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Does Jewish Law Require Yeshivah Students to be Drafted at Age 18?

Responsa in a Moment

Volume 18, Number 5

July 2024

Does Jewish law require yeshivah students to be drafted at age 18?

By Rabbi David Golinkin

 

In memory of 679 soldiers
who have fallen in battle
from October 7, 2023 until today.

Question: For many years, and especially during the current war in Gaza and on the northern border in the last nine months, there has been a heated debate in the Knesset and among the Israeli public regarding the “drafting of yeshivah students” into the IDF. This situation has been exacerbated since the IDF announced in March an immediate shortage of 7,000 soldiers. The Haredi [=ultra-Orthodox] leadership, and even the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, argue that it is forbidden to draft yeshivah students whose “Torah is their profession,” that they defend the State of Israel through their studies, and that it is preferable for them to leave Israel rather than serve in the IDF. What does Jewish law say about this topic?

Responsum: In this responsum, I will not discuss the legal, political, or sociological aspects of the issue. I will first discuss the Torah’s perspective on the matter, then precedents from the past, and then the halakhic aspect of the issue.

A great deal has been written about this issue from the establishment of the State until today. I will be brief, and those who wish to delve deeper into the topic can read the Bibliography at the end of the responsum, which is intentionally concise.

In my opinion, the Haredi approach to exempting yeshivah students from military service is diametrically opposed to Jewish law. It is based on a mistaken interpretation of the words of Resh Lakish in the Talmud and of one paragraph in the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, and on several Aggadic [=non-halakhic] passages in rabbinic literature. It stems primarily from fear that yeshivah students might become secular. We shall now prove these points step-by-step.

I. Sources mandating military service in the IDF

  1. The Sons of Gad and the Sons of Reuben

The Torah recounts that after the conquest of lands east of the Jordan River, the Sons of Gad and the Sons of Reuben requested to remain there and not cross the Jordan. Moses responded angrily (Numbers 32:6-23): Shall your brothers go to war, while you sit here! Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them… They approached him and said… We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place… We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has taken possession of his inheritance… Moses said to them: If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war… then you shall be free from the Lord and from Israel… But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord…

Deborah the Prophetess also rebuked the men of Meroz who did not come to participate in the war against Sisera (Judges 5:23): “Curse Meroz, says the Angel of the Lord, curse its inhabitants thoroughly, because they did not come to the aid of the Lord, to the aid of the Lord against the warriors.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote similar words in a memorandum to the Va’ad Hayeshivot of Israel on the 16th of Tevet, 5708 (1948) (quoted by Cohen, 1993, in the frontispiece and on p. 76): “How can one say that Shimon will stand to fight and save himself and Reuben, while Reuben sits with folded hands, relying on Shimon, because Reuben is a yeshivah student?!”  

Indeed, this issue has existed in the State of Israel since 1948, but it intensified in 1977 when the Likud came to power and eliminated quotas. The total number of yeshivah students exempted from military service has risen as follows:

1948 – 400
1977 – 8,257
1986 – 16,011
1992 – 24,000
2002 – 36,887
2012 – 63,000
2020 – 52,741
2024 – 63,000

And the rest of the people of Israel who serve in the regular army and perform reserve duty every year ask: “Shall your brothers go to war, while you sit here?!'”

  1. Examples of Torah scholars who led the people in times of war

Throughout the generations, there have been Torah scholars who also led the people in times of war:

Moses our teacher led the people in war against Amalek (Exodus 17:8-16).

Joshua, commanded by God to “not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8), who cherished the words of Torah (Menahot 99b end), nonetheless dedicated years to the conquest of the Land of Israel from thirty-one Canaanite kings (Joshua 12).

According to our Sages, King David was a Torah scholar (Berakhot 3b and frequently), yet he dedicated his life to the conquest and expansion of the borders of Eretz Yisrael.

Mattathias and Judah Maccabee and his brothers were observant Jews (I Maccabees 2:19ff.), yet they devoted years to war against Antiochus, the purification of the Temple, and the establishment of a kingdom.

Rabbi Akiva was one of the most important Tannaim whom the Midrash compares to Moshe Rabbeinu, Hillel, and Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai (Sifrei Devarim, Piska 357, ed. Finkelstein, p. 429). Even so, he was an avid supporter of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans (Yerushalmi Ta’anit 4:8, fol. 68d).

Finally, Samuel Hanagid (Granada, 993-1056) was an important posek (Hilkhot Hanagid, ed. Margaliot), and a prominent poet (Ben Tehillim, Ben Mishlei, Ben Kohelet), who served as Vizier and head of the army of Granada for eighteen years.

  1. Everyone is obligated to serve in a milhemet mitzvah [a commanded war]

This law is found in the Mishnah (Sotah 8:7; and cf. Sifrei Devarim, Piska 190, p. 232 and Piska 198, p. 236). After explaining the exemptions from military service given to a man who built a new house, planted a vineyard, betrothed a wife or is fearful and fainthearted (Deut. 20:5-8), the Mishnah continues: “When do these exemptions apply? In a discretionary war, but in a milhemet mitzvah, everyone goes out, even ‘the groom from his chamber and the bride from her wedding canopy’ (Joel 2:16).” (1)

Similarly, Maimonides ruled in the Laws of Kings 7:4:

When do these exemptions apply, that they return these men from the order of battle? In a discretionary war, but in a milhemet mitzvah, everyone goes out, even ‘the groom from his chamber and the bride from her wedding canopy.’

And so ruled Sefer Hahinukh (ed. Chavel 423 and 502 = 425 and 526 in later editions); Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel in his commentary on Deut. 20:1 (quoted by Cohen, 1993, p. 235); Maharsha to Sotah 10a s.v. Mipnei mah; and Rabbi Yitzhak of Karlin (1788-1851) in Keren Orah to Sotah 44b s.v. v’harambam z”l: “And it implies here that in a milhemet mitzvah, everyone goes out, and even Torah scholars need to stop their studies” (quoted by Rabbi Shaviv, p. 371; Rabbi Sherman, p. 338; Rabbi Riskin, p. 270; and Rabbi Arieli, p. 45).

And so ruled in the twentieth century Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Toledano; the Hazon Ish, Orah Hayyim, Hilkhot Eruvin, Likutin, 6:3, quoted by Rabbi Sherman, p. 338, and the Hazon Ish, Avodah Zarah, 23:3, quoted by Cohen, 1993, p. 226; Rabbi Herzog in Tehumin 4; Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kuk quoted by Cohen, 1980, pp. 43-42; Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin quoted by Cohen, 1980, p. 45; Rabbi Yehudah Shaviv; Rabbi Reuven Hammer and all members of the Va’ad Halakhah; Rabbi Moshe Zemer; and Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz.

And what is a milhemet mitzvah? Maimonides explained (Laws of Kings 5:1): “And what is a milhemet mitzvah? It’s the war against the Seven Nations [of Canaan], the war against Amalek, and aid to Israel when an enemy attacks them.” In other words, according to the Mishnah and Maimonides, in defensive wars such as all of Israel’s wars from 1948 until today, it’s a mitzvah for every man and woman to serve in the army.

  1. According to the Mekhilta to Deuteronomy, Nahmanides, and many poskim, the conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel is a positive commandment for future generations.

I have demonstrated this elsewhere (Aseh Lekha Rav, Jerusalem, 2019, pp. 324-328). According to these poskim, there is still a commandment to conquer and settle the Land of Israel, and service in the IDF is part of this mitzvah.

  1. Pikuah Nefesh [saving a life]

As is well-known, pikuah nefesh takes precedence over all the mitzvot in the Torah except for idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder (Sanhedrin 74a and Ketubot 19a), and this was also codified by the major poskim (Maimonides, Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 5:1-3; Tur and Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 157:1). After the massacre of 1,200 men, women, and children on October 7th, can anyone dare to say that the war against Hamas is not a matter of pikuah nefesh?!

Furthermore, there is an important principle in the laws of pikuah nefesh: “And these matters are performed not by Gentiles and not by minors, but by gedolei Yisrael” (Yoma 84b, and cf. Tosefta Shabbat 15:15, ed. Lieberman, p. 73 and Yerushalmi Yoma 8:5). Rabbi Yosef Karo understood this to mean “adult Jewish men who possess intelligence” (Orah Hayyim 328:12), but the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 2:3) understood that it refers to “the great ones of Israel and their Sages.” This latter interpretation was emphasized in our context by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kuk (p. 39), Rabbi Zevin (p. 44), and Rabbi Rabinowitz (p. 8)

Indeed, there is a famous story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter who ate on the Bimah in Vilna at the end of the Yom Kippur morning service in 1848 during a cholera epidemic, together with two other judges, to persuade the congregation to eat during the epidemic. David Frishman immortalized that event in his story “Three Who Ate,” first published in Warsaw in 1892 (see an English version in: Azriel Eisenberg, editor, The Bar Mitzvah Treasury, New York, 1952, pp. 171-176). (2)

  1. It is permitted to go out with weapons and desecrate the Sabbath in order to save Jewish communities under siege by gentiles.

We have learned in Eruvin 45a:

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Gentiles who besiege Jewish towns, one may not go out against them with weapons, nor desecrate the Sabbath for them. We have also learned in a Beraita: Gentiles who besiege, etc. When does this apply? When they came for monetary matters, but when they come for matters of life, one may go out against them with weapons and desecrate the Sabbath for them. And in a border town, even if they came not for matters of life but for matters of straw and stubble, one may go out against them with weapons and desecrate the Sabbath for them.

The Rambam (Laws of Shabbat 2:23) quotes the above laws and adds:

It’s a mitzvah upon every Jew who is able to come and go out and help their brethren under siege, and to save them from the hands of gentiles. And it’s forbidden for them to delay until after Shabbat…

Similar rulings are found in the writings of the major poskim in Ashkenaz, such as Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, author of the Rokeah (died 1238), Rabbi Yitzhak ben Moshe of Vienna (1180-1250), and Rabbi Alexander Zusslin Hakohen, author of Sefer Ha’agudah (martyred sanctifying God’s name in 1349), who testified that this was indeed the practice in their times (all cited by Cahana, pp. 166-165; cf. ibid., pp. 167-168 for the opinion of the Tur and other poskim.

Rabbi Yosef Karo quoted the above laws from Eruvin (Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 329:6) and the Rema adds in his gloss: “And even if they [=the gentiles] have not yet come but want to come (Or Zarua).” Rabbi Yosef Karo continues in paragraph 7: “There is someone who says that in our day even if they came for monetary matters, we desecrate [the Sabbath]…” and the Rema adds: “(And in any case, it depends on the circumstances) (Piskei Maharai, paragraph 150).”

And the author of the Mishnah Berurah added in the nineteenth century (subparagraph 17):

Know that today, when nations from outside our borders come to plunder, we are certainly obligated to go out with weapons even for monetary matters, and according to dina demalkhuta [the law of the land is the law]…

Thus, if the Talmud and the major poskim permitted fighting on Shabbat for matters of life, and even for monetary matters, kal vahomer, how much the more so is it permissible not to study Torah in order to save lives and even possessions from our enemies whose intention is to destroy, kill, and annihilate every Jew in the State of Israel.

  1. Dina D’malkhuta Dina [The Law of the Land is the Law]

Three important poskim – the Hatam Sofer, Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann, and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner of Klausenburg — ruled that if the non-Jewish authorities conscript Jews into the army, a Jew is obligated to serve according to the halakhic principle of Dina D’malkhuta Dina, even though he will probably have to desecrate the Sabbath and eat non-kosher food.

As I explained elsewhere (Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel VI [1995-1998], p. 316), this halakhic concept was established by the Amora Samuel at the beginning of the third century (Nedarim 28a and parallels). It means that a Jew is obligated to observe the laws of the country in which he resides. However, many poskim ruled that this concept also applies to a Jewish state (Entziklopedia Talmudit, volume 7, cols. 67-68). Therefore, Jewish law obligates Jews to observe the laws of the State of Israel, including laws concerning conscription into the IDF.

      8. The Government of Israel and its Leaders Have Inherited the Place of the King

As I explained there, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kuk and Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli — two of the great halakhic authorities of religious Zionism in the twentieth century — explained that in our times, since there is no Jewish king, the government of Israel and its leaders have inherited the place of the king, and one must obey the laws of the state accordingly (Responsa Mishpat Kohen, No. 144, pp. 337-338 and Amud Hayemini, Gate 1, Nos. 7-9; and cf. the rulings of Rabbi Herzog on our topic). Therefore, yeshivah students are obligated to obey the laws of the State and to enlist.

      9.  “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

Sefer Hahinukh — one of the most important works enumerating the 613 commandments — was written by Rabbi Pinhas Halevi of Barcelona in the thirteenth century. This is how it summarizes the commandment of “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; ed. Chavel, Mitzvah 219 = later editions, Mitzvah 243; cf. Sefer Hamitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandments, No. 206):

To love every Jew with a love of the soul, meaning to have compassion for Israel and his property as one would have for oneself and one’s property, as it is said (Lev. 19:18) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And our Sages of blessed memory said (Shabbat 31a), “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” And they said in Sifra (Kedoshim 4:12), “Rabbi Akiva said: This is a great principle in the Torah”…

The root of the commandment is known, that just as one would do to his friend, so should his friend do to him, and in this there will be peace among creatures.

The laws of this commandment are included within the mitzvah… that a person should act with his fellow as he would act with himself, to safeguard his property and to keep away from him any harm…

In other words, just as every Jew loves himself, so is he obligated to love every other Jew and “to keep away from him any harm.” In the State of Israel, harm and murder by terrorists are kept away by service in the IDF. Just as a yeshivah student wants to safeguard himself from any harm, so is he obligated to safeguard his fellow from any harm through military service.

  1. Kiddush Hashem and Hillul Hashem [Sanctifying and Desecrating God’s Name]

Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner emphasized in his aforementioned article that a Jew who serves in his country’s army sanctifies God’s name (Kiddush Hashem). On the other hand, Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann quoted above emphasized that if a Jew “evades service in the army through subterfuge… whoever does so causes, God forbid, a desecration of the Name (Hillul Hashem)…”.

And thus I summarized the mitzvot of Kiddush Hashem and Hillul Hashem elsewhere (Responsa in a Moment, Vol. III, Jerusalem, 2014, pp. 203-204):

These two mitzvot… stem from the same verse in Leviticus (22:32): “You shall not desecrate My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the people of Israel – I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” This verse means that any good or holy act that a Jew does, sanctifies God’s name in the eyes of Jews and gentiles, while any bad or profane act that a Jew does, desecrates God’s name in the eyes of Jews and gentiles.

Furthermore, Maimonides emphasizes that, “a great Torah scholar and renowned for piety” must be especially cautious of “things that people might criticize him for, even though they are not sins — he thereby desecrates God’s Name” (Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 5:11).

Undoubtedly, the non-enlistment of Haredi yeshivah students beginning in 1948, and its significant expansion from 1977 until today when there are 63,000 Haredi yeshivah students not serving in the IDF, constitutes a massive Hillul Hashem. This has caused a high percentage of Jews in the State of Israel to be angry at the Haredim and many secular Jews have distanced themselves from Judaism as a direct result of the exemption of Haredim from military service. In other words, the non-enlistment of the Haredim has caused, causes, and will cause a desecration of God’s Name in the eyes of the public.

II) Sources that attempt to justify the exemption of yeshivah students from military service

First of all, it is important to emphasize that most prominent Haredi poskim in recent generations did not write responsa on this issue at all. The reason is quite clear: they knew it was impossible to write responsa contradicting all the sources mentioned above. Therefore, they published a “Da’at Torah,” “a Torah opinion,” expressing a position without quoting any sources. (3)

Secondly, the Haredi rabbis who did write on the subject primarily relied on Aggadic statements to justify the exemption from military service (see, for example, Rabbis Arieli and Sherman). We shall ignore most of these “proofs” because these Aggadic statements were not codified by the major poskim, and they cannot nullify all the mitzvot and laws mentioned above. In any case, several authors have already rejected these “proofs” in a convincing fashion (see Rabbi Lichtenstein, Tradition, pp. 212-213; Yoel Yarden in Cohen, 1993, pp. 230-233; as well as Yair Meizlish and Nadav Shenrav, ibid., p. 239).

We will now present four main arguments against the conscription of yeshivah students, and refute them one at a time:

  1. “Rabbis do not need guarding”

We have learned in Bava Batra 7b (and cf. fol. 8a): “Rabbi Yehuda Nesi’ah imposed a tax on the Rabbis to contribute to the construction of the city wall. Resh Lakish said: Rabbis do not need guarding.” This ruling was codified by the Rambam (Hilkhot Shekheinim 5:5-6 and Hilkhot Talmud Torah 6:10), the Tur (Yoreh De’ah 243) and the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 243:2).

There are at least four problems with this argument:

  1. Exemption of Torah scholars from taxes for guarding the city walls teaches nothing about exemption from saving lives or a milhemet mitzvah (see Yoel Yarden in Cohen, 1993, p. 231). As Rabbi Lichtenstein emphasized (p. 324): “From a purely halakhic perspective, the payment for the wall mentioned in the passage is not related to any mitzvah per se. It is tied to an obligation to participate in communal expenses from which a person derives benefit.”
  2. As Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz emphasized, the Maggid Mishneh on the Rambam (Hilkhot Shekheinim) explains that in the case in Bava Batra, those attacking the city are not interested in killing anyone, “since they only come to plunder.” However, “in the time of a king’s war to capture the city, to destroy it or burn it,” the law is altogether different. Tosafot (Bava Batra 7b, s.v. “Lefi shevah“) agree: “for there is no danger to life,” and this is the meaning of the passage according to other commentators as well. Therefore, how does this relate to our discussion about saving lives? Would anyone imagine that Torah scholars are exempt from the commandment of Pikuah Nefesh?! Rabbi Riskin adds that even the Hazon Ish in Bava Batra (5:18) states that Resh Lakish is dealing with thieves/robbers, in defense of property.
  3. Rabbi Lichtenstein concludes (Tradition, 210): “Consequently, the Gemara in Baba Batra provides no rationale whatsoever for totally excusing talmidei hakhamim from military service. They may not require protection but others do; and their duty to defend those who have no built-in armor remains.” In other words, Resh Lakish says that the scholars themselves do not need defense, not that their Torah study protects the entire Jewish people. If they do not serve in the army, perhaps they are protected, but what about their families and nearly ten million citizens of the State of Israel?
  4. Even if we disregard the context of Reish Lakish’s words and understand them not according to their literal meaning, we must also apply common sense. And so thundered Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin in his article “Regarding the Draft of Yeshiva Students” in 1948:

Master of the Universe, is it permissible to rely on a miracle in a situation of actual danger to life and say that rabbis do not need guarding? And the Hevron massacre of 1929… proves this. Did not the young, holy and pure young people… from the chosen of the yeshivah and its sages fall before the wicked? Please O rabbis, those holy Martyrs, did they “need guarding” or did they not “need guarding”? …And if they spoke of ‘guarding’ for building a city wall and similar situations during normal times for protection against enemies who might come…, what relevance does this have to times of actual danger to life and the obligation of a milhemet mitzvah?…

One can only add numerous examples of Torah scholars who were murdered by evildoers throughout the generations. Torah study did not protect the Sages against the Romans in Beitar (Gittin 58a), against the Crusaders, against the pogroms of Chmelnitzki and the pogroms of Petliura in Ukraine (1917-1921), and during the Holocaust — and it will not protect us. Moses, Joshua, and the Maccabees understood this — God will only protect us if we protect ourselves.

  1. Rambam, Laws of Sabbatical and Jubilee 13:13

The Haredim also like to quote from Rambam, Laws of Sabbatical and Jubilee 13:13, which concludes the Book of Zera’im:

…and not only the tribe of Levi, but every single man from all the inhabitants of the world whose spirit moves him (Exodus 35:21) and understands with his intellect to distinguish himself “to stand before the Lord to serve Him and to worship Him” (cf. Deut. 11:13) to know God… and he lifts from his shoulders the yoke of many calculations that people sought — behold, he is sanctified with a holy sanctity (see I Chronicles 23:13), and God shall be his portion and inheritance (see Deut. 18:1) forever and ever; and he shall merit in this world that which suffices for him, as He merited for the priests and Levites (see Isaiah 66:21), for David said, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot” (Psalms 16:5).

Rabbi Aharon Kotler and Haredim claim that “all the inhabitants of the world” are “the Bnei Torah of the generation who are completely devoted to Torah…” (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon, 3, p. 147, cited by Kellner, p. 156 and cf. the literature in note 12). This was also the ruling regarding our topic by Rabbi Tukechinsky, p. 50; Rabbi Arieli, p. 46; and Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi in Aseh Lekha Rav.

However, with all due respect, this is not the simple meaning of the words of the Rambam at all.

First of all, as the Radbaz (ad loc), Rabbi Lichtenstein (p. 325) and many others have emphasized, there is no source for this law in Rabbinic literature. (4)

Secondly, the expressions “והבינו מדעו” (and understands with his intellect) and “לדעה את ה‘” (to know God) are not related to Torah study at all. Rabbi Professor Eliezer Berkovits demonstrated convincingly that these expressions are taken from the philosophical realm of the Rambam in his “Guide for the Perplexed” and Laws of De’ot (Laws of Knowledge). There is no ideal here of Torah study. On the contrary, “specifically for the yeshivah students of the ‘we have nothing but Torah’ type, there is no knowledge in those studies that according to the Rambam’s approach is essential to acquire that knowledge without which there is no knowledge of God. Not only are they not knowledgeable in those studies, but it is even forbidden for them to touch them” (p. 335).

Thirdly, this paragraph in the Rambam does not say one word about exemption from military service for “every single man from all the inhabitants of the world”. It only states that God will help such a person to earn a livelihood, as explained by the Radbaz ad loc.

Finally, Prof. Menachem Kellner demonstrated in his book Gam Hem Keruyim Adam: The Gentile in the Eyes of the Rambam (p. 166, note 32) with strong evidence, following the Radbaz, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kuk (Cohen, 1980, p. 42, note), Rabbi Shilat, and Prof. Mordechai Akiva Friedman that “כל באי העולם” [all inhabitants of the world] means “all human beings,” “all of humanity.” This expression appears in five other places in the Mishneh Torah (Teshuvah 3:3 and 6:3; Tefillin, Mezuzah, V’sefer Torah 10:11; Sanhedrin 12:3; Melakhim 8:11), and in all these places it refers to all human beings, to all of humanity. Indeed, this is what the phrase means in Rabbinic literature as well, e.g. in the well-known Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah 1:1-2.

Therefore, that paragraph in the Rambam is not intended to exempt yeshivah students from work or military service, but rather to teach that every human being in the world can be “sanctified with a holy sanctity, and God shall be his portion and inheritance forever and ever” if he performs all the actions outlined in that paragraph.

  1. “Torah protects and saves” – Sotah 21a

This idea appears in a letter from 18 “Sephardic” rabbis (i.e., rabbis from Middle Eastern countries) published on April 7, 2024, under the title: “Clear Instructions Against the Draft Decree.” It states: “We must strengthen ourselves with complete faith that only the Torah protects the people of Israel.” The words in bold hint at the aforementioned statement in Sotah 21a. But this claim is quite surprising. First of all, Rashi explains ad loc: Protects from suffering and saves from the evil inclination. In other words, the Torah does not protect against bullets, missiles, and bombs. Furthermore, even if someone wants to ignore the simple meaning of the expression, can one Aggadic statement in the Talmud that was never codified nullify all the above-mentioned laws regarding milhemet mitzvah, pikuah nefesh, conquering the land, dina d’malkhuta dina, love your neighbor as yourself, Kiddush Hashem, and more?!

And as we emphasized earlier, even if you distort the simple meaning of this aphorism, all of our history contradicts this aphorism. Did the Torah of the Sages and Rabbis protect against Titus, Hadrian, the Crusaders, Chmelnitzky, Petliura, the Hebron pogrom in 1929, the Holocaust, and the events of October 7th?! It is not wise to rely on Aggadic statements that are contradicted by the simple facts of our history. Moreover, according to this strange logic, the ultra-Orthodox should not go to doctors and hospitals because the Torah protects and saves them. Similarly, according to their logic, they did not need gas masks during the Gulf War, but they insisted on receiving protective kits like all other citizens of the State.

  1. Fear that Yeshivah students may be influenced by the army and become secular

There is no doubt that this is the real reason for Haredi opposition to military service, as Rabbi Zvi Pesah Frank wrote in the introduction to his book Hilkhot Medinah, Part 2 (Cohen 1993, p. 243). The letter of the rabbis argues that the purpose of the “conscription decrees” is “to fight against God and against His Torah through various decrees, with the deliberate intention of infiltrating and assimilating the Haredi community into the secular lifestyle… with the goal of placing the Haredi community under their control and to reduce the number of Torah observers, as they themselves have stated.” Furthermore, “during this She’at Shemad [hour of destruction; an expression used to describe the Hadrianic persecutions!] … to sacrifice one’s life for the preservation of Torah and Judaism… according to all the laws mentioned during a She’at Shemad, as explained in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah, paragraph 157).

Beyond the fact that the IDF and the majority of Israelis who support Haredi conscription have never said such bizarre statements, the whole tone of the letter speaks of the State of Israel as if it were a state of gentiles whose sole purpose is to assimilate the Haredim. All of this is baseless; it was invented out of whole cloth.

Indeed, this is a direct continuation of the Haredi opposition to conscripting young Jewish men into the Austrian army starting in 1788. At that time, they feared desecration of Shabbat and forbidden foods (see Cahana, pp. 169-168, and cf. the article by Bleich). It is sad and tragic that the Haredim in the State of Israel today fail to see any difference between the Austrian army at the end of the 18th century and the IDF in the 21st century.

Furthermore, as we have seen above, important poskim such as Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glazner ruled that Jews are obligated to serve in the German army due to the principle of “dina d’malkhuta dina” [the law of the land is the law] and to prevent Hillul Hashem, even if there is concern about desecrating Shabbat and consuming non-kosher food.

It’s true that in the past, the IDF had a melting pot policy and there was concern that yeshivah students might become secular. However, today in the State of Israel, there is no basis for such concerns. The IDF is ready and willing to draft the Haredim into separate units with glatt kosher food and army bases without female soldiers such as the Netzah Yehudah Battalion established in 1999.

III. Summary and Practical Halakhah

Therefore, there is no halachic or moral justification for the Haredi evasion of military service. “Shall your brothers go to war, while you sit here!?” May it be God’s will that the Haredim understand that this is the simple meaning of the Torah, the Mishnah, and the Rambam, and that they have a halakhic and moral obligation to serve in the IDF from the age of eighteen in order to protect their families, their people and their land.

David Golinkin
Jerusalem
27 Sivan 5784

Notes

    1. Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein is of the opinion (Torah Temimah to Deut. 20:7, note 36) “that the language is not literal, but rather a poetic phrase as found in Joel 2:16, where the intention is that all joy ceases… because her groom has gone out to war.” With all due respect, there are many such Biblical expressions in the Mishnah — see Hanoch Albeck, Mavo Lamishnah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1959, pp. 129-130 — but this does not mean that we should not take the Mishnah literally.
    2. There are several important poskim who have dealt with our subject, who attempted to prove that a Jew is obligated to put himself at risk – safek sakanah — to save another Jew from definite danger – vaday sakanah. I have decided not to discuss this topic because it’s a dispute between the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds that persists to this day, and it’s very difficult to determine who is correct. See Rabbis Herzog; Tzvi Yehudah Kuk; Zevin, L’or Hahalakhah, 14-15; Hammer, pp. 68-69; and Rabinowitz, as well as a comprehensive review of the sources and opinions in a new book which I edited: Rabbi Joel Roth, Hakol Kol Yaakov: Responsa and Halakhic Essays, Jerusalem, 2023, pp. 509-594.
    3. The expression “Da’at Torah” appears in the Talmud (Hullin 90b) and in the Middle Ages, but the modern usage of the term was an invention of the leaders of Agudat Yisrael such as the Hafetz Hayyim, Rabbi Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski, Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman and the Hazon Ish. They claimed that the Gedolei Hador [the great rabbis of the generation] have the ability to decide the halakhah regarding all areas of life, without relying on any source, and they one may not disagree with them. See, for example, Gershon Bacon, “Da’at Torah…”, Tarbitz 52 (5783), pp. 497-508.
    4. Maimonides, Laws of Marriage 13:11, that a husband should prevent his wife from leaving the house more than once or a few times a month. This ruling has no Talmudic source, and likely originates from the Islamic milieu — see Mordechai Akiva Friedman, “The Ethics of Medieval Jewish Marriage” in: S.D. Goitein, editor, Religion in a Religious Age, Cambridge, Mass., 1974, pp. 88-92.

 

Bibliography

Most of the bibliography on this topic is in Hebrew so I have listed it in Hebrew. When an item also exists in English, I have listed the English translation as well.

I) General

שלמה אשכנזי, דור דור ומנהגיו, מהד’ ב’, תל אביב, תשמ”ז, פרק כ”ה

 Judith Bleich, “Rabbinic Responses to Conscription”, Tradition 39/4 (Winter 2006), pp. 29-56  – בלייך

הרב פרופ’ אליעזר ברקוביץ, “הרמב”ם כסמך לשחרור בחורי ישיבה משרות בצבא?”, בתוך: זאב פלק, עורך, גבורות הרמח, ירושלים, תשמ”ז, עמ’  333-336

הרב שלמה גורן, תורת השבת והמועד, ירושלים, תשמ”ב, עמ’ 379-338

הרב משה שמואל גלאזנער מקלויזענבורג, תל תלפיות, תרע”ו, סימן קע”ד

הרב דוד צבי הופמן, מלמד להועיל, פרנקפורט ע”נ מיין, תרפ”ו, אורח חיים, סימנים מ”ב-מ”ג

הרב חיים הירשנזון, מלכי בקודש, חלק ראשון, סט לואיס, תרע”ט, עמ’ 15-14, 91-107; מהדורה מוערת בעריכת דוד זוהר, ירושלים, תשס”ז, עמ’ 23-18, 163-142

ד”ר יחזקאל כהן, תלמוד תורה ושרות צבאי, תש”ם

ד”ר יחזקאל כהן, גיוס כהלכה: על שחרור תלמידי ישיבות מצה”ל, ירושלים, תשנ”ג

הרב פרופ’ יצחק זאב כהנא, “שירות הצבא בספרות התשובות”, בתוך: מחקרים בספרות התשובות, ירושלים, תשל”ג, עמ’ 194-163

Amotz Asa-el, “While Soldiers Died”, The Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2024, p. 15 – עשהאל

פורר – Oded Forer, “Judaism provides the answers: The ultra-Orthodox enlistment challenge”, The Jerusalem Post, July 5, 2024, p. 18

‘פרופ’ מנחם קלנר, גם הם קרויים אדם: הנכרי בעיני הרמב”ם, רמת גן, 2016, פרק ו

II) Poskim who require yeshivah students to serve in the IDF or in a Jewish army before 1948

הרב דוד גולינקין, “התורה וההלכה קובעים: כולם חייבים להתגייס”, ישראל היום 11.7.2018

=   13.3.24 הרב תמיר גרנות, סרטון תגובה לדברי הרב יצחק יוסף
Rabbi Tamir Granot, “If Your Brothers go to War”, Tradition Online, March 17, 2024

הרב ראובן המר, “תשובה בעניין גיוס בחורי ישיבה לצה”ל”, תשובות ועד ההלכה של כנסת הרבנים בישראל ב (תשמ”ז), עמ’ 71-67

הרב יצחק אייזיק הלוי הרצוג, פסקים וכתבים, כרך א’, שו”ת בדיני אורח חיים, ירושלים, תשמ”ט, סימנים מ”ח-נ’ (חלק מדבריו מובאים אצל הרב משולם ראטה, קול מבשר, חלק א, סימן מ”ז)

הרב יצחק אייזיק הלוי הרצוג, “על הקמת המדינה ומלחמותיה”, תחומין ד’ (תשמ”ג), עמ’ 24-13

 76 ‘הרב יצחק אייזיק הלוי הרצוג, מכתב מט”ז טבת תש”ח אצל כהן, תשנ”ג, עמ

     .’הרב שלמה יוסף זוין (“אחד הרבנים”), “לשאלת הגיוס של בני הישיבות”, אצל כהן, תש”ם, עמ’ 48-44 = כהן, תשנ”ג, עמ’ 220-217  והשוו דבריו בספרו לאור ההלכה, ירושלים, תשי”ז, עמ’ ס”ה
לתרגום אנגלי של מאמרו, ראו

Tradition 21/4 (Fall 1985), pp. 52-55

    הרב משה זמר, הלכה שפויה, תל אביב, תשנ”ד, עמ’ 254-253

הרב יעקב משה טולידאנו, שו”ת ים הגדול, קהיר, תרצ”א, סימן צ”ז

הרב אהרן ליכטנשטיין, “זאת תורת ההסדר”, תחומין ז’ (תשמ”ו), עמ’ 329-314 שהופיע לפני כן בכתב העת
Tradition 19/3 (Fall 1981), pp. 199-217

הרב אילעאי עופרן, פוסט בפייסבוק, 14.6.24

הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק, משפט כהן, סימנים קמ”ב-קמ”ד

הרב צבי יהודה קוק, “למצוות הארץ” בספרו לנתיבות ישראל (אצל כהן, תש”ם, עמ’ 43-39)

‘הרב נחום רבינוביץ, שו”ת מלומדי מלחמה, מהד’ ג’, מעלה אדומים, תשס”ד, סימן א

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy, Jerusalem, 2014, pp. 269-278 – הרב שלמה ריסקין

הרב יהודה שביב, “העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה [ההסדר: היבט הלכתי]”, תחומין א’ (תש”ם), עמ’ 371-358

 

III) Poskim who exempt yeshivah students from serving in the IDF or who are opposed to such service

‘הרב שמריהו אריאלי, משפט המלחמה, ירושלים, תשל”ב, פרק ח

הרב חיים דוד הלוי, עשה לך רב, חלק א’, סימן כ”א וחלק ג’ סימן נ”ח

הרב י”מ טיקוצינסקי, “שחרור בני ישיבה מגיוס”, התורה והמדינה ה’-ו’ (תשי”ג-תשי”ד), עמ’ מ”ה-נ”ד

הרב זלמן ברוך מלמד, “גדולי תורה – זהו צורך האומה”, תחומין ז’ (תשמ”ו), עמ’ 334-330

הרב משה סופר, שו”ת חת”ם סופר, חלק ו’, ליקוטים, תשובה כ”ט  (הוא עוסק בצבא לא-יהודי  לפני מאתיים שנה)

הרב משה פיינשטיין, אגרות משה, יורה דעה, חלק ד’, סימן ל”ג

הרב צבי פסח פרנק, בהקדמה לספר הלכות מדינה, חלק ב’ (אצל כהן תשנ”ג, עמ 243)

הרב אברהם שרמן, “גדול תלמוד תורה יותר מהצלת נפשות”, תחומין ז’ (תשמ”ו), עמ’ 350-335

מכתב מאת 18 רבנים מעדות המזרח, “הוראות ברורות מול גזירת הגיוס”, כ”ח אדר ב’ תשפ”ד(7.4.24) עם הפרשנות של
Nissim Leon and Menachem Butler, “The Sephardic Rabbis’ Letter,” Tablet Magazine, June 27, 2024

 

To Purchase Rabbi Golinkin’s Volumes of Responsa: CLICK HERE

 

 

 

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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