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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Matos, Bamidbar 31:4. Shevet Levi's Military Service Exemption

The Tribe of Levi did not fight in the Jewish wars.  This is obvious in numerous pesukim in the Torah, such as the many censuses which state explicitly that Shevet Levi was not counted because they were not Yotzei Tzava.  Additionally, whenever war is described in Yehoshua and Shoftim, all the other tribes are mentioned, but never Shevet Levi, not in Milchemes Mitzva/divine imperative war, not in Milchemes Reshus/politically motivated war, and not in Milchemes Amalek/the war against Amalek.

This fundamental rule is crystallized in the Rambam's words at the end of Shmita ve'Yovel:
ולמה לא זכה לוי בנחלת ארץ ישראל ובביזתה עם אחיו? מפני שהובדל לעבוד את י"י לשרתו ולהורות דרכיו הישרים ומשפטיו הצדיקים לרבים, שנאמר יורו משפטיך ליעקב ותורתך לישראל. לפיכך הובדלו מדרכי העולם. לא עורכין מלחמה כשאר ישראל, ולא נוחלין, ולא זוכין לעצמן בכח גופן. אלא הם חיל השם שנאמר ברך י"י חילו. והוא ברוך הוא זוכה להם שנאמר אני חלקך ונחלתך.   ולא שבט לוי בלבד, אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להבדל לעמוד לפני י"י לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את י"י והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלהים ופרק מעל צוארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם, הרי זה נתקדש קדש קדשים, ויהיה י"י חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים. ויזכה לו בעה"ז דבר המספיק לו כמו שזכה לכהנים ללוים. הרי דוד ע"ה אומר י"י מנת חלקי וכוסי אתה תומיך גורלי:

So it's not only Shevet Levi.  This exemption includes all who take upon themselves lives exclusively dedicated to study and religious service.

From this Rambam, all we know is that people who are exclusively dedicated to learning Torah are exempt from conscription.  But what of people who work, but are Talmidei Chachamim?  For that, we look to the Rambam in 6 Talmud Torah 10:

תלמידי חכמים אינם יוצאין בעצמן לעשות עם כל הקהל בבנין וחפירה של מדינה וכיוצא בהן כדי שלא יתבזו בפני עמי הארץ. ואין גובין מהן לבנין החומה ותיקון השערים ושכר השומרים וכיוצא בהן ולא לתשורת המלך. ואין מחייבים אותן ליתן המס בין מס שהוא קצוב על בני העיר בין מס שהוא קצוב על כל איש ואיש שנאמר גם כי יתנו בגוים עתה אקבצם ויחלו מעט ממשא מלך ושרים. וכן אם היתה סחורה לתלמיד חכם מניחים אותו למכור תחלה ואין מניחים אחד מבני השוק למכור עד שימכור הוא. וכן אם היה לו דין והיה עומד בכלל בעלי דינים הרבה מקדימין אותו ומושיבין אותו:

It appears that the concept of "Shevet Levi" applies both to those that are dedicated to exclusive Torah study and also to the Talmidei Chachamim (a contextually sensitive term whose meaning changes according to the time and place, as evident in various applications which I don't feel like looking up now.)

So it is clear that Shevet Levi did not go to war, not Milchemes Mitzva, not Milchemes Reshus, and not Milchemes Amaleik.  What did they do?  They learned and davenned.  As the Gemara in Makkos 10a says, א"ר יהושע בן לוי מאי דכתיב (תהילים קכב) עומדות היו רגלינו בשעריך ירושלם? מי גרם לרגלינו שיעמדו במלחמה - שערי ירושלם שהיו עוסקים בתורה .  But there was one and only one exception:  The war with Midian, as described in our parsha.  Rashi in 31:4 says לכל מטות ישראל: לרבות שבט לוי:.  This is based on Rashi's girsa in the Sifri here (although the Gaon has the Sifri saying the opposite.)   Rashi's Sifri is stating that Levi did not join the battle in other wars, but the war against Midian was the exception.

Another odd thing about this War is that only here are we introduced to the idea of having dedicated davenners for each soldier.  What happened in the earlier war with Sichon and Og?

Of course, the two singularities explain each other.

In all other wars, Shevet Levi had the job of davenning for Klal Yisrael, and there was no need to dedicate a mispallel for each soldier.  In the war of Midian, on the other hand, Shevet Levi was physically invested, just as all the other Shevatim were.  If so, there was no Shevet- there was no eidah- that was completely and exclusively dedicated to tefilla and Torah.  So davka in this war was there a requirement of having Anshei Ma'amad.

One more question: Why was the War of Midian different from all other wars?  Why were the Leviim told to join the war on the battlefield?
The Rogotchover says that this was not a Milchemes Mitzva and it was not a Milchemes Reshus.  It did not have the dinim of Milchama at all.  It was, as he explains here, an action of revenge.  He says it was נקמה, not מלחמה.  It was an infliction of נקמת השם במדין.  He says there are many halachic differences between the two.  Two examples: here there was not din of יפת תואר, and there was no rule of only surrounding the enemy on three but not four sides.

In any case, I look forward for someone to explain to me why the idea of military exemption for Talmidei Yeshivos elicits such anger from other Frum Jews.  I'm not talking about Tel Avivians, who, beginning at around the same age that Dati children are being taught Torah tziva lanu Moshe. are taught to abhor Chareidim.  I'm curious about Frum Jews who hate the Chareidim for avoiding the draft.  Of course, the system is abused, and batlanim and shkotzim and black marketers take advantage of it.  But as far as I can tell, the people who disparage the Chareidim for draft avoidance do so wholesale, not retail, and feel that even yeshiva bachurim who are sincere and serious masmidim ought to be in the army.

Since it's the Three Weeks, and, as I've said, we're fated to be at each other's throats anyway, please feel free to heap invective upon me.  Catharsis is good for you.

By the way: Just as the Eim Habanim Smeicha is endlessly cited in the DL community, here's someone with sterling credentials that says pshat in the Rambam like me:  Rav Tikotzinsky, writing for Rav Herzog.  (An epitaph for Rav Tikotzinsky is here.)  You really don't need rayos that the Rambam means what he says, but there it is anyway.  See also the Ambuha D'Sifri vol II page 518, or here, and the Pnei Meivin in Sanhedrin 20b, here.

Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum mentioned this issue in an article some time ago.  The full article is located here, and I quote the most relevant passage:

The resentment of those who serve three years in the army – often in circumstances of great danger – towards those who do not serve, is understandable from their point of view. Yet the chareidi world will never agree to dismantle the hundreds of yeshivos built from the ashes over the last fifty years and send our 18-year-olds into the army. If the price of an improved public image is the destruction of the world of Torah, it is a price that cannot be paid. We also have our world view, and know that without the protection of Torah learning Israel cannot defend itself.

The chareidi rejection of army service for 18-year-olds (the traditional draft age) has both a positive and a negative dimension. The positive is the insistence on the incomparable value of Torah learning in Hashem’s eyes. The Yeshiva world rejects the assertion that yeshiva students do not contribute to the national defense. On the contrary, yeshiva students are told repeatedly that their learning is the greatest protection of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel. Though it is true that a radical division of labor exists in Israeli society, it is not just between those who serve in the army and those who don’t, but more fundamentally between the 10-15% who are shomer mitzvos and those who are not.

Even at Mercaz HaRav, long viewed as the flagship yeshiva of the National Religious world, boys are strongly encouraged to push off army service in favor of full-time learning during the crucial years prior to marriage, and for several years thereafter.

The negative objection to army service derives from the use of the Israeli army as an instrument of socialization. Chareidim have no desire to have their children socialized to norms antithetical to the Torah and in a spiritually threatening environment. Israel, for instance, has long been the only non-revolutionary society to draft women. The recent push to integrate women into combat units has caused many even in the national religious world to reconsider the propriety of army service.

Nor can we control the irrational aspects of the hatred. A certain antipathy to the Torah and those who learn it is built into the Creation. Where does the name Sinai come from? Chazal ask. They answer: From there sina (hatred) came into the world (Shabbos 89b).
(end quote)

Here's an abstract of some fellow's master thesis at an American college.  Found here.
The haredim in Israel are an ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious group who uphold the most conservative of Jewish laws. Instead of serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as all other Israelis do, the haredim are exempted from the IDF's policy of universal conscription. This thesis proposes three hypotheses to determine why Israel's haredim do not serve in the IDF. First, the haredim do not serve in the IDF because they do not want to; second, the haredim do not serve because they hold pacifistic political opinions; and third, the haredim do not serve because Jewish religious tradition forbids military service. To test these hypotheses, data were gathered by conducting a literature review and studying Israeli newspapers, official Israeli Government statistics, and unofficial public opinion surveys. Accordingly, a close examination of both the haredi worldview and the cultural characteristics of Israel's haredi communities suggests that the haredim do not want to serve in the IDF for self-interested reasons. Furthermore, a survey of haredi political opinions indicates that the majority of haredim exhibit a hawkish and aggressive political orientation. Finally, an analysis of individual haredi voices reveals that haredi yeshiva students consider their Torah studies to be an integral component to Israel's wartime activities. Contrary to the expectations of this thesis, haredi resistance to military service is not defined by an aversion to war or a commitment to peace, and it therefore cannot serve as a model for advocates of conflict resolution to emulate.  

And finally, reporting from Yediot Achronot..........
Activists protest haredi draft dodging - Israel News, Ynetnews


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll try to explain to you the Orthodox resentment as best I can. But firstly, let me just say that I don't think Tel avivians are being taught to hate Chareidim. I think they're being taught to value earning a living. And they look down in those who don't share those values like the Chareidim look down on those who don't share their values. But now to the army issue- I think part of it is simply a numbers issue- if 5% of people were designated "super-learners" and were exempt from the Army- I think a significant amount of the Orthodox opposition would disappear- but it's not the case- with very few exceptions Charedim don't go to the army-period. It's not a select elite- in your words, it's 'wholesale', not 'retail'.Not every Chareidi is a talmud chacham. So it's not a learning Torah issue at all- it's a priority and value issue- it's just not important enough for them to do. And that's the problem. The Dati Leumi know that they are picking up the slack. And thank G-d that they do. Can you imagine what a Chillel Hashem it would be if no shomer torah umitzvos people were in the Army? But that's exactly what the Chareidim seem to want.
Imagine the scene at a dati leumi shiva house for a soldier killed in battle. Imagine it's your child. I'd imagine the last person you'd want making a shiva call is someone who feels that your child is an appropriate sacrifice but not their child.
Not to mention, I'm sure Shevet Levi had a deep appreciation of what the soldiers who did fight were doing. Can you say the same about the fellows in Bnei Brak? Where are the gemachs in Meah Shearim to send pizza and cakes to the soldiers? When was the last misheberach for chayalim in a Chareidi shul?

Daniel said...

Anonymous- If the greater Tel Aviv education is anything like the classes I have at Open University in Ramat Aviv then they are definitely taught (implicitly obviously) to abhor chareidim. Teachers and students alike find no qualms with a nice snide jab whenever the opportunity presents itself (although to be fair that group seems to like snide jabs at alot of other things as well) and I've gotten into more than one or two arguments with instructors who casually tell over very vitriolic rhetoric.

I'd love to see hundreds of thousands of the chareidim joining the army and education system and watch the establishment run in terror from the new ideological changes and influences that such an event would portend. Then you'd find them complaining of too many chareidim in the army who could potentially become a fifth column, with their priorities of Daas Torah and the like. On the whole, they complain because they want to complain and hate, not because they really are interested in having the chareidim join and be a mutual and contributing partner in a joint project called "the State of Israel". The shame is that the chareidim don't call their bluff and take them up on their offer. These are my impressions from the limited exposure I've had. I could always be wrong.

great unknown said...

The last lines of Anonymous's missive open up a can of worms that bothers me also. Where are the tefillot in the chareidi yeshivot for the soldiers. In fact, by what authority were the yeshivot mevatail the tefilla lishlom hamedinah, which is at least a d'rabbanan, and possibly midivrei kabbala?

In my shul, I modified the tefillot for the USA and Medinat Yisroel to exclude the enemies of Yiddishkeit, but we certainly said them.

Anonymous said...

"עיקר ההפרות - לרעת החיילים הדתיים"
"בשנת 2005 מוניתי לראשות מנהלת השילוב הראוי. רצנו במשך שלושה חודשים, יום ולילה, לניסוח המסקנות ולהטמעה שלהן בצבא, ואני יכול לומר בוודאות כי עיקר ההפרות שלהן היום הוא לרעת החיילים הדתיים. רונצקי מונה

כמה דוגמאות להחלטות "מתריסות", כמו שירת ההמנון דווקא על ידי חיילת בטקס בקורס קצינים, למרות שרוב חניכיו דתיים, או מינוי קצינת קשר בגדוד לוחם. "מג"ד כזה אמר לי במפורש: 'יש לי בעיה שהיא איתי ועם עוד שמונה חיילים בפעילות בנגמ"ש במשך כמה ימים. זה לא לעניין. זה פוגע ברמה המבצעית שלי".

לדברי הרב הצבאי לשעבר לשעבר, "מי שמבקש בחינה נוספת של הדברים - בשמחה. שיגיע ליחידות האלה גם הוא ואז יהיה לו ייצוג ונוכל לדון בהכול. זה שוק חופשי".

Chaim B. said...

I wish I had time to write a full response.

>>>Yet the chareidi world will never agree to dismantle the hundreds of yeshivos built from the ashes... If the price of an improved public image is the destruction of the world of Torah, it is a price that cannot be paid.

You have got to be kidding me. It's all or nothing -- either full time learning for everyone, no exceptions, or it's the complete "destruction of the world of Torah". Life must be so easy when everything is black and white, either/or. Hesder, part time learning programs, Torah and... anything -- all worthless.

It's also don't think the charedim perceive their choice as one between competing positive values, i.e. the State and Army are important, but Torah is more important and that is my contribution. I think their attitude is that the State/Army is not a positive value at all. R' Elchanan, the Brisker Rav, were extreme anti-Zionists -- they are the heroes of the yeshiva world, are they not? How can anyone raised on R' Elchanan's mamamarim think supporting Jewish nationalism in any way is a good idea?

I have a 17 year old. Maybe 1 in 20 in his class have the potential to live up to that description of sheivet levi in the Rambam. Do you think in Israel teens are so radically different? What % truly deserve a draft exemption - 10%? 20%? Yet, the chareidi hashkafa has defined the execption as the norm, flipping the system on its head.
Enough of my rant. I should have waited until I was in a better mood to comment.