A Letter From a Troubled Charedi Father

Dovid Landesman

My late rebbi, Rav Dov Schwartzman z”l, once told me that the essence of the sin of the spies dispatched by Moshe is that they were motzi dibat ha-aretz in chutz la-aretz [they defamed the Land of Israel at a time when they were outside that land]. I can very well understand those who would contend that there is a substantial difference between motzi dibat ha-aretz and motzi dibat ha-medinah; nevertheless, I am profoundly disturbed by the postings and comments – and even more so by the tone – of those
who permanently reside in the Diaspora and choose to analyze the questions and challenges raised by the current draft situation in EY based on hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts. The question of national service is not new and has been festering in Israeli society for decades. A percentage of avreichim who chose to leave kollel or bachurim who chose to leave yeshivot found the means in the past to fulfill their national obligations. But many did not do so and chose to remain registered as toratam umnutom – with the full co-operation of the yeshivot – long after they had left full time residency in the beit midrash. The resentment that they engendered in both the chiloni and dati world is, to my mind, the source of the strange pact between Bennet and Lapid.

Is it difficult to be a chareidi in the IDF? Yes, it is, but as far as I know that is not a heter for avoiding the draft. Many years ago, at the petichah of Ponovezh’s annual Yarchei Kallah, Rav Shach zt”l spoke forcefully against those who are registered in yeshivot but are not learning. He specifically declared that they should enlist without mentioning that doing so would present challenges. Enlisting in the IDF twenty or thirty years ago was far more difficult than it is today. There were compromises that had to be made – but the bachurim in Chevron who chose to enlist before the Six Day War – some of whom are prominent roshei yeshiva today – never heard Rav Chatzkel Sarne tell them that they were on the road to shmad.

As the father of a young man who served for three years in Netzach Yehudah, and as a friend [and relative] of those responsible for creating the unit, I feel duty-bound to reply to some of the allegations made and inferred in some of the posts and comments. First of all, Netzach continues to grow despite the brouhaha surrounding the current controversy. The past draft created a situation wherein Netzach was forced to create a second battalion.

It is important to understand that Netzach was not the creation of the roshei yeshiva, the Chassidic world, the Va’ad ha-Yeshivot or the politicians ostensibly representing the chareidi world. The same is true of the Shachar units in the airforce and military intelligence designed for young married avreichim who find it necessary to leave kollel for a variety of reasons. The Netzach battalion was founded by a number of apolitical askanim involved in working with young men who did not find their place in the olam hayeshivot. They recognized that the lack of a suitable framework and structure for these young men was a disaster. Never has Netzach attempted to woo students from the beit midrash. But it should be clear that to characterize the battalion as a haven for shababnikim is to besmirch fine young bnei
Torah who have chosen an alternative path.

The non-chareidi commanders and officers of Netzach continue to do everything to make the idea
work. Yes there are problems as is true of any organizational framework asked to change long standing policies. But in my discussions with the rabbanim of Netzach I am told that there is a great deal of good will and desire to remove all of the obstacles. Netzach soldiers continue to be sent to officer training courses but have you heard even one new incident of being forced to listen to kol isha? I can tell you that at the recent celebration of the founding of the Kfir division to which Netzach is attached, the officers in charge of the program arranged that no women sing so that the Netzach soldiers could participate fully even though their commander had assured the officers that they would simply absent themselves from that part of the program.

Sadly, I cannot say that I see the same good will in the chareidi world. I cannot fathom how prominent rebbes and roshei yeshiva publicly declare that no-one – learning or not learning – will serve, and reinforce their positions by raising images of Cantonistim while spewing rhetoric about g’zeirot shmad.

Our community needs to do some hard thinking as to where we are headed and how we see ourselves within the jurisdiction of a sovereign state. In many ways we have made a Kiddush Hashem in Israeli society. Yad Sarah and Ezer mi-Tzion, to name but two of the many service organizations serving the entire Israeli population, have changed the attitudes of many to the chareidi world. But there are a number of gestures that we could easily make that would change the atmosphere immensely.

Imagine the impression that would be created if one of the gedolim came to the swearing-in ceremony of Netzach and exhorted the young men to be m’kadesh shem shamayim. Imagine how powerful the message would have been had the recent tefillah asifah closed with a mi-shebeirach for the soldiers and police who risk their lives to make it possible for us to live in relative security. M’at min ha-or docheh harbei min hachoshech – a little bit of love dispels much darkness. Similarly, a bit of ahavat Yisrael can eradicate the sinah that is so rampant.

Rabbi Dovid Landesman is a magid shiur at Yeshiva Tifferet Yerushalayim

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10 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    Yasher Koach to R Landesman for calmly identifying the issues as he perceives them from his place within the Charedi world.

  2. YM Goldstein says:

    I am one of those chutzniks who has commented on the situation, although I hope I have not stepped over the line.

    My understanding is that the decision to not cooperate with the new draft law was made by the combined political and rabbinical leadership of Degel, the Agudath and Shas, presumably this includes Rabbi Landesman’s current rebbi, or his rebbi, etc. Based on my understanding of what having a rebbi means, I am surprised that you would want to be publicly critical of the stance taken by your rebbi. When I started learning Gemara many years ago, I was taught “Don’t say the Talmud is wrong; say, ‘I don’t understand'”


  3. Baruch says:

    Yasher koiach to CC for publishing this piece.

    As a chutznik alumnus of a hesder yeshiva, I have long felt that for every incident where army orders conflicted with religious practice, there are hundreds upon hundreds of incidents where reasonable accommodations were made. The small number of unfortunate incidents – which certainly should not be ignored, and must be seriously addressed – are blown up and portrayed as proof to the alleged religious persecution that goes on in Tzahal.

    I think it all goes back to Rabbi Wein’s piece that was circulating a couple of months ago. The charedi narrative since Zionism began is that it is a catastrophe, and they cannot come to terms with the fact that it has turned out to be otherwise. And so the charedim continue to underscore all the warts in an otherwise magnificent country. It’s very sad.

  4. Eliyahu says:

    From Arutz7 on April 11
    The controversial Enlistment Law, passed mid-March and mandating hareidi enlistment to the IDF, appears to have had exactly the opposite effect – hareidi draft rates for March testify to a sharp decline.
    Only 140 draftees enlisted to Nahal Hareidi (hareidi brigade) this March, marking a 30% drop from the previous enlistment. According to official statistics published Friday by Yedioth Ahronoth, the brigade inducted a record 226 soldiers last August; last November 200 soldiers were drafted.
    While there had been talk in the IDF of opening an additional hareidi brigade due to the previous growth of the existing brigade, the IDF recently decided to freeze the additional brigade for the time being.
    Last August, two units were opened for the new brigade due to the increased demand. In November, the IDF reduced that to one and a half units, and later with the decrease in inductees those plans were cut down to one regular unit.
    Controversial “culture war” law is the culprit
    The IDF has acknowledged that the main cause for the decrease in hareidi draftees is the widespread opposition to the new law, which was strongly opposed in mass protests, including a rally in Jerusalem in March that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants.
    The Nahal Hareidi Foundation notes that the decline in enlistment comes due to the new law, as well as the discussion about extending army service by four months, from 24 to 28 months.
    “If last year, thank G-d, we saw calm in terms of the treatment of hareidi soldiers, in recent months the public atmosphere has been severely damaging, and thrown things back by at last a year,” stated the Foundation.
    Speaking about the extension of army service, a rabbi with the Nahal Hareidi Foundation remarked “these things have started permeating the ground, and causing a serious drop in motivation to enlist.” “Up till today, at the end of two years of service the soldiers would study a career in the remaining year to prepare themselves for the work world. The extension of service is a critical blow to the year of learning for soldiers,” added the rabbi.
    It is worth noting that despite the drastic drop in hareidi enlistment to the combat Nahal Hareidi unit, army tracks catering to hareidim in the Intelligence Corps, the Air Force, and Teleprocessing Corps have not seen a drop in enlistment, hinting that draftees there come from families interested in having them acquire a career.
    IDF statistics report that 898 hareidim enlisted in 2010; 1,282 in 2011; 1,447 in 2012; and 1,858 in 2013. By the coming summer it is anticipated that 2,000 hareidim will enlist, apparently meeting the goal numbers of the Enlistment Law, but there are expected to be serious social problems facing continued drafts by the end of the year.
    An IDF official noted “our draftees are having trouble today, they can’t walk around the neighborhoods like they used to, and their treatment has changed. …They don’t return home in their uniforms any more like they used to, because the hareidi society has turned against them.”
    There have indeed been attacks by hareidim against hareidi soldiers. Last July, a hareidi soldier was attacked by a hareidi mob in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim neighborhood, requiring police to save him. Just days later another hareidi soldier was attacked in Jerusalem.
    “If a wide-ranging process isn’t embarked upon with the (hareidi) rabbis, the drop in motivation to enlist will only continue,” warned the official.

  5. Joe Hill says:

    “that is not a heter for avoiding the draft”

    A heter isn’t necessary. There is no chiyuv in the first place.

  6. Joe Hill says:

    “First of all, Netzach continues to grow despite the brouhaha surrounding the current controversy.”

    That isn’t accurate. From today’s news:

    Haredi Draft Law leads to decline in ultra-Orthodox recruitment
    The IDF says the sharp decline in Haredi enlistment to the Nahal Brigade stems from the hostile public protest to the Draft Law.


  7. YEA says:

    Please publish more articles from Rabbi Landesman. Why is he still only a guest contributor?

  8. Mixed message? says:

    Ironic that you started your piece quoting Rav Dov Schwartzman z”l, for it was he who paskened for me many years ago, after I had learned in a top kollel for almost a decade, and considered doing army service before moving to chutz la’aretz, that I should not do that. I should rather become an arik (deserter). He told me going from that kollel straight to the army would be a chillul of that kollel.

    Go figure!

  9. cvmay says:

    Mixed Message: Seems like Rav Schwartzmann meant first take a hiatus and then join the IDF, so that that Kollel would not have the artificial stain of a ex-Yeshiva guy joining.

  10. Mixed message? says:

    cvmay, in theory that’s exactly what Rav Dov Schwartzman was saying with that psak. But the reality was, and he fully understood it, that I would not be able to return to do that service.

    My point was to show that he considered it a stain on the kollel to have a member join the army. And he didn’t want to encourage anyone there from doing the same. And yet the article talks of how it is workable to be in the army. From my personal anecdote I found that ironic.

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