It is matter of general agreement that Israel owes its very existence to Divine Intervention. There were just too many nations against us at our inception, during our major wars, and at the apex of each moment to reach any other conclusion.
We are blessed.
At the center of that blessing is the idea that no war may be fought without two types of “soldiers” in the fight: those who fight with weapons and those who fight with prayer. We learn this important lesson in Exodus 17: 11, when the war against Amalek cannot succeed without Moshe’s blessing:
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
However, the Torah also makes clear that serving to protect and defend the people of Israel is equated with loyalty to G-d. For example, when the tribes of Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe wanted to settle east of the Jordan river, Moshe rebukes them because he thinks they are trying to avoid military service:
Moshe answered the descendants of Gad and Reuven saying: shall your brothers go to war while you remain here? (Numbers 32:6).
He goes on to equate the possible avoidance of military service with turning against G-d. He accuses them of being no better than the spies who forced the people to wander for 40 years in the desert:
Now behold you have risen up in the place of your fathers, a brood of transgressors, to bring even more of God's wrath upon Israel. If you turn away from Him, He will leave us in the wilderness and you will have destroyed this whole people (Numbers 32: 15)
Moshe is not satisfied until he extracts a promise from the tribes of Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe that they will serve in war against Israel’s enemies.
Unfortunately, many of our current scholars have remembered the lesson that Israel needs scholars, and have forgotten the lesson that failing to defend our nation is equal to the sin of the spies.
Right now there are far too many young men studying in yeshiva in lieu of serving in the IDF, and I don’t believe that all of them are needed in that capacity. Right now, over 50,000 students are exempt from military service—an unprecedented number and one clearly out of sync with the importance of military service in the history of our Nation.
I admit, there are some young men who excel so greatly at the study of Torah that one minute spent away from the study hall would be a terrible loss to our nation. But, let’s be honest, not every young man who sits down with a book has the capacity, the intellect, or the drive to become a Torah Giant.
We need a compromise that acknowledges the importance of true Torah scholars while providing for the opportunity for the rest to participate in the mitzvah of defending the Jewish nation.
I suggest the following compromise: The Rosh Yeshiva of each school should recognize the top 10% of their Israeli students as exempt from military service, and release the rest of their students—allowing them to return after their service is complete.
In acknowledgement of the loss of these students and to the income of the yeshivas during their service, the government should guarantee the yeshvas a temporary stipend to maintain their teaching staff and student services at the current level so that they don’t incur too great a loss of income during the first two years, when the most students would be leaving the yeshiva (there is a large backlog of students right now). After that, the stipend would no longer be required, as a combination of new students and former students returning to study would refill the empty seats and the budget shortfall.
This would be a win-win-win situation for Israel.
First, it would increase the level of Torah knowledge. Those young men who are studying in yeshivat would compete for those few slots as the upper 10%, and they would improve their learning dramatically. We would see a flowering of Torah knowledge unlike any other time in modern history.
Can you imagine how serious this study will get when the young men realize that they face national service if they cannot learn at the very top levels? First, we would see a major decline in smoking, drinking, and drug use at the yeshivas (come on, admit it--it is a very serious problem right now!), and we would see an immediate surge in the number of students demanding more from their teachers. Instead of their rabbis trying to force-feed knowledge, the young men will demand knowledge! Their hunger for Torah will intensify, forcing even the best of their rabbis to increase their knowledge as well.
Second, the army would be forced to recognize the need to understand Jewish law and apply it appropriately within the ranks. The IDF would have to become much more aware of the decisions they make and how those decisions square with Halaka—decisions such as orders of expulsion against Jews, performing tasks not absolutely necessary to the protection of life on Shabbat and holidays, and the integration of men and women into the same units.
Placing tens of thousands of Haredim into the ranks would be the end of placing men and women into the same units, and the beginning of the IDF admitting it has NEVER treated men and women the same way. Most of the women receive inferior weapons, training, and opportunity even when they serve in the same units with men. Perhaps, if women are in separate units from the men, the training and opportunities for women will improve because they will receive equal funding.
Last, and probably most important, the Haredim would receive needed training in the planning, implementation, and execution of modern military operations including the use of modern weapons, weapons systems, aircraft, and naval vessels. These skills are essential. Without this training, the religious sector doesn’t have a chance of succeeding to secure Israel against the mounting international pressure to surrender our holy sites, our land, and our heritage to our enemies.
Although many Haredim may think that military training is somehow beneath them or would somehow infect them with unholiness (although it was never beneath our Patriarchs, Prophets, and Sages), they need this training desperately. They may not know it yet, but once they are trained, they will thank Hashm from the center of their souls for the opportunity to participate in the protection of our Holy Land.
Those yeshiva students, above all others, should realize that Hashm is in charge, even when a secular Supreme Court may be making the decisions.
Remember the lesson of Balaam! Even when our enemies try to curse us, they will bless us!
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