Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rav Shach and Hesder

I had always looked at the hesder program as a shining example of how a Jew living in Israel conduct his life: The Hesder program provides opportunity for those committed to Torah learning and observance to both physically defend his people who are surrounded by mortal enemies while continuing to learn b’hasmada rabba. To me this was the epitome of how a Jew should live. How idealistic it must be to want to serve God and country in this way. One must be willing to put one’s life on the line and still stay committed to learning as much as possible in the process.

As I understand it the commitment by a Hesder student is a six year long one which alternates every six months between learning and army service. This commitment is twice as long as the three year commitment one must give to regular army service upon being drafted. Six years of danger protecting his people.

According to a documentary I saw quite some time ago, Hesder boys do not only commit to the six year time frame, they are usually the ones to volunteer for the most dangerous assignment as a group. This is further testament of their idealism. I remember watching that documentary with tears welling up in my eyes thinking how courageous and wonderful these soldiers were.What a Kiddush HaShem, I thought! It was they who were living up to the full potential as a member of Klal Yisroel, not I. These were the real role models. Learning Torah fulltime and protecting their fellow citizens beyond the call of duty.

I do not mean to take away from the Bnei Torah who learn full time without serving, nor do I want to diminish the contributions of the secular members IDF who put their lives on the line every day. Both deserve credit for what they do. But in my mind Hesder is the highest form of service. Those who serve that way are the best of the best. And I reject the oft heard accusations that the hesder boys are not really all that dedicated to Limud HaTorah. That is a canard! Who is anyone to judge that? How does anyone know that?

And that is why an article in the Yated so upset me. I can’t understand the attitude expressed by Rav Schach in so completely rejecting Hesder. I can understand his Shittah, with which I disagree. But... to such an extent?! In an article designed to celebrate the fifth Yahzeit of his, Rav Dovid Cohen tells of a discussion he had with Rav Shach on this very issue:

“I was once informed that Maran had gone to see an eye specialist in Shaarei Zedek Hospital but that he wished to tell me something. I went there at once and Maran began speaking to me. I accompanied him on his way and when we entered the office, the doctor asked Maran if he would allow his son, who was studying in a yeshivas hesder, to attend the Ponovezh Yeshiva for a week... Maran would not back down. He could not, under any circumstances, allow a boy from a hesder yeshiva to come during the regular session, not even for one week.”

He wouldn’t allow a Hesder student to attend his Yeshiva?! I’m sorry, this insults me. But more importantly it insults the Hesder boys and their program! A Hesder boy who is the prototype of sincerity and devotion to God and country and Rav Shach does not allow him to attend his Yeshiva for even a week? Why? What does he gain by this? What is gained for Klal Yisroel? A sincere young man who has demonstrated a willingness to give up his life for Am Yisroel, wants to further his Torah knowledge by learning in Ponevezh. And Rav Schach would not allow him to learn there during the regular session, for one week?!

It really upsets me when I read something like this. Rav Schach didn’t believe in Hesder. OK, I understand. But it was the Chazon Ish himself who told his Talmid and founder of the Hesder program, Rav Chaim Goldvicht, ZTL, to go ahead with it and how to go about implementing it. I will never forget when Rav Goldvicht told me that story. Yet, Rav Shach forbade such students from entering his Yeshiva. Why was his attitude about these students so negative that he barred hthem entry to his yeshiva for even a week? Were these students to be denied learning Torah just because they were willing to spill blood on behalf of Klal Yisroel... which included his Yeshivaleit as well? How could he treat fellow Ehrilche Jews that way? What principle was he protecting that was worth such stridency?

Small wonder that Rav Shach’s only son rebelled against his father’s Hashkafa to serve in the army himself. He must have felt the same way I do.