non observant Jews are equated with goyim in every significant way. It will not do to protest this fact, since anyone who has been around long enough knows that it is unfortunately true in far too many cases.
    When I grew up, and it was a real struggle for people to be frum and educate their children in Yeshivos, our parents and their friends never taught us that this was a way to behave. The idea that there are similar feelings expressed by non observant Jews about us may be true, but they were not raised to know better.

  34. YM Goldstein says:

    41 missles hit Israel the same day that they pass legislation equating Torah study in the beis medrash with every other kind of activity that doesn’t earn a draft exemption. Its getting hot!

  35. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, those interested in a different view of Nedarim 32 should read RAL’s essay on hesder which was published in Tradition and is available on the VBM website, wherein RAL points out that Aggados that offer multiple reasons hy certain events happen cannot and should be interpreted in a way that only one explanation is considered “authoritative.” That same Aggadah criticizes Avraham Avinu for a variety of other reasons other than drafting Talmidei Chachamim.

  36. Y. Ben-David says:

    YM Goldstein-
    Abundant rainfall breaking a long dry spell began falling in Israel on the day they passed the legislation regarding Haredi conscprition.
    BTW-what you said about study in the Beit Midrash is equated to other activities is untrue. The legislation, for the first time, says Torah study is considered a form of national service which entitles all Haredim to delay military service and which also exempts a certain number of scholars completely from conscription. But, I have noticed that many of the polemics we are hearing here are not too precise on the actual facts of the situation.

  37. Ari Heitner says:

    Shlomo Pill and others: the point is not whether Israel has made a law that everyone has to serve in the army. It’s true, Israel has such a law. But laws are not holy or intrinsic – they are practical decisions by a governing body. A law that everyone must pass a driving test and be licensed is logical; therefore the argument that Torah study should transcend a decision by a bunch of MKs to impose licensing requirements is specious.

    But should mandatory national service trump Torah study? The argument is that, “everyone must share the burden” – but “the burden” refers to the state’s defense needs. As a practical expedient to the reality that only certain percentage of the draft class are necessary for combat or combat-support (eg. mechanics, instructors, cooks), everyone is drafted, and everyone does something – but a lot of the something sure isn’t part of the burden (writing for the Army newspaper? Singing? Playing sports?). The law defines the contributions as being equal, but that doesn’t mean they’re morally the same. Yair Lapid may worship at the altar that sanctifies the law qua law, but I sure don’t, and I think there are a lot of people – secular and religious – who agree with me.

    So now we come to application: we’ve agreed that any Hareidi 18-year-old who isn’t learning needs to do whatever the law defines as his obligation. And if a sufficiently high percentage of each draft class enlist, we’re good (sidebar: don’t be fooled by the shouts of, “Only 5,200 of 50k yeshiva students are required to enlist by 2018” – the number 5,200 is a percentage of the cadre of 18-year-olds in 2018, so that number will be true for every subsequent class/year until enlistment reaches 70% or whatever the goal is).

    But what about the yeshiva students who didn’t make the cut of 1,800 permitted to stay full-time, but who want to keep learning? What’s the moral argument to them? We’re telling them, “You must stop pursuing the highest value, in order to go do something unnecessary”! That their civilian national service is “sharing the burden” is so only because the law says so. No one needs them to work with MDA or be office gophers for the police or whatever they end up doing. They aren’t defending the country, and they aren’t needed to defend the country.

    Yair Lapid believes the law is sacred because it is the law. I am certain he wholeheartedly feels his time writing for the Army newspaper was every bit as much “equality of burden” as his friends who joined combat units, because the law says it was.

    Yair Lapid is either an idiot who doesn’t get that the Hareidi world doesn’t share his weltenschaaung, or a deeply cynical politician. The natural degree to which any 18-year-old is attracted to the Army is high, and a strong positive communal relationship with the Hareidi service tracks could have created a cultural reality of respect and acceptance for service; he threw that away for a path of antagonism. Does he honestly believe in his own moral crusade? Or is the fight just good for his poll numbers?

  38. Bob Miller says:

    Ari, I doubt Lapid knows the meaning of Weltanschauung, or the true purpose of Torah law or law in general. He personifies the Peter Principle, assuming he was ever competent at something (maybe it was political campaigning or back-room negotiating).

  39. Robert Lebovits says:

    Does it make any difference at all to this discussion that a body of gedolei yiroel whose stature as poskim and bearers of the Mesorah are unassailable have – for decades – ruled that it is appropriate for religious young men to spend their days learning Torah exclusively rather than serve in the IDF? Certainly there are other voices in the Torah world who argue against that position. That doesn’t make it wrong or illegitimate. I am mystified by the need of so many posting comments to vilify and denigrate a long-held halachic stance because they choose to follow a different one. Likewise in Israel serving in the army has become the sine qua non for everything good and anyone who does not is demonized. Reducing the issue of mandatory military service to such a simplistic formula is absurd.

  40. Meme says:

    Where does the Tora say that sitting in a Yeshiva protects the Jewish State or the Jewish people in war? Do our sages say that we do not need soldiers to fight our enemies, all we need is some Yeshive Bachurim? If so why would we need an army at all, we are already protected.
    The Tora tells us how to go to war, how to wage war and all the Mitzvot of war (Yated al Ozanecha, Lo Tashchit Etz Ma’achal etc.). Not only that; The Tora specifies who is exempt from joining the army in Milchemet Reshut (Devarim 22):
    (ה) וְדִבְּר֣וּ הַשֹּֽׁטְרִים֘ אֶל־הָעָ֣ם לֵאמֹר֒ מִֽי־הָאִ֫ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֨ר בָּנָ֤ה בַֽיִת־חָדָשׁ֙ וְלֹ֣א חֲנָכ֔וֹ יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יַחְנְכֶֽנּוּ:
    (ו) וּמִֽי־הָאִ֫ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נָטַ֥ע כֶּ֙רֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א חִלְּל֔וֹ יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יְחַלְּלֶֽנּוּ:
    (ז) וּמִֽי־הָאִ֫ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־אֵרַ֤שׂ אִשָּׁה֙ וְלֹ֣א לְקָחָ֔הּ יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יִקָּחֶֽנָּה:
    (ח) וְיָסְפ֣וּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים֘ לְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־הָעָם֒ וְאָמְר֗וּ מִי־הָאִ֤ישׁ הַיָּרֵא֙ וְרַ֣ךְ הַלֵּבָ֔ב יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יִמַּ֪ס אֶת־לְבַ֥ב אֶחָ֖יו כִּלְבָבֽוֹ:
    (ט) וְהָיָ֪ה כְּכַלֹּ֥ת הַשֹּׁטְרִ֖ים לְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וּפָקְד֪וּ שָׂרֵ֥י צְבָא֖וֹת בְּרֹ֥אשׁ הָעָֽם:
    I do not find here mention of Yeshive Bocherim being exempt.
    If in Milchemet Reshut all, except the mentioned above, have to go to the army, Kal Vachomer in Milchemet Mitzva. I do not see in the scriptures more than two kinds of war: Milchemet Mitzva and Milchemet Reshut. Anyone adding to it is probably OVER AL BAL TOSIF. We can add if, according to some sects, Jews do not need a State than we do not need an army, we do not need to fight for our existence. According to R’ Yair Hoffman, in the lesser Milchemet Mitva (he talks about two Milchamos Mitzva) the Bride-groom goes to war (he forgot to mention that the bride goes as well – yes, women in the army) but not those that are studying Torah. We have seen already that they MUST join the fighting forces also in Milchemet Reshut, therefore I do not know what is he talking about. Who is going to define which of the two Milchamot Mitzva is the current war? Is it the grade A or grade B?
    I do not get to the bottom of the comparison to the Manhattan Project. They were contributing to the war effort, the same way as a cook in a field kitchen did, or a spy not wearing an uniform. The one who “toil” in Nashim, Nezikim, Kodshim and Moed do not contribute anything to the war effort or the defense of the State. NO, they do not.

  41. Yisrael Asper says:

    Sam said:”With all due respect, you cannot be serious. If you truly believe learning torah protects as much as a soldier then move all the yeshivot to the gaza and lebanon borders. In fact , why not put yeshivas on busses and drive them to sderot where the rockets are falling. When my children , orthodox children, hear this so blatantly unjust position espoused by rabbis it drives them away from respect for rabbiS and torah

    This is especially true when it comes from rabbis outside of Israel”

    Would it be considered unjust to say that our Mitzvos help us to stay in Eretz Yisrael more than our weaponry? The Torah says if we do not observe it we will be sent out of Eretz Yisrael and that’s despite our weaponry and for that matter despite our learning. It’s not a dichotomy to say our weaponry is what protected Israel and to say our mitzvos did it. Does Hashem not give victory to our troops? You can’t say that if there is danger requiring troops it means sources that would argue for exemptions don’t apply, as what are we then having an exemption for? Obviously those sources are saying we need troops at that time and that some should be exempted providing protection in a spiritual way which would include giving strength to the troops. This is being lost amongst at least some in this conversation here. How can one argue for prayers for Israel’s troops and then mock spiritual protection for our troops on the grounds that they fought their way to victory. Is Hashem not behind their victory? You can’t mock and be rational unless your mocking is subservient to your desire for truth. Eliyahu mocking the priests of Baal was an example of the latter.

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