The Religious Zionist Torah world can be proud of building a new, vibrant world of Torah, now marking more than 50 trailblazing years of innovation and development of the redemptive and joyous aspects of Torat Eretz Yisrael. We have succeeded in building a real synthesis of commitment to — and, indeed, a love of — army service, together with true greatness in Torah. It’s both an honor and a privilege for one to be even a small part of this revolution.
Nevertheless, the chareidi world has also been privileged, over the past 60 years, to build an awesome world of Torah and Chassidut. Only one possessing a heart of stone can hold back the tears of joy upon entering the glorious, overflowing palaces of Torah at the Mirrer and Ponevezh yeshivos. Chills run down my spine when I see the magnificence of the reconstructed dynasties of Belz, Ger and Vizhnitz with a renewed, mighty voice of Torah! We have returned to the days of King Chizkiyah when “the land was filled with Divine scholarship” (Yeshayah 11:9). Today we may have even surpassed those days!
How fortunate is the State of Israel to have the historic privilege of being the greatest and most steadfast Torah philanthropist of all time!
The question of universal conscription in Israel has caused great dissent. As it was in the time of Rabi Akiva, some ignorant people say: “Just give me a Torah scholar and I will bite him like a donkey.” A proponent of Torah would say: “Just give me a Torah scholar and I will kiss him with great love.” The free-thinker says: “Who needs the rabbis?” while a person of faith counters: “A Torah scholar is more important and creative than a hi-tech specialist!” An evil person says: “Someone who supports Torah study is a sucker.” Righteous people know: “The Torah is a Tree of Life for those who support it” (Mishlei 3:18).
Without going into the halachic aspects of universal conscription, there is another aspect we must look at — the “temporary decree” (horaat shaah) of public leaders. It is on this issue that the two sectors of Orthodox Jewry part ways as I will explain, but in advance, I declare — there is room enough on the Jewish head for two pairs of tefillin!
It is on the basis of a dual perspective on Torah study that we propose a different way to view the question of drafting the yeshivah students.
The chareidi world holds that even if the halachah would require universal and equal conscription, after the devastating effects of the Holocaust and in view of the battering waves of assimilation, there is an overpowering need for a “temporary decree” (horaat shaah) requiring great self-sacrifice to rebuild a new, qualitative Torah world, with large masses of people committed to a long-term delay in their army service. On the other hand, the Religious Zionist world holds that even if the halachah would free Torah scholars from army service, our leadership must promote the awesome chessed of army service — a beautiful mitzvah we just can’t pass up, for it’s just not fair; as Moshe told the tribes of Israel: “Shall your brothers go forth in battle while you stay safely behind?”
Many senior reporters have challenged the Religious Zionist leadership, saying: “It’s about time you stopped stammering and tell us clearly: ‘Whom are you closer with? The secular Jew who shares with you the burden of defending the state, or the chareidi Jew who shares with you “the burden of the Heavenly Kingdom?’” They rush to provide their own answer: “The chareidi…is a brother who has distanced himself.” They say: “The time has come for the Religious Zionists to proudly stand up against the chareidi world!”
We say no! With great self-confidence, but with great appreciation, we look into the eyes of our chareidi brothers and tell them: “Fortunate are you Torah scholars for whom Torah is most beloved!” (Menachot 18a).
The winter semester has started and once again the study halls of the Hesder yeshivot, the Zionist yeshivot gevohot and the chareidi yeshivot are all filled with the renewed, thundering voice of Torah study, with great fervor, sanctity and joy here in the Torah center of the world — the State of Israel.
Rabbi Dovid Fendel is Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Hesder, Sderot