Sunday, May 13, 2012

Orthodoxy and the IDF - The Torah Tidbits Controversy

There's a flurry over at Torah Tidbits, the very popular Shabbat Torah pamphlet distrubuted by the Israel OU Office.

Rav Zev Leff, Moshav Matityahu published the following letter in Issue 998:

To the Editor of Torah Tidbits,

It is with a heavy heart but out of regard and respect for the Torah Tidbits and its staff that I feel it necessary to protest in my name and the name of many members of Moshav Matityahu something printed in the Lead Tidbits for Achrei- Kedoshim.

It was mentioned there that all deferments for yeshiva students should be canceled and compulsory sheirut leumi be imposed on all girls as in a milchemes mitzvah all go out to battle.

It is very presumptuous to negate a principle that countless Gedolei Yisroel (not only from the Charedi world but also others such as Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook and Rav Avroham Shapira) upheld that Yeshiva students be deferred from army service and girls be exempt from sheirut leumi, by quoting a Chazal that they obviously also knew. (Also see Rambam Hilchos Shmittah Viyovel Chapter 13 Halacha 12 and 13 to the contrary.)  I would hope that a retraction be made out of respect for Gedolei Yisroel.

This drew the following reaction from Rav Chaim Zvi Wasserman of Yerushalayim who had this published:

To the Editor of Torah Tidbits,

I hasten to respond to the protest of my life-long friend and colleague, Rav Zeff Leff.  The issue of the tens of thousands of young men who are immersed in Torah study and as a result seek a permanent deferment from army service is arguably one of the primary issues which has divided the Torah-true community these last six decades. The gedolim who have opined that Torah comes first can be listed and named; they are not countless. And then there are, for sure, the dati-leumi gedolim who have concluded quite differently.

Both camps have quoted sources of our chazal and have pointed to different relevant piskei halacha in RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah. Within the limits of these shared lines I would refer your interested readers to yet another passage in RaMBaM's Hilchot Yesodei haTorah 5:10-11 where he clearly establishes that talmidei chachamim will be held responsible for damaging chilul Hashem that can result from their behavior.

Trying to avoid army service so that basic Torah observance will not have to be violated [not the case with IDF, but maybe a basis for Kal VaChomer - Ed] is not a new challenge that we have had to face. Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffman was asked about weaseling out of mandatory army service in 19th century Germany in order to avoid chilul Shabbat that was a certainty. He offered the inquirer a lengthy response wherein he concluded that dodging the draft in order to prevent having to desecrate Shabbat would needlessly create an immense chilul Hashem (Melamed L'Ho'il 1:42 [located here]).

Then we have to recall the immortal words of the NeTZiV in his commentary to Moshe Rabeinu's question to the members of the tribes of Reuven and Gad when they looked to avoid going to war as the nation stood on the banks of the Jordan River: "Your brothers will go to war but you will remain here?!" he asked. This, explains the NeTZIV, would have constituted an "avlah" [actually, the word used is 'avon'], an unjust wrongful act that would be perpetrated against all of Israel (Ha'amek Davar, Bamidbar 32:6).

Perhaps the time has come for an on-going dialogue within the pages of Torah Tidbits, rather than protests, to present in cogent detail all sides of this issue. And, for those readers who have already made up their minds about the kashrut or tarfut of army and other national service - so be it, let them weekly skip those pages. But those among your many thousands of readers who would want to learn all sides of this most vital subject let them come and learn.

And here are the relevant sections from Phil Chernofsky's IDF and Medinat Yisrael which initiated the controversy:

...I must say that the following does not necessarily reflect OU policy, but I would hope and pray that it is close. I also have to say that the following might rub some TTreaders the wrong way, but I hope and pray that it will be taken seriously and given serious thought.

...I believe, with all my heart, that an observant Jew who does not feel that we need to thank G-d for the State of Israel - with all of its shortcomings and problems, is holding back the Geula Sh'leima process. I picture G-d's saying to Himself (so to speak), let Me give them a major step on the road to the Complete Geula and see how they handle it.

...On the other matter of the IDF... I believe, with all my heart, that there should not be exemptions for Torah study. From the Torah we learn that for a MILCHEMET R'SHUT, an optional, non-essential war, there are several exemptions allowed...For a MILCHEMET MITZVA, an obligatory war - and this includes a defensive war in which the survival of the people is at stake - a Chatan joins the fighting even from his Chupa, etc. And the Torah student leaves the Beit Midrash. There is no doubt that we are in a situation of Milchemet Mitzva with enemies within Eretz Yisrael, neighboring Israel, and in other countries within missle range.

The first yeshiva student - perhaps the most significant one ever - was Yehoshua bin Nun. The Torah tells us that he was a fulltime student - he never left the Tent. Yet it was him that G-d instructed Moshe to call upon to form the army to fight against Amalek. And that was the beginning of a long military career for him. Remember though, that it was Yehoshua who received Torah from Moshe and transmitted it to his generation and to the further generations of the Z'keinim (Shoftim). Yehoshua is a major link in the entire Chain of Tradition.

With Hesder and other religious army service arrangements, and Nachal Chareidi, there are different options for the religious prospective soldier. And the more religious people who join the army, the better conditions get for the religious soldier. And there are many good reasons for all girls to be required to perform National Service of one kind or another.

But there is another powerful factor to add to the picture - with the same conclusion. The perception of the general population who do army service and reserve duty for many years, is that much of the Chareidi community does not carry its weight in defense of this country. Many feel that they have larger burdens of milu'im than they would if more religious Jews would serve in the army. Reserve duty often disrupts family life and one's business - many feel that their reserve time would be reduced and more fairly distributed if more people would serve in the army. This perception causes a lowering of the esteem for Torah and religious Jews in the eyes of the less-religious and non-religious population. This is one of the definitions of Chilul HaShem.

Bottom line, it is the right thing to do for an eligible fellow, to serve in the army in some framework. And it will also be a Kiddush HaShem (or at least, aleviate a possible Chilul HaShem).

All I can contribute is that a Yeshiva student who leaves his studies to become a doctor, a lawyer or a dozen other occupations seems to be quite accepted in Orthodox society.  But leaving studies for the Army?  Of course, the case is, as far as I understand it, that what really bothers them is (a) the obligatory aspect and (b) that girls are outside the proper supervisory framework.

The real problem is, as Phil has noted, is that the Torah value of the State of Israel, the Medina, is either rejected or ignored.  The contribution to society which is quite clear ig one becomes a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a teacher, etc., is lacking when it comes to what an Orthodox person is expected to contribute to Israel.  The doctor and lawyer are accepted and held in respect, even if they have left the Torah-learning Yeshiva but an army officer?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Second the motion for an ongoing dialog, at the very least. And I *do* think the time has come to reevaluate the effect of the draft exemptions on Israel, particularly "ha-am ha-yoshev ba-Tzion" today.