Studying Torah can be a national service
Civility among us will revive. Brotherhood will engulf us. Mutual respect and appreciation will flourish.
Ben-Gurion meets with UNSCOP members at J'lem YMCA Photo: Israel National Archives
There is a powerful and heart-wrenching story that was related by the great and
holy rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim. In the 1800s the Church had ordered the
inhabitants of a certain Eastern European town to display a cross in front of
their homes. Anyone that disobeyed would be put to death.
Upon hearing of
the decree, the town’s pharmacist, a wealthy assimilated Jewish man, swore,
“There won’t be a cross in front of my house! I may not be religious, but I’ll
always be a Jew.”
Several days later he was arrested and executed. No
matter how times the Chofetz Chaim recounted this story he was always overcome
by the man’s act of Kiddush Hashem, realizing that no matter how non-religious
someone may be the spark of holiness in every Jewish soul can never be
And such has been the case since the return of the Jewish
People to the Land of Israel.
Surrounded by enemies seeking their
destruction the nonreligious Jew has been steadfastly declaring to the world, “I
may not be religious, but I will always be a Jew.”
By the same token the
religious Jew has demonstrated his/her devotion, being burned at the stake for
countless generations. It is this proud heritage that every Jewish family
carries. How else can we still be surviving as Jews if not for the great
sacrifices our ancestors endured. But now we stand brother against brother with
sword in hand, ready to plunge into a civil war.
Our ancestors weep
seeing their descendants hate, malign, accuse, and turn away from each other.
The “Tal Law” controversy is tearing whatever little connection we have as
brothers. We, the haredim, say that the mission of the Jewish People is Limud
Torah, that is how we protect the Jewish Nation. We, the non-haredim and the
secular, say that we must physically defend, that is how we protect the Jewish
Which one of us is right? Is it the soul of the Jewish People? Or
is it the body of the Jewish People? To paraphrase Chazal, “The body without the
soul is lifeless and the soul without the body is helpless.”
separate the Jewish soul from the Jewish body, and vice versa? Of course not.
The issue before us is not whether the IDF needs more soldiers to fight on the
frontlines. The IDF has done fine since its inception.
Neither is the
issue whether the IDF will make accommodations for a religious unit. One only
needs to look at Hesder. Even in the pre-state days the Palmah had a religious
The issue before us is that both sides feel
The secular feel used and abused. Once a teen graduates
he/she must place their lives on hold for three years, endure extreme physical
hardship, place their lives in danger; and still never receive any appreciation
from their religious counterpart.
Furthermore they feel that their tax
dollars help support an educational system that never regards the value of the
The haredi Jew feels that Torah and his Torah learning, the
characteristic that makes us a distinct and unique nation (hence the name,
People of the Book) is belittled, misunderstood and defiled.
sides become suspect of each other’s intentions, love of fellow Jew, and love of
G-d. Can a Jew forget his G-d and identity? Never! As the above story
Were all the six million religious? Before their murder
many were not. But we remember them as 6 million holy ones. Why? Because they
were murdered as Jews. Instantly the nonreligious murdered became Holy Ones, who
we say Kaddish and learn Torah on behalf of.
So again, what is the
difference if a Jew places himself in danger or is massacred as a Jew? None.
Thus all the Jews of land of Israel are holy ones surrounded by hostile nations
calling for their total destruction. Do we need a nuclear holocaust to realize
this point? Are we so filled with hate and anger that we cannot see the obvious?
Though the Torah is not the central motif in the secular world, ask any secular
Jew and you will see that he/she understands that is the Torah and our
unrelenting 3,500- year national dedication to it, through Assyrian, Persian,
Greek, Roman, Spanish and Nazi persecutions, that is our national
Ask any Jewish soldier if he wants his fellow religious Jew to
pray for him, and he will say, “Yes!” That some of us are less religious than
others, or not religious at all, is a fact. Some will even say that Zionism
cannot sustain Judaism. That Jewishness has nothing to do with
Then let me quote from the initial speaker who opened the first
Zionist Congress in 1897: “Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the
return to the land of Jews.”
Thus said Dr. Theodor Herzl in his opening
remarks. Even Ben-Gurion was not ashamed to wear a kippa and tallit, and
officiate as a sandek at a brit milah (see photo). We forget that Ben-Gurion
initiated the national Torah contest in the 1950s. And that it was he that
instituted that every soldier be given a Tanach upon graduation.
partook in a weekly Torah study group with renowned rabbis of his day.
the haredi community wish not to serve in the IDF, claiming Bitul Torah, the
rest of Israeli society serve in the IDF, claiming Ahavas Yisrael.
haredi say their learning protects the Jewish nation, while those who serve
claim their service protects the Jewish nation. How do we solve this dilemma?
Again I ask, is it the Jewish soul or body? Since our inception as a people we
have prided ourselves on being a spiritual people, proclaiming to humanity G-d’s
existence, wisdom, morals, ethics and laws as they relate to the world. Hence to
be Jewish is to be spiritual within a physical realm. Then lets us learn from
how Hashem instructed our greatest national leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, concerning
the Jewish army.
During our travels in the wilderness the army was set up
in two main camps, the Levite camp and the Israelite camp. The Levites defended
the nation with their learning and service. The Israelite camp defended the
nation with the physical army. And no one minded. Because each knew that for the
Jewish nation to be exist as an unique and successful nation the Jewish body and
soul must be combined.
And so I propose a practical Jewish solution to
the Tal Law controversy. Lets us combine the body and the soul of the Jewish
People. Let the haredim create an IDF Yeshiva. They will wear IDF uniforms,
train only an hour day, and spend the rest of the day protecting the nation with
learning and prayer on behalf of their fellow soldiers (brothers).
national service will be Limud HaTorah, but in an IDF framework. Society will
feel happy seeing that the haredim have joined the group, since it makes no
difference to the secular mind if a haredi sits at a desk filing papers or
learning. What matters is that the haredi has joined the group. The haredi will
not mind since it makes no difference where he is learning as along as he is
And what will be the outcome of such a compromise? A new day
within the Jewish People. It will commence the joining of the Jewish Soul and
Body. No longer will brother despise brother. We will begin to see ourselves
again as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said of himself, “I am Jew,
first. And a Israeli, second.”
Civility among us will revive. Brotherhood
will engulf us. Mutual respect and appreciation will flourish.
religious and non-religious Jew will stand together as a people and tell all, “I
will always be Jew.” Will this not be an incredible and great Kiddush Hashem and
one of the most effective kiruv tools ever employed? And so, as it was in the
time of our greatest national leader, Moshe, let it be again.
a rabbi, is the cofounder and head of Shomrei Ha’am, a new youth movement
building bridges between the religious and non-religious based on Torah and
Palmah leadership methods.