by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Cross Currents grabbed a 2 1/2 year old article I wrote to make a point in their article against draft service in the Israeli army for ultra-orthodox (charedi) Jewish citizens. Here’s what they wrote, with additions by me in (parens) and comments interspersed…
I received an email from a Charedi man …who is very troubled by the current rejection of the (Israeli universal) draft. It is obvious that he does not count himself among those who do not understand that learning Torah all day requires extreme dedication and personal sacrifice, and is providing a profound service to the Jewish people — including by helping protect it.
** This is the classic “mystical” Torah argument mixed with martyrdom. The mystical argument says “beyond the religious value and moral value of Torah learning, there is a mystical energy value of the learning that benefits the community and/or country and/or Jewish people – one that ‘protects’”. Not everyone buys that argument, and that includes great sages of generations past. Further, we can easily attack the ‘protects’ argument (even if we follow the spiritual energy value argument) by noting that the yeshiva’s RUN AWAY when their towns come under missile fire.
IF the yeshiva community wants to display that THEY fully believe that Torah learning protects, THEN they should deploy yeshiva students (in learning) TO towns and cities that come under fire. Taking this to it’s maximum extent, they should deploy directly behind the army lines to protect those going into combat… they don’t.
The martyrdom argument “extreme … personal sacrifice”, why does no one appreciate it? It depends on whether that sacrifice is perceived as of benefit or being used for the community OR whether it’s “personal”, for their own benefit. In other words, will these be rabbis who deploy to the community (or like Chabad that opens centers to benefit Jews everywhere), or is it perceived that their Torah is for themselves? That perception is somewhat of a reflection of charedi community attitudes.
In other words, his problem is not with those who are successful in learning, but with those who are not. Why are they not in the Army, and why are the Gedolim, at present, making no effort to send them where they belong? This is my reply:
In an ideal world, it is obvious that any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies, and is prepared to go out to work, ought to be doing military service in any situation where everyone else is subject to conscription. That is indeed simple fairness; the IDF is preserving the security of Israel, and those who do not protect Israel by learning should certainly participate.
** But the same religious community that doesn’t prepare “any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies” to go to the army OR to go to work! In the ideal world every boy would be completely successful in yeshiva and become a Gadol Torah (a great scholar). Yet we don’t live in an ideal world, and if every boy learned Torah all the time, there’d be no businesses and lots of people would be mighty hungry.
But, and this is a particularly large but, in order to respect the religious liberty of all people, a civilized nation has to provide the opportunity for a soldier to preserve his own religious values to the maximum extent possible — in our case, Torah and Mitzvos. If we expect Brazil and Denmark to respect the rights of religious soldiers or exempt them from mandatory service, we can and should expect the same of Israel.
** Israel is AT WAR. They try to kill us every day. This puts us in a status of a Milchemet Mitzvah, war that is a mitzvah. In the case of a Milchemet Mitzvah, EVERYONE NEEDED is REQUIRED BY THE TORAH to assist in the fight.
In other words, the State of Israel should be expected, at a bare minimum, to provide a proper and kosher environment where a person can remain observant while serving in the Army. The problem is that it has thus far failed to achieve this quite basic goal. We know about the Hesder officers who were disciplined for excusing themselves from hearing a woman sing. A friend of mine in Hesder (Yeshivat HaKotel) told me that because he wasn’t fit for a combat unit, he spent a year in an office with a young woman who found it uncomfortable to keep her pants closed. And besides the two officers who resigned from involvement with Nachal Charedi because the IDF wasn’t keeping its promises, Rabbi Akiva Path described in detail his son’s horrible experience. He had nothing but tuna fish and corn for weeks, there was insufficient time for the most basic davening, he was challenged to violate Shabbos and Yom Tov repeatedly, and he would have had to go AWOL to perform the Mitzvah of hearing the Megillah on Purim — not because of any military need, but because of the arbitrary decision of the base commander.
** The Israeli army is struggling with these changes. There will be some social challenges, and people may have to stand up for their rights. YET ALL THE EXAMPLES ABOVE, including my own son, are a LIMITED NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS AND PROBLEMS among over 10,000 ultra-orthodox young men that have been in service in the orthodox battalion. In the follow up story about my son I mention that the Nachal Charedi rabbis closed down his unit due to the problems that occurred there. It should have been fixed sooner, but it was dealt with.
What the US Army was anxious to provide to soldiers in Iraq was denied a charedi soldier on a base next to a community with religious residents — for no reason whatsoever. Participating in Nachal Charedi directly impeded his ability to perform Mitzvos. No one who values the Mitzvos of the Torah can declare that acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever. It’s a deal-breaker — and this is why there is, at present, no “deal.” It’s why the next Path boy got an exemption.
** “No one who values the Mitzvos of the Torah can declare that acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever.” Bad assumption: the reason was they mistakenly released too many men from the unit to spend Purim at home. They didn’t have enough men to secure the base! Because of the error he got Passover off and the next Purim. BUT YES, if the commander was knowledgeable on religious matters, he could have called the base rabbi and asked him to read megillah at the guard posts! Hmm, where can they get knowledgeable commanders from? Only from religious men who stay in service long enough to become commanders!
“No deal” only applies if you have the LUXURY of other people’s sons doing the job for you. In the U.S., the religious Jewish community doesn’t have to find people to operate the garbage trucks, or the electric system, or the sewers, or be the police, or firemen, or farmers, or… the army.
In Israel, it’s a Jews.
Pictured above, my son, now an IDF army sergeant in Nachal Charedi. With beard, and payos. Here’s the follow up article that Cross Currents ignored.