A Correspondence Between Friends, Part 2

Why shouldn’t Israeli yeshivah students be drafted into the army?

Dear Yisrael:

Thank you for taking the time to write such a lengthy response to my inquiry, but frankly, it left me with more questions than answers.

For instance, you wrote how mothers of American soldiers during WWII and the Vietnam War didn’t harbor resentment against the deferment of divinity students. That may or may not be true, but in any case it happened decades ago and isn’t something that affects our contemporary, day-to-day life. Today in Israel, Israeli mothers can’t fall asleep at night because they fear for the safety of their sons in uniform, and tremble every time the phone or doorbell rings.

You also stated that the Israeli army doesn’t need or want chareidim. Assuming this is true — and I would have no way to independently confirm this claim — this itself is a very serious charge against the chareidim. Why, indeed, aren’t they wanted in the army? Why don’t they, on their own, want to join the IDF? Could it be that it is a matter of attitude on the part of the chareidim?

Unlike the secular youths who know so little of Tanach and Chazal, religious individuals know that the notion of a Jewish army conquering and protecting Eretz Yisrael is a holy mission. This may call for some compromise and sacrifice on the part of the chareidim, but with some willpower they will be able to follow in the path of the many religious Hesder students who have managed to acclimate themselves and who prove to be among the best and most devoted soldiers.

In friendship,


Dear Yaakov:

Thank you for your quick response.

Your initial point regarding the deferments of American divinity students reaffirms what we discussed in our last exchange: This issue is an extremely emotional one that is greatly aggravated by the continual incitement on the part of the media. While emotions certainly have an important role to play in public discourse, ultimately it must be logic that governs public policy. And from a logical perspective, the efforts to forcibly conscript chareidi Torah students have nothing to do with the security of Israel and everything to with trying to get chareidim to stop being chareidim.

As previously mentioned, there is a solution to the terrible crisis that is splitting Israel in two and pitting brother against brother. The moment the Israeli government stops using the IDF as an ideological tool for social engineering and replaces a people’s army with a professional army, this whole issue will disappear.

While the number of minimally trained foot soldiers in an army was once considered crucial to an army’s chances of military success, in the age of high-tech warfare this is no longer the case. With each passing day, offensive tools such as remotely operated drones and defensive shields like Iron Dome play an ever more important role. Well-trained career officers are needed to operate and maintain these systems.

It’s high time that forcible conscription is ended for all Israelis, and the draft is replaced with a comprehensive package including a tempting salary and excellent long-term benefits. The result will be a professional army consisting of individuals who devote 20 or 30 years of their lives to pursuing a military career. This change will produce a better and more effective army. While the mothers of these soldiers will continue to worry about the safety of their children, they will be cognizant of the fact that their children chose this path, and won’t resent the fact that others aren’t experiencing this danger.

The second point you raise goes directly to the crux of the issue.

My dear friend: The point of this exchange is to build bridges of understanding between us, and it is impossible to build bridges without being open and frank about the factual foundations of the issue.

As you are aware, I have close cousins who are proud members of the religious-Zionist community. Much to my delight, they have come from Israel to attend my family’s simchos, and they gracefully made special arrangements that allowed me to reciprocate at theirs. We have never allowed our differences to come between our families, but we never try to deny the fact that we live very different lifestyles.

Let’s face facts: The difference between chareidim and Religious Zionism isn’t a matter of the type of kippah or the color of a suit. There are fundamental, unbridgeable, hashkafic differences between the two. While there are a great many Gedolim who have addressed the hashkafic principles involved, I will only quote from a Gadol I know you look up to as one of your heroes — Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l.

In a letter written in 5646 (1886) and published in the sefer Shemesh Marpei, Harav Hirsch wrote about the plans of Harav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, one of the founders of the Chovevei Tzion movement, a forerunner of Religious Zionism: “What they consider to be a great mitzvah is in my eyes a not [so] small sin.” And in an earlier letter to Harav Kalischer, Harav Hirsch firmly rejected the underlying principles of this movement. (See letter 12 in Shemesh Marpei for more on this subject.)

The notion that yishuv Eretz Yisrael is the foremost mitzvah of the age — and one that trumps all other mitzvos — not only has no basis in our mesorah, but is an inherent contradiction to our fundamental hashkafic beliefs.

Furthermore, while words like “conquering Eretz Yisrael” sound wonderful, they have no connection with reality. Even if the current Israeli government would be interested in “conquering” parcels of land — something they certainly have no interest in doing — the idea that the mitzvah of conquering Eretz Yisrael applies while we still await the coming of Moshiach is downright absurd.

There are many circumstances when compromise and sacrifice for the sake of peace and tranquility is in order. But we can only compromise those principles that are created by mortals. When it comes to matters regarding our hallowed mesorah, when it pertains to issues regarding the purity and sanctity of Torah Jews, when it involves halachic and hashkafic principles, it isn’t for us to compromise or negotiate.

When you ask why chareidim can’t be like Hesder students, you are basically asking us to walk away from our cherished mesorah. You are asking us to swap our hashkafah for that of the Religious Zionists. As I am sure you realize on your own, this is an outrageous request.

All sides agree that chareidim aren’t needed by the army to fill a security need of any sort. The reason that chareidim are being asked to put down their Gemaros and pick up a gun isn’t because of pikuach nefesh, but because it is hoped that through their doing so, they will abandon their core beliefs.

Indeed, protecting the sanctity and character of Eretz Yisrael is a holy mission. Indeed, generating zechuyos that will protect the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael is a holy mission. It is precisely because of this holy mission that chareidi Jewry will be moser nefesh to continue every facet of our sacred mesorah.

To be continued…