Beyond the Cusp

July 11, 2012

Will Room for Torah Remain in Israel?

The idea that Zionism is no longer a part of the ideals within Israel has been discussed with the split defined as the Zionists and the Post Zionists. The Post Zionists claim that once Israel was founded Zionism had realized its goal and was no longer necessary. The Zionists answer that until all of the Biblical lands of the Hebrews are reclaimed and peace and security rule over the land, Zionism has not accomplished its goals. Then there are those, myself included, who simply define Zionism as those who love Zion and Yerushalayim, Israel, all of her even to include the areas held by the original twelve tribes where two and a half had lands east of the Jordan River, and Jerusalem, again all of her unshared with an imposter people. This disagreement is one that can be bartered politically and settled by elections and the will of the people.

There is another divergence of the Jews in Israel that is far more sinister and damaging. That divide is between those who believe that Israel is the land of the Jewish people and that Judaism is an integral part of Eretz Yisroel and those who are secularists and believe Israel should be a modern multiethnic country and that Judaism has no place in the governing of the country. This divide cannot be debated as a political issue as it is an issue over the definition of the nation and her people, not a disagreement over whether a goal has been attained or is still incomplete. This is an issue which will tear Israel asunder. This is the issue at the heart of the overturning of the Tal Law and the bitter and viscous debate being waged against Torah study and demanding that all Hareidim must serve in the IDF or do public service without exception and if Torah study must be compromised and rationed, then so be it. The battle lines for this have been drawn between the secularists and the religious communities with the rest of Israel now being drawn into choosing a side. This is a defining moment for all Israel and for Judaism as well. How it is resolved will have effect far into the future with ramifications which are unable to be discerned by even the wisest among us. This issue may very well be the decision that determines whether Judaism will have a future place in the world or become a memory that a small nucleus of people will struggle to keep lit the flame of Torah.

Before anybody decides that this is just another Haredi calling for special treatment for all Hareidim replete with exemptions from service beyond Torah study, let me dispel that illusion. I am spiritually religious but my life is secular in nature and I have great difficulties with most of organized religious institutions I have dealt with. Most of the problem has been my lack of a solid Jewish upbringing along with a political outlook which has me at odds with the vast numbers of Jews in Synagogues here in the American Diaspora. I hope the fact that I have yet to return home will not eliminate my right to an opinion on this issue in Eretz Yisroel as well as outside in the Diaspora. I have had some serious and disturbing thoughts which I am at a loss to know from whence they came, but they are what are driving this article. It is almost as if I have no choice and simply must.

The debate over Hareidim serving either in the IDF or in Public service is a valid discussion as the vast majority of the great Torah Sages agrees that life must be more than solely Torah study. They all say that study of Torah is a requirement for all Jews but that complete and total dedication to exclusively study Torah should be held for a select few who show the brilliance that both makes them worthy of such a blessing and that they will be of greater service through their Torah study to all the house of Israel. For the remaining students who wish to dedicate themselves to Torah, they may do so but not at the expense of Israel and her people. I seem to remember that even Maimonides declared that a man should also be able to support his family while also studying Torah. Torah study was not to be the sole life work but instead one should spend one third of the day in Torah Study, one third in pursuit of a living and one third with rest and family. One thing such a life would provide little time to stray from a righteous life. Even if this division of time is likely impossible for any normal human, still it gives the impression that even a Torah Sage should have an occupation beyond study of Torah. So, with all this in mind, where is the path of moderation with which both camps can agree and move forward, that is if either camp desires a compromise and not simply insisting that their way must be enacted to the letter which I suspect is true of the most strident proponents in this debate.

One item that seems to have escaped notice in the sound and fury of the ongoing debate, the fact that many Hareidim are already volunteering to join the IDF and mostly choosing combat arms units as well as the arrangement between the IDF and a number of Yeshivoth, known as the Hesder Yeshiva. This debate also appears to be taking place without anybody having ascertained whether or not the IDF either needs or desires the enlistment of additional Hareidim as they require certain arrangements from the IDF which might limit the numbers that could be easily accommodated. These are all factors which are completely aside from the possible damages to the fabric of Jewish learning should those who advocate the forced enlistment of every service age Hareidim with absolutely no exceptions or accommodations for even a minimal number of Torah students permitted. One would hope that some middle ground can be found and that neither side’s absolutists rule the day.

Where I agree that a complete blanket of deferments should not be automatically granted to every single individual who expresses a desire for a Torah study deferment as every segment of Israeli society must contribute to the safeguarding of Israel. On the other hand, not every Hareidim is necessary in the name of equality, justice or defense of the land. Furthermore, there is merit in the claim that Israel is protected by the study of Torah and such people are necessary in order to provide those who will fill the ranks of Torah sages in the future as well as giving us adjudicators who sit on Rabbinical Courts. What needs to be determined is where Israeli society draws the line between those whose study of Torah is so enlightened and desirable for the benefit of Israel and of Judaism. The Jewishness of Israel cannot be denied no matter how much the secular socialite elites strive to deny the importance of Torah study in the modern society they envision as Israel’s future. Such a view is no more valid or realistic than the Haredi view that every student of Torah must be supported and given complete deference by the remainder of Israeli society. Where to delineate a balance where the Torah and the study of Torah remains as an important and revered part of the institutions in Israel while assuring that all the many and varied segments of Israeli society contribute to the common defense and those support institutions which make up the public service, I am glad that I will not need to decide where this division is to be placed.

There is another problem hidden within this issue that poses a greater threat to both Israel and the continuation of Judaic customs, philosophies, and Judaism itself. The Diaspora is slowly losing its numbers and has but a few generations where the only remainder of the Diaspora will likely be the anti-Zionist Orthodox. The synagogues only fill the seats on the high holidays and for occasional Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Religious education is almost impossible to locate outside the major cities and even more so outside the United States. Israel will soon become the last refuge of Torah study and as such, Torah study must be preserved. Israel cannot fall to those who are Jews only in name and not practice. That is what is at the heart of this challenge. Those who are fighting to defend the need for Torah study must prevail in establishing the importance of Torah and the study of Torah to the future of Israel. Those who claim that Torah study is secondary to technology, missiles, guns, and a strong IDF forget that without G0d the IDF will prove insufficient. There is a recognizable reason the Six Day War results are called a miracle, because it very much appeared that the hand of G0d went before the IDF units. And if you only credit the expertise and superiority of training and personnel for that victory, that argument becomes more difficult to believe when you look at 1948 and 1949 with the wars for independence. If ever the hand of our L0rd was evident, it was then. If the long history of the Jewish people has proven anything, it is that without the L0rd our G0d there will be no Israel. Put in a slogan we might be able to remember, simply stated it is; Know G0d and Know Israel, No G0d and No Israel. That is the history we were taught and I, for one, would prefer not to test that theorem as the consequences are unthinkable to me. Torah study is essential to Israel, and that is a truism we forget at our own peril.

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