September 17, 2017: Torah and the draft

Reuven Hammer makes it clear that Jewish law not only fails to exempt Torah students from serving in a national Jewish army, but clearly makes it mandatory.

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Torah and the draft
I just read Reuven Hammer’s haredi-bashing piece about the national draft (“Exposing the falsehood of haredi claims,” Observations, September 15). So vast is our Torah that people can come up with almost anything and then claim they have an authentic Jewish source for what they say.
How do we know whether they are right or wrong when their sources seem so convincing? The answer is found in Sefer Hachinuch at the end of Mitzva 495: We have an “absolute obligation to heed the advice of the greatest Torah scholars of our generation, and this is the great pillar that the Torah leans upon and it is obvious to anyone with any sense at all.”
Well, I’m afraid this places the writer in a bind – unless he claims he is the greatest Torah sage of our generation.
The true Torah sages of our generation (and indeed their followers) are fully aware not only of the Torah sources about serving in the army, but also of the feelings of those whose children are sent in harm’s way.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when I went to the border of the Gaza Strip and distributed gifts to literally thousands of front-line soldiers (paid for by myself), I encountered only love and appreciation from the secular soldiers even though I was dressed in haredi attire. The hugs I received from these brave men showed no animosity to my obvious adherence to what our rabbis instruct; on the contrary, they asked me to pray for them in battle! In their wisdom, our sages instruct us that those who learn Torah must be exempt from the army. So you see, it doesn’t matter what we dig up from a slanted view of Jewish sources; the Jewish people have always, and will always, follow our greatest Torah sages.
As Rosh Hashana approaches, the writer might find it worthwhile to do some soul searching and wonder if it is indeed wise to write publicly against those who adhere to the words of our Torah sages as he tries to turn the public against God’s Torah. It is still not too late to turn around and bow his head to those gedolim who are more knowledgeable than he.
Reuven Hammer makes it clear that Jewish law not only fails to exempt Torah students from serving in a national Jewish army, but clearly makes it mandatory.
However, the bitter opposition of the haredi community to national service makes it inadvisable to force reluctant members to serve. From a practical viewpoint, it is unlikely that such conscripts would be useful additions to the IDF.
An alternative approach, which could defuse the situation, is preferable: Cancel the draft for everyone and make military service voluntary.
Reward and encourage volunteers by offering supplementary child benefits.
At present, men are expected to serve in the IDF for three years, and women for two years, or to serve in some other form of national service.
The supplementary child benefits for a couple would be proportional to the years served by the parents. The level of the benefits could be adjusted to ensure that the IDF attracts sufficient volunteers to meet its needs.
This would also apply to Israel’s Arab citizens, thus encouraging them to integrate into Israeli society as well.
Ma’aleh Adumim
Haifa’s Mr. Chips
Referring to Rivka Zahavy’s excellent plea for quiet in the classroom (“Our teachers need a ‘quiet riot,’” Comment & Features, September 14), old-timers in Haifa remember the “Mr. Chips” of the Reali School, Harry (Zvi) Wax. He was one of the founding heads of the Beth Biram High School, head of the Hadar branch and coordinator of English from the 1950s until his retirement in the 1990s, He was my husband’s uncle, and when he dropped in on many a Shabbat, I loved to hear his stories of educating the unruly kids of Haifa. He had a very soft speaking voice and said that if kids interrupted or made a noise, he just stopped talking and stood quietly until they simmered down. It always worked.
My favorite story: He used to travel by bus during the school day from one class on the Hadar back to Beth Biram, near the university. The bus was packed with Reali kids, and they filled all the seats, not thinking to give them up if elderly or disabled people, or mothers with babies, got on board. So Mr. Wax would get up to offer his seat, which compelled one of the kids to give his seat to his teacher. This continued at every bus stop up the Carmel until all needy adults were seated and the kids were standing.
No shouting in his classroom, but he got respect (and his students graduated with excellent English).
Taking issue
I take issue with Greer Fay Cashman’s Grapevine feature of September 13.
In discussing the deportees/ illegals who have sought a haven in Israel, Ms. Cashman evokes the Bible commanding the Jewish nation to be kind to people who are strangers in its midst. She does not reference the very same Bible that deeded the lands of Judea and Samaria to us because this does not work well with her sympathy toward the Palestinians, whose land the Jews now reside on. The analogy to the indigenous peoples of New Zealand is not fair because the Maoris never attempted to kill those who came from afar – yes, actually “settlers,” as the Europeans might well be called.
I, too, would be more sympathetic to our cousins if they didn’t want to harm us, ram their cars into us and knife us to death. A sovereign state for the Palestinians can only be achieved if they truly desire to live either among us or as good neighbors, but for the most part they are indoctrinated to hate us, to push us into the sea and take over all of Israel.
Ms. Cashman ends the piece with a jibe at the “people in government” to reread her quotes of our Declaration of Independence.
Perhaps she should suggest the same rereading of it to Arab leaders. Better yet, when the Palestinians write their own declaration of independence, I hope there will be a commonality of the two peoples to live in peace and harmony.
Already dead
Peace Now believes that an expansion plan for a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem would be “a severe blow... to the chance to arrive at a two-state solution” (“J’lem’s Nof Zion to expand within mostly Arab neighborhood,” September 8).
The two-state solution is already dead. It was killed by Palestinian leaders who insist there be a Palestinian state from which all Jews have been ethnically cleansed, and insist on an Israel that has been converted to a Muslim-majority state, overrun by millions of “refugees,” descendants of Arabs who fled Arab-initiated wars aimed at destroying Israel and who were raised in a society that reserves its highest honors for the murderers of Jews.
The only way to resurrect the two-state solution is for all parties to adopt Israel’s vision – a Palestinian state living peaceably beside the nationstate of the Jews, with minority groups afforded full civil rights in both of these countries.
Atlanta, Georgia