Photo Credit: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90
Thousands of chareidim attend a rally against the draft in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, on Sunday.

Last week’s Supreme Court decision regarding chareidi IDF service triggered some extreme rhetoric. Truth is the first casualty of war, said Samuel Johnson. Unfortunately, much of the chareidi community’s reaction to what is oddly perceived as a war against them exemplifies this maxim. Never mind that “The seal of G-d is truth” (Yoma 69b).

Having had the zechus to daven in the presence of and receive berachos from Rav Shteinman, Rav Elyashiv, Rav Finkel, Rav Shternbuch, and others, it pains me to write this. Awe and reverence envelop me when in the presence of their greatness. On this topic, though, it seems leadership is difficult to come by.

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Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch says, “This is a defensive battle against the encroachment of the left…which has gone to war against yeshivos…and are actively working to harm Judaism and the Torah world with deeds.”

Is this so? I don’t support drafting forcibly and am no big fan of this Supreme Court, but if this is a war against Judaism and Torah, how to explain that they didn’t also target yeshivos whose students later serve? And while this once might have been a war from the progressive left, not today. The Supreme Court decision was unanimous – a rarity these days – comprised of votes from conservative and religious justices as well.

Numerous chareidi politicians decried the law as “a war against Torah,” “severing us from our tradition from Sinai,” and “destroying the true protection of the Jewish people.” It is shocking to consider that none of these statements offers the slightest acknowledgment or consideration that the decision might be related to the tragic fact that thousands of soldiers have been killed or permanently wounded, or that we are in an existential war with Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran. Also ignored is the immense amount of Torah learning that would exist even if thousands of yeshiva bochurim were drafted. In brief, these statements are highly questionable, if not false.

And while we absolutely need spiritual protection, that protection comes from the prior learning of the soldier (the apparent meaning of “Torah magna u’matzla,” Sotah 21a) and from the learning of everybody not of fighting age. Of course, prayer and emunah remain available even to soldiers on the battlefield.

Our mesorah has never idealized that anybody and everybody should learn full-time. To suggest otherwise is revisionist history and, sadly, another distortion of truth. Rav Asher Weiss said as much a few weeks ago; American gedolei Torah such as Rav Kamenetsky, Rav Hutner, and Rav Ruderman all encouraged their talmidim to attend college at night; and nearly all the Rishonim were known to have a profession, such as Rashi, Ramban, Rambam, and Abravanel. It would be difficult to find a chareidi community in Jewish history until the post-Holocaust era that fits the criteria of today’s Israeli chareidi worldview.

Six gedolim are currently beseeching the American community to raise $100 million dollars for Israeli chareidi yeshivos, including – by their own admission – those where the students don’t learn most of the day. Perhaps our tzedakah would be better spent on yeshivos who courageously demonstrate the ability to integrate limud haTorah and protecting Jewish lives. Many such hesder yeshivos have lost prized talmidim in this war, such as Gush, Sha’alvim, Yerucham, and more. There are chareidi yeshivos as well, such as Derech Chaim, Chedvata – which just lost its first soldier – or the Netzach system. These are for chareidim who are serious about Torah and halacha, but also want to contribute to the security of the Jewish people in a way that doesn’t compromise their Torah values.

In the chanichei yeshivos I daven in, tzedakah collectors are a frequent occurrence. I recently began the practice of stepping outside to speak to them as they are leaving. “Do you know about Derech Chaim (litvish) or Chedvata (chassidish)?” I ask in a soft, respectful tone. “It might enable you or your kids to earn a living with dignity.” I was afraid of the snark or blowback I might receive in return. Instead, they either show a genuine interest in learning more about it or already know about it. Americans can open these conversations with collectors as well.

A critique sometimes leveled against the YU community is that it relies too much on the legacy of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, and doesn’t have living, breathing gedolim. To whatever extent this is true, perhaps it is true of the chareidi world as well. So much of what we hear on this topic boils down to, “The Chazon Ish said,” “Rav Shach said.”

The issue, of course, is that the reality has changed so radically since then. The Torah world is rebuilt and, as of the 1980s, the state bankrolls it. Chareidim are now a significant percentage of the country, a country whose secular avant-garde is dying out and which no longer wants to secularize them so much as see them contribute to the security of the Jewish people. Is anyone who suggests creative new pathways doomed to be stripped of their chareidi identity?


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Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has semicha from RIETS and a graduate degree in child clinical psychology from Hebrew University. Aside from practicing psychology and teaching Torah at various yeshivot/seminaries, he runs Mussar Links, a non-profit dedicated to publishing the Torah writings of Rabbi Hillel Goldberg.