Monday, July 16, 2012

Why shouldn't haredim be drafted?

Torah study is wonderful and important and valuable. Also, we're commanded to engage in it. But what keeps haredim from going above and beyond the law and emulating our greatest leaders by combining study with warfare? Moshe, Joshua and David, for example, are remembered as outstanding Torah scholars and outstanding spiritual leaders, yet they are also remembered as outstanding warriors. Moshe, the midrash says, personally killed Og and led the fighters who conquered Ethiopia. David (1 Chronicles 22:7) had hands that were so bloody from acts of war that he was prevented from building the Temple. And Joshua, who personally led the conquest of Israel, may have been rebuked by an angel (BT Megilah 3a) for neglecting his Torah study during the evenings when he was off duty, but the angel did not exempt him from his obligation to fight the next morning.

The basis of the exemption claimed by the haredim is also puzzling. In Deuteronomy, the Torah tells us exactly who is excused from war. The list includes new homeowners, engaged men, people who have recently planted a vineyard, and anyone who is afraid either of war (Rabbi Akiva) or death due to his sins (Rabbi Yose). Kolel students are not mentioned. Nor are the Torah scholars. Additionally, the listed exemptions only apply to a voluntary war, not to a war of survival or self-defense which (arguably) is what the IDF is fighting.

Moreover, we're told outright that certain commandments are attached to specific rewards. For example, the Torah says that honoring our parents entitles us to long life, and that providing interest free loans provides us with success at everything we do. Does t it say anywhere that Torah study provides national protection? I know BT Sota 21a and BT Bava Basra 7B claim that Torah scholars are protected by their learning, but this is (a) an interpretation, not a direct biblical promise of the sort we see regarding, e.g.,  the consequences of honoring our parents ; and (b) a promise for the Torah scholars themselves, not for those who do not learn. Neither citation suggests that anything like a national shield  is created through Torah study. But if it's true that such a shield is created, as claimed by haredim, shouldn't the Torah have made it perfectly clear that our national safety depends on Torah study? As it stands, the Torah, with all its talk of wars and soldiering with absolutely no mention of exemptions for learners, gives the very opposite impression. Would God deceive us about something so critical?

Finally, by refusing to serve the haredim are creating hostility and bad feeling, which is something we are, in other cases, enjoined to prevent. For instance, the law prevents us from saving non-Jewish lives on shabbos, but this law is waived in cases when following it would create animosity. Though I am not aware of a law that prevents Torah scholars from serving in the military, wouldn't it seem that such a law --if it existed - would be waived at a time when following it causes dishonor to the Torah and strife between Jews? We permit Shabbath desecration in a life-or-death case when keeping the Shabbath law might anger a gentile. When it is a Jew, instead of a gentile, who is being provoked by another Jew's punctiliousness why can't we issue a similar waiver? 

On the blog maintained by Mishpacha magazine Eyton Kobre, (who, by virtue of his blogging habit, I must conclude is considered by Avi Shafran to be a spiritual descendant of Korach) complains that the attempt to draft Charedim "seeks the destruction of [his] community’s way of life and the values [he] hold more precious than life itself." Strong words, but so what? Given our history, which includes soldiers like David, and the facts of the halacha, which provide no exemptions for students, and the ambiguity of the promise accompanying  Torah study, shouldn't we conclude that his values are wrong and that a way of life which exempts Torah scholars from war -- no matter how "precious" Eytan Kobre personally finds it-- is flawed?

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Anonymous said...

Excellent. Your arguments are all precisely on point.

It is curious to me that some Haredim have said they would fight the state of Israel rather than join the army and fight our non-Jewish enemies.

Also, some have threatened to take Israel to the International Court of Justice. That seems totally inappropriate. Jews are supposed to avoid non-Jewish courts.

All Israeli men ought to have three choices: 1) serve in the military; 2) serve in the alternative service; or 3) go to jail.

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