Inter-Communal Animosity, the Chareidi Draft, and the Bread of Humiliation

The anger on both sides of the chareidi draft issue is palpable. The following observation risks sounding naïve by making a fundamental observation regarding a complicated issue: the chareidi and secular camps should theoretically get along splendidly. We have the perfect Yissachar-Zevulun relationship. The chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael provides the infinite merit of Torah learning to the entire Jewish people and provides the State with physical protection and security (Bava Basra 7b). On the other hand, the Israeli government grants exemptions from IDF service for yeshivah students, funds yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools, and provides the chareidi community with a variety of other health and welfare benefits.

The easy answer is that secular people do not have any appreciation for the value of Torah and therefore view chareidim as “moochers” or “parasites” who should “share the burden.” The problem is that this explanation of secular Jews’ motivations oversimplifies the issue and conveniently places the blame and the burden of finding a solution squarely on the “other guy,” our more secular brethren. It absolves us of the need for self-reflection as a community.

The Torah says (Bamidbar 18:21): “I have given all the tithes of the Jewish people to the tribe of Levi to possess in exchange for their service which they serve; the service of the Tent of Meeting” (emphasis added). Why is it necessary for the Torah to clarify that Shevet Levi received tithes in exchange for their service in the Mishkan? And why did the other tribes not view Shevet Levi as freeloaders and moochers?

Digressing for a moment, the Torah forbids one to eat from the first three years’ fruit produced by a fruit tree (orlah). According to the Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:3), the Torah also forbids the consumption of the fruit of a non-orlah tree whose roots draw its sustenance from a nearby orlah tree. Chazal tell us that if the leaves of the non-orlah tree are facing toward the larger orlah tree, then it is not receiving any sustenance from the larger tree and it is permissible to eat the fruit of the non-orlah tree. If, however, the leaves of the non-orlah tree are turned away from the orlah tree, this indicates that it is receiving its sustenance from the orlah tree and it is forbidden to eat from it.

According to the Gemara, if the non-orlah tree obtains its livelihood from the larger tree, then it “feels” dependent, embarrassed, and like a freeloader. It therefore turns away from it. The Yerushalmi concludes: “One who eats the bread of his friend is embarrassed to look at his face.”

That may be why the Torah emphasizes that Shevet Levi receives the Jewish people’s tithes “in exchange for” their service in the Mishkan. The Leviim recognized the value of their service in the Beis Hamikdash and saw how it offers untold benefits to the Jewish people. They therefore had no reason to be embarrassed when they accepted tithes from their neighbors from other shevatim.

Similarly, Torah study confers infinite merit and physical protection to those who study it and on the nation as a whole. Why then does our community “look away” from our secular brothers, despite the great benefit we offer them in exchange for the physical benefits they provide us?

Perhaps we hesitate to show gratitude for the government’s support of Torah, attribute such support to some ulterior motives, and “turn away” from our secular brothers because we ourselves do not truly believe that the Torah studied by our community forms the basis for the financial prosperity and physical security of the nation.

It goes without saying that we know the infinite value of Torah intellectually, but most of us do not truly feel it in our gut. Because we do not truly recognize the true value of Torah to the nation, when we receive financial benefits from those who work, pay taxes and have served in the army, deep down, we worry that perhaps we really are freeloaders. This feeling arises from a deficiency in our own belief in the infinite value of our contribution to the nation. Perhaps the extreme rhetoric by some secular Israelis claiming that we do not “share the burden” is a projection of our own lack of belief in what we bring to the table.

Regardless of the outcome of the current political struggle, both sides of the issue will surely benefit when we, who consider ourselves the Torah camp, begin to truly internalize our belief in the Torah and when we, as a group, learn Torah with a sense of national, communal purpose and for the spiritual and physical benefit of the Jewish nation.


 

Binyomin Wolf studied at Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchanan, Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv, served as a member of the Community Kollel of Des Moines, and now works as a bankruptcy and creditors’ rights attorney at a large Manhattan law firm.