Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The heroic stories of Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars), Ra”mim (Yeshiva gemara teachers) and Dayanim (Religious Court judges) from the Religious Zionist community who went into battle and literally endangered their lives to save the Jewish people, cannot leave hearts unmoved.

"My brothers, do not commit this wrongful act"


All the arguments of the haredi world cannot stand up to the simple fact that Jewish lives are on the line in Israel as never before and the army must increase the number of combat soldiers asap.

Religious Soldiers

Gedalia Zurger (not his real name) is an avrech (married kollel student) in Bnai Brak. Article translated from Makor Rishon by Rochel Sylvetsky.

To arouse someone who has lost consciousness, sometimes the best thing to do is to slap him in the face. The articles published in the Hebrew press recently, especially one by a haredi writer last week titled “The Religious-Zionist Conceptsia” was a slap in the face to our consciousness. And that article was but one of an entire series of articles, statements and comments by talking heads, all coming from the haredi side of the dispute. And that is why I have written this article.

The prevarications were never as clear as they are now. After seventy-five years of hearing the haredi community, to which I have belonged all my life, tell everyone that they are an integral part of the nation, that they see all Jews as brothers, and that in their world view, they are fighting with them shoulder to shoulder, except that they do battle by learning Torah – the sad truth has been revealed. You probably think that the argument centers around “[the Torah] protects and saves” (“magna umatzla”, Tractate Sota 21) and “rabbis do not need protection” (“Rabbanan la tsrichei netiruta,” Tractate Bava Batra)­­ but I have news for you. That was never the real issue.

So, can someone explain to us what the argument is all about? Not really. It seems that every haredi spokesperson can take the argument to any place he wishes.

According to the aforementioned article, the crux of the issue is opposition to the Zionist ethos. Its author writes that Religious Zionism has an ethos, a “conceptsia” in his words, and that in his view, there is an ongoing debate about whose “conceptsia” is the right one.

What really happens is that Religious Zionist rabbis open the Talmud, Maimonides, and other sources to try to understand if the Torah really does “protect and save” without the necessity of enlisting in the army or whether “even a bridegroom must leave his room and a bride her chuppah,” as is the halakha in case of a war to save the Jewish people from those who attempt to destroy them. They write letters and publish learned explanations, quote sources with exacting accuracy – only to discover that the other side is not only bored - but mocking.

The haredi side wants to avoid discussion and never actually intended to debate the issue seriously. More insulting is that those bringing the haredi point of view are in most cases journalists and spokesmen who are total ignoramuses when it comes to Torah. Their only talents lie in the political and verbal realms. The truth is that the real Religious Zionist “conceptsia” is that sector’s sincere desire to have a serious discussion on the matter – while the haredim avoid it like the plague.


Let us analyze the various haredi claims and present a condensed version of the statements that are the most common. It turns out that the haredi rhetoric we have been subject to lately is disingenuous, to say the least.

This is how the arguments unfold: First the haredi speaker proclaims that the Holy Torah guards the Jewish People. (There is no Religious Zionist argument with that.) Sometimes he adds an emotional element: "Do you know how hard it is to learn Torah ten hours a day?" The person who must contend with this argument is usually a non-religious broadcaster with absolutely no Torah background. His intuition tells him that there is something wrong here, but he is incapable of discussing the “protects and saves” Talmudic dictum in any depth.

That forces him to take another tack: “And what about those who aren’t learning?” This is when the deception comes into play. The more experienced politicians – generally from the soft edges of the Shas party – nod their head and agree: “There is no question that those who are not learning must enlist.” The secular broadcaster will repeat this, as will other media. That is, until one of the haredi spiritual leaders says: “G-d forbid, there is no way a haredi young man can enlist in the IDF.” And they did say just that.

The more honest haredi spokespersons go on to the next stage and adopt a cultural approach: “The army is unsuitable for haredim. A haredi young man who enters the army will not leave it a haredi.” Seasoned broadcasters will protest: “but the Army is willing to create separate frameworks to protect them,” to which the spokesmen retort: “If and when that happens, there will be something to discuss.” Someone usually comes and declares that “there is no chance of that happening.” (However, although that was true in the past, the army has just made a detailed haredi-oriented offer – so let us see what happens, R.S.)

Others will venture a different reason – one which once held water: “The army neither wants nor needs the haredim.” They will usually quote some general or former CoS who said this, except that it was before the cataclysmic reality prevailing since October 7th, a time when Ehud Barak’s “small, smart army” concept was still an accepted mantra. It is true that then, most Religious Zionists saw it as a live-and-let-live issue, not necessitating haredi participation in the army.

That, however, is not the case today. So today, others add, in the same vein: “This does need rethinking, but no one imagines that drafting haredim at this point will help the country or affect the burden falling upon the reservists. Even if a wholly haredi combat brigade were to be formed now, we all hope the reservists will be back home by the time it finishes basic training. If the goal is to ease the burden, wouldn’t it be more logical to try to draft all the fighters who have already had training?" (This using the incontrovertible fact that over 10,000 reservists have not been called up for active service and adding the inexcusable fact that there are tens of thousands of non-religious young men who avoid serving in the army).

Of course, this means that for the foreseeable future, the injustice done to the reservists can be allowed to continue, since if the army refrains from drafting thousands of haredim now, in three years’ time the haredim can say the same thing once again. The fact is, that it really won’t help today’s reservists, but training haredim now can certainly save those reservists in another year or two.

Simchat Torah taught us that the concept of a “small, smart army” has gone up in blood and fire, and that IDF needs large numbers of soldiers, in regular service and as reservists. It needs the haredim, the reservists who were not called up and the non-religious who avoided the draft as well. And as the years pass, that need will only increase.

Better to have dropouts than to let the roots rot

The above points are the ones used mostly when being interviewed by secular media personalities, who admit that they are unable to counter them. If a Torah verse is quoted, even one that angers the interviewer, he has no basis for a counter argument and generally gives in, sometimes, most unfortunately, feeling antipathy towards the Torah that is the source of the quote.

However, when the contender is a Religious Zionist, that is a different story. The haredi public finds itself in some confusion when arguing with what it calls “mizrochnikim.” Many in the haredi world realize that the level of Religious Zionist Torah learning is no lower than theirs. Religious Zionist rabbis do not wear long black coats for the most part and do not call themselves “Maran,” but it is enough to listen to one short shiur (Torah lecture) to understand that they can hold their own in Torah and fear of G-d. The heroic stories of Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars), Ra”mim (Yeshiva gemara teachers) and Dayanim (Religious Court judges) from the Religious Zionist community who went into battle and literally endangered their lives to save the Jewish people, cannot leave hearts unmoved.

When arguing with “mizrochnikim” the whole format changes. They cannot be quoted partial verses and Talmudic texts taken out of context. They know how to back up their words with our Sages and the Rambam, and with Tanakh verses that most haredi scholars have never studied. They also prove by their very existence, that one can wear an IDF uniform and stay G-d-fearing, that one can learn more than the average yeshiva boy does in the breaks between battles.

At any rate, when facing Religious Zionists, the discussion goes on to another level, as if to admit that talking about “protecting and saving” will not work and that saying that “we are following the instructions of our great rabbis” won’t work either, because they are liable to ask for the reasons justifying those statements. The haredi side then resorts to politics, saying: You want the non-religious to like you, but that does not happen. Look at you, dying like flies and the Chief of Staff and upper IDF echelons are all leftists. The leftist media ignore your sacrifice and even denigrate you.

Religious Zionists who believe in the “conceptsia” that Jews have to sacrifice their lives to protect their brothers because of the mitzva saying “do not stand idly by while your brother’s blood is being shed” have a difficult time dealing with this kind of cynical political outlook.

Some haredim, at this point, criticize the entire Religious Zionist education system. “You hate us,” they claim, and the ignorant among them dare to say that this is an instance of the “unlearned hating Torah scholars” – the scholars being those with black hats, and the unlearned being those well versed in Tanach, Gemara, and clear Jewish hashkafa (Jewish philosophy).

On the contrary, not only do the Religious Zionists not hate the haredi sector, their youth, over the past few decades, look to the haredim for whatever spiritual content they can glean from Hassidism (without being involved in all the intrigues taking place in the various courtyards) and can be found among those sitting on the Hassidic bleachers at events. Religious Zionists quote the great thinkers and scholars of the haredi world without any censorship. In Religious Zionist study halls, you are apt to see students analyzing the points in the book “Vayoel Moshe” by the Satmar Rebbe more than the Satmar Hassidim do. Talk of “hatred” is totally out of place. It does not exist. (There is, however, anger today, especially among parents of religious soldiers, R.S.)

The haredim also use the numbers of Religious Zionists who have stopped keeping the commandments as a weapon: “Perhaps you are right. But look how many dropouts you have.” Without contradicting the inflated percentages heard in these contexts, and without bringing up the growing percentage of haredi dropouts, the Religious Zionists are much more afraid that the entire tree of the state will rot and forget its mission, turning that rot into an ideology.

Extremism and distancing

There is no way to avoid dealing with haredi opposition to the Zionist venture. One can, however, mention how this is being said by a public which has held decision making positions in that Zionist venture for at least forty years, at the same time enjoying generous financial allocations as well as welfare and health benefits that are way above its percentage of the population and its contributions to the economy, while taking part in cabinet meetings that decide on security issues without its children taking part in the war effort.

When the state was founded, the need for yeshiva exemptions was justifiable. Today the haredi sector gets much more than its fair share. The “society of learners” that rose up in the state of Israel has no precedent. It lives and breathes only because of the Zionist venture that it scorns. The very fact that a small cut in allocations causes the haredim to talk about the collapse of the Torah world is the proof.

The haredi sector which saw itself as the “mezuzah of the state” has not been fulfilling that promise for decades. The feelings of shared responsibility and mutual caring have disappeared. Not only is the claim that “we are learning more during this period” not true – there were very few yeshivas that cancelled their vacation “bein hazmanim” or stopped parties during the war – they are not even trying to seem like they are part of the war effort, continuing petty political maneuvers to get jobs and funding, with no evidence of their rising to the great challenges of the hour.

But all the above is part of an old dispute, it belongs to the time preceding October 6th, or if you wish it, to Hoshana Rabba of this year. All the concepts disintegrated on Simchat Torah. The theoretical arguments about Zionism or saying Hallel on Independence Day are irrelevant. We are facing a clear instance of pikuach nefesh, saving lives. At a time that Jewish blood is being spilled like water, no one can stand on the sidelines. Hundreds of soldiers have fallen, thousands of orphans and widows have had their lives changed forever, and they did not do this because of the sanctification of Zionism but mainly in order to protect their brothers in Bnai Brak, Emanuel, Kiryat Sefer and Beitar Ilit as well as the rest of the country.

And don’t try to say that this is a “process” and that everything must be done patiently through talking to one another. We do have the haredi Netsach Yehuda and Nahal Haredi but they are a drop in the bucket. The last seventy-five years have taught us that that the process is one of distancing and more extremism. It is not the courts that severed the connection between the state and the haredim, but the young haredi men blocking roads shouting “we would rather die that be drafted”, or treating soldiers as if they are beneath them and not saying the prayer for their safety on Shabbat.

“Please, my brothers, do not commit this wrongful act,” is a quote from the book of Genesis. Do not be taken in by empty rhetoric. Religious Zionism cares about the Torah world no less than the haredim, they too are willing to pay huge sums to preserve their spiritual level and their children’s education, they too are pained and worried by the religious dropout rate.

But they are also pained and worried about the physical future of all of us and are not willing to allow old arguments to divert attention from reality: “It is a time of trouble for [the people of] Jacob” as the Prophet Jeremiah said, and the Torah in Leviticus 19 commands us: “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being spilled.”



Officer Solomon said...


Mendel Furst said...


Garnel Ironheart said...

It's simple selfishness born of twisted tradition.
For centuries, Jews had to be selfish in order to survive because the Goyim didn't care about them and did want to hurt or destroy them. No point in worrying about what's best for Poland when Poland wants to torture you.
They are still using this approach in Israel as if Israel is no different than those evil Goyim. It's all about "They hate us, they think of nothing other than how to harm us and we cannot cooperate with them"