Michael D. Hirsch

To me as an Orthodox Jew, the most disturbing aspect of the entire discussion surrounding the Tal Law and how to replace it is that it contravenes a host of Torah and Talmudic principles. Anyone the least bit familiar with the basic concepts of Judaism, which I will outline below, cannot defend the exemption of any body of Jews from serving in the military. Let us approach this step-by-step.

Problem #1: The Tal Law was originally sponsored by MK’s from the religious parties. In my estimation, the term “religious political party” is one of the finest examples of an oxymoron, or as the Talmud would refer to it, a “stira mineihu bei” (a self-contradictory statement). Why the establishment of a religious political party is forbidden under Jewish doctrine can be proven by a wide array of citations. I will limit it to two, both from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers: ”Shemayah says: Love work, despise authority, and do not become overly familiar with the government” (1:10). Can it be made any clearer than that? If you cannot become “familiar” with the government, how does one establish/maintain a religious party?! Answer: YOU CAN”T!!

(Rabbi Tzadok said: …..Do not make the Torah a spade with which to dig” (4:7). Meaning: Do not use the Torah as a means to gain financially. Such as: do not barter your Knesset bloc to the ruling party in return for financial deals (housing projects, welfare payments to unemployed members, etc.). Do not negotiate joining the coalition in return for ministries, grants, et al.

As I said earlier, there can be no way to rationalize the existence of a religious political party.

Problem #2:  For a moment, put aside the question as to whether those learning in a yeshiva should be exempted from military service. Let us first focus on the more critical question: how do you rationalize the thousands upon thousands boys/men studying full time in yeshiva, particularly those already well into their thirties?  The Bible (Numbers 8:24) tells us that Levites began serving in the Tabernacle/Temple at the age of twenty-five. The Biblical commentator, Rashi, tells us: ” And in another place (Numbers 4:3), it says they begin serving from the age of thirty. How can this be? The answer—from the age of twenty-five, they come to learn the rules and regulations of serving as a Levite; they learn for five years. From here we can deduce that a student who has not seen a favorable trend (“siman tov”) in his learning within five years will not see it develop thereafter!” (Tractate Chulin 24:1″

higher levels of learning (Talmud, Yoreh Deah, et al)? Or do they have “heads of stone” (as I heard one yeshiva dean refer to such non-achievers)?

The leaders of the yeshiva world here in Israel would somehow like us to believe that the thousands of post-eighteen-year-olds studying full time have all displayed the “siman tov”, thereby rationalizing their continuing as full-time yeshiva students. Although the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Baba Batra tells us that “avira d’arah mi’chakmah” (loosely translated as: the atmosphere in the Land of Israel makes one wise), I find it difficult to believe that all those learning full-time have been so blessed.

Problem #3:  I will continue to set aside the question of yeshiva students serving in the military to first tackle one other issue: at a minimum, why are these yeshiva students not earning a living? Why are they subsisting on government-stipends (see Problem #1)?

Fact: the overwhelming majority of the giants of Torah learning cited in the Talmud were self-supporting. Fact: as Shemayah stated above, “Love work.” Fact: “Rabbi Elazar the son of Azariah says:…If there is no flour, there is no Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21). With such overwhelming evidence to the centrality of work to observant Jews (again, I have cited but a handful), I believe what we are facing is a chain reaction of problems. The existence of religious political parties (Problem #1) leads to a situation of a flood of full-time yeshiva students (problem #2), which in turn leads to a situation contrary to a religious truism (Problem #3).

Problem #4: Let me get right to the point—THERE IS NOT A SCINTILLA OF EVIDENCE ANYWHERE IN THE TORAH, THE TALMUD, OR IN JEWISH LAW THAT YESHIVA STUDENTS SHOULD BE EXEMPT FROM SERVING IN THE ARMY! Just the opposite—there is a large body of evidence that every Jew, at times such as the present, must serve.

In Deuteronomy, four exemptions are granted— (1) one who had built a new home, and not yet dedicated it; (2) one who had planted a vineyard, and not yet harvested it; (3) one who has betrothed a woman, but not yet married her; and (4) one who is timid/fearful, and might cause other soldiers to be frightened to go into battle (20:5-8). Notice, no exemption is granted for those involved in Torah study. And even those exemptions are only valid in a “Milchemet Reshut” (a voluntary war), but in a “Milchemet Mitzvah” (a mandatory/defensive battle), all must serve. No exemptions granted (Tractate Sotah 8:6)

As we look around today, Hezbollah to the North, Hamas to the South, Iran about to go nuclear, the Arab Spring proving to be the Arab Winter (as far as Israel is concerned)—can there be one iota of doubt that we are in a Milchemet Mitzvah?! The Tal Law was a perversion of Jewish Law; any attempt by our religious parties to revive it in any way, shape, or form is a total abrogation of our responsibilities as observant Jews living in the State of Israel.

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