Photo Credit: אברהם הרפז
Rabbi Dov Lando

Rabbi Dov Lando, 94, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka yeshiva in Bnei Brak and a member of the directorate of the Board of Yeshivas, who is considered to be the spiritual leader of the Lithuanian Haredim in Israel, on Thursday morning published a front-page editorial in the Haredi daily Yated Ne’eman, titled: “An instruction to yeshiva students not to show up at all at the recruiting offices, and not to respond to any draft order, even the initial order.”

Somebody was making sure he wouldn’t be misunderstood.

The Haredi daily Yated Ne’eman’s headline calling on Yeshiva Students to ignore their draft notices, July 11, 2024. / Screenshot

Rabbi Lando’s editorial was published in response to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s decision to issue conscription orders to 3,000 Haredi youths, as well as IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi’s statement on Wednesday that “Haredim can serve in a battalion in the Jordan Valley – and study Torah. We must do it.”

Rabbi Lando started his missive by describing his desire to preserve the status quo concerning the draft exemptions given to Haredi students: “During the years of the regime here in Israel, there has been an understanding with the military authorities that yeshiva and kollel students would not be enlisted, and therefore in accordance with the instructions of the late elders of the generation, in order to conduct themselves as a decent and disciplined public, they cooperated with the military authorities to legally regulate their service exemption, which included reporting to the military offices to receive a Ben-Yeshiva status.”

However, Rabbi Lando continued, “Now the situation is that the courts have declared war against the Torah world, and they are the ones who launched a front aiming to change the arrangement that existed all these years and ordered the army to begin the actual recruitment process of yeshiva students, and since the army is obligated to heed the courts, a necessity has arisen, as we cannot rely on past understandings with the heads of the army, because their hands are bound in iron chains by the judges, and so, any compliance with the decrees of the courts constitutes surrender to their war on Hashem and His Torah.”

Therefore, Rabbi Lando instructed his students most clearly: “Do not show up at all at the draft offices, and do not respond to any draft summons, not even the initial summons.”

Every Israeli youth who reaches his or her 17th birthday receives a summons to register at the nearest draft office, in preparation for being processed for service at age 18. As noted by Rabbi Lando, Haredi youths used to comply with that initial order, and registered with the army, which in turn issued them an “exemption from service,” which they in turn would stretch until they reached age 26, when they were no longer required to serve.

All that is gone now, at least according to the leader of the Lithuanian Haredim. What about the other Haredim, namely the Hasidim and Sephardim?

Senior members of Agudat Israel, the Hasidic half of United Torah Judaism, are pushing for leaving PM Netanyahu’s coalition – as Kan 11 reported on Wednesday – unless Netanyahu approves the draft law by the end of the Knesset’s summer session. Considering the fact that the summer session is ending in two weeks, it would be difficult, nay, impossible for Netanyahu to comply with this demand.

The draft law, which was written by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is now in the opposition, included integrating Haredim into employment through lowering the exemption age and increasing vocational training opportunities; determining recruitment targets for Haredim in military service or national service; and establishing sanctions against yeshivas that do not meet the recruitment goals.

It looks fine on paper, but in reality, as many in the Israeli public on both sides of the aisle have pointed out, in its original form this draft law is all about allowing for Haredi employment at a younger age, and not at all about sustaining the IDF’s needs for thousands of fresh recruits during its nine-month war.

Earlier on Wednesday, the senior Sephardi rabbis sent a letter to their yeshiva and Kollel students, stating that “appearing at the recruiting offices is prohibited according to the Torah,” and that both the old and new Haredi enlistment tracks which had been or would be established, “are all strictly prohibited.”

Finally, this is what Maimonides had to say on this matter:

What is considered a war of mitzvah? The war against the seven nations who occupied Eretz Yisrael, the war against Amalek, and a war fought to assist Israel from an enemy that attacked them. … There is no need to seek the permission of the court to wage a war of mitzvah. Rather, he (the king) may go out of his own volition and force the nation to go out with him. (Mishne Torah, Laws of Kings and God’s Wars, 5:1-2).

Would Yated Ne’eman be good enough to plaster this on its front page on Friday?

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