For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Did the Torah really intend for some Israelis to give their lives to the country and for others to be exempt?
08 July '12..
Much to its detriment, Israel's Torah has recently been dragged into a heated debate that is sending shock waves throughout the country. Israeli society is divided over the issue of drafting haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students to the Israel Defense Forces. There are those who claim that the calls to share the burden of service more equally are simply an attack on the world of the Torah, while others argue that touting the importance of Torah study is no more than a cover story to facilitate mass draft dodging.
Meanwhile, under the public radar, several members of ultra-Orthodox parties proposed legislation that would exempt haredi synagogues and yeshivot (religious schools) from the obligation to ensure accessibility for the handicapped. This is in stark contrast to other public institutions, which are required by law to provide such access. The bill has already been approved in its first reading.
The Torah stands on the sidelines and screams out "how long will my name continue to be used in vain?" Did the Torah really intend for some Israelis to give their lives to the country and for others to be exempt? Does the commandment of Joshua, who led the Jewish people after Moses died, to liberate the land of Israel not apply to Torah scholars?
When the 12 tribes of Israel reached the banks of the Jordan on the east side of the river and the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked to stay on that bank outside the land, Moses asked them, "Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall ye sit here?" (Numbers 32:6). When he said this, did Moses consider giving exemptions to yeshiva students? Would it not be more appropriate to take the example of King David, who when he would sit to study Torah would soften like a caterpillar, but when he went out to battle, would make himself "hard like a tree?"
Ethics of the Fathers, a collection of sayings and teachings included in the Talmud, offers 48 ways to acquire Torah. It explains how to deepen the internal connection between the Torah and the person studying it. One of these ways to connect with the Torah is to "participate in the burden of one's fellow" (Ethics 6:6). Is it reasonable then that someone who wants to rise in the world of Torah shirks his share of the burden? Precisely because learning Torah is the supreme value in our world, we know that sharing the burden is one of the essential tools to connect to the Torah, in all of its greatness.
Thousands of rabbis from the Religious Zionist (Modern Orthodox) sector strive to combine the world of Torah with army service. This group includes the hundreds of rabbis who belong to the Tzohar organization, a non-profit association of religious Zionist rabbis whose goal is to present Orthodox Judaism in a way that appeals to less observant Israeli Jews. These rabbis know that the combination of Torah study and military service is quite possible. I am privileged to have two sons who studied at hesder yeshivas. Hesder, which means arrangement, is a broad program in the religious Zionist world that integrates yeshiva study with army service. One of my sons is on an officer's track and serves as a company commander in the paratroopers; my other son has completed his army service and is continuing his ninth year of studies in the beit midrash (house of Torah learning). Did army service adversely affect my sons' ability to deeply study Torah and strive for greatness in that world?
Regarding the issue of accessibility, what would Amos or Isaiah say about the idea that religious institutions receive a sweeping exemption from the obligation to be accessible to people with disabilities? Would they not lament this exemption? How can it be that representatives of the haredim, the very sector that has raised Israeli awareness over the issue of national charity via wonderful institutions that assist the elderly and handicapped such as Yad Sarah and Ezer Mizion, are now working to undermine accessibility to the disabled and elderly?
The Jewish people desire, love and respect the Torah. But we desire it for all its intensity. If there is a message to the people in the Torah, it is that we must all share in the national burden, in addition to fulfilling the Torah's commandments and upholding its values. The Torah knows how to recognize the hardships of the weak and help those in need. We must also uphold this greatness of the Torah, which leads us to truth.
The writer is the head of the Tzohar rabbinic organization. Updates throughout the day at http://calevbenyefuneh.blogspot.com. If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.Twitter updates at LoveoftheLand as well as our Love of the Land page at Facebook.
I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"