Sofer case means draft haredim

The disappearance of Aaron Sofer in the Jerusalem forest last Friday is of course alarming. I pray for his safe, speedy return.

But far more important is the instruction of Rav Aharon Shteinman shlita, today’s leading Lithuanian haredi rabbi, that Israeli students at the monumental Mir yeshiva put down their Talmuds and look for Sofer in the forest.

Now, the odds that, after six days, Sofer is simply lost among the trees are quite small. And he’s just one person.

But he’s a yeshiva bochur.

At the same time, haredim and their leaders have refused every single proposed compromise that would draft their youth – or at least some of them – into the Israel Defense Forces. They won’t even discuss national service. While the children of secular and religious Zionist Jews fight and die to protect our People and our Land, haredim have argued that they, too, play a key role in protecting Israel.

Torah study, they say, is a spiritual shield for Israel, which is as important as the military’s physical shield.

So why would Rav Shteinman order Mir students out of the yeshiva and into the forests? After all, many non-haredim are already physically searching for Sofer. Shouldn’t the Mir be a place to spiritually search for Sofer?

Now, one could argue, leaving their gemaras for a day to do the “national service” of searching for a missing Jew is one thing, but being drafted for years is a much different matter.

Well, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw and/or Winston Churchill, if they can do it for a day but refuse to do it for a week/month/year, then “we’re just haggling over the price.”

We can now see the obvious hypocrisy of haredi excuses not to participate in the IDF or at least perform national service. If they can put down their gemaras to search for one of their own, they can do the same to defend our nation against hostile enemies.

You might think I’ve chosen a terrible time to make this point, with Sofer still missing. We should focus on his return, you could argue, and put political topics aside.

I disagree. Haredi enlistment is perhaps the most important social divide in Israel, and the premier argument for exempting haredim has just been demolished.

I say draft ‘em all.

(h/t M. Kestenbaum and S. Schrader)

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About the Author
David Benkof is a St. Louis-based writer and former faculty member at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s in Jerusalem. He has a master's degree in modern Jewish history from Stanford. Follow him on Facebook or E-mail him at