Tuesday, June 04, 2013


Allow Oneself to be Killed

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

Last week (not this past Shabbat, the one before), Eytan Kobre of Mishpacha Magazine wrote an absolute perversion of Judaism in attempting to defend the existing lifestyle of those he refers to as “Eretz Yisrael’s bnei Torah”.

He wrote, “Before we consider whether there is any way to explain our worldview…: Do we, shlomei emunei Yisrael, accept and understand it? Do we perceive why this is evil? Do we appreciate just how great a danger this poses to our nation?

The unfortunate answer, to a very large extent, is that we do not. There is a huge, perhaps unprecedented misunderstanding about this issue. This is evident simply from the conversations one has and hears, as well as from numerous other developments. A sampling:

A magazine produced by and for Torah Jews features a young chareidi woman’s account of her army service, under the title “The Courage to Serve.” To enlist in defiance of not only family and a community where one “never truly fit in,” but also of a psak of yehareig v’al yaavor, indeed takes courage — not of a good sort.

"Yehareig v'al yaavor", allow oneself to be killed rather than transgress.

th (10)The Torah, as codified in Jewish law, defines 3 cardinal sins for which a Jew must give up his or her life rather than transgress.  They are: being forced to commit murder, being forced to rape, or being forced to perform idol worship.  These are the conditions of a requirement for yehareig v’al yaavor, allow oneself to be killed rather than transgress.

The Cantonists were Jewish children who, starting in 1827, were ripped from their families and drafted into the Russian army.  They were stolen at ages 8-12, placed in a military academy for 6 years followed by a required 25 years of military service, and were specifically abused for any Jewish rituals observed and were forced to observe Xian rituals.  Truly one of the horrors of Jewish history.  Their likelihood of survival as a Jew as minimal, and their likely survival at all was low!

Yet parents were not instructed to kill their children (G-d forbid) nor were children trained to suicide if taken.

ekMr. Kobre, an American Jew who is a university educated lawyer, declares that:

- Functioning as an Israeli is in defiance of the (ultra-orthodox) Jewish community.

- Entering in the Israeli Army is in defiance of the (ultra-orthodox) Jewish community.

- An adult not following the advice of their parent is defiance.

- One should rather die than defy the Israeli ultra-orthodox community norm, as defined and understood by Mr. Kobre, a university educated American Jewish lawyer living in New York.

Lets briefly examine these erroneous and perverse assumptions.  Hundreds of thousands to millions of orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews live in Israel as citizens of Israel.  They work, pay their taxes, receive government services, and live their lives. 

There are a few narrow groups of ultra-orthodox extremists (such as the Neturei Karta) who live outside the system, refusing to pay taxes and refusing to utilize any government benefits.  But even Mr. Kobre would agree they are the fringe and not a normative position.  Parts of the ultra-orthodox community live in some degree of isolation, as is their right and choice, while other parts offer more interaction.  All have succeeded for generations in living, growing and even, dare I say it, thriving.  Living as an Israeli clearly does not qualify for allow oneself to be killed rather than be an Israeli citizen.  And if it did… there’d either be a line at the airport or a lot of dead people in black hats.  I’m not seeing either.

goldWhat about the Israeli Army?  Currently 40% of officer candidates in the IDF are religiously observant Jews.  The IDF is the only army in the world that exclusively serves kosher food, and has Jewish prayer times codified in army rules.  It respects Shabbat (as much as possible given their life defending role – which is a permitted exception) and has a synagogue on every major base. 

It is true the IDF has a history, generations past, of secular indoctrination.  Yet it has offered alternative service options for the more Jewish religiously inclined also for a generation.  These options currently include the Hesder long term service + yeshiva program (where your yeshiva teachers are your commanders and you go in and out together), the Nachal Charedi ultra-orthodox infantry battalion, the Shachar KaChol air force technician program for the ultra-orthodox, and the Shachar Harok military intelligence for the ultra-orthodox.  Clearly offering more chance to survive as well as regular mitzvot observance than the Cantonists ever received, by no stretch of the perverted imagination should one allow oneself to be killed rather than enter the IDF.

Should one follow the advice of one’s parent, or even the command of one’s parent?  From a Torah perspective the mitzvah of kibud av v’em, respecting one’s parents, is a very serious mitzvah.  Yet there’s a solid exception to this religious law – if a parent commands one in opposition to a mitzvah.  For example, if a parent commands to violate a mitzvah or even avoid a mitzvah, the parental command not only may but should be disregarded.  Mitzvah – settling the land.  Mitzvah – defending the land (the towns, the people, even the straw.)  Mitzvah – defending oneself! 

By the way, every parent understands the parent-child relationship changes as children hit adulthood.  A wise parent of adult children advises and attempts to influence, not command and expect obedience.  This parent did NOT command his daughter to not go in the army.  He advised it would present a variety of challenges and therefore carried risk, risk which could be avoided.  She chose otherwise, making us proud with her determination to meet her goals if worried for the risks (physical and spiritual).

Photo – IDF Nachal Charedi soldiers on base outside Jenin, West Bank.  The young man in the lower middle is from a wonderful litvish ultra-orthodox family in Har Nof, Jerusalem.  He can no longer wear his uniform home for fear of being assaulted in his neighborhood as a soldier.

Mr. Kobre, the university trained Jewish US lawyer living in New York, personally violates a number of Israeli ultra-orthodox community norms.  (We are not suggesting he allow himself to be killed, though his own philosophy might require it.)  He learned secular subjects in primary and high school.  He learned English.  He attended university.  He left the Yeshiva and entered the working world.  His material is published on the Internet and on a blog!  All these violate the norms of the Israeli ultra-orthodox Jewish community.  (Some violate the norms of segments of the American ultra-orthodox community as well – for example these would not be acceptable in New Square.)

I am not challenging Mr. Kobre as a fine upstanding orthodox Jew in good standing, even though he has violated the norms from where I sit (here in Israel).  Perhaps he should consider where and how he is evaluating.

Lastly, I accuse Mr. Kobre of incitement.  In American legal terms, though one has free speech one is not permitted to yell fire in a crowded theatre. 

The Israeli Jewish ultra-orthodox community is under heavy outside pressure right now.  The new secular Israeli government is pushing, pushing hard, for changes.  And economic conditions around the world have meant reduced outside support for Torah institutions while the local community maintains a strong demographic growth rate.

Unfortunately the community has it’s share of extremists… zealots, enforcers, thugs.  Usually they’re kept under wraps, on a strong leash controlled by community expectations and limitations.  Yet it’s exactly under current conditions that they tend to get out of control.  And they’re looking for religious justification for their righteous (ha!) actions.  Such as words of gedolim “IT’S A SHANAS SHMAD!!!!” and words of pundits “a psak of yehareig v’al yaavor”

Giving Mr. Kobre the benefit of the doubt (though he did not give it to the targets of his article), he doubtless meant it as hyperbole – extreme expressions for impact.  But this is the Land of Israel and we’re Jews, we believe in the power of words.

And Mr. Kobre’s words are a perversion of Judaism as well as being outright dangerous.


  1. I don't speak for Mr. Kobre, but I'm fairly certain he was not referring to serving in the IDF in general. Rather, he was referring to women in particular serving in the IDF.

    The determination of Yehareg Ve'al Ya'avor was made by the Hazon Ish, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap (who was a student of Rav Kook), and Chief Rabbi Herzog (who added his name to this ruling later).

    (I'm only pointing this out to defend Mr. Kobre - not ח"ו as an attack on your daughter. May your daughter continue to inspire others toward Mitzvah observance.)

  2. Good info, but still begs the point. Were they being LITERAL? Would they expect their daughters to die rather than enter the IDF then? How many daughters (or sons) of bnei Torah laid down their lives to follow the psak?

    And would that psak apply to now?

    BTW, while by historical Jewish standard we don't organize our women to fight (for many well understood cultural and social reasons - all still valid), if the enemy is marching into town to kill everyone, do we expect our women to lie down and take it? Or to defend themselves and their children to the best of their abilities? (And if we have enemies trying to kill us on a regular basis, perhaps we should invest in those abilities?)

    These are not theoretical questions - see the example of the Jewish women who fought off a knife wielding Arab attacker who broke into her home in the Shomron.

  3. I wonder what Mr. Kobre would say to Yael who stabbed Sisera with a tent stake, or to Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan the Maccabbe who chopped off the head of Holofernes. Let's hope your daughter will never have to be faced with a life-threatening situation, but at least she'd know what to do. Who knows how many lives she can save (spiritual and physical)?

  4. Great, Anonymous!

    Don't stop there Akiva, go over your letter, edit it, add more, make it stronger, sleep on it, and then send it in to the Mishpacha Magazine!

    Hashem should give you greater siata d'shmaya in your endeavor

  5. it is high time somebody cut Kobre down to size. But the real culprit here is Mishpacha for publishing his drivel and hate speech all these years.

    Not only is he perverted, but he is wrong, offensive and makes a huge chilul H' to boot.

    But dont worry, he believes he speaks for Daas Torah, and having Daas Torah means never having to say youre sorry.

  6. Thank you Anonymous (June 05, 2013 9:43 AM). I could not have said it as cogent as you.

  7. Magazine columnists, however agitated, don't have the standing to deliver psak to Klal Yisrael, especially in life-and-death matters.

    Israelis subject to an unwanted military draft should consult with their personal spiritual guides.


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