A Response to Rabbi Slifkin
Last week, I penned an article articulating why there was a gathering in Manhattan of 50,000 Torah observant Jews who do not wish to see Yeshiva students forcibly drafted into the army. The gathering was supported by leading Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim in America, and the leaders of Shas, Agudah, and Degel HaTorah in Eretz Yisroel. I made eight points:
- Soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.
- 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 express their hakaras hatov.
- Full-timeTorah study, like nuclear research, is very important.
- When there is a “super” milchemes Mitzvah all people have to go to war
- There is a debate whether there are two types of wars in halacha or 3 types of wars.
- Chareidim hold that there are 3 types and that right now the war situation in Israel is a standard milchemes mitzvah. Bridegrooms go to war. Torah scholars, according to the chareidi view, only go out to war in cases of “super” milchemes Mitzvah.
- Both sides should work toward better unity.
R. Slifkin chose to attack the article, but not directly on the eight points I made (although he addressed the last one). Rather he chose to attack the Chareidi point of view, in what could be characterized as a diatribe. It is easy to create a false straw man and knock it down. I will try to deal with each of Rabbi Slifkin’s responses point by point.
- Serious-minded Religious Zionist Jews do not merely read the Torah perfunctorily. No. When they read Moshe Rabbeinu’s words, “Shall your brothers go out to war, while you remain here?” – they take him seriously. They view the notion of Charedism as a non-traditional and selfish way of life, and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal. The previous two paragraphs were arrogant, condescending and offensive. But they were a satire of Rabbi Hoffman’s opening paragraphs, which I simply cut-and-pasted and then switched around the relevant terms.
What Rabbi Slifkin has written is in no way comparable to my original. Rabbi Slifkin in his alleged “switching around the relevant terms” calls the original paragraph “arrogant” and “condescending.” In my original paragraphs I explained that Chareidim understand “Ki Haim Chayeinu” as defining Torah study as being the only true meaning of life. They therefore place Torah study as a value above all else. This is a definition of what Chareidim believe, as opposed to what others believe, and is neither arrogant nor condescending. I also said that Chareidim “view the notion of Zionism as a form of secular nationalism and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal.” This, too, is a description of what most Chareidim believe. Will some people be offended by the very position of the Chareidim? Yes. Was the definition of what they believe in offensive? Dictionary definitions and explanations of views held should never be offensive.
- Rabbi Hoffman argues that according to Chazal, the full-time Torah study of charedi yeshivah students is crucial in saving the Jewish people, and they therefore should not enter military service. However, Chazal say nothing of the sort.
We could all here defer to Rabbi Slifkin’s expertise. I, however, prefer the expertise of Rav Moshe Feinstein. This very issue is discussed in Igros Moshe Vol. IV Siman 33 in a letter dated 17 Sivan 5741; I reproduce it here:
אם ללמוד תורה בישיבה או להתגייס לצבא
בע”ה עש”ק י”ז סיון תשמ”א.
מע”כ התלמידים החשובים מישיבת נתיב מאיר בירושלים מר דניאל קראוס נ”י ומר עפר טויבר נ”י.
הנה אף שעניין צבא ההגנה הוא ענין גדול, אבל עניין לימוד התורה ללומדי תורה עוד יותר גדול גם מלהגין על המדינה כמפורש פ”א דבבא בתרא ח’ ע”א הכל לאגלי גפא (לשערי חומות העיר להציב בהן דלתות – רש”י) אפילו מיתמי אבל רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא. וכנראה שהממשלה הכירה ג”כ את זה, ומי שלומד בישיבה גדולה ועוסק בתורה פטור מענייני חיובי הצבא. ולכן ודאי מי שיש לו תשוקה ללימוד התורה ולהעשות גדול בתורה ובהוראה וביראת שמים, יש לו לילך לישיבות הגדולות, ויהיה ברכה לכלל ישראל והגנה גדולה לכל ישראל.
והנני המברך אתכם להתגדל בתורה וביראה לתפארת בישראל
Dear worthy students of Yeshiva Netiv Meir Daniel Krauss and Opher Tauber,
Even though army defense is a great matter, but the learning of Torah to students of Torah is an even greater matter – even more so than defending the land, as is made clear in the first chapter of Bava Basra 8a. All must give toward installing doors to block entrance to the city, even orphans. Except for Rabbis who do not require protection. It would appear that the government also recognizes this and one who learns in a Yeshiva Gedolah and is involved in Torah study is exempt from the obligations of the army. Therefore, certainly one who has a desire to learn Torah and to become great in Torah and in Horaah and in fear of Heaven, should attend Yeshiva Gedolah and will be a blessing for Klal Yisroel and a great [source of] defense for all of Israel.
I bless you to grow in Torah, fear of Heaven, and be a source of glory in Israel,
Torah sources from the TaNach, through the Gemorah, the Rishonim, Acharonim, to the Gedolei Torah of the past generation all speak of the protective power of Torah. There are essentially two types of people. There are those who disagree with these sources (or try to minimize them by claiming that it is all Agaddatah, or only applies to great Torah scholars, or who try to point out that we don’t see it practically) – we will call these people “Torah = Chess” believers. In other words they think that studying chess and studying Torah are equal in terms of their protective powers.
Then there is the second group of people. The second group is comprised of those who believe that studying Torah does have greater protective power than those who study chess. We will call those the “Torah > Chess” believers. Hopefully most observant Jews, whether they subscribe to Rashi’s view (discussed again in response note 10 below) or that of the Radbaz, agree with this model.
- There are indeed scattered statements in Chazal about Torah scholars providing protective merit – but this by no means translates into the claim that every charedi yeshivah student provides crucial merit, much less translating into their being exempt from military service. First of all, Chazal say nothing about “crucial” protection being provided by “full-time Torah study of yeshivah students.” They talk about Torah scholars, not yeshivah students.
Once again, the Gedolei HaPoskim disagree with Rabbi Slifkin here. As another example, see Assei Lecha Rav Vol. I #21, the former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rav Chaim Dovid HaLevi. He writes:
אומנם נכון הדבר בני ישיבות ולומדי תורה פטורים משירות צבאי
“However, the matter is true – Bnei Yeshivos and Lomdei Torah are exempt from army service.”
Rav Chaim Dovid HaLevi is referring to Bnei Yeshivot – this translates as Yeshiva students. Lomdei Torah means those who study Torah. Rav Moshe Feinstein’s letter discussed Lomdei Torah. These sources indicate that Torah > Chess. Rabbi Slifkin is trying to eliminate or minimize this concept throughout his response.
- And who says that a Torah scholar cannot have spent some time doing other things? Nobody is prohibiting boys from returning to yeshiva after army service!
Wait one second. Didn’t Rabbi Slifkin read the Gemorahs that I quoted about Avrohom Avinu being punished for taking them away from their Torah studies? About Assa? Why can’t they have returned to Yeshiva after their army service for Avrohom? Nobody was prohibiting them! R. Slifkin dismisses these Gemorahs as Agaddatah. The problem is that the Radbaz, Rav Herzog, and others utilize these Gemorahs l’halacha.
- Second, most such statements make it clear that the protection is concentrated in the area where the Torah scholar is.
This would be very nice if it were true. The problem is that Rabbi Slifkin made this up. The sources indicate that it provides protection for the Medina – the state or country.
- Yet during the Gaza war, charedi leaders ordered yeshivos located in the South to flee for safer towns, abandoning the residents of cities where they were studying.
Actually, I would agree to Rabbi Slifkin’s point here. I think the Chareidi Yeshivos should have shown solidarity with the city residents here.
- Third, most such statements are referring to protection from all kinds of harm – economic harm and disease as well as military threats. Yet one never sees that the charedi world considers themselves less requiring of help in these areas; if anything, the opposite is true!
Not sure what the point here is exactly. Is Rabbi Slifkin attempting to disprove the statements in Chazal that Torah affords protection? And aside from pandering to some stereotyped notions, how is he proving this exactly? Because Chareidim recognize the need to go to top doctors? Actually, Rabbi Slifkin is no longer minimizing “Torah > Chess.” Here his point here is to show that “Torah = Chess.” There is no other way of reading his challenge.
- Fourth, it’s just plain silly to claim that we would lose “crucial protection” if some (and not all) yeshivah students spend some time in the army. Israel triumphed in several wars with only a fraction of the number of yeshiva students that there are today.
Yes, that is true. But we had losses – severe ones. If Rabbi Slifkin is to use this argument, then he must admit that if you will chart the correlation of loss of life of IDF soldiers r”l in the wars to the amount of Yeshiva students studying in Yeshiva, you will find a clear inverse relationship: the more students in yeshiva, the less loss of life. The exception to this, where there was significantly less loss of life despite there being less Yeshiva students, was the Six Day War — there were 796 casualties then, r”l. But, there we had the additional merit of regaining the Temple Mount. [The other exception is the Suez War of 1956, which was a limited military operation where we allied with France and England to reverse Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez canal. The losses there r”l for Israel were 231.] Remember, Rabbi Slifkin brought up the argument.
Name of War Total loss of life, r”l # of Yeshiva Students in Israel 1948 6373 400 1967 796 600 1973 2656 800 1982 Lebanon War 725 12,150 2006 Lebanon War 165 51,084 2012 Operation Cast Lead 13 66,000
- Yeshivos give their students a month off in Nissan, three weeks off in Tishrei, and three weeks off in the summer – and did so even during the war in the North. If that’s good enough for a fifth of the year, it’s hard to believe that a couple of thousand young men in the army at any given time, while there are tens of thousands still in yeshivah, can cause a crucial security problem.
Yeshiva students still study during Bein HaZmanim. The Gemorah, the Midrashim, and contemporary Gedolei Torah both from the Zionist world and the Chareidi world all say that Torah protects.
- Rabbi Hoffman refers to the Gemara in Sotah 10a, Sanhedrin 49a and Nedarim 32a, which speaks about the wrongfulness of drafting Talmidei Chachamim into the army.
First of all, some commentaries explain those cases of wrongfulness of drafting Talmidei Chachamim as being cases of milchemes reshus. Rashi, as Rabbi Hoffman acknowledges, holds that in any milchemes mitzvah, even Torah scholars go to war. It is not clear to me why Rabbi Hoffman tosses Rashi aside.
Yes, I mentioned both views in my first article, that of Rashi and those who did not learn like him, including the Radbaz, the Maharsha, Rav Herzog, Rav Kook and many others who learned that these cases were not a Milchemes reshus.
- Second, the sources from the Gemara that Rabbi Hoffman quotes are all aggadata. We do not pasken based on aggadata.
So in other words, Rabbi Slifkin is dismissing three Gemorahs that cite an important Torah principle. The poskim mentioned in my first article paskin like that agadata. With his dismissal of these Gemorahs he is once again reflecting his viewpoint that Torah = chess.
- In the Mishneh Torah, there is no halachic exemption for Torah students from a milchemes mitzvah.
Most commentaries to the Rambam disagree with Rabbi Slifkin. There is an exemption for the Tribe of Levi found in the psukim for participating in the Milchemes Mitzvah of Kibush eretz Yisroel. In Hilchos Shmitah v’Yovel 13:10 we learn of Shaivet Levi’s special status and treatment. Three Halachos later (13:13) the Rambam says that anyone who wishes to devote himself to full time Torah study can share the status of Shaivet Levi. Most of the commentaries understand this to extend Milchemes Mitzvah exemption not just to Leviim but to all who fit into halacha 13 [See Asseh lecha Rav Vol. III p. 318]
- Third, Rabbi Hoffman is again conflating the term talmidei chachomim with stam yeshiva students. Many yeshiva students, and certainly many charedim, do not spend their entire lives learning Torah. Why can’t they spend some time in the army?
This is a repeat of an earlier argument, and as shown both by Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Chaim Dovid haLevi has been disproven. In a court of law one of the valid points of objection is called, “Objection – discussed and answered.” The reason for the validity of this type of objection is that a constant rehashing of a previous point can unduly influence a jury or jurist.
- Fourth, and relating to the above points, these sources in the Gemara simply could not mean that people studying Torah are exempt from serving in the army. If that was the case, the Torah and the Mishneh Torah would have mentioned such an exemption!
The Torah does do so in exempting Shaivet Levi, and the Rambam’s extension of it in 13:13. The Gemorah further mentions it in three places, regarding Avrohom Avinu, Assa, and Amsha. The Mishneh Torah mentions it in Hilchos Shmitah and does not mention that people studying Torah are obligated in a Milchemes Mitzvah as well.
- Rabbi Hoffman cites Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s plea to Rabbi Hertz to secure an exemption for yeshiva students from military service, claiming that “the plea was nearly identical with the pleas of the Chareidi spokespeople today.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Rabbi Hoffman neglects to mention that Rav Kook was asking Rabbi Hertz to secure an exemption for yeshiva students from the British army defending Britain, not the Israeli army defending Israel!
Let’s get this straight here. Rabbi Slifkin is saying (refer back to his starting paragraph) that Rav Kook argued that its okay for Jews to just have non-Jews defend them so that the British gentiles can say to the Jews, Serious-minded Christians do not merely read the Bible perfunctorily. No. When they read Moses; words, “Shall your brothers go out to war, while you remain here?” – they take him seriously. They view the notion of Judaism as a non-traditional and selfish way of life, and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal.
Hardly. Rav Kook was arguing for a release based upon studying Torah.
- Rabbi Hoffman quotes Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook’s support of top-tier yeshivos in which students do not serve in the army. But using that to argue in favour of the current Charedi system is akin to claiming that since Harvard produces the best academics, then everyone, including those with no academic aptitude, should not only attend it, but stay in academia forever.
Again, we see otherwise from Rav Feinstein and Rav Chaim Dovid HaLevi.
- Rabbi Hoffman quotes Rav Shaul Yisraeli regarding the protective value of Torah study. But Rav Yisraeli did not see the protective value of Torah study as ending the argument. He felt that it was unacceptable that an entire sector would not participate in the task of the mitzvah of defending Am Yisrael. Rav Yisraeli felt that this was especially important for people in positions of leadership – which is why his Kollel, Eretz Chemdah, only accepts people that have served in the army.
This may be true, but we still see that he values full-time Torah learning. But yes, there is no question that army service creates better leadership skills. It also helps create a better rapport with the people too.
- Rabbi Hoffman presents a lengthy discussion of the Manhattan Project. He claims that just as people involved with the project were not in the armed forces yet provided a crucial protective role, so too yeshivah students provide a crucial protective role without being in the armed forces. But this analogy is seriously flawed.First of all, it is simply not the case that all charedi yeshivah students are needed to provide a crucial protective role. There is no source for that in Chazal, as discussed above.
The use of the term “simply” is disturbing. If one believes that Torah > Chess, then it is only logical that the more people studying Torah the greater the protection. On the other hand, if one believes that Torah = Chess and is merely paying lip service to it, than one can understand the use of the term “simply.” Also, objection – asked and answered.
- And charedim do not act as though they are providing a crucial protective role.
Rabbi Slifkin is lumping all Chareidim together in one pool and using the perspectives of some to reflect on all Chareidim. There are many, many Chareidim who dedicate their learning and Tefilos to ensure the safety of soldiers and the populace. It is dishonest, and wrong to spew such hate speech.
- Second, the Manhattan Project was not staffed with simply anyone wanting to join it. The leadership of the country made informed decisions as to which human resources were required and how they were allocated. The charedi community, on the other hand, claim that anyone enrolled in a yeshiva should be exempt from the army – and they show no signs of wanting to draft even those not in yeshiva. Third, the people working on the Manhattan project were not self-selected. It would have been an unthinkable for an entire state in the US to declare that they were not going to provide any manpower for the army, and would only be prepared to help with the Manhattan Project!
This might be a good argument if there existed staffing shortages in the IDF. But IDF experts say that there is no manpower shortage and are even looking to downsize and reduce time.
- In a milchemes mitzvah which is a national emergency, everyone goes to war – even a groom from the chuppah, and certainly a Torah scholar. Rabbi Hoffman agrees to this. However, he argues that today we have a different situation – Israel is indeed in a milchemes mitzvah for its ongoing survival, but there is no pressing emergency that requires everyone. As such, he argues, yeshivah students should not go to the army. But this is wrong on two counts. First of all, although there is no national emergency that needs everybody right now, there easily could be one in the future. It is important to have large numbers of people that have been trained as soldiers and can be mobilized in times of need. One cannot wait until the emergency to train everyone!
A good point that I agree with to a certain degree. I think that if and ever the situation gets to that point we should call for instruction and training for everyone. Rabbi Slifkin says that we are already there. Others do not. With the development of modern technology and warfare making, the technology has changes tremendously in the past decade alone. Most warfare now is conducted remotely by computer. The manpower requirements have been sharply reduced.
- Second, even if the current security situation does not require everyone to be drafted, it certainly requires a lot of people to be drafted. It is unacceptable for the charedi community to declare that this manpower should only be drawn from other communities and not from its own. Rabbi Hoffman quotes an assessment from the top IDF experts that there is no manpower shortage. Well, there is also no shortage of dollars in the Jewish people, but that doesn’t mean that when someone comes collecting, you can simply avoid doing your part and rely on the dollars coming from others. The IDF has to recruit a certain number of people every year. Why should only non-charedim make up this manpower? Let us return to Moshe Rabbeinu’s words, “Shall your brothers go out to war, while you remain here?” He does not allow for these tribes to stay beyond the Jordan and learn Torah. And nor does he say that the extra manpower is needed. Rather, Moshe Rabbeinu makes a simple argument from fairness.
The request is to to not draft those studying Torah. Yes, I agree that the chareidi community should also participate if they are not learning Torah. Rav Shteinman agreed as well, and was the driving force behind Nachal Chareidi. Unfortunately, the Yesh Atid initiative destroyed the growth opportunity for the recruitment of Nachal Chareidi.
- Compounding the problem of charedim not sharing in the burden of military service is that they do not even show concern or appreciation to those that do serve. Rabbi Hoffman concedes that there should be hakaras hatov to those who serve in the army:
“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.”
Let’s be honest here. It’s not “some” who do not. It’s the entire charedi world.
It is a significant amount, but it is not the entire Chareidi world. There are those who do have and express hakaras haTov. The problem is compounded by the fact that there are essentially three different elements or groups that comprise the totality of the Chareidi world.
- Charedi yeshivos and shuls do not recite a Misheberach for the IDF. They call for the recital of tehillim for success in the Beit Shemesh elections, for avoiding going to the army, but they do not recite tehillim for the safety of soldiers in the IDF. They call for the recital of tehillim for yeshivah students imprisoned in Japan for smuggling, but not for IDF soldiers captured by Hamas. They do not dedicate their prayers or learning for the IDF. They do not make any expression whatsoever of hakaras hatov to the IDF. How are we to explain such a blatant deficiency of hakaras hatov and concern? Beyond sheer ingratitude and selfishness, I can only think of a partial explanation – that the charedi world simply does not see itself as part of the same entity of Am Yisrael as the IDF. Perhaps that is the fundamental problem.
It is a sad fact that many did not recite Tehillim for captured soldiers such as Gilad Shalit. There are many, however, that did, including thousands of Bais Yaakov girls and Yeshivaleit across the United States. One of the contributing factors that has caused the disunity and discord is the level of mutual antagonism between the different groups within Klal Yisroel. As any mediator of peace efforts can attest, it is harmful when there are constant elements pointing out what is wrong with the other side. Each side should refrain from pointing out what the other side is doing but look inward toward itself to see how they can change. There are steps that the Chareidi world should be taking, of that there is no question.
- Rabbi Hoffman concludes that “The month of Adar should counter the spirit of disunity and contribute to family love.” But it’s difficult to have unity when a community of Jews protests against the Government of Israel with the words, “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). It’s difficult to have unity when a community of Jews demonstrates against the Government of Israel not in Brooklyn or Lakewood, but in front of the non-Jews of Manhattan.
It would have been productive and constructive for Rabbi Slifkin to have pointed out here that posters and placards were banned and so were speeches. Instead, the Asifa was characterized as negatively as possible, contributing to the atmosphere of disunity rather than attempting to build bridges.
- It’s difficult to have unity when a community of Jews compares the Government of Israel to Amalek and Haman, even though the government has no desire to harm Jews, only to reduce the unfair inequalities in Israeli society. It’s difficult to have unity when a community of Jews has no hakaras hatov for the sacrifices that they demand others to make, and when they have no intention of sharing in this burden. So please, Rabbi Hoffman, spare us your call for unity, which is just a fig leaf for asking people to drop their objections to the charedi system.
I am sorry? What is that? Spare us a call for unity? Spare us a call for saying Tehillim for Gilad Shalit? No sir. I will continuously call for unity and love for all of Klal Yisroel. I will continue in calling for Chareidi children as well as non-Chareidi people as well as non-frum people to daven for all captured soldiers and for the protection of Israel. I will continue to ask Chareidi Media to act respectfully to those they argue with and append the term Rabbi to their names and not compare them to Nazis. (See response to Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter re Rabbi Lipman at https://www.facebook.com/5TownsJewishTimes/posts/531756406877909.) I will continue to write and implore our fellow Chareidim to ask their US representatives to support the state of Israel.
- Please address your call for unity to the charedi community instead, and ask them to unify with the rest of Israel in its responsibilities and concerns.
No. I will address my call for unity toward everyone. In the meantime, Rabbi Slifkin, yes, you have been wronged by some members of the Chareidi community. But please don’t allow this negative experience to make you into a Chareidi-basher. Let us always try to fulfill Hillel’s dictum in Pirkei Avos 1:12 – “One should always strive to be of the students of Aharon HaKohain, Loving peace and pursuing peace.”