Sunday, March 31, 2024

Is a New Day Dawning for Charedim?

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch (VIN)
Sadly, they will find a way. The Charedi leadership will find a way to keep all of their young out of the army.  (More about that later.) That - it seems - is their red line. A red line based on the false assumption that the modern State of Israel’s entire reason for living is to destroy authentic Judaism.

This attitude is reflected by comments from perhaps the most revered elder sage of the Charedi world, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch. Comments he made in response to Israel’s Supreme Court decision ‘to partially halt funding to Yeshivas due to the status of yeshiva students regarding army service’.:

“There are two kinds of people attempting to cancel the Torah study among us. There are those that don’t specifically hate religion but they don’t believe and don’t understand that the Torah is what protects them, that this is the only reason Eretz Yisrael can continue to exist despite the enemies surrounding us. They don’t believe this, and therefore demand equal burden.” 

There are others who are really evil people, they don’t care about equal burdens, they just hate us, hate religion, hate the Torah ,hate Bnei Torah. We see how they responded to all kinds of suggestions even from their own people, it all stems from hatred, hatred of religion and Torah scholars. They want to destroy us and we must stand up against them with self-sacrifice, let’s hope we don’t get to that point, but we may need to in the future. 

Rav Hirsch is not saying anything new in the second half of his comments. This has been the position of Charedi leaders going back to the beginning of the state. – when the undisputed non-Chasidic leader of the Charedi world, the Chazon Ish made a deal with the ‘devil’ (Ben Gurion) to exempt those whose ‘profession’ was full time Torah study. At the time there were about 400 such students. The deal was made and both leaders walked away happy.

That has been the Charedi position ever since. Now, for the first time it was acknowledged this view is not universal. That there is a substantial number of Israelis that are not necessarily anti Torah Just upset that Charedim are not pulling their weight. Especially at this time of existential war.  Although he still believes they are wrong, that is a major concession to the truth.

Rav Hrisch says they are wrong because they do not understand that it is Torah study that really saves the country. Not soldiers. That taking those who study Torah out of the Beis HaMedrash and putting them in the army will destroy the protection that Torah study provides.

I am not here to dispute him on the protective value of Torah study. Only to ask why he doesn’t allow for the fact that not every single Charedi should be exempted from army service?

Even if he’s right about Torah study, isn’t it possible that it is through the army that God will work His salvation? 

How does he explain the opinion of virtually every religious Zionist Rav and Rosh Yeshiva  that it is not only permitted to join the army... not only an optional Mitzvah... but a mandatory one. 

How does he explain the Hesder Yeshiva movement where soldiers both study Torah and serve in the army - most often in combat? 

How does he explain the percentage of  religious Zionist casualties being much higher than their percentage of the population? 

How does he explain to parents grieving over the loss of a son or daughter in combat while all of his students get to sit this war out?  

How does he explain his views to parents who can’t sleep at night worrying about whether their sons or daughter will come home alive? Or if they do - whether they will come back in one piece?

I am not going to try and guess what his answers would be. But I would love to know what they are.

I understand why the Chazon Ish asked for exemption for the few Charedi students learning Torah at the time. He was trying to rebuild the Torah world lost during the Holocaust. He feared that without those exemptions the Torah world would be absorbed into the ‘melting pot’ world envisioned by Israel’s founding fathers. Which was to create a society that was secular and whose Jewish identity was cultural rather than religious. A society where the highest value was placed on a version of socialism that believed that religion was the opiate of the masses. And that the ‘new Israeli’ has to be disabused of that ‘opiate’.  

But that is not the Israel of today. Ever since the 6 day war in June of 67, it has become clear that the Torah haters were not the majority of the nation. True some were still like that, but most were indifferent to it. Menachem Begin was elected a few years later and he showed deference for the religious Jews. Even though he was not personally observant, he never desecrated Shabbos publicly in his role as prime minister. Since then Torah study in Israel has exploded – growing to the massively huge numbers of today.   

I am not so sure the Chazon Ish intended every single Charedi youth be exempted from army service per se.  True he may have thought that the army was all about disabusing religious Jews of their religion. But even if it ever was, that is clearly no longer the case. There are some pockets of anti religious bias on the part of some in the military hierarchy, that is by far not policy. And hasn't been for some time as demonstrated by the Hesder movement since the early 50s and even moreso recently by the advent of Nachal Charedi. Now that there are over 60,000 students, there is absolutely no reason to exempt them all. 

I would be opposed to forcing them all to serve. But I am equally opposed to none of them serving. Especially now.

In that vein there are some card carrying Charedim that have expressed a more positive view about sharing the burden. Charedim that value the concept of Daas Torah and would never contradict position of acknowledged Charedi leaders. This includes a few Charedi leaders that have conceded that the exemption from the draft should be canceled for  the ‘Laydig Gayers’ - the 20% (at least) of those who are supposed to be studying Torah but spend their time doing anything but.

I have no way of knowing how this will play out. But if past is prologue, the opinion of the most senior rabbinic leaders such as Rav Hirsch will prevail over the opinions of everyone else. This is how Daas Torah works in their circles. If they insist on the status quo - they will  find some way to prevail. Even if it means taking to the streets in many massive protests. Protests that will  be more disruptive than anything Israel has ever experienced from any segment of their Jewish population. That will surely make life miserable for everyone. It will increase the enmity between Charedim and the rest of Israel and could God forbid devolve into unprecedented violence between the two sides. 

May God protect us from ourselves.