Embrace commandment of war, Hesder students told

"We long for peace, but until then we cannot lay down our sword," says Rabbi Lau at ceremony hailing national-religious men soon to join IDF.

hesder kids dancing  (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
hesder kids dancing
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
A small number of young men soon to be drafted into the IDF from Hesder yeshivot around the country gathered at the Jerusalem Theater on Monday evening to hear speakers from the national-religious camp espouse the virtues of fulfilling "the commandment of war." The event, the first of its kind, was organized to salute young religious men about to be inducted and attracted just over 100 youths. IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronsky told the youths it was a privilege to be able to take part "in the commandment of war and the preparations for fulfilling it." "Embrace this commandment with all your hearts. It is a right previous generations could not realize," Ronsky said. The IDF chief rabbi said Jewish armies, from the battles between the Israelites and the tribe of Amalek to the present day, had always been manned by virtuous soldiers. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau delivered a speech expressing hope that Israel would embark on preemptive wars rather than wait for "the enemy to come here... and see the whites of our eyes." "King David taught the people of Judah how to use the bow and arrow... Jacob our patriarch blessed his son Judah and told him to fight Israel's enemies, to attack them and not fight defensively... The descendants of the tribe of Judah will do the same," Lau said. "Do we have another home? Somewhere else to go? This is our only home. Therefore, we have no choice but to fight... a preemptive war... not to wait for the next Operation Defensive Shield," Lau said, referring to the 2002 IDF operation in the West Bank launched after a string of suicide bombings in Israel. "If we could throw down our sword, it would be the dream of our lives. We pray for this three times a day, that God will bless us with peace. But so long as this does not happen, we cannot lay down our sword," Lau added. Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads Bnei Akiva, said that "fighting our enemies is a commandment. To serve in the IDF is a commandment. We must remember that we could not carry out this commandment for 2,000 years. How happy we must be that we live in this great and special time, a time in which we have returned to our land, seen the founding of our state, the ingathering of exiles." Druckman described yeshiva students in the army as "the jewel of the IDF, because they remind us of the soldiers of King David, of Bar Kochba, and Judah Maccabee. They know why they fight, what this country is for us, that this is the land of our fathers, the land God gave to us. There is nothing more just than our war for our existence and our country, which our enemies want to destroy." The audience was also addressed by Rabbi Ze'ev Karov, head of the Shomron Yeshiva and father of Aharon Karov, who was called up to serve in Operation Cast Lead just a few hours after tying the knot and who was severely wounded in the Gaza fighting. Karov said his son represented an individual who was nurtured by society and who was willing to sacrifice for the nation. Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior delivered a fiery and overtly political speech, calling for Israeli sovereignty over the whole of the Land of Israel and criticizing what he described as weak-minded IDF strategies in the face of Israel's enemies. Citing the Torah, Lior noted that "200,000 Israelites and 10,000 Judahites fought Amalek. Why are the Judahites counted separately from the others? Because the Israelite army pitied Amalek. Today this is called being humanitarian." He added, "Only the tribe of Judah did not pity Amalek, and destroyed it... The sons of Torah are taught not to pity their enemies." Lior expressed hope that a growing number of IDF strategists coming from the national-religious camp would have an influence on future military campaigns. "We need ethics from the Torah, not the Christian world, which teaches to turn the other cheek. This hypocrisy is against human nature," Lior said. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also saluted the soon-to-be soldiers, saying the IDF was an army of "city-dwellers and villagers, secular and religious, left- and right-wing." A religious band provided high-spirited music, and the youths danced along. The event was organized by podiatrist Daniel Weiss, a religious man who, together with partner Haim Shuval, has been voluntarily explaining to soldiers for 10 years how to avoid the most common foot ailments suffered by soldiers. "We want to show thanks to these guys. The other sectors of society have draft parties, but this sort of thing is unknown to the yeshiva students. We are encouraged by the selection of speakers who came, and we see this as a very important start," Weiss said. Eliya Yonan, 19, of Eilat, who will be drafted to the Armored Corps in August, said he was impressed by the event, and that he fully agreed with the main message of the evening. "To fight is a commandment, there is no doubt," he said.