Scott Kahn
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Hypocrisy or Indifference

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The following does not represent some original thought or halachic innovation. Others have said things like this before, and more will say them after. I’m simply joining an existing chorus, and demanding that hypocrisy be called out and, potentially, avoided.

In the most recent issue of Mishpacha Magazine (April 3, 2024), in the wake of the Attorney General’s ruling that the Israeli army must initiate the process of drafting previously-exempt yeshiva students, Gedalia Guttentag interviewed Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, the rosh yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, about the Chareidi position regarding exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service. In response to the interviewer’s question about the IDF manpower shortage, Rabbi Berkovits acknowledged the problem and said, “We need miracles. The most important asset that Klal Yisrael has is the olam hayeshivos, now more than ever. And the fact that we’re protecting Klal Yisrael means that we need to take ourselves seriously. If we recognize that at a time like this, when Klal Yisrael is in danger, the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael is in danger, then we need to take what we’re doing seriously… I know it’s very difficult to maintain a state of chizuk long term, but in the first days after Simchas Torah, when the yeshivos reopened early, people were learning like crazy. There were all-night sedorim. You know, it was very difficult to maintain that. And I think people have gone back to normal life. We really do have to strengthen our passion, our hasmadah and our tefillah.” (Emphasis mine)

I have written numerous articles explaining why I don’t agree with this perspective. Nonetheless, let’s assume that Rabbi Berkovits is correct: that the people learning Torah, rather than those who are fighting for Israel, are, in fact, the authentic source of Israel’s protection. Let’s work with this oft-cited reason for military exemptions for those who are learning in yeshivot. (In my less generous moments, I summarize this as, “You’re fighting in Gaza, and we’re learning in yeshiva. You’re welcome.”)

Tomorrow night is the first day of the month of Nisan. Beginning on Tuesday, yeshivot across the world traditionally stop for a month’s vacation, bein hazmanim. While individuals are, of course, encouraged to continue learning during their time off, the official yeshiva curriculum is put on hold, students return home, and the intensity of the previous six months of Torah study is lessened considerably.

In a parallel manner, those people who are serving in the Israeli army are also given a lighter schedule during the month of Nisan. They come home every Shabbat, their daily activities are far less intense than they have been since October, they awaken at a later hour, and while they need to remain on duty, the intensity of their service is considerably lowered.

This, of course, is false. The army does not lighten the load of its soldiers during Nisan – nor should it. Our son, for example, hopes to be given leave from the IDF for the Seder – perhaps for a Shabbat before that, perhaps not – and after yom tov, on the first day of chol hamoed, he will return to his base. Nisan does not mean vacation; it means the same thing as every other month since he joined the army. After all, Israel is in the middle of an excruciating, exhausting war, and continues to fight vicious enemies on multiple fronts. If the army chose to lighten the load of its soldiers in Nisan – if the army, too, believed in bein hazmanim – Israel’s very existence would be imperiled.

Yeshivot, however, have 30 days of vacation during Nisan. And this is a real problem.

Rabbi Berkovits said, “The fact that we’re protecting Klal Yisrael means that we need to take ourselves seriously.” But are they?

Are all the yeshivot canceling bein hazmanim?

Are all the yeshivot insisting that their students return to yeshiva during chol hamoed in order to protect the soldiers who are fighting?

Is it truly necessary to grant four weeks off when people outside of the olam hayeshivos, “the most important asset that Klal Yisrael has,” receive no such break?

Yes, a break from study will likely improve the quality of students’ Torah learning going forward. But does that really require 30 days of vacation? Wouldn’t a week’s break suffice – especially as these students also have another six weeks of time off – two more periods of bein hazmanim – scheduled over the next six months?

For those yeshivot which insist on their students working just as hard as soldiers; those yeshivot which demand continued full-time Torah study up until Erev Pesach and then again during chol hamoed; those yeshivot which walk the walk just as they talk the talk: I salute them wholeheartedly. I do not agree with their halachic stance that Torah study exempts yeshiva students en masse from the army, but I respect and welcome the fact that they take their beliefs seriously enough that it directly impacts their behavior.

For those yeshivot which do not insist that, during Nisan, their students work as hard as soldiers; those yeshivot which do not demand continued full-time Torah study up until Erev Pesach and then again during chol hamoed; those yeshivot which talk the talk but don’t walk the walk… I see only two honest possibilities:

Either these yeshivot finally acknowledge that they don’t truly believe that Torah study protects, and for that reason they will remain closed for the next month.

Or these yeshivot admit that Torah study does protect the IDF, but the vacation of thousands of yeshiva students is more important and pressing than the safety of our soldiers.

It’s their choice: hypocrisy or indifference.

And I don’t see a third option.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at
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