The I.D.F. and the state would benefit if all soldiers chose the Hesder track * Yeshiva students vacations are shorter than university students * Explaining the importance of Hesder yeshivas to ourselves, is more important than explaining it to the secular * Is the Hesder track at risk if we do not agree to two years of service? * The excessive desire of representatives of the religious community to receive approval and consent from others * Factors on the left and the media are attacking the Hesder students because they are identified with the settlement of the Land of Israel * Those who seek to destroy the country, wish to destroy Jewish family values as well.
I received a number of comments following my column on Hesder yeshivas, and since the issue continues to be on the public agenda, I think it is worth a further look.
The Argument of Equality
Q: Rabbi, do you really believe there is no preferential treatment in theHesder track, just because anyone who wants to can join? After all, if everyone were to serve in the Hesder track, the I.D.F. would be short on soldiers?
A: I believe that if everyone served in the Hesder track, the quality of the soldiers in the I.D.F. would increase tremendously, and the benefits derived from their shortened military service would surpass current gains. This, thanks to the charge of values they would receive in the yeshivas, which would also make it easier for the army to recruit soldiers necessary for permanent service from within their ranks.
And above and beyond this, when we are fortunate enough to have everyone learning in Hesder yeshivas, the State of Israel will flourish in all areas, because the yeshiva graduates imbued with these values will advance education, academia, industry, the economy, settlement and aliyah – and in addition, raise fine families. May we merit seeing the learning halls of Hesder yeshivas filled to overflowing capacity in the near future!
Why Yeshiva Students Vacations are Long
Q: If the Hesder yeshiva students are as beneficial to Israel as you say, and in addition, serve five years instead of three, why is it that while combat soldiers get two weeks’ vacation a year, yeshiva students get a break three times a year for ”bein ha z’manim”, three weeks at a time?
A: Every field has its own character. Study is more tiring mentally than physical labor, and the vast majority of people are not capable of learning continuously for an entire year. The fact is that in all universities, vacations are much longer – about four to five months a year. Even the most diligent academic students take longer vacations than yeshiva students (incidentally, the holidays of Passover and Sukkot are not periods of vacation, but rather appointed times, half of which should be spent learning Torah).
In my estimation, the yearly number of study hours of Hesder yeshiva students corresponds to the number of hours studied by the twenty percent of diligent students learning challenging subjects in universities (I am able to make this estimation because for fifteen years our yeshiva, Yeshiva Har Bracha, has run a continuation program – ‘Shiluvim’, which combines academic studies with yeshiva studies).
Convincing the Religious Community
Q: Rabbi, you wrote nice things about the importance of the Zionist yeshivas in general, and the Hesder yeshivas in particular, but the problem is you wrote them in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper for the religious public who at any rate are already convinced. You need to convince the secular public that attacks the Hesder yeshiva students.
A: Although it is important to explain Torah and values to the secular public, it is more important to explain it to the religious community, because it is an issue composed of a number of values which require finding the optimal way of integrating them – for the glory of the Torah, the nation, and the country. The integration should also be tailored to each individual: many are fit for the Hesder track, some are fit for Mechinot (pre-military preparatory programs) and afterwards to serve in the regular army, and others are fit for a yeshiva gevo’ah (higher Torah academies) followed by a shorter military service.
All of them are beneficial for Israeli society. Those learning in the yeshivot gevo’ot help fortify the importance of Torah – for soldiers serving in the regular and standing army, as well; those serving in the army help the yeshiva students connect their studies to the practical world and the security of the nation. And the central axis which beautifully combines both these values is accomplished by the students of the Hesder yeshivas. Together, they all benefit Israeli society – the Haredim and secular alike.
The more the students of the Zionist yeshivas and Mechinot increase their understanding of the great task that lies before them, and the most effective way to realize it, their welcome influence on all of Israeli society will also increase, and the Haredim and secular Jews will do teshuva (repent) – each one, in their own required area.
I will continue and reveal that in essence, I am writing for myself. And when I manage to express things frankly, I am filled with satisfaction. Subsequently, I know there’s a chance that others will enjoy what I have written, and derive benefit from it. And as theba’alei mussar have already said, the most important thing is for a person to correct himself, for if he is successful, his words will benefit many people.
Are the Hesder Yeshivas at Risk?
Q: In recent days, the secular public was exposed to severe and daily attacks on theHesder yeshivas, even demanding that their students serve three full years in the army. Shouldn’t we compromise and extend the service to two years, and thereby save theHesder yeshivas?
A: There is no risk to the Hesder yeshiva track in the foreseeable future. The law is almost completed, and the coalition will pass it. Moreover, as long as the Haredi public is entitled to a larger exemption for yeshiva students, both in the number of young men who receive a full exemption from military service, and also in the number of those receiving conditions for deferred and shortened service, it is impossible to discriminate against the Zionist public and withhold from it from the possibility of learning in yeshivas under conditions that are far better and useful to the I.D.F. However, in the long-term there is cause for concern, or in other words – grasping the importance of the special combination in Hesder yeshivas in their present format, for all of Israeli society.
How to Convince
Q: Is it possible to continue the Hesder yeshiva track while the secular media keeps attacking it? Aren’t we promptly obligated to try and persuade the secular public about the importance of the track, for if not, its continued existence will be at risk?
A: The exaggerated desire of the religious communities’ representatives to receive approval and agreement from other authorities is one of the most difficult problems. The ability to explain a fundamental idea depends on one’s ability of identifying with its importance, and self-assurance in its truth and benefit for the sake of society.
Incidentally, this problem caused many leaders of the national camp to accept the delusional, dangerous, and evil position of “two states for two peoples”. In their youth they sang songs about “shtei gadot la’Yarden” (“two banks to the Jordan”, a poem written by Jabotinsky), and believed that all of Eretz Yisrael belonged to the Jewish nation. They hoped to gain power and explain to all the absolute truth and implement the vision. All they needed was to be appointed as senior ministers, immediately head off to foreign countries, meet the delegates of the great nations face-to-face, talk with them honestly, and convince them. Excitedly, they set forth on international advocacy campaigns to explain the validity of our path… and surprise! It turned out that the delegates of the nations had their own interests, and the great speeches did not affect them. Naturally, of course, they were left with no other choice but to capitulate. Just ask Ehud Olmert and Tzippy Livni.
The Mistake in Public Relations
The mistake of the majority of those who spoke on the issue of Hesder yeshivas was that they tried to depict the quality of their combat service in order to get sympathy and approval of their shortened army service. But it’s hard to explain to a secular person that it’s preferable for Hesder soldiers to serve less because of their military excellence. If they are so good, why shouldn’t they contribute more?
We must accept the fact that secular people do not appreciate yeshiva study as we wish they would. If they did, they would do teshuva. Attempting to convince them about this is doomed to failure. We should have explained our position without trying to persuade, describing the entire picture – the great contribution of the religious community to all of Israeli society, in all fields – including the army – and calmly explain that all of this stems from the study of Torah in yeshivas. Some would understand more, other’s less.
In any case, it should have been firmly clarified that in as much as we have a national responsibility, we have no intention of changing the Hesder track – one of the most beneficial tracks for the Jewish nation – but will try our best to expand it as much as possible.
It was also forbidden to agree to add a month to the service, because amid these pressures, it was perceived as a slight admission of fault, requiring the guilty to prove his righteousness.
The Second Mistake
One also cannot ignore the deep motivation of the media’s attacks on the Hesderyeshivas, whose graduates are the forerunners of the position supporting the settlement of Judea and Samaria, and live in all the communities located there in large numbers. Unfortunately, there are people in the country – especially in the media – for whom these things are anathema. They will do anything to harm anyone expressing this position.
We must recognize reality – this is the main motive of the resentment and attacks on the Hesder yeshivas. It is no coincidence that all the attackers of the Hesder yeshivas – without exception – are people who support giving portions of our homeland to the Arabs. They also fear that yeshiva graduates will refuse orders to expel Jews from their homes.
Some people try to play down the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, to distance the Hesderyeshivas and the religious community from this controversial position. But instead of running away from it, we must reveal the motive for the attacks, and thus, as supporters of Hesder, win over to our side all the Jews who are loyal to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael who are not observant.
The ‘Civil Union’ Law
Just as Minister Tzippy Livni and her Knesset faction specifically attack the Hesderyeshiva students, and strive to establish a state for the Arabs in heart of the Land of Israel, they also want to promote the ‘civil union’ law, whose main gist is damaging the sacred status of marriage in Israel.
In a previous article I wrote that if the status of Jewish marriage was strengthened by means of a Basic Law, there would be room for granting all financial rights to anyone wishing to maintain a joint partnership. However, this is on the condition that it is not an institution with official status, similar to state-governed marriage, but rather in a framework whose essential feature is free will – the free will of two people to define their partnership, and their free will to dismantle it at any time, without the need of approval from any particular arrangement. The existing pool of lawyers will suffice to facilitate all the agreements.
The ‘civil union’ law does the exact opposite; it organizes an entire civilian system parallel to marriage according to Jewish law. Instead of granting free will, it creates a system that is meant to compete with the rabbinate and the batei din (courts of Jewish law).
Apart from damaging the status of sacred Jewish marriage, it is also likely to cause devastating damage to all those who “marry” according to it. Since it is a marriage-like system, according to the opinion of many poskim (Jewish law arbiters) it will be considered as marriage, which in order to annul, will require a get. And since the system they intend to establish will not require a get according to halakha, the number of women considered safek eshet ish (a women doubtfully married) will increase, and their children will be safek mamzerim (a child born out of a doubtful forbidden marriage). The destruction they wish to inflict on Eretz Yisrael, they also wish to inflict on family values.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.