I am a platoon sergeant in the IDF. I am a religious Jew. I am a platoon sergeant in the IDF because I am a religious Jew.
Recently, hundreds of thousands of haredim gathered in Jerusalem to protest the idea that they should be drafted into the army like every other Jewish citizen of Israel. This, they claim, is the Torah law and the will of God.
It is nearly impossible to find a precedent in all of Tanach, Talmud or Jewish history where Jews did not go out to defend their country together. There is not one time when Jews were exempt from fighting alongside their brothers because they were learning Torah.
Joshua, the spiritual leader and commander of the first Jewish army in the land of Israel, was commanded by God that “the Torah shall not depart from your mouth day and night.” In the haredi paradigm, we should expect to read about the houses of study Joshua established. Instead, for the next seven years Joshua went out to battle with all his people.
Ironically, that passage in the first chapter in the book of Joshua is the primary textual source for the commandment to learn Torah.
King David, the author of so many of our treasured prayers, also went out to battle. With a Torah scroll by his side he led his men in war and toward peace. The Maccabees were priests in the Holy Temple. Matityahu was the high priest and his son Judah a priest as well. Both led the military revolt against the Greek empire. Later, Rabbi Akiva led his students to war under Bar Kochba against the Roman occupation in Israel.
For those who can’t find value in the Jewish state and therefore refuse to defend it (or to even thank God for its existence on Yom Ha’atzmaut), a religious re-education is in order. There has never been more Torah study in the land of Israel in all our history than there is today. More synagogues, mikvehs, yeshivas and seminaries have been built by the modern state of Israel than ever before. In quantifiable numbers, the amount of people learning Torah in our modern state dwarfs anything that King David, King Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah, the Hasmoneans and Rabbi Akiva ever produced.
Outside of Israel, the greatest yeshivas like Volozhin and Lublin had no more than 300 students. Even the legendary institutions of Sura and Pumpedita had approximately 1,000 students. Just the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Torah students in Israel to protest is reason enough to celebrate the country.
Only the modern state of Israel with a trained military could have transformed our shattered and devastated people after the Holocaust into a new spiritual empire. While it is forbidden to rely on miracles, we live as a free people again today because of our brave, dedicated soldiers. Only a few decades ago Jews wore a different kind of uniform – one with stripes and a yellow star.
In this sense, the popular demand “to share the burden” creates the wrong discourse and misses the heart of what it means to be a Jew in our country. Serving in the first unified Jewish army in the Land of Israel since the times of King David is not a burden; it is a privilege, an honor, and a miracle. It is unconscionable for a religious Jew living in the Promised Land, connected to his heritage and his history, not to want to serve in the army.
Although the ultimate Jewish vision aspires to no army, no soldiers and no weapons of war, the story of the modern Jewish army is the next chapter in the ongoing saga of Jewish history.
Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel