We’ve been bombarded with reader feedback after publishing an interview with Aviad Friedman, secretary of the Plesner Committee which was convened for the supposedly urgent need to work out a plan for drafting yeshivah students into Israel’s military forces. Our intention, of course, was not to promote his views, but still I’m glad so many readers were upset about the piece.
We believe it is important to reveal the other side’s hand, yet we were heartened by the enraged responses we got from our readers, which was a testimony to what they hold most dear. There’s a popular saying that the news media serve as the watchdog of democracy, and we know that this isn’t always true. The media seems just as likely to appear in the guise of a Rottweiler that attacks the deserving and undeserving indiscriminately. In any case, the readership is clearly the watchdog of journalism. Our readers proved that in their responses to the Friedman interview.
Last week, Eytan Kobre wrote an excellent piece dissecting the interview and revealing, in part, what motivated us to publish it. He showed us that we can’t blindly follow anyone who happens to wear a kippah, nor can we necessarily consider him a spokesman for the Torah-observant community. Unfortunately, some of the avowed enemies of Torah study have kippot on their heads. Perhaps, like Aviad Friedman, they even learn Daf Yomi and live in accordance with halachah. But this doesn’t mean they necessarily grasp the true essence of Torah and what it means in the life of the Jewish People.
Over the past several weeks, as the struggle for freedom of Torah study continues, clear lines have been drawn, dividing those who believe in the Torah’s Divine origin from those who view Torah as a cultural heritage that is worth observing and preserving, for one set of reasons or another. Furthermore, members of the National Religious movement have echoed Aviad Friedman’s views, writing in the secular press to urge religious Zionists to join the public effort to put those who sit and learn Torah for their nation into uniform.
Surprisingly, even some of the rabbis from the religious Zionist sector have been singing the same tune, bucking up the spirits of the very secularists who have begun to doubt the righteousness of their cause in the face of chareidi resistance. Seeing the efforts of the Plesner Committee compared to the decrees of the Greek and Roman oppressors from our past by mainstream leaders of chareidi Jewry, has shaken the convictions of many in the secular camp. And, having gone out on a limb, they are looking for ways to climb safely down.
I say this fortified with firsthand knowledge. Yes, there are those in our midst who’ve begun to realize that, when today’s events become history, it will appear as a shameful stain on the State of Israel if a fine of tens of thousands of shekels per year is slapped on those who choose to cling to Torah learning, as Yochanan Plesner proposes to do.
We might be tempted to believe that support from certain religious Zionists for the conscription effort stems from their general view that cooperation with the secular State is a supreme value, but this is not so.
Over the past few days, some of the National Religious movement’s leading rabbis have come out in support of the chareidi view, against Aviad Friedman and religious Zionist journalists and rabbis. Rav Dov Lior, for example, one of the great talmidei chachamim of this sector, joined by a number of roshei yeshivos from the National Religious world and issued a declaration clearly indicating that he sees eye-to-eye with the chareidi world on the value of Torah study for the sake of the entire Jewish nation.
As the Chazon Ish expressed it, the best way of conferring benefit on klal Yisrael is to learn Torah intensively. But in screaming contrast, the rosh yeshivah of one of our so-called “black” yeshivos told me this week that the son of a rabbi who gives a shiur in one of Israel’s yeshivah high schools had come to him asking to be accepted as a talmid, saying he wished to leave the modern yeshivah where he was currently enrolled. The young man told the rosh yeshivah that his father had said to him, “You have a choice. You can become a physicist and bring benefit to Am Yisrael and the whole world, or you can be selfish and learn Torah for your own benefit.”
We can only ask, what is th hashkafah of that Gemara teacher? Doesn’t he know what the Gemara says about someone who says “Mai ahanu li rabanan — what use are they to me, these people who sit and learn Torah for themselves?” It would be very interesting to hear what he has to say about this, and this is just one quote out of a massive body of maamarei Chazal on the subject.
Actually, those rabbis who are protesting against the plan to draft lomdei Torah are following in the footsteps of their leader, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, rosh yeshivah of Mercaz HaRav, as well as his successor, the late Rav Avraham Shapira, who both expressed fierce opposition to the conscription of Torah scholars. Were they not Zionistic enough for the young rabbis of today, who claim that the duty of defending Eretz Yisrael mandates an “equal opportunity” draft?
To bring the dilemma into sharper focus, let’s examine a few more quotations from some of leading rabbis in the National Religious sector:
“Those who remain in yeshivah are not evading the draft; they are enlisting in the spiritual army of their nation. This is service with no material aim; it is pioneering at its best, and the state ought to encourage it on principle” (Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah, a founder of the Hesder yeshivos and a professed Zionist). Another prominent rabbi in the Mizrachi movement, Rav Shaul Yisraeli, stated in a letter he wrote in 1992, “My opinion has not changed, and is clearly and absolutely against drafting bnei yeshivah.”
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin had this to say: “Something terribly serious has befallen us. The National Religious Party’s central committee has decided by a wide majority to demand that bnei yeshivah be drafted into the army. What the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, did not dare to do… the members of the Mafdal committee have now brazenly done. Oy for such a disgrace, oy for such a shame.”
This is just a sampling of opinions from talmidei chachamim that no one would suspect of membership in Agudas Yisrael. What is it, then, that separates them from the likes of Aviad Friedman, who, as Mishpacha intentionally pointed out, is also observant, learns daf Yomi, and so on?
Allow me to answer that question with a story I heard years ago from a New Yorker who was a frequent visitor to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s house. Once while he was there, someone came in and reported that a Jewish boy riding a bicycle had fallen and injured himself just outside Rav Moshe’s building.
“It couldn’t be,” was Rav Moshe’s response. “Check the facts, and you’ll find that the boy isn’t Jewish.”
The storyteller protested, “But he was wearing a yarmulke!”
“No,” Rav Moshe insisted. “The boy is a non-Jew. He must have grabbed the yarmulke off the head of a Jewish boy.”
The facts were checked, and Rav Moshe close people were shocked that the assessment of the situation was proved accurate.
“How did the Rav know?” they came crowding around to ask when they discovered the truth.
His answer was, “When I came to live here, I davened to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that although I can’t save an entire country, my learning should at least be a protection that no harm should befall any Jew on my street. And that’s how I knew.”
See how a Jew responds to this story, and you’ll see what his attitude is toward Torah study. And that is what separates the Aviad Friedmans of the world from those who know the true worth of Torah learning.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Just as the oil is hidden deep within the olive, so is teshuvah hidden deep within the transgression
(Rav Dov Ber of Mezritch)