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Rambam, Yeshiva Exemptions, and Intellectual Dishonesty

Rambam would not support the subsidized yeshiva system currently in place in Israel.

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If defending the land of Israel is considered a "milkhemet mitzvah," then everyone is obligated to serve, even, to use the Mishna's idiom, "a groom from his room and a bride from her wedding canopy."

If defending the land of Israel is considered a "milkhemet mitzvah," then everyone is obligated to serve, even, to use the Mishna's idiom, "a groom from his room and a bride from her wedding canopy."
Photo Credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90

In truth following Rambam consistently may actually help alleviate some of the resentment towards career yeshiva students in Israel who do not serve in the army yet receive substantial benefits from the state. Were we to accept the Kuntres’ read of the Rambam, then while students would be exempt from being drafted they should also not expect, demand, or possibly even accept state funding.

The point of this post is less to argue for or against a yeshiva exemption, but to point out just one example of intellectual dishonesty in halakhic discourse through the selective citation of sources. In this case the author of the Kuntres has a predetermined position which he wishes to validate and legitimize by ascribing the position to a prominent halakhic authority. In order to make this point the Kuntres must omit and excise contradictory data, because what Rambam actually says is a minor inconvenience to the ultimate position the Kuntres wishes to advocate.
The discerning scholar should be aware of such methods in halakhic rhetoric and example all arguments critically, regardless of the source or the position being advocated.

  1. If current military operations are considered “milchemet reshut” then all would be prohibited since it would lack the sanction of the Sanhedrin (M. Sanhedrin 1:5).
  2. Given Rambam’s phrasing of “כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם” “any person from the people of the world” one may infer that he is describing a lifestyle which could even be applicable to non-Jews.
Rabbi Josh Yuter

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Yuter was ordained in 2003 from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He also holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Yeshiva University, an M.A. in Talmudic Studies from Yeshiva University, and a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. Rabbi Yuter is also an alum of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He is currently the rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul on New York’s historic Lower East Side.

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