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A "Basic Law"?
The Law to Make People Hate Torah Students.
It is surely some sort of black humor that this is happening right before Tisha B’Av.
As if Israel had not been sufficiently torn apart this week over the government’s actions to neuter judicial restraints to its power, United Torah Judaism - the political party of the Ashkenaz charedi commuity - just made things even worse. They decided that this would be a perfect time to massively increase hatred towards charedim (and effectively to all religious Jews and to Torah itself, for those who are not religious).
Yesterday, UTJ submitted a proposal to the Knesset for a new Basic Law, called A Basic Law: Torah Study. It contains two parts.
The first clause of the bill says, "Torah study is a supreme value in the heritage of the Jewish people."
This is, of course, absolutely true.
But the second clause of the bill says as follows:
"The State of Israel as a Jewish state views the encouragement of Torah study and Torah students with utmost importance, and regarding their rights and obligations, those who dedicate themselves to studying Torah for an extended period should be viewed as having served a significant service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people."
In case it isn’t obvious what this is all about, and its reference to “rights and obligations,” I will spell it out. The purpose of legislating that yeshivah students are fulfilling a valuable public service is to enable them to be exempt from their obligations for IDF service, and also to have the rights to financial subsidies from the rest of the country.
(In contrast to the latter part, note that even Netziv, who believes that those who learn Torah are sometimes exempt from serving in the army, says that they must pay higher taxes and perform national service to make up for this, and that they must actually accompany soldiers to the front lines.)
Allow me to spell out exactly why UTJ’s claim is fundamentally wrong.
Learning Torah (by which they actually mean learning Gemara) is not automatically a service to either the state or the nation. It is a service to oneself, not to society. Even if one adopts the mystical innovation that it brings “spiritual energy” to the world, it is certainly not something that replaces obligations. Learning Gemara on Tisha B’Av, for example, is not fulfilling one’s obligation to mourn with the nation and is forbidden. Learning Torah does not automatically replace a man’s obligation to support his family. And the Torah itself does not say that one is exempt from a milchemes mitzvah if one is learning Torah. Nor does it say that learning Torah exempts one from paying taxes.
The nation needs community rabbis and dayanim and Torah teachers. Such people are indeed performing a public service. But taking some time out to serve in the army does not prevent them from attaining that role, as demonstrated by Dati-Leumi rabbanim and dayanim - and even Rav Chaim Kanievsky performed military duties! Furthermore, only a small number of people are needed for such roles. The vast majority of people in kollel are learning for their own personal spiritual fulfillment, not taking on a Torah role vis-a-vis the nation.
So the claim that learning Torah is a service to the nation is plain wrong. But it’s also dishonest about its purpose, which is a selfish one.
UTJ is not arguing for National-Religious yeshiva students not to serve in the IDF. They wouldn’t want the IDF to be weakened by being deprived of many of its most important personnel. And they certainly do not want everyone to become religious and learn in yeshivah and be exempt from IDF service and require financial support. Because they know full well that the economy and the security of the country wouldn’t last a week. They want only charedi young men to receive these exemptions and benefits (and they prefer not to address how the growing numbers of such people will indeed threaten the economy and national security).
Now, some argue that it should be analogous to how there are IDF exemptions for certain types of people, such as various artists and athletes. But there is no comparison, for several reasons.
First, there is a very very limited number of such people. Whereas UTJ is not proposing that there be any limits at all on the number of yeshivah students receiving such an exemption. In fact, they are adamant that there should be no limits, even as their relative proportion of the population rapidly grows.
Second, in order to receive an exemption as an artist or athlete, you have to prove that you really qualify. But the charedi world is adamantly against any such requirements for yeshivah students. You don’t have to prove any excellence in Torah study or even any dedication or commitment to it. You just have to register in a yeshivah, and then you can do what you want.
Third, there is no “community” of people in which everyone is an artist or athlete. UTJ, on the other hand, is demanding an exemption for an entire community.
Fourth, the exemptions for artists and athletes are equal for anyone. But UTJ certainly wouldn’t want to offer that charedi yeshivah students switch places with secular young men, even though getting secular people to learn Torah would be immensely valuable.
In other words, this Basic Law, which in its first clause purports to be about the importance of Torah study to the Jewish People, reveals itself in its second clause to be about no such thing. Instead, it’s about the importance of the charedi community getting to live their preferred spiritual way of life (and being fully under the control of its religious and political leaders), without having to share in the responsibility of physical and spiritual risks that others have to take, and while living off the material support of the rest of the country.
An enormous and growing sector of society wants to demand the permanent legal right to avoid national responsibility and to benefit from everyone else. This should not be a Basic Law. It’s a Basic Disgrace.
And, ironically, the damage done to the cause of Torah by the proposal of this law is incalculable.
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