How to completely undermine the Torah - in the name of Torah
e·vis·cer·ate /əˈvisəˌrāt/ verb
disembowel (a person or animal). "the goat had been skinned and neatly eviscerated"
deprive (something) of its essential content.
The key sentiment expressed in the letter signed by over seven hundred wives and mothers of soldiers is based on the terrible burden being shouldered by the national-religious and secular Zionist population. These communities actually deal with the millions of our enemies who want to kill us. They are full of people who leave their businesses (and yeshivot) for months on end, wives and mothers full of anxiety for their husbands and children for months on end, and worst of all, funerals. Meanwhile the charedi community does not share these responsibilities and burdens and continues life essentially unchanged. The letter begs the charedi community to enlist, and objects to the charedi idea that “others should take risks and risk their children for me, but I and my children will not take risks for them.”
To people outside of the charedi world, the sheer moral wrong of the charedi approach is obvious. It’s also obvious to some people in the charedi world, who are deeply uncomfortable with charedi policy. In response to Rav Aharon Lopiansky writing that “the robbing of our youths’ formative years as a ben Torah would be a price that we could not pay,” Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein responded pithily, “Agreed. But how do we ask other, reluctant Israelis to pay a different price so that we don’t have to pay ours?”
Nevertheless, charedi apologists on this forum rejected this argument. They claimed that moral arguments are meaningless unless they are rooted in Torah values.
Now you’d think that the moral argument here is so blindingly obvious and basic that it doesn’t need a Torah source. Still, if one wants to point to a source, there is a very explicit one. It’s Moshe Rabbeinu himself, addressing the tribes of Gad and Reuven, when they say that they’d rather stay on the east bank of the Jordan, where there are good pastures for their sheep. Moshe Rabbeinu gives his famous reply (Bamidbar 32:6): "Shall your brothers come into war, while you remain here?"
Here we have an argument about mutual responsibility and sharing the burden, in the very same context of military service. So, what do charedi apologists say to this? I’ve heard two responses so far.
One is made by Rabbi Mordechai Neugerschal, a popular outreach speaker. He says that this verse is utterly inapplicable, because Moshe was speaking to sheep farmers. Whereas charedim are not farming sheep, they are learning Torah.
It boggles the mind that someone can miss the point of Moshe’s argument so badly.
Moshe did not say “but if you want to stay on the East Bank, that’s fine as long as you learn Torah!” Which would have been really helpful to both their sheep and to them (because they wouldn’t have had to risk dying). The whole point is that it’s unacceptable not to take an equal share of the burden - which includes an equal share of the risks. Sheep and Torah have nothing to do with this.
The other response I’ve seen is to claim that Moshe’s claim was only made under the very specific circumstances of conquering the land from the Seven Nations. Again, this is totally missing the point of Moshe’s argument. Moshe’s argument was not “this is a special mitzvah, so you have to do it.” The argument was that it’s unacceptable, when something dangerous has to be done, to make everyone else do it. And I think everyone would agree that neutralizing Hamas and Hezbollah has to be done.
The traditional Torah commentators understood the clear meaning of Moshe’s statement. As Netziv says, it would be a disgrace for the tribes of Gad and Reuven to benefit from their own portions of land being secured via everyone else putting themselves in danger, while not doing the same for the other tribes. Ohr HaChaim adds that even if God is miraculously winning the wars, everyone still has a responsibility to show up, rather than benefiting from everyone else making an effort. This is basic morality of fairness in sharing a burden, and it’s entirely unsurprising to find it also reflected in the Torah.
(Note that this doesn’t mean that every individual person is necessarily needed to be involved. There could be some people - such as people who are physically unfit, or who have rare talents - who are of better use to the nation’s needs in other roles. But it does mean that groups, as group policy, cannot claim wholesale exemption. For more on this, see my post IDF Exemptions: The Crucial Distinction.)
My son’s yeshivah has been half-empty for three months. The fourth- and fifth-year students, who are all post-army training, have gone back to serve. They would love to continue learning Torah, but the nation requires soldiers, and it would simply be wrong to expect everyone else to do it instead. This basic, moral, Torah value is understood and implemented by national-religious and even secular Israelis - but, strangely, not by those who claim to be the most loyal to Torah.
The greatest irony is that charedim do accept the moral point of Moshe Rabbeinu’s argument, when it’s applicable to their own purposes. When United Torah Judaism was trying to encourage charedim to leave the Beis HaMidrash and go out to vote for them, they employed this verse as their slogan!
And charedim in the US likewise employed this verse when urging their comrades to leave yeshivah and join a protest rally:
As the flyer says, it’s unthinkable to continue sitting and learning when there is physical action needed to save your brothers from harm (in this case, saving them from the harm of pausing learning to go and save your brothers from being killed). Don’t leave it to Hashem or to other people - you have to get involved.
Everyone understands the idea that the needs of a community require an equal sharing of the burden and the difficulties, even at the expense of learning Torah. The only difference is that for the national religious and secular, the group needs are to join the war against our enemies - exactly as with Moshe Rabbeinu. Whereas for charedim, the group needs are to join the war against joining the war against our enemies.
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