The importance of full-time Torah study

One need not agree with the haredi way of life to appreciate and respect their unique and necessary role in Israeli society.

HAREDI MEN pray at the Belz Yeshiva in Jerusalem (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
HAREDI MEN pray at the Belz Yeshiva in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
At the National Prayer Breakfast last week in Washington, DC, a little known, yet highly accomplished pediatric neurosurgeon, who heads that department at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, riveted a room, and subsequently through YouTube has riveted a nation with a speech which highlighted, among other topics, the value of education.
Dr. Benjamin Carlson served notice to his country that without recognition of the value of education, coming attractions look eerily similar to those that befell the once-great and invincible Roman Empire.
I know it is not a “new” battle, but it would appear that with the recent Israeli elections the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft issue has now reached a fever pitch. As they say in this country, “haval!” What a shame! It is a shame because the anti-haredi zealotry is based upon personal dislikes and prejudices rather than sound, meaningful policy. I have yet to hear a single argument linking the conscription of haredim and national security concerns. I have yet to hear a single statement from the defense minister about how haredi military service is necessary to defend our borders.
I have, though, heard a lot about “giving back,” “freeloaders” and the like. This is nonsense – and potentially dangerous nonsense. Even in the United States during the 1960s when the draft was still law of the land, the country understood the value of education. Those in institutions of higher education were not drafted, or at least were at the bottom of the list.
The objective value of education was understood; unless the country was in physical peril, it was judged better to let those individuals engaged in advanced studies continue to study undisturbed. No doubt those who came back maimed from Vietnam, or the families of those who didn’t come back at all, were not too thrilled with then-citizen Bill Clinton, who was comfortably studying at Oxford.
Nevertheless, we all have our roles, and it is far beyond any one of us to judge how we each arrive at those roles. It would be to our collective peril for this nation, the People of the Book, to lose sight of the inherent value and primacy of studying that book.
How beautiful it is to have a group of people dedicating their lives to such study each and every day, 365 days a year. Anyone who challenges the notion that those who spend their days and nights learning and teaching Torah are “giving back” to, or doing their “fair share” for the country, effectively trivialize and marginalize the importance of education and specifically Torah education in this country.
How dangerous for politicians to “sell out” to agenda-driven factions desiring to tinker with a value that has sustained our nation from time immemorial. With great respect to MK Yair Lapid, the value of every haredi learning English is simply not equal to the value of every secular citizen learning, or “recognizing,” a page of Talmud.
It goes without saying that we need a strong and capable IDF. It goes without saying that those who protect the physical boundaries of this land are an indispensable core of brave young men and women who deserve the utmost respect from all citizens of this country and from every walk of life. It further goes without saying that through the service of these brave men and women the opportunity exists for those in the haredi community to study with peace of mind and free from outside persecution we Jews know all too well.
For that, the haredi community owes a debt of gratitude to the IDF. Nevertheless, just as one cannot minimize the need for well manned and trained armed forces, so to it would be to the moral detriment of this country to minimize the need for those who spend their days and lives studying and teaching Torah.
One need not be religious to appreciate religious values. One need not be a Torah observant Jew to appreciate the primacy that Torah values play in this country and around the world. And one need not agree with the haredi way of life to appreciate and respect their unique and necessary role in Israeli society.
It is time for our political leaders to reaffirm the values associated with this tradition and definitively state that that while physical and economic strength is certainly necessary, the glue that keeps it all together are these values. Without the continuity of these values, as safeguarded and represented by the haredi community, the turmoil in Egypt, the mayhem in Syria, and the prospect of a nuclear Iran will be the least of our worries.
The writer is an attorney who recently made aliyah.