Levi Margolin

It’s not about the draft!

It was early 1948 and Jewish united forces in the British Mandate of Palestine mobilized against enemy armies trying to wash them from the region. The Jewish community worldwide took note.

Among them was a young Rabbinical Student in Brooklyn, NY, Tzvi Hirsh Gansbourg. He had arrived in the States less than a year earlier – from the British Mandate of Palestine — to study alongside his Rabbi, the then leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson.

With his nation in a battle reminiscent of centuries past, fighting for survival in their ancestral, G-d given homeland, Gansbourg wished to take position alongside his family – both spiritual and genealogical. He penned a letter to the then Lubavitcher Rebbe. “Is my brother’s blood cheaper than mine?” wrote Gansbourg in his letter stating his desire to return and head to the front-lines. The Rebbe responded.

“Every troop has his post. For some it’s on the front-lines. For others, it’s with his mind and soul in the holy texts. A soldier doesn’t simply abandon his post!”

Gansbourg stayed in the Yeshivah. Gansbourg was my grandfather. He was also Haredi. Members of his immediate family fought then and in several wars since. Relatives of ours still serve.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Gansbourg, of blessed memory.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Gansbourg, of blessed memory.

I attended the demonstration in Jerusalem alongside hundreds of thousands of my brothers and sisters. While I strongly disagree with them in many ways (see, “Don’t call me Haredi”), they are still my brothers and sisters. I don’t agree with many things my actual five brothers and one sister do! The basis of the rally was to express disapproval of the new draft laws.

For the record; I (strongly) support the IDF. I (strongly) support the draft. I (strongly) support sharing the burden. I (strongly) support giving back.

I also (very strongly) support the Torah. I believe in the Torah’s absolute divinity. I hold the Torah as true, as factual, as a book of life for our nation.

Just as the Jewish people have carried the Torah through hardship and challenge, the Torah has carried the Jewish nation to victory and survival. Both are true. Both are embedded at the core of our existence.

On the same note, I wish to hold accountable those who ‘hide behind the Torah,’ using it as an excuse to dodge responsibilities and avoid their duties as citizens of the State of Israel. Worse, I do not – EVER – support a Jewish person – especially one claiming to celebrate his religion in an observant fashion –  protesting the IDF that gives them the luxury to live here, safely, every day.

Yes, I agree, if a student fails to attend the Yeshiva, or is a disturbance when he does, he should follow the others into the forces of the IDF. He’ll get training, he’ll get money. He’ll be grounded. But, he who is actually a student of the Torah, he who will in fact devote his time to deep biblical concept and discovery, the advanced Torah scholars, should be allowed to do so in the Jewish State.

I should point out, when I was of age, I did not personally have either of these challenges, as I was not in Israel or Israeli. I recognize that. I shall not judge until I am in the shoes of someone who was/is – on either side. But now that I have the privilege of living here, I have gotten to know the fine men and women of this land, of which many who serve/ed and those who did/do not, are my good friends.

Also, should I live here long term, I’d like to believe I’ll be raising my kids knowing that the IDF is a preferred option. However, should they choose to become students of advanced Torah study, I’ll take it as well!

I attended the protest to defend the Torah which I hold dear. The Torah belongs to each and every one of us, as Jews. The Torah is meant to unite the Jewish nation. The Torah stands for life and for peace.

In the Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, page 49a, a story is related about Joab in wartimes.

Rabbi Abba states there that “If not for David’s study of Torah, Joab would not have succeeded in war; and but for Joab’s efforts in the battlefield, David could not have devoted himself to the study of the Torah.”

This is both a timely message and timeless lesson. The Jewish people have relied on study of Torah AND physical defense since the days of old. The concept is nothing new!

Further, the arrangement allowing the Haredi population to choose Torah study over enlistment, as it was until a number of years ago, is known in Hebrew as “Torato Omunato.” That literally means “Torah Study is his trade” and expresses this very sentiment! (That is not to say, of course, by any means, that abuse of this approach to avoid conscription is justified.)

More than half a million Jewish people from dozens of different backgrounds, ideologies and beliefs (believe it or not, there are dozens of Haredi types!) came together for many different reasons. I attended – after discussing with several people, Rabbis included – for the sake of Torah. While many came out in protest against the draft, to me it was a prayer vigil in defense of holding the state to its Jewish values.

To each of us, the display of righteousness is expressed differently, even among people on the same side of the argument. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Shneerson, of blessed memory, states (video below) “people will not want to understand it.” That is natural. That is understandable. Hatred however is not.

While I certainly understand that many people disagree with me, even among my closest friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I urge people to study into it a little deeper. The soldier is needed. The ‘lamdan’ (scholar) is needed just as well

My point is not in protest of the draft, nor is it in support of the draft. It is in support of the Jewish Nation. It is in support of Eretz Yisroel, the land of Israel. It is in defense of the Torah. It is with love for all Jewish people.

Think about this: those who wish to follow the Torah and adhere to its teachings should not find themselves in a position of unfamiliarity in the Jewish State.

This is especially true at a time when we are trying to get the rest of the world to recognize it as the Jewish state.

About the Author
Levi Margolin was born and bred in Norfolk, VA and is now living it up in Jerusalem! Director of Marketing and Social Media at Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT, he loves Israel, Judaism, people, politics, sports, world travel and hanging out. Standing at five-feet, Levi has been described by those who know him as the definition of “Short and Sweet.” He is the middle child of seven. He can be reached at