I. Torah = Chess?!
Rabbi Hoffman's primary counter-argument is simply... strange. In Rabbi Hoffman's original article, he referred to a number of statements in the Gemara that condemn the drafting of talmidei chachamim into the army. In my critique, amongst other objections, I pointed out that these statements specifically mention talmidei chachamim, and are not applicable to yeshivah students. I also pointed out that based on the actions of charedim themselves, it is apparent that they do not actually believe that yeshivah students provide protection. Here is Rabbi Hoffman's response:
Torah sources from the TaNach, through the Gemorah, the Rishonim, Acharonim, to the Gedolei Torah of the past generation all speak of the protective power of Torah. There are essentially two types of people. There are those who disagree with these sources (or try to minimize them by claiming that it is all Agaddatah, or only applies to great Torah scholars, or who try to point out that we don’t see it practically) – we will call these people “Torah = Chess” believers. In other words they think that studying chess and studying Torah are equal in terms of their protective powers.According to Rabbi Hoffman, if you do not say that the Gemara's references to talmidei chachamim also apply to people who are not talmidei chachamim, then you are saying that Torah=chess. How on earth does that make any sense? If you learn Chazal's words carefully, then you are saying that Torah=chess?! There are many halachos in the Gemara about talmidei chachamim. Nobody claims that they are all equally applicable to yeshivah students. There are even sources which state that nobody today rates as a talmid chacham by the Gemara's definition!
Rav Hershel Schechter addressed these sources in the context of addressing a question about charedim not going to the army, which he describes as "scandalous." Rav Schachter says as follows: "The Gemara says you don't draft talmidei chachamim. Every bochur in yeshiva is a talmid chacham?! It's not so." (You can listen to Rav Schachter at this link, starting at about 40:00 in the streaming version and 51:20 in the download.)
It is clearly absurd for Rabbi Hoffman to claim that Rav Schachter believes that "Torah=chess." I don't know whether Rav Schachter believes that the Torah study of a yeshivah student has protective powers or not, but it's irrelevant. Even if one believes that Torah study has some sort of protective power, this by no means necessarily translates into an exemption from army service!
Rav Schachter also quotes Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky as telling his grandson that if he lives in Israel, he has to go to the army. So Rabbi Hoffman is positing that according to Rav Yaakov, "Torah=chess"?
Or how about Rav Elyashiv, who also minimized a source in Chazal about the protective merits of Torah scholars? This was with regard to a wave of burglaries in a particular Charedi neighborhood. Rav Elyashiv stated that "The principle of תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה only applies in a normal situation, before there is a rash of burglaries. However, now that there already was a rash of burglaries it would be considered a miracle for the talmid chacham not to be harmed. Therefore the principle of תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה does not apply and everyone has to pay equally for the security company." So Rabbi Hoffman is positing that according to Rav Elyashiv, "Torah=chess"?
Or how about Radvaz? Responsa Radvaz 2:752 greatly restricts the extent of the Gemara's ruling about Torah scholars being exempt from contributing towards security, including stating that it does not apply in cases where the rabbis consider themselves in need of protection. So Rabbi Hoffman is positing that according to Radvaz, "Torah=chess"?
It should further be noted that Rabbi Hoffman's blanket statement that "Gedolei HaPoskim" believe that these sources exempt yeshivah students from IDF service is simply not true. Aside from all the Israeli Religious Zionist Gedolei HaPoskim who clearly hold that at least most yeshivah students should serve in the army, here we have Rav Yaakov ztz"l and Rav Schachter shlita who clearly disagree with Rabbi Hoffman.
When Rabbi Hoffman states that "The Gemorah, the Midrashim, and contemporary Gedolei Torah both from the Zionist world and the Chareidi world all say that Torah protects," this is deeply misleading. Saying "Torah scholars protect" or even "Torah protects" does not equal "all yeshivah students should be exempt from the army."
II. Geographic Concentration
In my critique, I noted that the concept of Torah providing protection is that it is concentrated in the area where the Torah scholar actually is. Rabbi Hoffman claims that I "made this up." Really? Let's see. The Yerushalmi, Chagigah 1:7, speaks about teachers of Torah being the protectors of the city. In general, reason indicates that if one accepts the concept of zechus - merits created by good deeds - that they spread outwards, decreasing in intensity with distance. A person's merits are strongest for his immediate family, and for those in his town. For righteous people to have saved Sodom, they would have had to have been living in Sodom.
And the charedi world agrees. The Chazon Ish, and, yibedal lechaim, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, said that Bnei Brak is safe from missiles. The Torah study of that town apparently protects it, and it alone. Likewise, when the 300-strong Grodno yeshivah relocated from Ashdod to Bet Shemesh due to the war in the South, a prominent Torah scholar in Bet Shemesh was quoted in the Chadash weekly as stating that "We have no doubt that the efforts of the residents of Bet Shemesh, such that the sound of Torah should not cease from one yeshivah, is the 'iron dome' of the city; it is the true protection, and the cause that our residents have not been part of the bloodshed." The merits of those facilitating Torah study provide protection that is greatest in its immediate locale.
Yet the charedi Gedolim ordered the charedi yeshivos to flee from Ashdod. Why? There are two possibilities, and neither look good. One possibility is that they don't really believe that the Torah study of yeshivah students protects to the degree that soldiers are able to provide protection (which, according to Rabbi Hoffman, means that the Gedolim believe that Torah=chess). The other possibility is that they do believe that the Torah study of yeshivah students protects to the degree that soldiers are able to provide protection, but they also feel that the remaining risk is still one that yeshivah students should not take. But if soldiers are risking their lives to provide protection for others, why shouldn't yeshivah students do the same, if they are claiming an exemption from the army due to providing equivalent protection?
Not sure what the point here is exactly. Is Rabbi Slifkin attempting to disprove the statements in Chazal that Torah affords protection? And aside from pandering to some stereotyped notions, how is he proving this exactly? Because Chareidim recognize the need to go to top doctors? Actually, Rabbi Slifkin is no longer minimizing “Torah > Chess.” Here his point here is to show that “Torah = Chess.” There is no other way of reading his challenge.
Virtually no charedim serve in the army. The entire charedi community just demonstrated against efforts to enforce army service for a relatively small number of charedim. Rabbi Hoffman wrote a very lengthy article which attempted to justify the charedi stance. It included just two sentences about how everyone should show concern and appreciation for those who serve, and it severely minimized the extent of the problem with those who do not. It also severely minimized the problem with charedim who, according to Rabbi Hoffman's own thesis, should serve in the army but do not. Rabbi Hoffman has not written an article for the charedi press about how they should show concern and appreciation for those who serve. Nor has he written an article for the charedi press about how they should identify who is not really learning in yeshivah and send them to the army. Yes, he wrote an article criticizing Ami magazine for stripping Rabbi Dov Lipman of his semicha and comparing him to a Nazi, and I commend him for this. But this is hardly sufficient.
So, yes, I repeat: Rabbi Hoffman, please spare us your calls for unity on this issue. If you are concerned about real unity, then please work to address the problem that charedim do not share the burden of army service. And if you are concerned about expressions of unity, then please work to address the problem that charedim do not express concern or gratitude for people in the army. In the meanwhile, please understand that many people, following the views of Gedolei Torah, differ with your understanding of the issue, and are severely disappointed and hurt by the charedi world. Like Rav Schachter, we consider it scandalous. This does not mean that we are "spewing hatred" or out to "bash charedim." Such condemnation of our perspective is not conducive to love, peace or unity.