Moshe Klausner

Would Chazal Condone Draft Dodging?

In the past several days, the topic of the Charedi draft has once again become the center of attention. One of the main arguments for allowing yeshiva bochurim to avoid the draft is that their Torah learning is protecting us. We need them to learn for Hashem to provide protection and miracles for us. 

But is their learning truly protecting us? Every Torah-believing Jew knows it does! It would be blasphemous to say otherwise, right? Although this idea is repeated over and over, its truth is not clear at all. 

Many sources in Chazal do seem to indicate that Torah learning protects us. Still, upon a closer look, it becomes clear that the type of protection it provides is very different from what is being projected by many in our generation.

Let us analyze some of the “proofs” that the Torah protects us and see what Chazal really meant. 

An oft-quoted source is the Gemara in Sotah 21a, which writes “תורה מגנא ומצלא”, that the “Torah protects and saves”.  

Rami Levy sign in Ramat Bet Shemesh thanking Torah learners for protecting the world with their Torah learning on Shavuot night.

Pretty clear, closed-case proof, right?  

Well, what DOES it save and protect you from?

Rashi says it means that Torah protects from pains and afflictions, and saves one from committing sins.

The Gemara does not mean to say that learning Torah can be a substitute for fighting in a war (which also happens to be a mitzvah). Torah learning puts a person in a proper frame of mind and gives one a moral code that can help a person to avoid sins, and to help avoid pitfalls that would cause them unnecessary pain. 

Chazal are not saying that learning Torah is a supernatural act that will kill our enemies. If it was, then the horrors of October 7 should never have occurred in the first place.

A second source recently being shared widely is the Midrash in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:2, which reads “בזכות התורה ולומדיה ינצל העולם”, lit, “in the merit of the Torah and its learners, the world will be saved”.  Another seemingly clear-cut proof that learning Torah will protect us from our enemies and should be done in lieu of fighting.

Fundraiser calling to support Yeshivas, since they are the ones protecting the IDF soldiers during the war.

However, reading the entire section of the Midrash paints a very different picture. The Midrash shows that before the Torah was given at Mt Sinai, the world’s purpose was lacking, leading to the destruction in the days of the flood and the Tower of Babel. However, once the Jews accepted the Torah, God said that in their merit, the world would be saved. To say that this is a source to not fight in Israel’s wars is a perversion of the Midrash and its intent.

Note the second part of the Midrash that says because of the “Rose”, aka, the Jewish people, the world will be saved, without specific reverence to the Torah learners. The meaning is clear. Once the Jewish people became a nation and received the Torah, the world received a gift that would ensure its future. 

A third source quoted by many is the Gemara in Sanhedrin 49a, which quotes the following pesukim in Shmuel II 8:15:  

“David reigned over all Israel, and David executed justice and charity (משפט וצדקה) among all his people.  Yoav son of Zeruiah was commander of the army…”

The Gemara writes that David caused Yoav to be successful in fighting, since David engaged in “Justice and Charity”, and David was successful in Justice and Charity, since Yoav was engaged in war. The Gemara uses the terms “עסק בתורה”- “engaged in Torah” in regards to David when explaining the meaning of “Justice and Charity” in which he was involved, and not use the terms  “למד בתורה”- “learned Torah”. 

What does “engaged in Torah” mean in this context?

The same phrase of משפט וצדקה – justice and charity, when relating to a king’s duty is described by the prophet Yermiyahu.  Yermiyahu 33:15 points out in his prophecies relating to the Messiah, that he is to be involved in “Justice and Charity”, which means to judge and lead the Jewish people according to the principles of the Torah. The Gemara in the beginning of Sanhedrin 6b says this as well.  It is thus logical that Yoav was successful in fighting the war due to the peace and order that David was engaged in with the people who were not involved in the war. We see in our days when there is lawlessness and lack of order, fighting wars becomes more difficult.

However, when it was not his duty to rule over the Jewish people, namely, before he was declared king, he in fact did fight in many battles and did not involve himself in studying Torah in place of fighting.

The Rambam at the end of Mishneh Torah, Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee 13:12 (Hilchot Shemittah VeYovel) writes that the tribe of Levi are set aside from the rest of the Jewish people and do not engage in war like the rest of Yisrael. He then writes in the following halacha (13:13) that this exemption is not limited to the tribe of Levi, rather it is applicable to anyone whose spirit motivates them to separate and has the wisdom to set himself aside and cling to Hashem. 

At first glance, this seems like a clear indication that the tribe of Levi, along with anyone else who sets his life aside to serve God, is exempt from fighting. 

However, a closer look at the Rambam shows a different picture. The Rambam himself in the Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 8:4 writes that a Cohen soldier (aka, someone who is from the tribe of Levi) is permitted to have a relationship with an אשת יפת תואר – A captive woman. Clearly the Rambam believes that the tribe of Levi is involved in Israel’s wars.

Secondly, the Rambam earlier in Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 7:4 writes that even a newly wed, who, while having a Torah obligation to be with his wife for a year (Deuteronomy 24:5) is still obligated to leave his wife and fight in the war. The Hagahot Maimoniot therefore explains that it is obvious that the tribe of Levi and Torah scholars, who do not have any biblical exemption, would be obligated to fight in Israel’s wars. 

What then can be the explanation of the Rambam which implies their exemption? 

The Rambam never wrote that they are exempt. He wrote that they do not participate in the war like “way of the rest of Yisrael”. That implies that while they might not fight on the front lines like the rest of the Jewish people, they would still be obligated to contribute in other ways, similar to those who are too afraid to fight, whose job becomes to provide the soldiers with water, food, and to make sure the roads are well paved. 

To say the Rambam exempts Torah scholars from involvement in the war is not being true to the words of the Rambam. Secondly, one would be very hard pressed to say that every (or even most) yeshiva students would fit the criteria of the Talmid Chacham that the Rambam discusses.

Another source brought to explain the necessity of Torah study is the Gemara in Megillah 3a, which discusses an angel appearing before Yehoshua, telling him to study Torah before attacking the city of Ai. What is most glaring, is that even according to this Gemara, he did fight, personally, after learning Torah. So the idea of avoiding fighting using this as a source is a non-starter.  

Additionally, the Radak on Yehoshua 5:15 explains that this Gemara is to be understood homiletically, to teach us a lesson regarding the importance of learning, but did not actually happen in reality, as this episode occurred much before the battle of Ai, and secondly, as the Radak says his own words “times of war are not times of learning”. 

This context of this drasha is very logical, given the fact that it was taught after the Jews were conquered and exiled by the Romans, had no more army, and couldn’t connect well to the land as Yehoshua did. Chazal found lessons for the Jews of that generation to connect more strongly with the learning of the Torah. 

Another source that is brought is the Gemara is Bava Metzia 108a, which writes that everyone must contribute money to pay for protective gates at the entrance to the city to protect from potential army invasion. Torah scholars, however, are exempt from this tax, as their Torah protects them.  Another seemingly clear proof that Torah protects them, correct?

While the Gemara exempts them from paying taxes (which is a monetary obligation placed on the community by its leaders – not a mitzvah per se) which is paid due to a potential attack, it clearly does not exempt a Talmid Chacham from fighting in a war, which is a Torah obligation.

Secondly, while the Gemara says the Talmid Chacham is protected, it clearly shows that everyone else does need to pay and is NOT protected by the Talmid Chacham’s Torah learning. In essence, the attempted proof from this Gemara that Torah learning protects Am Yisrael actually proves the opposite.

The words we say every Shabbat night and day, quoting the Gemara at the end of Masechet Brachot 64a, that “Torah scholars increase peace in the world”, is not meant to be construed to say that learning Torah is an exemption from fighting. Talmidei Chachamim give us a proper value system. They instill Torah values into our homes and lives. That increases peace and serenity in our homes, communities, and hopefully, values that spread throughout the world. However, if an enemy is attacking us, it is their duty as well to fight back. Chazal are not telling us that their Torah learning will protect us.

There are times when Torah learning does not even protect one’s self.  The Gemara in Ketubot 77b discusses people with a specific type of dangerous and contagious disease (בעלי ראתן), where many great Tanaaim said they weren’t holy enough to be protected from this disease, even though they wanted to come close to teach them Torah. If these Tanaaim didn’t feel that their learning Torah in a dangerous place is sufficient to protect even themselves, can we assume that our Torah learning is sufficient? And again, this doesn’t even discuss Torah learning as a means to protect others. 

When Yaakov approached Eisav after many years of separation knowing that Eisav wanted to kill him, Yaakov prepared to not only pray but to fight as well. He didn’t rely on his Torah learning to protect himself.

Another source that some bring to validate dodging the army in the name of the Torah is the following from Leviticus 26:3: 

“If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.”

Rashi explains: “… How then must I explain ‘If you follow my laws’? As an admonition that you should study the Torah laboriously.”

It seems to be very clear from here that if you engage in Torah learning, God will give you peace and blessing. 


Well, one needs to read the subsequent words of Rashi on the rest of the passuk to realize that Torah learning here is not enough. 

Rashi writes on the words “AND TAKE HEED OF MY COMMANDMENTS” — Study the Torah laboriously with the intention to take heed and to fulfill its teachings, as it is said, (Deuteronomy 5:1) “and you shall learn them and take heed to do them”.

The blessing that we receive from our learning is on condition that we engage in the commandments. 

In our days, the commandment of fighting in a מלחמת מצוה, a war that we are commanded to fight, which applies in situations where our enemies are out to kill us, is a central mitzvah of our generation (see Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 5:1-2). The future of our existence and safety hang in the balance. If we praise learning Torah and ignore and belittle some of its commandments (fighting in a מלחמת מצוה) all in the name of the Torah, then of what value is our Torah learning?

A new song released this week is being shared widely and played on Charedi radio stations that has pushed the boundaries of the idea of Torah learning’s protective qualities even further. The lyrics are the following:

“I learned a line (of Torah) I saved a soldier. Another line (of learning), I killed a terrorist. Another line (of learning) I returned a hostage. The entire heavenly army.”

The messaging being conveyed is that the Torah learning is as effective or possibly more effective than the soldiers actions in the war. If this were to be the case, then if someone were to be drowning ח”ו, it would be more productive to continue learning the daf Gemara than to dive in and take the drowning person out of the water, as the limud HaTorah would offer at least the same or greater protection. I tend to believe though (and sincerely hope), that everyone would agree that one would have an obligation to dive in and rescue the drowning person. When there is imminent danger that needs to be addressed, one needs to engage with and remove the danger head on.

It is a חילול השם, a desecration of God’s name, to say that we need the Charedim to not enlist in the army since we NEED their Torah learning to protect our soldiers and all of us. The Torah clearly demands that we fight our enemies who seek to annihilate us. The Torah gives no exceptions from this mitzvah (or any other mitzvah for that matter) in order to learn Torah, and the sources that are presented to show that Torah learning will protect us, are shaky at best and are presented in a manipulative way at worst. 

Sociological and political issues do need to be addressed to better allow Charedim to feel more comfortable in joining the army, but to actively encourage people to avoid fighting in a מלחמת מצוה, all in the name of Torah, is abhorrent. The Torah should never be used as a tool for social or political motives, especially when those goals are antithetical to the Torah itself.

About the Author
Moshe Klausner lives in Ramat Bet Shemesh, originally from New Jersey. He is a father to three active boys. He is a Speech Pathologist by profession, working locally in Bet Shemesh and at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, specializing in voice disorders. He also lains each Shabbos at shul. He loves Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.
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