Kenneth Cohen

Where Is the Precedent

There are two types of wars described in the Torah. One is referred to as “Milchemet Mitzva,” or obligatory war. And the other is known as “Milchemet Reshut,” or permissive battle.

The Milchemet Reshut needed the permission of the Sanhedrin. King David exercised this right, as he felt it necessary to secure Israel’s borders. This type of battle, no longer exists today.

When it was in existence, there were exemptions given to certain members of society. The newlywed couple, one who had not yet completed his home, and one who had not consecrated his vineyard, were all exempt from fighting in a Milchemet Reshut.

The Milchemet Mitzva does exist today. Some refer to it as a defensive battle, while others describe it as a war with an enemy that is oppressing you. This enemy would like to drive you from the land.

Modern day rabbinic authorities, such as former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, have clearly stated that our current battle with our Arab neighbors, is a Milchemet Mitzva.

The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim 7:4, clearly states the Halacha regarding Milchemet Mitzva. “There are no exemptions, and all must fight in such a battle. This includes, even a newly married Chatan.”

Torah study must never be minimized, and it is the most worthwhile endeavor one can do during his waking hours. This is certainly my own personal priority. What I don’t understand is how one is allowed to ignore the Halacha of the Rambam, based on the Talmud in Masechet Sota. Why isn’t full time Torah study listed as an exemption from Milchemet Mitzva in the Talmud or Rambam?

I have not seen any explanation to this question.

If there is a good answer, it should be clearly explained to the masses. Without an explanation, I fear that it is creating a division among our people. This is the last thing we need at this time.

This is especially true when so many of our holy, Torah loving soldiers, have given their lives defending our beloved land.

We become invincible when there is Jewish unity. We must be particularly careful at this time, to stay united at this time. Bringing a clearer understanding to legitimate army exemptions, would be a good start. If there are no good answers, we would be wise to follow the teachings of the Rambam!

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at