September 22, 2023
September 22, 2023

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Is There a Halachic Basis for the Refusal of Haredi Men To Serve in Tzahal? Part 2

The first part of this reflection on the very serious topic of people refusing to serve in Tzahal concluded with the observation that even after the destruction of Bayit Sheyni, Rabbi Akivah encouraged Bar Kochba to rebel against the Roman emperor Hadrian who tried to eradicate our religion. The extreme Islamist Jihadist enemies who surround Israel today would do worse. They want to destroy every living Jew and other infidels. And we shudder at the possibility that Iran will develop nuclear weapons (JLBC, Issue 44, pp. 38–39).

When five Arab armies attacked the Yishuv in 1947, how were they stopped? Surely with the support of Hashem above, but on the ground there were thousands of men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives during a prolonged Mil’chemet Hashich’rur, the War of Independence. They were poorly armed, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, sometimes courageously facing a tank with nothing but a Molotov cocktail, ? la Dovid and Goliath the Philistine. Most of these defenders of Israel were not Shomrei Shabbos, but they were all kedoshim.

Do haredi men think that it is not their responsibility to defend themselves, their families, their fellow Jews, and the State itself? Our rabbis tell us that it is our right and responsibility to defend ourselves against an attacker. “If someone comes to kill you,” say Chazal, “you kill him before he gets you!”

So whose responsibility is it to defend haredim when they are attacked? Hillel says in Pirke Avos: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But it doesn’t seem the haredim follow the words of Hillel.

May all those dedicated men and women who served in the the Haganah, Irgun, and now in Tzahal be protected, blessed by Hashem with Kol Tuv and total success in their military and personal lives. If not for all those kedoshim, there would be no State of Israel. And the hundreds of thousands of haredim who are living on the dole would not have their way of life, monetary support for their yeshivos and those of their children, nor Chas V’chalila life itself! Israel has had no choice but to battle its hostile neighbors so many times, and protects all her citizens.

It seems to me that haredi men and women should rethink their position. They are basing their lives on a philosophy that is antithetical to Ma’aseh Avos, Tanach, Jewish history, and the sayings of Chazal going back to the Mishnaic and Tamudic era. How long will they continue to defy the Torah teachings they claim to uphold?

Is it the responsibility of the other citizens of the State of Israel to support and protect them? Their dependency upon the good will of their fellow Jews is based on which halacha in the Shulchan Aruch? Certainly, their Torah learning adds kedusha to the land, and their conscientious contributions in other ways enrich the society, but is their refusal to adopt military behavior halachically justified in view of the arguments described here and in the precedents of our ancestors?

We learn in Pirkei Avos from Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Ha’nasi “Tov Torah Im Derech Eretz,” (the study and practice of Torah should be accompanied by civic responsibility). Rabban Gamliel believes that studying Torah and cutting oneself off from the realty of living is wrong. The Torah student should be immersed in the normal activities of “the way of the world”–which in this context means supporting oneself financially (and may I assume this includes defending one’s family not only from destitution, but certainly from an attacking enemy?). We learn later in Pirkei Avos from Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria “Im Ayn Derech Eretz, Ayn Torah” (without civic responsibility there is no Torah).

Don’t these statements by Chazal challenge the “have no worldly responsibilities” philosophy that haredim espouse?

Having given up on haredi men accepting the universal draft accepted by all other Jews in Israel, the Israeli government is willing to compromise by offering these men the opportunity to do Sherut Leumi–some form of community service as a substitute to military conscription. But the haredim resist this too. When will they stop their non-Torah-like behavior?

We have a principle in the Gemara, Dina D’malchusa Dina (the law of the land should be obeyed). The law requires eligible haredi men to serve the country either in Tzahal or in some form of community service; Yiddishkeit obliges the Haredim to comply. But they are rebelling against this, and even during Protective Edge, haredi soldiers who did obey the law were beaten when they came home on leave. In another incident, a Dati Leumi soldier in uniform who went to shul with his young son was attacked by haredim on a Shabbat morning.

Despite the fact that while Israel enables the haredi lifestyle, they consider the State their enemy because of its pressure to get them to serve in some capacity. They refuse to contribute to the hand that feeds and protects them. Do they cite halachic, rabbinic, or millennia-old Jewish historical behavior? Do they base their response on our experience in our own land beginning with Yehoshua right through the days of Bayit Rishon and Bayis Sheyni and beyond for this attitude? What justification do they have? Perhaps those among them who have open minds will reconsider their position.

As noted, Shomrei Shabbos Jews in Israel serve in Tzahal; indeed, the Hesder Yeshiva movement is based on Torah and Gevura. Hopefully the haredi movement will examine the hesder model and emulate it.

May Hashem help us turn the hearts of those who overlook Torah precedent and refuse to embrace reason or obey Torah thinking and Chazal-endorsed self-sufficient behavior as practiced since the days of Avraham Avinu. May He bring the hearts of Jews together so that we may achieve Achdus and prosper peacefully in our land with each other and hopefully some day with all of our neighbors bim’hera b’ya’manu.

Reuben E. Gross PhD is a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor with an office in Teaneck, NJ for the past 40 years. He specializes in the problems of couples and singles of marriageable age. He is musmach from YU and a member of Bnai Yeshurun. Dr. Gross can be reached at 201-837-0066 or via his website,

By Reuben E. Gross, PhD

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