Israeli President Yitzchak Herzog’s vigorous challenge to Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recent slander of Torah learning was most welcome.

Lieberman, a notorious enemy of yeshiva education, declared his intention to drastically reduce the current governmental coalition’s financial aid to Torah students because they are typically not seriously engaged in any meaningful pursuit: “They sit in the kollelim, people come in the morning and eat a sandwich there, drink coffee and talk politics,” he reportedly said. “Then they flip through some books and go home. Limudei kodesh are worthless. There’s no reason to fund them.” He announced a plan to reduce coalition funding for talmidei yeshivos by 446 million NIS.


It was President Herzog, the grandson of the late Israeli Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, who seized the moment to deliver a stirring tour de force about the centrality of Torah to the Jewish Nation. Some excerpts:

“There is no other nation whose history, identity, and depth of existence have been shaped by engaging in and studying a sefer like the Jewish people. ‘The Jewish nation is a nation only by virtue of the Torah,’ Rav Saadiah Gaon stated. The Torah, the written Torah and oral Torah, is the creative home for the soul of the nation; it is the foundation on which the existence of the Jewish people stands … Already during the crossing of the Yarden in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun, Yehoshua commanded: ‘This Sefer Torah shall not leave your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night.’ Since then, the people have accompanied the Torah and the Torah the people: [through] the Churban Bayit Rishon, the return to Tzion, the Churban Bayit Sheini, and during the years of galus – this Sefer Torah has never left us.”

“Even today, in the days of the renewed return to Tzion, we must make an effort to deepen and persevere in the study of the Torah and glean darchei chayim from it. Limud Torah isn’t just another profession, it is the secret of Yahadus, the secret of our strength and the desire of our souls.”

Some say Lieberman’s proposed budget cuts don’t enjoy enough support in the coalition for him to follow through and he is simply seeking to burnish his anti-Chareidi reputation in anticipation of the next election. Regardless, President Herzog’s riposte was well worth the price of admission.

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