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August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
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Disappointed But Not Surprised

There ought to be a process of exempting yeshiva students via bechinos (tests).
Rabbi Yoel Schwartz greets Religious Jewish soldiers attending a swearing in ceremony as they enter the IDF "Nahal Haredi" unit. May 31, 2012.

Rabbi Yoel Schwartz greets Religious Jewish soldiers attending a swearing in ceremony as they enter the IDF "Nahal Haredi" unit. May 31, 2012.
Photo Credit: Noam Moskowitz/FLASH90

I know that this is their view. Nonetheless, it still pains me when I see them saying so in such stark black and white terms. I am referring to the recent statement by the Agudah Moetzes endorsing the views of their Israeli counterparts on the issue of drafting Yeshiva students. They are obviously very opposed.

While I accept that the members of the Moetzes are talmidei hachamim with few peers; and that their views should be respected, I have to say that there are times – like this one – that makes it very difficult for me to do so. Not because I don’t respect their knowledge. Nor do I suspect that their views are anything but l’shem shomayim – for the sake of heaven. I truly believe that they are selfless human beings that have dedicated their lives to doing the will of God and serving Klal Yisroel.

Here is a translation of their most recent proclamation from the Baltimore Jewish Life:

We are deeply dismayed by the efforts in Eretz Yisroel to draft B’nei Yeshiva and remove them from the Beis Medrash, the wellspring of Torah to which they dedicate their days and nights. The perseverance and security of Hashem’s people are rooted in its dedication to Torah study, as Chazal comment on the posuk “Our feet were standing at your gates, Yerushalayim”: “What will enable our feet to stand firm in war? The gates of Yerushalayim, where [Jews] devote themselves to Torah study.”

We appeal to the members of the government in Israel not to take any steps that will in any way negatively affect the B’nei Yeshiva and their study of Torah. For Torah study is “our life and the length of our days,” which will “lead us, upright, forever.” Like I said, this is no surprise. But it bothers me just the same. I understand the issue. They say that Torah study is what saves the world. That without it, the world would cease to exist… and that certainly Torah study is what protects the Jewish people. Granted. But what this statement does not say is that security requires not only Torah study but in the case of Israel – an army. This very simple fact – and it is a fact – was acknowledged in public by Rav Haim Shmulevitz, a Gadol of an earlier generation. I can’t even count anymore the times I’ve quoted this revered sage of the 20th century on this issue. He did not make it up. Nor is there any rabbinic opposition to this fact. It is the truth. It’s called hishtadlus – maximum mental and physical effort. Hishtadlus in this case requires that we do whatever earthly things we can to accomplish the goal of protecting Jewish lives. Which means that we do not rely on miracles. If there were no army, there would be no hishtadlus. It is true that Torah holds up the world. But as R’ Haim said we need not only a spiritual army. We need a physical army as well. If that were not so, there would no such thing as a milchemes mitzvah (a war mandated by God). We would just all sit in a beis hamedrash and study Torah until our enemies were destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven. David HaMelech captured Jerusalem not by staying in the beis hamedrash but by going to war.

This statement does not address that issue. Nor does it answer the pain and suffering of families whose sons have been maimed or killed in doing their hishtadlus in battle, while yeshiva students do theirs in relative safety. The idea of “sharing the burden” which is what proponents of drafting Haredim want – is based on this kind of inequity. Why do they not address it? How can they not? How can they just say they are dismayed by a possible draft without addressing this issue?

Nor do they explain why they feel that the status quo ante should remain untouched in any way? I could better understand if they had said that there ought not be a draft for Haredim – if they qualified it with the requirement to root out those who are faking it or just going through the motions because of peer pressure. Or maybe even those who are learning but not quite at the level one would expect of someone who is Torah umnaso (Torah is his job).

Studies have shown that there are at least 60,000 men studying in yeshivas and kollelim – all of them exempt from army service. Does the Agudah Moetzes feel that all 60,000 are needed in the beis hamedrash in order to receive Divine protection? …Even those who aren’t learning that well… or even at all – in some cases? Because that is the status quo ante which they are saying should be untouched.

And how do they feel about hesder boys? Or Nachal Haredi? Should they all stop serving and return to the beis hamedrash full time?

There is certainly no clarification about any of this in that statement. It is simply a statement rejecting any change in the status of yeshiva and kollel Students because they are they ones who protect the world. Period – exclamation point! If one is enrolled in a yeshiva or kollel, that should automatically exempt him.

I do not understand that. I would understand it if they had said that only those who are sincere and study with diligence should be exempt. I would even agree that there should be a core student population that is exempt from army service. But I do not understand a blanket statement like the one the Agudah Moetzes has made.

Questions may be raised about how to qualify for exemption. The argument by the right is that there should be no quota of Haredi students requiring to serve… that all should be exempt. Why? Why should those who spend little time in the beis hamedrash be exempt, just because they show up for a few minutes every day… or even learn Torah for an hour or two and do something else with the rest of their time?

There ought to be a process of exempting yeshiva students. Not one set up but the army. But one set up by the rabbinic establishment themselves. Not every student who is in a yeshiva or kollel now ought to be there. How do we accomplish a fair system of exemption?

That’s easy. It’s called bechinos (tests). There ought to be a written final exam of every Yeshiva student in every beis hamedrash in Israel. Anyone receiving a C (70%) or lower grade ought to lose their exemption. Tests should be graded by independent examiners outside the institution in order to assure there is no bias.

Testing is something they ought to do anyway – even without a draft. There is a lot of government funding of Yeshiva students and some of them don’t deserve it. If someone isn’t learning Torah at a minimum level (70% retention rate) they ought to be doing something else. Torah is not their profession. They should go to the army and then get a job and support their families. And be koveah itim – establish fixed times for learning that do not interfere with their jobs.

I don’t know what kind of numbers this will produce. But my guess is that a lot of students will lose their exemptions and rightfully so.

One may say that all Haredim should share the burden. Perhaps. But I don’t expect the Agudah Moetzes to support such a view. On the other hand shouldn’t the Agudah Moetzes agree that at least those who don’t pass those bechinos be subject to a draft? And required to serve as long as their religious needs are met? Like those who currently serve in Nachal Charedi? I would certainly hope so… although we can’t know that from this statement. Very disappointed.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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One Response to “Disappointed But Not Surprised”

  1. Yehuda Cohen says:

    Liad, Talmud Ta’anit 21b. Every day a heavenly voice emanated from the academy on High and sent greetings to Abba Umna. The same greeting was made to the more learned scholars of that time, Abbaye every Friday afternoon and to Rava was greeted only on the day before Yom Kippur. Why the big difference in Heavenly greetings between the sages of that time? It was revealed to them that they could not match Abba Umna when it came to good deeds.
    Deut: 4:1, “And Israel, listen to the statutes and laws that I am teaching you to do….” Moses stressed “to do.” In Psalms 111:10 “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d (a person should study Torah to know what to do and what not to do) good intelligence to all those who do it.” If a person’s intent in studying Torah is to do the commandments, G-d opens His heart and gives him the intelligence to understand the Torah.
    Avoth 2:2 “Rabban Gamaliel, …said: ‘The study of Torah is good together with the way of the world (derekh eretz דרך ארץ) … And all Torah that is not accompanied by work will be abandoned in the end, and it will bring about sin….” Dererkh eretz is not only getting along with people but many authorities say that dererkh eretz is a worldly occupation, profession, trade or business. (IMO, this does not mean to go out and beg for money as a profession). It is stated that Torah is fine with a worldly occupation. One must have Torah together with an occupation. Both are necessary; one cannot exist without the other. (Rashi; Rambam; Bertenoro (Yad, Talmud Torah 3:10)

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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