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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dr. Nachum J. Stone. A Guest Post on Chareidim and Military Service

Our last two posts discussed Shevet Levi's exemption from joining the Jewish army, an exemption from both combat and military support, and the relationship between those that have the awesome privilege of service and those who stay at home and pray and learn for them.  Understandably, the posts elicited strong reaction from those that feel that the chareidi refusal to serve in the military is wrong.  I invited Dr. Stone to explain, in the context of social and halachic realities, the position of those that feel that way.  His article follows.  I invite all other readers to do the same.  Dr. Stone's article far exceeds the standards I require for posting here, and should not discourage others who wish to express their opinion in their own voice.

In the course of his vort on the unique circumstances of Milchemet Midyan, K’vod Baal Achsanya, HaRav HaGaon B, asked why is it that “Frum Jews [who] hate the Chareidim for avoiding the draft.”
                I would like to try to explain on a few levels. Firstly, no one I have ever met hates the Chareidim for anything. A much more accurate description would be resentment.
                It should be noted that all draft-dodgers are looked down-upon in Israeli society. Citizens protest if non-soldiers are hired for entertainment. Most job applications inquire of one’s military service. It’s just part of a society whose existence is so fragile.
                HaRav B seems to want to include modern Chareidi draft-avoiders in Rambam’s military exemption. [This is not the place to debate that point, but it is not universally accepted that Rambam exempts ANYONE from a Milchemet Mitzvah. V’AKMAL ] I have never heard any of the yeshiva students make such a claim, but to do so  would be ridiculous. Can any contemporary Talmid Yeshiva claim to “פרק מעל צוארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם”?  These are the same Talmidim who whine when their stipends are 2 weeks late? Who think that all businesses are somehow “obligated” to give them a special discount? Who demand equal funding as army-veteran university students? Are any of them on that level?
                Even if we were to grant that the Rambam Levite exemption exists, it certainly is not obligatory upon anyone to exempt himself. Imagine if these “Klei Kodesh” were in the army. Would it not change the nature of the army to a Machaneh  Kadosh  ? How would motivation change, how would morale change? How would the self-image of these Bnei Yeshiva change? The army already has special yeshivishe units. Perhaps they are not perfect, but if they were more heavily populated, they would function better too!
                The original agreement between the Chazon Ish and PM Ben Gurion was intended to free-up a few hundred superior scholars to replenish the rabbinic cadre after the holocaust. Now, the Torato Umanuto exemption has become an almost mandatory burden on all who would call themselves Chareidi. They are pariahs if they don’t “choose” the exemption. So the system is abused, and the newspapers duly report the sophisticated massive fraud. Fictitious students get government stipends to learn in largely virtual yeshivot. Perhaps the Chilul Hashem drives some of the disgust ?
                Are all the Chareidim being stigmatized because of the abuse of the few? Certainly. On the other hand how many of the Talmidei Yeshivot are true matmidim whose time can’t be sacrificed for communal defense? So the 95% who abuse the system give all the others a bad name!

                This leads us to the heart of the problem. The future Talmidei Yeshivot are indoctrinated from a young age, that they are the true defenders of Israel. Without their precious learning we would lose all our wars!  It’s hard to fault the kids; the ideology is axiomatic for them. So, not only do they not serve. Not only do they not respect or thank those who serve (and die…) but they hold themselves superior.  I think we’re very close to an answer to HaRav B’s question.
     Another point raised was “Shevet Levi had the job of davening for Klal Yisrael.”  I’m sure they did.  Unfortunately, these modern-day self-appointed Leviim have neglected that part of their job. The contemporary non-participants would rather stomp out of shule than daven for the soldiers, even the dead ones. They won’t use a siddur that includes a prayer for our soldiers [really, I’ve seen them check]. I had one guy leave the ammud as shatz one Shabbat [and then the building] when asked to say the mishbarach for the soldiers- in the middle of a war! Yes, in America, there’s more of a chance that the Chareidim will pray for the soldiers, there’s less of a chance that the youth might be tempted to be one. Yet still, those shules that do daven for the soldiers are few.
There’s a strange paradox here.  On the one hand, the individual Talmid Yeshiva can’t be faulted for doing what absolutely everyone around him is doing, what he has been trained to do since birth.  It would be quite radical for him to do otherwise.  Indeed, the few charedim who do join the army probably are trying to get out of the charedi system anyway.  On the other hand, many in the younger charedi leadership have told me that they know that what they are doing is probably wrong, definitely causing friction, and unlikely to last in the long-term.  But they see themselves powerless to change anything; the “street” won’t let them.  So the “street” doesn’t bear personal responsibility, but is responsible for the perpetuation of an intolerable situation that guarantees animosity.  
                We should also bear in mind something very important psychologically- who else doesn’t serve? The Arabs. Who else claims to hate the state and wishes for it to disappear- ibid

Simplistic? Yes. But herds think simplistically.

                To close, I too, would like to quote our parsha: האחיכם יבאו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה?!


Chaim B. said...

The dispensation for yeshiva students produces a classic "tragedy of the commons" game theory problem ( Each individual thinks that without him, the army will get along just fine, but imagine if everyone had that attitude!

Anonymous said...

I think the explanation is simple. The irreligious Zionists accomplished with courage and chutzpah in one hundred years what the chareidim could not even begin to do in two thousand years of tears and tefilla and Torah. Not one solitary thing. The only thing they accomplished was to strengthen the identity of the Jewish people. But as far as a state, as far as preventing massacres, as far as self respect? Zero. Nada. To now come and say "ah, but our tefilla and Torah is protecting you!" is, to many realists, not only annoying, but actually maddening. Grow up! Wake up from your delusional stupor! They sacrifice, they die, they build and create and succeed, and then we come in and say that our way is best?

Anonymous said...

The fact is that a much higher percentage of religious Zionists become officers (and thus commit to serving in the IDF for a much longer period of time) and the Dati Leumi are way over represented in combat units. I agree that someone has to grow up here but it's the other "anonymous" who first made that statement of growing up, not everyone else. BTW, the largest number of draft dodgers these days comes from Tel Aviv.